Updated: Nov 9
by Andrea Assaf
PART 1: First Try
I often question the efficacy of statements. But there are times when injustice and inhumanity are so egregious that the need to speak out, to cry into the void of cyberspace hoping that someone with the power to stop atrocity might actually see, to scream in the streets in the hopes that public opinion might finally be swayed, to try—the need to try, to do something—is so overwhelming that… it’s the least I can do. It's the very least… As I write this, in November, as the news coverage of the siege and bombardment Gaza wanes, the horrific violence that erupted in October has escalated to a systematic extermination campaign against trapped civilians. We don’t have the luxury of pondering the futility of statements when genocide is being committed before our very eyes. The whole world is watching, and no one will stop it. My own country, the United States, blocked a ceasefire.
This is not a statement. It’s a plea…
What world is this that we must beg for mercy from forces that clearly believe we are less than human? Because we are Arab, or Palestinian, or Lebanese, or Yemeni, or Syrian, or Armenian, or Sudanese, or Somali, or Afghan… The list is so painfully long… When the Israeli Defense Minister calls the people of Gaza “animals” and no one blinks – when the U.S. President begs Congress to send billions of dollars more to speed the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians – ethnic cleansing that we are all witnessing, RIGHT NOW –
I can’t write this…
Why do we need a “statement” that ethnic cleansing is wrong? That genocide is wrong? A “statement” that nothing justifies this – that no provocation could possibly justify or excuse the intentional starvation, forced expulsion, and indiscriminate bombing of 2.3 million civilians in Gaza, nearly half of whom are children. GENOCIDE is illegal, immoral, and inexcusable. Why does this need to be stated? And why on earth is it controversial?
This is how I feel, when words are so inadequate…
What has become of our humanity? I am ashamed to be a U.S. citizen right now. I have been ashamed of U.S. policies most of my life. I was ashamed when the U.S. refused to denounce Apartheid in South Africa; ashamed of the U.S. invasions of Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Iraq again; ashamed of the centuries-long history of racism in this country, ashamed of the colonization and genocide of Native American people, ashamed of the enslavement of African Americans, Segregation, continuing police brutality and serial incarceration of Black people; ashamed that it’s so hard for so many people in the U.S. to even say Black Lives Matter; ashamed of immigration policy, border walls, child separation, humans held in cages at the border; ashamed that we are, more often than not, on the wrong side of history – that as Dr. Martin Luther King stated, we must speak “clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.” Ashamed that most U.S. citizens (including people of color and white people), deep-down, don’t actually believe that Arab lives matter at all – that we are somehow inherently evil, or that we aren’t fully human.
It is hard to live with constant dehumanization. It eats at your soul. All people of color in the United States know this. But there is something about right now – about watching my own government condone and support the actual genocide of people who look like me, watching it happen in real time –
I can’t write this…
Then I remember how long Palestinians have been suffering, how long the road to liberation is, how we must learn from the movements that came before us to maintain vision, strength, and hope in the face of atrocity… And I remember the beauty, power, and inspiration of Suheir Hammad…
PART 2: Beginning Again
YES, I condemn Hamas, and the October 7th attack that killed over 1400 Israeli civilians.
Of course. I have stated that.
Now please ask yourself: Why did you need me to state it? Why do you assume, or suspect, that my answer might be different? What would it mean to you if I didn’t state it? Would my lack of "statement" justify the extermination campaign that has already killed over 10,000 Palestinian civilians, including over 4,000 children in Gaza? With countless more missing or buried in rubble...
Oh, you don’t believe those numbers? OK. Then what number would be justified, in your mind? At what point has “retaliation” or the “right to self-defense” (against a besieged, starving, weaponless population) been achieved? Equal numbers, like 1400? Or is extermination actually OK with you? No really, please explain –
How many civilians, how many children is it OK to massacre?
PART 3: So Many Statements...
Here are some excellent statements, by excellent organizations. Please read these:
There are so many important statements... Do you still think I should write another one? How many statements do we need, really? How many times must we write, or state, or scream, that apartheid is wrong, that collective punishment is wrong, that ethnic cleansing is wrong, that GENOCIDE is wrong?
Tell me again, why must we state this?
TELL ME WHY.
PART 4: Do Something!
I actually don’t care what “side” you’re on, or what side you think I’m on. There are no “sides” to genocide. There are no “sides” to colonialism, occupation, Apartheid, to asymmetrical warfare targeting an entire population. It's not complicated. There is no complexity to a siege, no nuance to extermination. There is only right and wrong, in times of genocide. There is only the moral imperative to immediately stop it.
Please take action:
Visit MENATMA and the other statements above for more resources, reading, ways to donate, to support Palestinian artists, to take action, and get involved.
PART 5: Failure
Well, this is a terrible statement. Clearly, I have failed. There will be critiques. People will have strong opinions about what I have said. Word choice will be picked apart, references will be debated. I might even lose funders, or friends.
I don’t know how to make a statement in times like these. I have more questions than statements: Questions about what has become of our humanity. Questions about how the human mind can justify atrocity for convenience, or money. Questions about our future, about survival. Questions about at what point capitalism, and those who benefit most from it, will destroy us all. Questions about how to reach people, how to break through all the propaganda, exploitation of historical trauma, and brainwashing – how to reignite what ember of selfless compassion might still be alive in our hearts.
All I know is this:
If the bombs do not stop falling, we have failed.
If innocent children and civilians continue to die by the thousands daily, we have failed.
If the siege of Gaza does not end immediately, we have failed.
If Palestinian people live under occupation and apartheid for the rest of my lifetime, then we have failed.
This is not a statement, it’s a plea.
PART 6: Don’t Listen to Me…
Listen to Palestinians. Their brilliance and resilience:
When Suheir Hammad says:
I will not ... break for you,
I will not hate for you,
Or even hate you.
I will not kill for you.
Especially, I will not die for you.
When Naomi Shihab Nye writes:
When Mahmoud Darwish recites:
Without hope we are lost.
On Saturday, October 28, 2023, the MENA Theatre-Makers Alliance (which I am a founding board member of) held the MENATMA 4th Annual Convening at Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco. We collectively decided to cancel the first panel we’d planned, and replace it with Palestinian Artists Speak Out. It was livestreamed by HowlRound Theatre Commons, and is archived online. Please listen to them:
By Palestinian American poet Rasha Abdulhadi (LISTEN HERE):
"I come to you today not to call for donations or solidarity statements, which cannot
stop bombs, but to unmake settler colonial worlds.
I come here not to perform or plead, but to join Palestinians around the world and
through time who continue to Teach Life …
May you be refreshed every time you speak openly for Palestinian liberation. May all
hearts be refreshed in a stubborn refusal and brave resistance to totalizing violence.
May your commitment to Palestinian freedom deepen your commitment to your own.
May we all be liberated from complicity and unleashed into history — both written and
unwritten, and the not-yet-even imagined.
May your heart be renewed with every action you take to end the brutality of settler-
colonial apartheid, here and in Palestine.
Genocides begun do not have to be completed...