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Vita Tua Vita Mea

Justice, Equality, and Freedom for All

by Rania Hammad

In 2004, at the height of the second Intifada, I wrote a book for Italian secondary school students in Italian entitled Vita Tua Vita Mea. The subtitle read “The Other Israeli Voices Collected by a Palestinian.” The book included articles from well-known Israelis who belonged to the so-called “peace camp.”

Inspired by the Latin motto, mors tua vita mea (your death is my life), I altered it to vita tua vita mea (your life is my life), to convey a clear meaning to those Israelis whom I had put my faith in, telling them to make our lives matter, to make our rights matter, and to fight within their society to humanize the Palestinians whom they had demonized and dehumanized to oppress and occupy. I urged them to reach their people and make them see that we could live together on the land once called Palestine, from the river to the sea, our homeland. This historical truth was necessary for reconciliation.

It was a desperate attempt from my side to reach out to those who could have represented possible allies with whom we could build peace based on respect for our common humanity. It was a cry for them to act urgently and end the cycle of violence initiated by Israel; because violence is never initiated by the oppressed but is a reaction to the violence of the oppressor. I appealed to them to speak up, asked them to denounce the racism of Zionism and plans for continued colonization, to stop the aggressions and the attacks, the unlawful killings and the targeted assassinations, the land theft, and the propaganda narratives about our whole national history as a people. I implored them to have the courage to address the injustice at the heart of the settler-colonial state of Israel and to fight against that genocidal tendency that keeps brutalizing and slaughtering Palestinians, to obliterate our lives so that theirs alone could exist.

Drawing by Gianluca Foglia Fogliazza of Vittorio Arrigoni’s famous statement: “There will be a ceasefire and they will call it peace.”

Mine was an effort to honor the Israeli voices and intellectuals that I had come to know over the years, and who claimed to be “different,” in contrast to those who shockingly, openly, and proudly defended their determination to not only oppress and subjugate the Palestinians but to annihilate us and replace us on our land.

It took a genocide to ignite an astounding and unprecedented global solidarity movement for Palestine.

Over time, I gradually discovered that while many in the “peace camp” (the “Israeli left” – the West’s chosen and preferred allies) declared that they were not like those Israelis that “shoot and cry” – meaning liberal Zionists who remain faithful to the settler-colonial ideology of the state while pretending to have a liberal and progressive position – many proved to be quite literally just that. With the second Intifada, it became crystal clear that any solidarity, support, or sympathy was given only so long as Palestinians were the ones being killed; if there was any act of resistance or retaliation to the violence and oppression of Israel, we Palestinians immediately became an “existential threat,” so it became completely acceptable for us to be annihilated in the name of their safety and security. This became blatantly evident with the Gaza genocide, as those in the “peace camp” were incapable of contextualizing the actions of that one day in October and everything that led up to it. They, too, parroted the version of the extreme right political mainstream and majority in Israel, who talked about the event as though it was unprovoked – as though it had happened in a vacuum – forgetting the situation of historical oppression. There were also those who remained silent and said nothing until thousands of Palestinian children had been pulled from the rubble. This posture revealed a lot about their true moral compass and integrity, as they allowed false narratives to go unchallenged, de facto guarding and fortifying their privilege and in the end, aiding genocide. They legitimized the status quo.

I had hoped that they would be the ones to bring about change internally, and not have it imposed from the outside, shamed into recognizing what Israel was all along. I had hoped that the Palestinian Lives Matter movement would have been born from within Israel and that they would have had it in them not to commit a genocide worse than the one they had already committed in 1948 when they had fled Nazism to create their state in Palestine through ethnic cleansing and land dispossession. But they did repeat the Nakba, and now it is on everyone’s screens to see.

Had they wanted to create a Palestinian Lives Matter movement, they would have done so in reaction to settlement expansion, ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem, the siege of Gaza, every bombing campaign against Gaza, the killing of journalists, the killing of children and unarmed civilians, the crushing of Palestinian dissent, administrative detention, and targeted assassinations, and other mainstays of Israel’s enduring policies. But the Israelis did not create a Palestinian Lives Matter movement; the rest of the world did. It took a genocide to ignite an astounding and unprecedented global solidarity movement for Palestine.

“Destroying Schools and Universities in Gaza,” by Gianluca Foglia Fogliazza.

There is now an extraordinary level of awareness and a dramatic shift in the narrative driven largely by the global solidarity movement for Palestine. Thanks to the courage of Palestinian journalists and civil society, who are paying with their lives to tell of the Palestinian reality on the ground and disseminate information and images through social media, the world has seen the genocide unfold in real time.

The Palestinian diaspora communities, together with their allies and partners, continue to influence public opinion by advocating for the Palestinian cause and building and reinforcing a vast grassroots global movement in defense of Palestinian rights, for stopping the genocide, and for ending the occupation once and for all.

People around the world have been demonstrating every week since October 2023, participating in civil disobedience and engaging in direct actions to pressure their governments to stop supporting Israel politically, economically, and militarily. Trade unions, academics, churches, companies, Jewish groups, creatives, writers, and youth everywhere have been engaged in a worldwide campaign to shed light on the Palestinian cause.

Stopping the genocide, ending the occupation, ending apartheid, and demanding the right of return for refugees have been the basis for this global, intersectional struggle to pressure policymakers to endorse an arms embargo against Israel and to ban products that come from illegal Israeli settlements, as well as exposing governments for their complicity in aiding Israel’s illegal occupation and genocide. People all over the world have become exponentially more supportive of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and have embraced the call by Palestinian civil society to isolate, sanction, and force Israel to abide by international law. Legal actions have been taken against governments, including the UK, the US, Italy, Japan, and others, for their complicity in the genocide and to stop their arms exports to Israel, and for their failure to comply with their own national laws.

There has been a significant response from trade unions across Europe and the US. Transportation unions have disrupted shipments of armaments from ports in several European countries, and union organizers have temporarily shut down arms factories in Europe and North America.

Healthcare workers in the US have shown enormous support to Palestine by focusing on the impact of violence in Gaza on healthcare workers and patients.

Google employees have protested against project Nimbus, a US$1.2 billion contract between the Israeli government and military with Google and Amazon, which provides technology to the Israeli military. Employees have faced major retaliation for their efforts and opposition.

Art by Ronit Dovrat, RIP. From the series “Mental frontiers.”

Thousands of artists, curators, and creatives from across the world signed an open letter calling on the Venice Biennale, the world’s most important art event, to drop Israel’s national pavilion this year and not allow a genocidal apartheid state to be represented. Although the Israeli pavilion remained closed, the Israeli curators released an empty and opportunistic statement to garner maximum media coverage by stating that they would remain closed until hostages were freed and a ceasefire was implemented. Demonstrations still took place in front of the shuttered pavilion doors guarded by the Italian military, demanding that the pavilion remain closed until a permanent ceasefire was implemented, the genocide stopped, and the occupation ended.

Solidarity at US universities has grown extraordinarily throughout the United States, the country that is Israel’s staunchest ally. Students across the US have built encampments at their universities, demanding that their schools divest from companies that profit from the occupation. From Columbia to Yale, NYU, MIT, Tufts, Harvard, Emerson, Barnard, and UC Berkeley, students are calling for their universities to cut ties with the Israeli military, demanding an immediate ceasefire, an end to the genocide, and an end to occupation, as well as freedom for Palestine. They have been chanting songs of the anti-apartheid movement in scenes reminiscent of gatherings on the same lawns during the Vietnam War. Some of the most active pro-Palestine groups involved in the rallies and demonstrations are members of American Jewish communities and the group Jewish Voice for Peace. It is predominantly students and youth who are questioning government policies that restrict freedom of expression on Palestine, who are risking their jobs’ futures and facing targeted violence from the police.

At this historical moment, de-linking Israel from Judaism is fundamental. Judaism is a world religion, one of the three monotheistic religions, and it has many commonalities with Christianity and Islam. Israel, however, is a distinct settler-colonial state whose genocidal actions must be opposed by all, Jews included. The Jewish experience of discrimination and genocide in Europe and the resulting collective trauma must never be used as a justification for committing another Holocaust on the native people of Palestine, who have been colonized, occupied, and oppressed for over 76 years and who deserve to live freely and in security on their own land. Every Jewish person who has been raised to believe that Judaism and Israel are the same thing should now consider the meaning of that association and understand how such indoctrination serves the interests of an Israeli state whose founding ideology of Zionism drives the ethnic cleansing and annihilation of the Indigenous Palestinian people.

All forms of racism, including antisemitism, can never be tolerated. And there is nothing Jewish about Israel’s criminal policies, apartheid, and genocide, so there is nothing antisemitic in denouncing Israel for its war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Today, we must all choose which of the two mottos we adhere to and live by, vita tua vita mea or mors tua vita mea – this moral and spiritual awakening is important for us all. It also means that the liberation of Judaism from Israeli hegemony and the liberation of Palestine go hand in hand.

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