Israeli journalist Amira Hass penned an impassioned op-ed in Haaretz this week that is garnering a slew of both positive and negative reactions. Referring to the recent wave of violence in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories, Hass writes that Palestinians are fighting for survival, whereas Israel is fighting to maintain the occupation:
The war did not start last Thursday, it does not start with the Jewish victims and does not end when no Jews are murdered. The Palestinians are fighting for their life, in the full sense of the word. We Israeli Jews are fighting for our privilege as a nation of masters, in the full ugliness of the term. That we notice there’s a war on only when Jews are murdered does not cancel out the fact that Palestinians are being killed all the time, and that all the time we are doing everything in our power to make their lives unbearable. Most of the time it is a unilateral war, waged by us, to get them to say “yes” to the master, thank you very much for keeping us alive in our reservations. When something in the war’s one-sidedness is disturbed, and Jews are murdered, then we pay attention.
Young Palestinians do not go out to murder Jews because they are Jews, but because we are their occupiers, their torturers, their jailers, the thieves of their land and water, their exilers, the demolishers of their homes, the blockers of their horizon. Young Palestinians, vengeful and desperate, are willing to lose their lives and cause their families great pain because the enemy they face proves every day that its malice has no limits.
Hass is calling out the hypocrisy of a reaction amongst Israelis that is reliant upon tragedy of a certain variety, an outrage that excludes the usual victims because they are just that – usual, commonplace, collateral damage or target practice. She is leveling a critique from within, aimed at the community of which she is a part (much like Sara Swetzoff’s Muftah article about being a white settler in North America), in the hopes of delivering a message: that it is, and always has been, the occupation that is the problem. But she is also doing something else. Her language indicates a desire to situate the Palestinian struggle within a broader context, to draw parallels to those struggles that have come before. Her choice of words seems deliberate and intentional, as she calls out Jewish Israelis and their privilege as “a nation of masters,” waging a unilateral war “to get them to say ‘yes’ to the master, thank you very much for keeping us alive in our reservations.”
Hass has previously written about Israel’s tendency to draw inspiration from the United States. It is unsurprising, then, that she has again seems to be making a direct reference – using the language of “reservations” and “masters” – to the Native American struggle, and possibly slavery, in her discussion of the plight of Palestinians. In her 2012 Haaretz article, “Israel Must Understand It Cannot Be America,” Hass draws the parallel more explicitly, writing:
Thinking America guides Jewish-Israeli society in its policy toward our very own red Indians. Why should we be less successful than the United States, Canada or Australia, which, as they came into being and gained world eminence, wiped out – to differing degrees – the societies and communities that lived there before? When it comes to us, why should people not forget what they have forgotten about those countries, which now present themselves as bastions of enlightenment?
Connecting Palestine to other historic and ongoing struggles with similar characteristics and roots – Indigenous, Irish, Black struggles – is significant because it builds solidarity among these groups, which have suffered the effects of settler-colonialism and racism, helps them preserve collective memories and resist erasure, and allows them to learn from one another and hold those in power accountable.
This is the idea behind the traveling art exhibit, The Map is Not the Territory, sponsored by the Boston Palestine Film Festival and currently on display at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts until November 3rd. Its next stop is the Arab-American Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The exhibit derives its name from a phrase coined by philosopher/scientist Alfred Korzybski, who argued that our perceptions and representations of reality – “maps” – are not necessarily synonymous with reality – the actual territory. People may exist in a territory that is not reflected in the maps and borders drawn by colonizers. Featuring work by thirty-nine contemporary artists, most of whom are Palestinian, Native American, and Irish, the exhibit’s website makes its mission clear:
“The Map is Not the Territory” looks at relationships and commonalities in Palestinian, Native American, and Irish experiences of invasion, occupation, and colonization – not as novelty or polemic, but as history and current events. Although many peoples worldwide have suffered long and brutal intrusions, Palestinians, Native Americans, and the Irish have intersected for centuries in specific and often unusual ways. What are some of these intersections and how do contemporary artists examine and process them through their own lives and visions?
The pieces on display are divided into themes like “Occupation/Wall,” “Conflict/Resistance,” and “Home/Diaspora.” Through these categories the viewer gets a sense of the critical issues that make up the stories of these struggles, and how they manifest themselves in both different and intersecting ways. The pieces, ranging from photographs to paintings to mixed media works, engage with notions of identity, resistance, sovereignty, memory, and tradition by featuring cultural artifacts and designs (tipis, Bedouin tents, Palestinian embroidery), flags, passports, and graffiti in their work.
While most of the pieces focus on one specific struggle – such as Gazan artist Hani Zurob’s Flying Lesson series featuring paintings of his young son set against a void portraying exile and erasure – some are collaborative efforts that bring together the issues of more than one group. One such piece by Native American printmaker Melanie Yazzie, entitled Seeing Each Other, features a Native American woman and a Palestinian woman side by side, surrounded by their respective cultural symbols and artifacts, a testament to the endurance and survival of cultural heritage and memory. Others include Najib Joe Hakim’s Fraternal Bond, which places a photo of a Native American boy alongside a Palestinian boy in a frame set against a Palestinian keffiyeh (traditional scarf), and Grace Woodward’s Shaping the Enemy, a compilation of political cartoons and caricatures depicting Palestinian, Native American, and Irish stereotypes.
The exhibit is a powerful testament to the endurance of the human spirit and an insistence on preservation in the face of decades of colonization, occupation, and systematic erasure. These artists are creating their own maps – maps of memory, heritage, and the legacy of resistance – to replace those they have been left out of. If maps are mere representations of reality, then these are the retraced boundaries of lived reality from below, rather than those imposed by the colonizer. Whether we are seeing the beginnings of a Third Intifada or not, the fight of Palestinians, like that of the Northern Irish and Native Peoples, is a fight for life, a fight for preservation, a fight to draw one’s own map.