Volume XXXI: Reading Is a Political Act
And, when coupled with action, holds power.
This month, the Israeli government’s decades-long oppression of Palestinians entered a new phase. Subsequently, the power of voice and storytelling has grown incredibly apparent and urgent, not only as the Israeli government and military attempt to erase generations of Palestinians, but also as most western media acts complicit, ignoring and silencing history. What can we readers do to better understand the ongoing genocide and how can we take action?
[Dear readers: This issue contains discussions of Islamophobia, antisemitism, genocide, and white supremacy.]
In her 2009 essay “Peril,” author Toni Morrison pens that writers “can disturb the social oppression that functions like a coma on the population, a coma despots call peace, and they staunch the blood flow of war that hawks and profiteers thrill to.”
Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen incredibly harmful messages and misinformation spread online and in the media—ones rooted in Islamophobia, antisemitism, xenophobia, racism, and more. At the same time, Palestinians and Jewish families and friends are mourning for loved ones, and Palestinians are—once again—being forced out of their homes and living under constant threat, all while cut off from essential, human needs and communication with those outside of Gaza. All of this has the power to make those of us watching feel useless and uninformed, which is exactly why, as Morrison writes, information holds power.
At the end of her essay, Morrison notes that “a writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” In this newsletter, we’re talking about how, as readers, we are not just reading what these authors write; we have the ability to take what we’ve learned, and enact change. Most urgently, we’re sharing resources to gain a better understanding of Palestine’s history and how to take action.
A Deeper Look
Earlier this month, the organizers behind one of the world’s biggest publishing events, the Frankfurt Book Fair, and those behind the LiBeraturpreis award ceremony, canceled a ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli, stating: “We strongly condemn Hamas’s barbaric terror war…Frankfurter Buchmesse stands with complete solidarity on the side of Israel.”
Originally, Litprom, the organization that awards the prize at the fair, claimed Shibli agreed with the cancellation. In reality, she had not been consulted at all.
Unfortunately, the organization’s sheer Islamophobia toward Shibli as a Palestinian doesn’t come as a surprise from an industry that is rooted in white, western values. Nor does it come as a surprise that the Big Five publishing houses sent out notices to colleagues stating very similar messages, with no recognition of the ongoing abuse Palestinians have been and currently are facing. (To be clear: This is not to say that these publishers should not make space for Jewish employees, especially as reports of antisemitism increase and as many mourn killed and/or missing loved ones; rather, that they have decided, with this messaging, where history “starts” and who deserves space to mourn and to feel safe, and who does not.)
These actions make Morrison’s words about the power of writing ring out that much clearer. Shibli’s book, Minor Detail, features a dual timeline, focusing on one year after the Nakba (the displacement and exile of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 by the Israeli government that led to the destruction of their homes, denial of their right to return, and refugee status) and present day. Such a book helps provide greater context, especially as misinformation and biased media too often limit our perspectives and understanding of history and current events. One might argue, as Morrison does, that better understanding can lead to the eradication of violence.
Why else cut off communication between those in Gaza and those outside if not afraid of what the world might see? Why else limit their electricity, so that their phones die and the ability to document war crimes becomes nearly impossible? Why else shut off their phone and internet connection? We cannot help but think of the censorship that takes place within the prison industrial complex, or the censorship of books within US schools. All of this occurs because individuals in power—in this case, a government disproportionately funded by the United States—are afraid of what will happen if citizens learn the truth. Both the US and Israel aim to uphold an outdated narrative rooted in Islamophobia and the perpetuation of violence because of their reliance on one another (an annual trade of $50 billion worth of goods, the Israeli government’s funding of US politicians, our reliance on their military exportations, etc.).
And it’s not just the government—if we take a look at what media outlets report and what voices we’re seeing across social media, we see even more clearly who controls the narrative. The Israeli government is paying for social media ads and prominent news outlets are (potentially more than ever) biased tools of the state.
The silencing of a Palestinian author at this time only further allows for misinformation to cultivate. And, as of writing this, over 1,000 authors, publishers, and agents agree; in an open letter, these individuals write:
“The Frankfurt Book Fair has a responsibility, as a major international book fair, to be creating spaces for Palestinian writers to share their thoughts, feelings, [and] reflections on literature through these terrible, cruel times, not shutting them down. We need to look for new language and new ideas in order to approach these bleak times in a new way. For this, we need writers—including Palestinian writers—more than ever.”
Ways to Respond
So, how can we readers take action?
Educate ourselves. As readers, we can engage with what writers put out into the world and use it to advocate for change.
Check out @booksnextdoor_’s various helpful reading and watching lists.
Find additional resources, including people to follow, in this roundup from 2021.
@LetsTalkPalestine is a fantastic place to start.
Visit DecolonizePalestine.com for more reading lists, myth busting, and other essential information.
Take time to understand how the language we use holds power.
Note: Educating ourselves is incredibly important, especially so we can better assess and respond to misinformation, vote, and join the call for change. However, please also be aware that urgent action is essential when events are moving as quickly as they are.
Practice BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). A Palestinian-led movement, BDS aims to end international support for the Israeli government and military’s oppression of Palestinians by boycotting, divesting from, and placing sanctions on companies operating from illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
Contact your political reps to vote for a ceasefire. The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights has created an incredibly helpful toolkit, full of call and email scripts, as well as more ways to get involved. Don’t be afraid to contact them again and again.
You can also share their post on social media to spread awareness of the toolkit.
Join a protest and/or rally. These are being organized routinely. @MiddleEastMatters has been compiling events as they occur. Don’t see a protest near you? Organize one. And remember your rights as a protester.
Make a donation. There are a number of organizations working to get critical aid into Gaza and to Palestinians. Even $5 can go a long way—collective aid is essential. Just be sure to verify the organization before donating. Here are a few to start:
Hold conversations with others. Whether family or friends, speak out when you hear misinformation. Oftentimes our beliefs are shaped by what we see and read, particularly in the news. Many individuals right now are holding uninformed or incomplete pictures, given western media’s shaping of the narrative. This is where our own education and amplification of what we’ve read from authors can be incredibly helpful. Of course, be mindful of your safety.
There are common concerns around taking up space during times like now. “What is sharing a post on social media even going to do?” “I’m not an expert, so therefore I’m not going to say anything at all.” While, at times, these excuses hold merit and may be grounded in goodwill, right now is not the moment to remain silent.
The Israeli government has cut off Palestinians in Gaza from the “outside” world. These Palestinians have asked us—anyone in the world—to amplify their messaging again and again, and show the war crimes and genocide they are facing. No matter our platform size, whether on social media and/or in person, we can play an important role in advocating for change. As always, be mindful of circulating misinformation (these tips can help).
We’ll be back in a few weeks with a deep dive into a recent read. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or Instagram DM.