By the lower case arab, 17th Apr 2013
I cannot stay silent for much longer.
I cannot contain my feelings about a certain word for any longer.
The ‘D word’.
That dreadful D word. That deflective D word. The word that denies my substance, my concerns and my right to be angry as a Palestinian.
If there is one word I have come to despise – it is ‘dialogue’.
Let me explain. There is an annual “festival of Jewish culture and learning” called Limmud Oz that’s taking place in Sydney soon. There are speaking sessions on a variety of topics, and for one of their sessions this year, they are looking for two Palestinians to join a panel with two Jewish youths to “participate in a discussion about peace issues”.
I corresponded via email with the person who was ‘scouting’ Palestinians for this panel in order to find out more. I wanted specifics. Who was organising it? What was it going to be about? What was the purpose?
I am naturally curious, but not terribly naive, and I knew it was going to be a standard heart-to-heart type thing. And I loathe them. I do not want to participate in anything remotely dialogue-y, especially after having some incredibly uncomfortable experiences that I will recount another time in another post. But I wanted to seek out more information, because I wondered: what exactly did this festival want to hear from a Palestinian? What needs to be said by a Palestinian that hasn’t been said a thousand times over before?
An email or two was sent between myself and the coordinator who was in search of Palestinian speakers (who also happened to be Palestinian too). I received some detail. I mentioned it to friends. One friend pulled out last year’s program and said “read this”. As I skimmed the program, I couldn’t help shake my head. No way. I was not participating. No way in hell.
After reading some more and learning that the festival is supported by Shalom Council, which is affiliated with the Zionist Council of New South Wales and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, I quickly sent an email back to the coordinator, saying:
“Thanks for the email. I will have to decline participation in this speaker session. Having looked at the previous year’s program, it appears that this dialogue is a tokenistic affair. Having two Palestinian speakers on this panel creates a false representation of Palestinian inclusiveness within Israel and only serves to whitewash the current apartheid policies imposed by Israel upon Palestinians. The program praises Israeli ‘democracy’, which is absurd for obvious reasons. But if that gratuitous label of ‘democracy’ must be used, I would hope that the organisers use it with the understanding that Israel is a democracy for Jews only, and not a democracy for Palestinians.”
I will not stay silent.
I refuse to be tokenised.
As a Palestinian, I refuse to involve myself in dialogues that only serve to maintain the status-quo; dialogues that seek to project this falsity that that there is an equal level-playing field between Palestinians and Israelis; that both sides are affected by Israel’s occupation equally.
As a Palestinian, I refuse to enter polite conversation about commonalities and similarities that beat around the bush. I refuse to talk about forging a “long lasting peace” without actually talking about ending occupation, ending apartheid and upholding full rights for Palestinians, including the right of return. I refuse to enter discussions that pretend to talk about a shared humanity and shared experiences, when Palestinians are not granted an inkling of humanity and dignity, and experience a distinct suffering and distinct oppression not shared by anyone else, especially not Israelis or Jewish people. I refuse.
I refuse to be involved in whitewashing.
Holding your hand and singing Kumbaya together and putting up with your dreadful attempt at humour like “I hear you guys also like hummus?” will not bring peace to Palestine. When you tell me you want peace without seriously talking about a solution that recognises the full rights of Palestinians, you are only really telling me that you want “peace and quiet”, not peace. You just want Palestinians to quietly accept their fate of concrete walls and concrete towers and sieges and drone strikes.
What makes Palestinian-Jewish-Israeli dialogue so disparaging is that it exploits Palestinians – it uses you and it uses me – to create an illusion of progress and the appearance of moving towards some kind of ‘reconciliation’ with those that already dominate the narrative, while doing absolutely nothing for peace, justice and liberation, and everything to keep Palestinians stuck within the violent cycle of colonialism, control and apartheid. It helps to fuel the myth that Israel is democratic and willing to hear ‘those’ Palestinians out. That is far from the truth.
And I refuse to participate.