As we come to the two-month mark since Hamas’ October 7th attack on southern Israel — when militants killed 1,200 people and took 240 people hostage, followed by Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza that has, as of this writing, killed 16,000 people, nearly half of whom were children — news from Palestine in the American media seems to have receded into a steady, muted drumbeat of atrocities, overtaken by coverage of Trump’s continued legal proceedings, George Santos’ expulsion from Congress, Sam Bankman-Fried’s guilty verdict, and other stories that seem, at least in my mind, trivial in comparison.
Like many in the US, as our politicians line up in support of Israel’s “right to defend itself,” including the supposedly anti-war Bernie Sanders, I have felt a mix of nausea, anger, and despair. Aside from direct actions — writing “FREE PALESTINE” in sharpie on a broken down Amazon box and holding it aloft at a rally, calling my senators and congressperson, teaching my undergrad students about media literacy in the context of the current news coverage — I have been reading, and reading, and reading.
“Can the word stand up to armed tyranny?” wrote Elena Kostyuchenko, a Russian opposition journalist who survived an assassination attempt by Putin’s regime. “No. Can the word stop a war? No.”
“How much does the word weigh?” she continued. “Sometimes, an entire living life.” Following a brief so-called “humanitarian pause,” as Israel resumes its calculated destruction of life in Gaza, I have been clinging to the weight of words, even as they are powerless to stop the bombs from falling and bullets from flying. I hold no illusions that the following words can stop the war. At the very least, they provide a record of life and death in the besieged, brutalized, and terrorized territory — a record for future readers to look upon and weep.
1) “I’m still alive. Gaza is no longer Gaza.” by Atef Abu Saif
In 2015, novelist and the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Culture Atef Abu Saif published The Drone Eats With Me, a day-by-day account of Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza that killed 2,310 people. Throughout the book, he is followed by “the inevitable whir of a drone, sounding so close it could be right beside us. It’s like it wants to join us for the evening and has pulled up an invisible chair.” Today, Abu Saif has written a “sequel” of sorts, another daily account of survival — a sequel he should never have written.
Like in his book, war arrives suddenly and without warning, explosions pounding the beach where Abu Saif and his family are swimming. Drawing upon experience of previous wars, he switches into a sort of autopilot: moving mattresses into the stairwell away from windows, stockpiling supplies, and sending different family members to sleep in different locations, “so that if part of the family is killed, another part lives.”
Death and destruction inevitably come for his family. In the book, his sister-in-law Huda, her husband Hatem, and their four children survive a tank shell that throws “large chunks of a house nearby … in through the windows; half of another house is now inside Huda’s house!” Nine years later in this “sequel,” an airstrike kills Huda and Hatem and two of their children, leaving their daughter Wissam alive with her right hand and both legs amputated. “When I arrived at her bedside, Wissam made a request that broke my heart,” writes Abu Saif. “She wanted to know: Could I give her a lethal injection? … Her face was pale, and she seemed ready to give up. There is no sign of this war ending.”
As of this writing, Abu Saif has evacuated south to the city of Rafah, on the border with Egypt. “The drones never stop hovering above me; the buzzing is continual,” he writes in a recent dispatch, a buzzing that has haunted Gaza for years. “I shake my head, unsure if these are real or just memories now.”
+972 Magazine, named after the country code that precedes both Palestinian and Israeli phone numbers, has become a vital resource for news from the occupied territories and Israel. Relying on sources at the highest levels of the Israeli military, intelligence agencies, and government, the magazine has published two stunning scoops by the Israeli journalist and activist Yuval Abraham.
The first is that Israel is relying on an AI system called “Habsora” (“The Gospel”) to automatically generate thousands of targets for bombardment, with one source boasting that the AI can process quantities of data that “tens of thousands of intelligence officers could not process.” What’s especially horrifying is that with every target, the AI also calculates how many civilians will be killed, followed by officials authorizing the strike anyway.
“Nothing happens by accident,” says another source. “When a 3-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed — that it was a price worth paying in order to hit [another] target. We are not Hamas. These are not random rockets. Everything is intentional. We know exactly how much collateral damage there is in every home.”
The second story zooms out to reveal Israel’s larger endgame for Gaza: “the forcible and permanent transfer of the Gaza Strip’s 2.2 million Palestinian residents to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula,” as outlined by a leaked document from the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence. The stated goal is a second Nakba: to first force the 1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate south (as Abu Saif and many others have already done), drive the entire population across the border to Egypt, and finally create “a sterile zone of several kilometers … within Egypt, and [prevent] the return of the population to activities/residences near the border with Israel.”
“Ethnic cleansing” is a recurring phrase in the online discourse about Gaza; Yuval Abraham proves that this is not an abstraction, but Israel’s explicit aim. If nothing else, these stories demonstrate the power of local journalism, and the importance of journalists with deep, personal connections to their stories reporting from on the ground and behind closed doors — stories that no American media outlet could ever produce.
Piers Morgan, the right-wing talk show hack who has platformed such luminaries as Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson (and written about how Barbie is “ridiculously misandrist” while railing against “feminazis” and “the trans lobby”), has proven himself to be the proverbial stopped clock that’s right twice a day, with his two interviews of the Egyptian heart surgeon-turned-comedian Bassem Youssef.
I came across the first interview from my friend Elina. As the take industrial complex sprang into action, Youssef immediately cut through the bullshit simply by doing his job: being funny.
“They are very difficult to kill,” Youssef says of Palestinians, like his wife. “I couldn’t kill her … I try to get to her every time, but she uses our kids as human shields. I can never take her out!”
Morgan is immediately taken aback. Youssef has taken the unwritten contract (Morgan screams at guest, guest screams back but is constantly undercut and talked over by Morgan) and ripped it to shreds. But as he blows kisses and winks at Morgan and calls him habibi, Youssef raises points that leave his interlocutor literally speechless. Israel has already bombed Gaza with hugely disproportionately death tolls (“It’s fluctuating like crypto,” Youssef says of the ratio of Palestinians killed to Israelis killed) but have left Hamas intact: why would this new round of war be any different? Israel claims that its goal is to eradicate Hamas in Gaza: so why have soldiers and settlers killed hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank?
“It’s actually not my job to answer your questions,” is the only response Morgan can come up with. Clearly shaken, Morgan flies to LA to interview Youssef a second time. Morgan’s tone and tenor are different, with him admitting that he didn’t know how to react to Youssef’s bleak humor.
“This is what satire does,” Youssef says. “You take reality, flipped on its head, exaggerated, and then you can see how sometimes very uncomfortable, and even sometimes stupid that sounds.”
In the ensuing two-hour conversation, Youssef patiently explains the history of European antisemitism, the Nakba, and the fallacy of “both sides”-ism, with Morgan seemingly coming close to understanding but then returning to his same question about what a “proportionate response” from Israel would look like. As one YouTube commenter put it, “This is like watching a teacher explain a lesson to a student over and over again in different ways and giving clear hints and the student still doesn’t get it.” But even if Morgan is a lost cause, Youssef has already reached tens of millions of viewers throughout the world, providing humor and clarity to this ongoing catastrophe.
4) “A Surge in Suppression” by Dylan Saba
As Israel carries out a brutal and overt campaign of repression against Palestinians — enacting a new “thought police” law that has criminalized posting a photo of shakshuka next to a Palestinian flag — institutions throughout the US have unleashed a “wave of McCarthyite backlash” against those who dare to speak out “on behalf of Palestinian human rights and against Israeli war crimes,” writes Dylan Saba in n+1.
Saba is an attorney at the nonprofit Palestine Legal, where he specializes in “free speech violations, employment discrimination, bullying, and disciplinary actions.” Since October 7th, the organization has received an “exponential surge in our caseload” from individuals punished for their social media posts — if the posts aren’t preemptively censored by the social media networks themselves. Even Saba is not immune: in an ironic twist, his piece was originally commissioned by The Guardian and suddenly killed minutes before its planned publication.
We’ve seen this rhetorical climate reach its logical endpoint: the murder of a six-year-old Palestinian boy and attempted murder of his mother (the suspect has pleaded not guilty), and the shooting of three Palestinian college students, leaving one paralyzed from the chest down (the suspect has pleaded not guilty). It’s worth remembering, however, that the majority of Americans support a ceasefire — and that the thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets in support of Palestine will not back down in the face of this “surge in suppression.”
5) “We Cannot Cross Until We Carry Each Other” by Arielle Angel
For the past two months, the extraordinary leftist, anti-Zionist magazine Jewish Currents has maintained moral clarity with its unequivocal support for Palestine, while also mourning and lamenting those killed by Hamas. How can anti-Zionist, Jewish activists “be part of a left that seems to treat Israeli deaths as a necessary, if not desirable, part of Palestinian liberation?” asks editor-in-chief Arielle Angel. How can protests in solidarity with Palestine provide “a space to grieve the Israeli dead?”
As Angel wrestles with her own feelings—crying tears of joy at the “image of the bulldozer destroying the Gaza fence” followed by tears of sorrow at “rooms full of families lying in piles,” realizing with horror that “these were pictures of the same event”—Angel turns to the Hebrew Bible. She reflects upon the “foundational Jewish liberation myth”: the Exodus, when a dispossessed and enslaved people that wish merely to live in peace on their own land rise up against the tyranny of an oppressive state, freeing themselves at last from bondage.
For the first time in years, I also reread Exodus. I was struck this time by its mercilessness: as Moses declares over and over to Let My People Go, Pharaoh refuses over and over, his heart deliberately hardened by God. In response, Moses metes out divine, indiscriminate retribution, the famous plagues of frogs and gnats and flies and boils. But it is the tenth and final plague that finally convinces Pharaoh: God’s murder of “every firstborn son in Egypt . . . from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well,” causing “loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again.”
My ex-evangelical background makes me wary of applying scripture to the present-day—partially because American evangelicals are some of the most ardent supporters of Israel, believing that its establishment heralds the apocalypse and second coming of Christ as described in Revelation. Netanyahu himself has used the story of Amalek to justify his destruction of Gaza, when God commands the Israelites to “totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
But for Angel, “what Exodus reminds us is that the dehumanization that is required to oppress and occupy another people always dehumanizes the oppressor in turn.” Hamas’ attack was a horrifying reminder that the “violence of apartheid and colonialism begets more violence.” The oppressor has responded, inevitably and futilely, with brutality on an unimaginable scale. There is loud wailing throughout Gaza and the world, worse than there has ever been and (I sincerely hope) ever will be again.
What can liberation possibly look like? At the end of her piece, Angel turns from scripture to verse: “Red Sea” by Aurora Levins Morales, a poetic exegesis of God’s final strike against Egypt, when He parts the waters and allows the Israelites to cross undisturbed while Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen are swallowed by the waves. I can think of no better way to end this reader:
This time that country
is what we promise each other,
our rage pressed cheek to cheek
until tears flood the space between,
until there are no enemies left,
because this time no one will be left to drown
and all of us must be chosen.
This time it’s all of us or none.