Sunday Reading: October 29, 2023

Protean Mag: Letters From Gaza

In collaboration with The Institute for Palestine Studies, Protean magazine has been publishing translated messages from Gaza sent amid the current bombing campaign.

An excerpt from Reema Saleh, a student awaiting updates from her family in Gaza:

At noon, the sound of an F-16 bomb interrupted a phone call with my mother. I couldn’t remember what she was even telling me. I knew exactly what that sound was from experience. I was cut off from my family for the rest of that day. My neighbor’s house was bombed and collapsed on its residents. “They bombed Alaa’s house without warning,” my sister Nour told me. It is the house adjacent to my family’s, as is the case with all houses in the camp. I asked her to tell me what happened in detail, and she was terrified at the horror of the scene. I remember the number of family members there. “It’s been six hours, and they haven’t been able to recover a single body. They found a leg and a hand that might be Alaa’s wife’s.” I shuddered and found no answers to my questions. What are these missiles they are using that cause such devastation? I kept trying to call my father so he could tell me something. He finally answered me at 9 p.m. and said: “Mohammad’s wife, his four children, his mother, his brother Hamza and his wife, his brother Ra’afat and his wife and child, his sisters Ghida and Haifa and Diyaa, all were martyred. The rescue workers worked really hard, and they’re still unable to recover Ghida’s body.” How will Mohammad and his father — the only two survivors of the entire family — bear this calamity? How?

My four-year-old cousin Jad tells me, “Don’t cry, Rima. I’m not afraid of the bombs because we’re going to go to heaven like Uncle who died.” I collapsed into tears. How could a child so young speak about death and bombardment and heaven? How can they be so strong as to reassure me, when it should be me reassuring them?

Read more here

Roblox Protests

Desperate for good news, the internet finally found it when, unable to protest in real life, young people began attending virtual marches on Roblox, the sandbox MMO game which blew up during lockdown. Roblox figures—which are boxy, like janky LEGOS—strode down a red brick road, holding Palestinian flags. “even kids are waking up but europe still sleeping,” said a commenter named 🐏𝕍𝕀𝕃𝕃𝔸𝕀ℕ.𝔸ℝℂ_𝟟🐏. They’re right: pro-Israel sentiment is split by a generational gap, with 83% of boomers coming out as pro-genocide compared to only 48% of millennials and Gen Z.

Perhaps more surprising to many viewers was that the Roblox “Solidarity For You” originated in Malaysia—why, asked western audiences, would “they” “care”? But Malaysia is a majority-Muslim country, while Islam is the most popular religion across the Asian continent, with roughly 1.3 billion believers. The Roblox protest went viral soon after Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim led a 20,000person pro-Palestine rally in Kuala Lumpur stadium; Malaysia, like Bangladesh and Pakistan, is one of the few UN member states which does not acknowledge Israel. While Roblox has censored the phrase “Free Palestine,” Afiq Mat Zaid, the streamer who organized the first digital rally, has promised to host more Roblox protests during after-school hours before the evening prayers begin.

"Israel’s propaganda campaign failed to consider Snapchat Maps."

Part of caring about Palestinians amidst the hegemonic demand of support for settler colonialism has been about sharing the facts as they stand—facts which undeniably expose the asymmetric violence Palestinians have endured. To this end, many of us have memorized numbers. Seventy-five years of a brutal occupation. Seven hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians disposed of in the first Nakba; two million trapped in Gaza, fifty percent of them children.  Now we have more numbers: eight thousand killed since October 7th, 1.4 million displaced, another Nakba. As “No Human Being Can Exist,” an essential essay by Saree Makdisi, asks us, "How can a person make up for seven decades of misrepresentation and willful distortion in the time allotted to a sound bite?" While it remains urgent to continue sharing the reality of Palestinians, the work of "humanizing" the already human is an insulting assignment.

It is painful to reckon with how easily some revoke the humanity of others; it’s tempting to pretend they just haven't seen the right photo of a suffering child. For many, it's true: they hadn't realized. And they're seeing now. For some, no martyred youth will move their closed heart. The rubble won't register as an aberration, but as a historically consistent setting for a people they cannot imagine otherwise. It's why images of Ukrainians fleeing war were so jarring to the West: refugees aren't supposed to look like them. It's why celebrities like Jaime Lee Curtis and Justin Bieber were pushed to share devastating images on their Instagram stories, until they were corrected that those were images of Palestinians, at which point they deleted the photos. The images were only shocking if they depicted people who weren't meant to suffer like that; Palestinians apparently are. There are no comparable images for the other side.Instead, Israeli's seek the victimhood their status as occupiers denies them by posting front-facing videos urging us to take their racist paranoia seriously. A quick survey of contemporary life in Israel vs Palestineshowcases the delusion of that narrative.

Israel's latest most aggressive campaign of violence against Palestinians is occurring during the largest global mobilization of support for the end of the occupation. The same images shocking us are dismissed as falsified propaganda by Israelis. While pursuing the end of the Palestinian people, Zionists have simultaneously pursued total suppression of the truth of the occupation: professionally (by blacklisting), technologically (by suppressing content), financially (by buying silence and support). Still, they cannot stop the tide.

The credit for this moment goes not to social media but to the patient organizing and education Palestinians around the world have committed themselves to—repeating the numbers, sharing the facts. The world is proving that consent for genocide cannot be bought as easily as our politicians are. While some grow apoplectic denying a prison exists, Palestinians have moved on to breaking down the prison walls.  

Art World Uses Zionism to Discipline Labor

On October 19th, Artforum published an open letter—signed by over eight thousand artists—condemning Israel’s war on Palestine; a week later, Artforum’s editor-in-chief, David Velasco, was fired by Jay Penske of Penske Media, the multi-billion dollar conglomerate which serves as the magazine’s parent company. While the move partly stemmed from advertiser pressure, the Intercept also reported that Martin Eisenberg, “a high-profile collector and inheritor of the now-bankrupt Bed Bath & Beyond fortune,” had also been privately contacting individual signees, pressuring them to take their name off the list. He wasn’t the only one: soon after the letter was posted, high-profile artists like Joan Jonas and Peter Doig had also been pressured into redacting.

Others had the value of their work threatened by collectors who claimed they would organize to sell off art at intentionally low prices. The New York Times confirmed this move: “We have a deaccession plan that would ‘diminish the artists’ status,’ Sarah Lehat Blumenstein, who fund-raises for a major museum, wrote to members of a WhatsApp group organized as a response to the open letter.” While the art market runs on being a tax incentivized wealth management program, the efforts by those who benefit from that program to assert their political views on culture workers is still galling.“It is…surprising to learn how many collectors believe that owning a few drawings of mine means they get to tell me what to do with my name,” artist Nicole Eisenmann told the Times.

But as social media increasingly allows collectors to surveil artists, mega-donors feel entitled to control what artists publicly post and endorse. Artists, meanwhile, are less able to push back, as US public culture funding shrivels into non-existence. Instead, like many other service economy workers, they’re expected to exist more like clout courtesans, a “friend” whose cultural capital you draw from at the expense of their independence.

Since galleries, the entities supposedly designed to protect artists from individual harassment, have mostly just joined in, artists have been left wondering what kind of organizing could offer collective support. Unlike museums, which have a high staff to management ratio and contracted labor, many galleries and collectors involve informal spoken agreements not ratified by contracts, which makes labor more nebulous and thus easier to exploit.

Since Velasco’s firing, Eisenmann, photographer Nan Goldin, and many others have called for an Artforum boycott, while four senior editors have quit. Artforum has responded by hiding their “unsubscribe” button and removing the letter, although it is still available here.

Nostalgia For the Future

When the “first prosumer digital cameras became available in 1993,” western both-sides-ist propaganda and essay films like Jean Luc-Godards Here and Elsewhere (1976) were superseded by first-person footage made by Palestinians. This footage was, as Nadia Awad writes in “Nostalgia for the Future” (2015), was often functional. “In Nabi Saleh, a village that the army has raided once a week (at least) for over five years, the Tamimi family has created a vital community media project, a cinematic testament to their survivorship. The Tamimi family is, at once, producer, fixer, editor, shooter, distributor, and interpreter….They have documented nearly every tear gas-infused raid, as well as the arrests, murders, and beatings of many community members.”

The west has historically allowed these images of Palestine to circulate globally—on one condition.

“Palestinians,” writes Awad, "were granted  ‘permission to narrate,’ provided they police their imaginations well enough to steer clear of the more vexing, ‘divisive’ questions of Palestine (i.e. resistance, return).”

This week, TNI published “The Second Week,” a dispatch from the Palestinian Youth Movement. An excerpt is available below, and the full piece is available here:

"What we have witnessed in these two weeks is an illumination of terrain; contingent solidarities have been left in the dust, unable to meet the moment. Instead, principled action has ruled the day, the energy of the young bubbling over and blooming. Hundreds of businesses have gone on strike in Germany, Elbit arms factories have been accosted, unions in South Africa have re-committed to boycott, cultural institutions have divested, tens of thousands have taken Chicago, hundreds of thousands in London. There is no time to be afraid. The cops, the bosses, the administrators, the “men of letters”—all those who have made careers off us, who profit from our dehumanization and perfect victimhood—have unsurprisingly struck a plaintive tone, half-heartedly crying for a return to their own normalcy. They will curse us, fire us, defame us, arrest us, attack our livelihood—but we are much stronger than they are, and we will take care of us. We have the force of a movement, our cause is just and true, and we must fight, not in spite of our resistance, but because of it."

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