Exterminate All the Brutes: a critique by Mara Ahmed

i wrote this piece in the middle of the bombing of gaza. it’s a critique of raoul peck’s “exterminate all the brutes” and it pivots on his terse (and highly problematic) treatment of palestine. it got published by mondoweiss today. i know that a lot is going on right now that’s urgent, but i also think it’s more important than ever to root out liberal zionism from what’s considered the left:

No, Palestine is not complicated, Mr. Peck. It’s settler colonialism unfolding “live” before our eyes. As the Nakba continues in 2021, with full on ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah and war crimes in Gaza, it’s more egregious than ever to hide behind evasive language or recycled Zionist tropes. More here.

there is a ceasefire but what’s next?

there is a ceasefire in place at the moment with a break in the bombing of gaza, thank god, but that does not change the reality of settler colonialism, ongoing ethnic cleansing, apartheid, an illegal blockade, military occupation, the imprisonment of children, checkpoints that negate freedom of movement, and non-stop human rights violations. this has been going on, in various forms, since 1948.

it’s been painful to read posts on social media, by well-meaning people who couch their support in abstract language, never mention israel as the aggressor/colonizer, or engage in bothsidesism (pray for both sides, mourn lives lost on both sides, there are extremists on both sides, etc). essentially, they are affirming the equivalent of ‘all lives matter.’

the majority of people have been silent which is even more unsettling.

consider this:

israel has one of the best equipped militaries in the world (thx to our tax dollars), palestinians do not have an army, air force or navy. they don’t control their borders, with no sovereign title over the west bank or gaza strip. this is why we see the obscene disparity in numbers of people killed and wounded.

another set of numbers might be helpful:

per capita GDP for gaza: $876
per capital GDP for israel: $34,185

gaza is sealed from all sides by israel. every few years they ‘cut the grass’ by bombing one of the most densely populated areas in the world. then they don’t allow concrete in, so palestinians can’t rebuild their homes. materials needed to construct vital water infrastructure are not permitted either so there’s a chronic water crisis in gaza. israel limits the amount of electricity gaza can access per day. they even restrict the amount of calories allowed for its population by blocking food.

another interesting fact:

children constitute about half of gaza’s population. the median age is 17.

there is no reason for not knowing – this information is freely available, a lot of it provided by the UN.

i look at this media/social media landscape and understand why grotesque crimes against humanity have been possible in history. it’s easy to look back and decry slavery and genocide. it’s much harder to recognize it, speak about it, and resist it while it’s happening.

those who have spoken up, written posts, made calls, protested, declared their position and invited wrath from their communities, thank you. we see you and we find hope in ur integrity. “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” inshallah.

Action you can take: Tell Congress to Stop Weapons sales to Israel NOW

You can find out who your Representative is via zip code/address here.

Script to read for Representatives who are NOT taking action:

My name is [NAME], I am calling as a constituent of [YOUR REPRESENTATIVE NAME] to call upon them to add their name as a co-sponsor to the House Joint Resolution to block the sale of $735 million in U.S. weaponry to the Israeli government. Under no circumstances should we be approving weapons sales to the Israeli government as we see them deploy military resources to target Palestinian families, media outlets, schools, hospitals, and Gaza’s only COVID test site. I am asking my Representative to add their name to the Resolution. Thank you.

Friends in Palestine, Has the Future Arrived?

‘During this week of Eid, I want to honour my friends in Palestine for what they taught and continue to teach, to me and to others. In “Letter from Gaza” by the Palestinian revolutionary and novelist Ghassan Kanafani, a young man writes to his friend Mustafa to explain his broken promise that they would start their lives anew in the United States, and his decision instead to stay behind in Gaza. In “this Gaza [that is] like the introverted lining of a rusted snail-shell thrown up by the waves on the sticky, sandy shore by the slaughter-house. This Gaza [that] was more cramped than the mind of a sleeper in the throes of a fearful nightmare…” In the amputation of his 13-year-old niece’s leg – Israel’s sadistic gifts from the skies are indiscriminating – he comes to discover that the “long, long road to Safad,” a city in the occupied upper Galilee, starts from his home in Gaza. He concludes the letter to his friend: “I won’t come to you. But you, return to us! Come back, to learn from Nadia’s leg, amputated from the top of the thigh, what life is and what existence is worth.”

Has that future of return arrived? Are we inhabiting that moment of a dream that seemed impossible? It is difficult to even write these words, given the harrowing images coming from Gaza: of entire families wiped out by Israel’s continuous bombardment over these last days. Yet, as bombs crack open the earth in Gaza, we are feeling the rumble across the world.

In the air, there appears the possibility of an awakening of political consciousness, the moral force of resistance from all corners of the world screaming for an end to this brutality.’ More here.

Activate, Reimagine, Transform UArts Conference

Friends, I am honored to be a part of ‘Activate, Reimagine, Transform,’ a virtual gathering hosted by the UR Institute for the Performing Arts, in partnership with the UR Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center, 540WMain, Create A Space Now, and Rochester Fringe Festival. I will be talking about The Injured Body: a film about racism in America and so much more. It will be multimedia, as usual, with clips from the documentary and hopefully, the premiere of a film trailer. I will be presenting on opening night, June 3rd, at 8pm. The conference runs June 3-6 and is completely free. Pls register here.

Statement: Zionism is Not Compatible with Prison Abolition or Reform – Critical Resistance

Activists involved in anti-racism work, pls read, sign, and consider your relationships with Zionist organizations such as the Jewish Federation and the Levine Center to End Hate.

Zionism is Not Compatible with Prison Abolition or Reform: We are formerly incarcerated people, activists and scholars committed to ending mass incarceration and dismantling the U.S. prison industrial complex. We are deeply concerned with the mounting effort on the part of pro-Israel, Zionist organizations in the U.S. to appropriate a criminal justice reform platform in order to advance the racist ideology and practice of Zionism. These organizations are using this platform to win prison reform advocates, especially Black and other people of color, to their political agenda of attacking the human rights of the Palestinian people. This subterfuge is particularly hypocritical at a time when Zionist groups have recently mounted frontal attacks against Black leaders such as Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander and Marc Lamont Hill because of their support for Palestinian freedom, and at a time when Israel is brutally escalating their offensive against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. We call upon all those involved in the prison reform and abolition movements to refuse to participate in these dishonest and destructive programs. More here.

[Founded by Angela Davis, Rose Braz, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and others in 1997, Critical Resistance seeks to build an international movement to end the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.]


Last year, I worked with JVP to organize a Palestinian film festival. One of the films I suggested was the story of a 15-year old boy named Obaida. The festival didn’t go anywhere, but we develop a sense of connection to the people on the screen. We learn a small part of their story. We feel like we know them a little. I just found out from a post by the film’s director that Obaida was killed earlier today. An Israeli soldier shot a bullet through his heart. I have no words, just deep grief and immense rage. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. May u rest in peace, sweet child.

Matthew Cassel (May 17):
I write this through tears after learning that Obaida Jawabreh, who I met in his refugee camp two years ago when he was just 15, was killed earlier today by an Israeli soldier’s bullet to his heart. Obaida was so curious, I was supposed to be the one conducting the interview but he spent our few days together asking me more questions than I asked him. He wanted to become a chef, but surrounded in every direction by Israeli military, checkpoints and settlements, even chasing such a simple dream was always going to be tough. He died before his 18th birthday. My heart goes out to his family, especially to his dear father Akram, who would send me the sweetest messages on holidays long after our meeting. He loved his son and wanted nothing more than to watch him grow up away from the occupation. Together with Defense for Children International – Palestine I made this video on Obaida in 2019. May he now rest in the peace that he was denied throughout his life.

men and logical fallacies

thinking about my overwhelming experience that ad hominem attacks are often made by men. in political arguments, especially over palestine and other decolonial questions, men will very quickly resort to personal attacks rather than offer cogent counter arguments. it’s no coincidence that women are perennially stereotyped as ‘emotional,’ by men, when the most common logical fallacies are what they reach for instinctively. perhaps that’s the nature of guilt – to project one’s shortcomings/offenses onto the other.

Palestine and Vietnam

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Even as one branch of Asian American culture goes corporate & representational, another branch follows Edward Said’s insights and connects East/Southeast Asian “Orientals” to Arab “Orientals.” Hence, to be Asian American is also to decolonize & align with the Palestinian cause.

Said himself, in ORIENTALISM’s conclusion, connects the Vietnam War to American Orientalism & dissects western media’s representations of Muslims in a way that shows a complete parallel to how the Vietnamese are represented. Gooks then, Muslims now, fulfilling the same function.

Impossible to watch the IDF bombing and shelling Gaza and not think about American war strategies in Viet Nam, carried out in utter disregard of Vietnamese life and not caring to distinguish between combatants and civilians.

And blaming the Vietnamese for the conditions that the Americans created, as Israel is blaming the Palestinians for making the IDF bomb and shell them, a ludicrous argument that a lot of western media is just repeating.

In sum, one cannot be anti-racist without being anti-colonial and decolonizing. For Asian Americans not to see our common cause with other oppressed peoples means that we are not genuinely anti-racist. We’re just self-interested.

Palestine reading list by Yara Asi

Activist friends often ask me for a Palestine reading list. Here is one from Yara Asi. It is public, pls feel free to share.
First, some foundational classics (a lot has changed since these came out, but still applicable and valuable):

  1. The Question of Palestine- Edward Said
  2. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine- Ilan Pappe
  3. The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-Development- Sara Roy
    Newer books, but will likely be classics:
  4. The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine- Rashid Khalidi
  5. Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine- @4noura
  6. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement- Angela Davis
    Others with a unique viewpoint:
  7. The Only Language They Understand- @NathanThrall
  8. The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine- @BenEhrenreich
  9. Hamas Contained: The Rise and Pacification of Palestinian Resistance- @TareqBaconi
  10. Blind Spot: America & the Palestinians- @elgindy_
  11. Except for Palestine- @marclamonthill & @MJPlitnick
  12. Palestinian Village Histories: Geographies of the Displaced- Rochelle Davis
  13. Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile- Diana Allan
    Some fiction:
  14. Speak, Bird, Speak Again: Palestinian Folktales- Ibrahim Muhawi & Sharif Kanaana
  15. Salt Houses- @HalaNAlyan
  16. Palestine +100: Stories from a Century after the Nakba- @BasmaGhalayini
  17. Mornings in Jenin- @sjabulhawa
  18. The Book of Disappearance- Ibitisam Azem
    And I couldn’t let you go without some cookbooks:
  19. Palestine on a Plate: Memories from My Mother’s Kitchen- @palestinesplate
  20. The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey- @gazamom
  21. Craving Palestine: A Cookbook (a fundraising compilation)

    More books recommended by others:

    The Palestine Question in International law by @VictorKattan
    @AliAbunimah’s “One Country: A Bold Proposal To End The Israeli-Palestinian Impasse” and also “The Battle For Justice In Palestine”
    Palestine – a graphic novel by Joe Sacco
    Memory for Forgetfulness – poetry by Mahmoud Darwish

Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying by Noor Hindi

thank u Chen Chen for sharing this poem. i am writing a paper about language right now, esp the violence of having to use the colonizer’s language and thus inserting them between oneself and the world, erasing oneself by losing one’s mother tongue and one’s collective memory bank. but i am also writing about cesaire and achebe and how they took the colonizer’s language and exploded it — forced it to understand them, the people it had violated. i shall add this poem by noor hindi to the list.

[POEM] Fuck Your Lecture on Craft, My People Are Dying by Noor Hindi

Colonizers write about flowers.
I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks
seconds before becoming daisies.
I want to be like those poets who care about the moon.
Palestinians don’t see the moon from jail cells and prisons.
It’s so beautiful, the moon.
They’re so beautiful, the flowers.
I pick flowers for my dead father when I’m sad.
He watches Al Jazeera all day.
I wish Jessica would stop texting me Happy Ramadan.
I know I’m American because when I walk into a room something dies.
Metaphors about death are for poets who think ghosts care about sound.
When I die, I promise to haunt you forever.
One day, I’ll write about the flowers like we own them.

End hate in Palestine

Respectfully, I would like to ask what workshops, guest lectures, actions or even op-eds have been forthcoming from the Levine Center to End Hate as a response to the spectacular hate and violence we are seeing from Israel, violence enacted on the bodies of Palestinians, including children (nine kids have been killed in Gaza). Pls call them and ask: (585) 461-0490. The Levine Center is part of the Jewish Federation, which supports the occupation of Palestine. Yet the Center has embedded itself in anti-racism work. We need to hold them accountable. One cannot fight racism in one context and buttress it in another.

Noura Erakat and Mariam Barghouti in the Washington Post: As May 15 marks the 73rd commemoration of the mass expulsion of Palestinians from cities such as Haifa, Tarshiha and Safad in 1948, let the world bear witness to Jerusalem today. This is how refugees are made, this is our ongoing Nakba. Our freedom struggle is not for a state but for belonging to the land, to remain on it, to keep our homes, to resist erasure. But somehow calling it by its name on social media, revealing to the world what has been happening for decades, seems more offensive than our ongoing displacement at gun point. There’s no denying the reality: This is Zionist settler colonialism, where if one settler does not take our homes, another settler will. When will the world open its eyes to this injustice and respond appropriately? We do not need more empty both sides-isms, we need solidarity to overcome apartheid.