Choose your point of view

Ahmed Moor

The experience of being a Palestinian American in the US is bewildering. After days of devastating bombardment, Israeli troops are massing on the border with Gaza. My state of mind has become uncoupled from the material reality of my life in Philadelphia. Everyday activities – greeting neighbours, dropping my kids off at school – feel unreal. At the same time, I observe the ‘good guys’ – Biden, Blinken, Starmer – express a deadly condescension to Palestinians and a disregard for Palestinian lives: the lives of children who look like mine.

I was born in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. As a boy, my only interactions with Israelis were at checkpoints or looking down the barrel of a gun. When I read the Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant’s words describing us as ‘human animals’, I understood his point of view perfectly. Dehumanising the other is easy. It’s easy to think the other side doesn’t really comprise people, that the Zionists are fundamentally different from us, interested only in domination, control and apartheid.

I’m part of a generation that was recruited to the Seeds of Peace summer camps and cultural exchanges organised by elderly white liberals with good intentions. I mostly regarded their efforts with suspicion, as if the superficial embrace of what we were supposed to have in common would override the structural basis of our differences. Or to paraphrase Aaron David Miller on why Oslo failed: the power imbalance between occupied and occupier precludes the possibility of any real exchange among people. The US, in Miller’s opinion, acted as ‘Israel’s lawyer’. He isn’t the only one to have said so.

Many of us at the time, weighing the lofty pronouncements from Washington against the reality of life in the Occupied Territories – the daily encroachment of settlements, backed by the Israeli army – could see that Oslo was a naked ploy. I was fourteen at the time, but could see that the ‘peace process’ was an elaborate effort to consolidate ill-gotten gains, to move past the Nakba – and launder the proceeds of ethnic cleansing – without any kind of moral reckoning or acknowledgment. I was living it, and twenty-five years later I take no satisfaction in having been right.

My view of Israelis, peaceniks and Likudniks alike, didn’t change until I was at the University of Pennsylvania in 2002. The Second Intifada was raging and a former Israeli pilot, Yonatan Shapira, was in the news for refusing to serve. Shapira’s position was sincere and uncomplicated: he was no longer willing to take part in war crimes. His courage was my first introduction to what true solidarity – a fight for justice in Palestine/Israel – could mean.

Since then I’ve met and worked alongside many Jewish people and Israelis who belong to the anti-Zionist movement for justice, including Jewish Voice for Peace. And I’ve had ample opportunity to reflect on the birthright lottery that casts us into one camp or the other. I’ve learned that you don’t choose your tribe; you choose your point of view.

For us, solidarity is not predicated on sporting events, or shared affinities for certain kinds of food, but on a non-negotiable commitment to human rights. International humanitarian law is the blueprint for the set of standards we seek to hold one another to. I don’t like Yoav Gallant and I don’t like what he represents, but I recognise his inalienable rights as a human being. For those of us who’ve worked for justice in Palestine/Israel on that basis, the current moment is a calamity. But it’s also an opportunity for moral clarity.

As I write this I think about what my family is experiencing in Gaza. I think about my cousin, his wife and their children who were killed in Khan Younis yesterday. I think about their young son, who survived, but has no future. I think about the 22 people sheltering in the darkness in my aunt’s battered apartment, with barely any water to go around between them. And I call on people of conscience to press their leaders for an immediate ceasefire. I call for the human rights of the Palestinians.


  • 19 October 2023 at 11:48am
    Fred Skolnik says:
    I understand your point of view and do not expect you as an Arab to have an entirely balanced view of the conflict or to be anything other than an advocate of the Palestinian people. Behind that view, however, lies another view, clearly shared by your Jewish “anti-Zionist” friends, that is the direct cause of the suffering of the Palestinian people, namely that the State of Israel should not have been established and should not exist. This view led to your disastrous attacks in 1948 and 1967 with the explicit aim of destroying the State of Israel and massacring its Jewish population, just as you had been massacring Jewish populations for nearly 1400 years. You didn’t succeed and your response in the Arab League was: No Peace, No Negotiations, No Recognition. Instead you chose terrorism. You have only yourselves to blame.

    • 19 October 2023 at 1:13pm
      freshborn says: @ Fred Skolnik
      I'm shocked to discover that the LRB has published a piece by somebody who has been massacring jews for 14 centuries. They should have done a more thorough background check.

      I'd like to write a satirical response in which I blame Fred Skolnik for the killing of christ and suggest that the jews only have themselves to blame. But ironic anti-semitism is incredibly dangerous, while overt, sincere, fervent racism towards Palestinians is tolerated, even while they are currently being ethnically cleansed and suffer pogrom after pogrom from the IDF, with our prime minister shaking the hand of the genocidal maniac in charge of it all.

      Isn't it about time the LRB showed some respect to its contributors and readers and banned this inveterate, notorious racist? Can the editor of the blog explain why he allows these reprehensible comments to continue to appear?

    • 19 October 2023 at 2:11pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ freshborn
      Dear Freshborn

      The massacres. for your information, have continued to this day, including the last one on Oct. 7. The Arabs were massacring Jews before there was a State of Israel, before there were refugees and before there was an occupation. By all means, write a satirical response. I doubt if it will be very funny.

    • 19 October 2023 at 5:05pm
      Camus says: @ Fred Skolnik
      Fred Skolnik,
      How generous of you to allow that there might be two sides to the argument, even if you claim "balance" to be on your side, which is just like the alcoholic claiming that he has his habit under control. Israeli society is deeply divided over the policies of the government, so who has the balanced view there? When ministers tell us that the objective will be to destroy Gaza that is a balanced response to the terrorist attack by the Hamas?

    • 19 October 2023 at 5:10pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ Camus
      I haven't heard anyone say that the objective is to destroy Gaza and I am right here. What the government and the army are saying is that the objective is to destroy Hamas.

    • 19 October 2023 at 6:39pm
      freshborn says: @ Fred Skolnik
      And on what basis did you tell the author of the piece, in your original post, that he "chose terrorism"? Everyone of Palestinian descent is a terrorist to you. We know what the objective is. Everything you've ever posted here is a justification for genocide. Why you're still allowed to use this website as a mouthpiece, I don't know.

    • 19 October 2023 at 7:30pm
      Fred Skolnik says: @ freshborn
      By "you" I mean "you" in the plural, namely the Palestinians who chose, supported and celebrated war and terrorism instead of coexistence.

      You are reciting a mantra of dirty words that you must have picked up and memorized from the I Hate Israel blogs. Conceivably you don't even know what they mean. If Israel was engaging in genocide, ethnic cleansing and "pogrom after pogrom" the number of dead in Gaza would resemble the number of dead in Dresden after two days of Allied bombing in World War II. Israel does not target civilians. Civilians are killed in Gaza because Hamas and the other terrorist organizations are firing their rockets and directing their military operations from in and around hospitals, clinics, schools, playgrounds, mosques and residential areas and preventing civilians from evacuating these areas after Israel warns them of an impending attack via leaflets dropped from the air, emails and telephone calls.

  • 19 October 2023 at 8:20pm
    Ralph Pessah says:
    If there was even the slightest historical evidence that an expression of Israeli magnanimity or trust would result in anything other than outright, immediate Jewish slaughter you might have a point. Gaza WAS itself given back to complete autonomy, in 2005 to be exact. Look at the result.

  • 19 October 2023 at 8:24pm
    Sara Mansur says:
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.

  • 19 October 2023 at 10:14pm
    David Henderson says:
    I’m neither of Arab/Muslim nor Jewish heritage. And yet still I think there is more balance to your contribution than I’m seeing from most other commentators - at least those given a platform in much of mainstream media. I agree with the sentiment that you choose your beliefs, not your ‘tribe’. I would like to hear more voices of reconciliation and less of those preaching retribution. If that sounds naive it’s only because our leaders lack vision.

  • 20 October 2023 at 10:11am
    Martin Davis says:
    I really don't understand the LRB's blog comments policy. I had thought disabling comments was aimed at avoiding controversy on a particularly sensitive subject. But opening this particular entry has, perhaps predictably, had exactly that effect. But then to deny comments on the immediately preceding entry, In Yerevan, about another imperilled ethic group, seems perverse.

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