Indigenous Writers in Solidarity with Palestine

15 Nov 2023

Blak solidarity with Palestinian people is powerful, writes Karen Wyld. Karen reflects on friendships and solidarity between Blak and Palestinian writers, and mutual support for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.

Indigenous Writers in Solidarity with Palestine

Weeks ago, I wanted to write a piece about joy, friendship, and literature. Instead, I’m writing about  state violence. I write to support Palestinian people. But is the pen still mightier than the sword, when the sword is an endless stream of bombs? 

We’re frequently hearing From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free in the streets, reading it on social media, and seeing it in the news. This is not a call for a fictional genocide, from the people enduring an actual genocide. This is an aspiration for all peoples in that region, and the land itself, to be free from the state of Israel’s acts of apartheid, state violence, wanton destruction, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. It is a call for Palestinian liberation and self-determination.

There’s been strong opposition to this slogan, based on misinterpretations and attempts to silence voices advocating for Palestine’s liberation. In an Al Jazeera article, Federica Marsi writes: “Freedom here refers to the fact that Palestinians have been denied the realisation of their right to self-determination since Britain granted the Jews the right to establish a national homeland in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration of 1917.” Decolonize Palestine explains that through From the River to the Sea people are calling for the dismantling of an entity that “…dominates [Palestinian] lives…” and “…seek to replace it with a state that would not exist at the expense of the subjugation of others.”

Reading more broadly can help individuals identify misinformation. Reading Palestinian poetry and novels can help to identify attempts to dehumanise Palestinian people. Listening to Palestinian poets, authors and journalists is illuminating, but too often people try to silence their voices. 

In March 2023,  Louise Adler, incoming Director of Adelaide Writers Week, programmed the biggest line-up of Palestinian writers ever seen in Australia. Some of these sessions included Blak writers, in solidarity. The backlash was appalling, and intensified in the lead-up to the festival. Louise Adler, who’s Jewish family includes resistance fighters, Holocaust victims and survivors, stood strong against this storm.

Dr Ramzy Baroud, a Palestinian-American invited to speak at this festival, was reported as saying that “… the question of taking a side between Israel and Palestine reeked of privilege: for him it was about survival.” Susan Abulhawa, renown author and co-founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, said of the campaign to stop her from speaking at this event: “Silencing or perverting Palestinian voices is endemic, and I’m used to it—we all are—which is why I’m so grateful to Louise Adler and the Board of the Adelaide Festival for bravely ensuring that we do and will have space to speak and interact with readers on a cultural landscape.”

All sessions were well attended, and recordings, including the below featuring Palestinian and Blak writers, are available as podcasts:

  • Sovereignty and Solidarity: Susan Abulhawa (Palestinian novelist and poet), Lorna Munro (Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi poet); and myself (a Martu writer) as Chair.
  • Writing from Stolen Lands: Ramzy Baroud (Palestinian-American journalist and author), Saree Makdisi (Palestinian-American literary critic and professor) and Amy McQuire (Darumbal and South Sea Islander children’s author and freelance journalist), and chaired by Randa Abdel-Fattah (Palestinian-Australian writer and academic).
  • The Poetry of Dispossession: Mohammed El-Kurd (Palestinian writer and poet, who zoomed in from Jerusalem), Jeanine Leane (Wiradjuri poet, literary critic and academic), Hasib Houranri (Lebanese-Palestinian writer living on Wurundjeri Country), Julia Cimafeijeva (Belarusian poet and translator), and chaired by Sara Saleh (writer and human rights lawyer, of Palestinian, Egyptian, and Lebanese heritage).

In September 2023, there were attempts to shut down Palestine Writes Literature Festival in Philadelphia, Turtle Island. Reminiscent of the manipulative efforts to stop Palestinian writers from speaking at Adelaide Writers Week, but with more heat and hate. In a press release, Palestine Writes says of this pressure to cancel the festival: “…our small, cash-strapped, all volunteer group did not back down and we prevailed. Palestine Writes Literature Festival exceeded all of our expectations in every way. Maurice Ebileeni, a festival speaker and author from Haifa, Palestine, remarked that Palestine Writes marks “a moment of before and after in our cultural history.”  The reactions we got from attendees and speakers are enough to fill our hearts for a long time to come.”

Over 6000 people witnessed the opening night in-person or through live-streaming. Festival Executive Director Susan Abulhawa’s opening remarks honoured ancestors, asserted Indigeneity, recognised global solidarity, expressed the strength of shared story, and denounced the animosity the festival received. Susan Abulhawa stated: “…it remains humiliating and demoralising to persistently be pushed into the position of having to defend one’s integrity…against such foul accusations, especially when we are the victims, but this is not about one person, or a handful of persons. But about our presence in the world as Indigenous people that seems to offend. It is about the fact that we remain proud, unbroken, defiant, honouring our ancestors….“

The opening also included a video featuring one of Susan Abulhawa’s poems, We Were Always There. This powerfully beautiful video, along with speeches and performances, filled the auditorium with joy, strength, and Indigenous pride. These themes continued throughout the three-day festival. 

Other Indigenous voices were present at the festival, including on opening night. Trinity Goombi-Guido, Lenape citizen of the Delaware Nation of Anadarko, gave the land acknowledgement, and Lorna Munro (Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi poet) received a standing ovation for her poetry reading. And due to relationships formed at Adelaide Writers Week, Lorna Munro, Ali Cobby Eckermann (Yankunytjatjara writer and poet) and myself were invited to speak at Palestine Writes. Other speakers living in so-called Australia included writers Randa Abdel-Fattah and Sara Saleh. Friendships and solidarity between writers go beyond festivals, especially in times of crisis and activism. 

Randa Abdel Fattah says: 

“Black/Pal solidarity is about investing ourselves in joint struggle for self-determination and mutual liberation understanding that we confront interconnected global structures of state violence. It means a commitment to rupturing and destabilizing deep colonising relations of power and refusing to participate in practices which shield and hide injustice. I have come to appreciate that joint struggle is mere performance if it is not grounded in an ethics of care, sacrifice, empathy and witnessing.”

On social media, a poignant saying relating to the current deaths in Palestine is being circulated (original source unknown): We are not numbers. We are universes full of life and stories. So, we all need to speak up, stand up, write with fury before more universes full of life and story go dim.

Numerous open letters have been published. Global Indigenous Solidarity with Palestine was published by The Red Nation; and an open letter from Australian creatives to stop the genocide in Gaza was published by Overland, which included First Nations writers and poets.

From the river to the sea is a yearning to live safely and self-determined on ancestral land. A liberation slogan does not erase other Indigenous peoples of that region, who have intergenerational relationships to each other and the land. But there are also settlers who do not understand these relationships, who do not cherish the ancient olive groves as if they were grandparents. Entwined systems of colonialism, capitalism, and racism are detrimental for many peoples. The systemic racism within Israel’s social and political systems underpins the current violence. 

Systemic racism is also prevalent in so-called Australia. Many Australians need to re-examine their own core beliefs. No one can claim to support Indigenous rights in so-called Australia if they don’t support Indigenous Palestinian people’s right to exist. You can’t say you want First Peoples to have a voice on one hand, when you’re using the other hand to proclaim support for a genocide regime. You can’t say you’re against deaths in custody, but don’t listen when Palestinians say they can’t breathe. ACAB includes the IOF. 

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free imagines the liberation of ancestral land. These are sovereign peoples’ words, similar to Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. Neither of these chants are harmful. Palestine will be free and olive groves will blossom again; fishing crews will sail without harm; and children’s laughter will fill the air. Story, poetry, and song will once again flourish. And Indigenous friendships will continue. 

 

 

 

 

Karen Wyld is a freelance writer and author of Martu descent, living on the south coast of Adelaide. Karen received travel funding from Creative Australia and the Neilma Sidney Travel Fund to attend Palestine Writes literature festival.
See Free Palestine: A Verso Reading List for reading recommendations. They’re UK based but currently offering free downloads of e-books. Some of these books are also available in Australian bookshops and libraries.



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