Tự Do Palestine

December 7, 2023
Brooklyn, New York
T-shirt design by @soulvenir.co

After October 7th, I picked at my scalp each night for a week before going to bed, my finger swiping through my Twitter feed until my arm went numb from lying on it. I’d wake up the next morning and repeat, head pounding and mouth dry as I reached for my phone as soon as I woke again to read the hysteric opinions of people online screaming to be heard on top of each other, mobile phone footage of people digging towards family members buried under grey rubble with their bare hands, parents holding the remains of their children in plastic bags, the official Israel twitter account utilizing memes for war-time propaganda, news links reporting death counts rising and rising and rising and hospitals bombed and babies being taken off incubators because there was no power left. I noticed which sides’ statistics were given the authority of “officials say” and which were skeptically waved at with “according to”. I read and I watched the outpouring of grief and trauma from both my Jewish and Palestinian friends, of the clusterfuck of terror and hatred spiraling down through the years and lives of generations of Israelis and Palestinians after colonial powers foisted one displaced people they didn’t want on another minority group they “ruled” over. 

On Instagram, I lost friends who tried to play model U.N. with me in my DMs, accusing me of spreading misinformation by reposting graphics that used the word ‘genocide’, I watched as people I knew, well-meaning, liberal, smart people posting war-mongering Instagram graphics no ceasefire until the hostages are returned even as I read elsewhere that the Israeli government rejected that very deal. I would lie in bed, my fingernails working themselves underneath flakes of scalp as I fretted over each extreme statement I read. How many people must die until people think calling for a ceasefire is justified? Until people are no longer censored and fired from their jobs for calling for the most basic act of human decency? 50,000? 100,000? 500,000? Is it not a genocide or at the very minimum an ethnic cleansing when an entire population of people have their resources controlled for decades and are finally driven out in one great big push protected and sanctioned by the international order of power and the military-industrial complex?

To watch the mass killing of a people televised on social media in real time has felt like going insane, tweet by tweet, video by video. For Biden, Sanders and Trump to hold the same perspective, to see the US government continue pledging a seemingly endless amount of money and weapons to support the wholesale murder of an people, all the while passing laws that equate any antizionism with antisemitism, has been scary.

I sequester 40% of my freelance income for tax time, I pay out of pocket for flu shots and birth control, I ride my bike and I climb and I cross the road and cross my fingers that one wrong move won’t cause bankruptcy. I read articles about the increasing cost of living and the stagnant wages, and then I read that the economy is booming. To live in a country that finds $14.3B in their jean pockets before the laundry to help send missiles raining down on people who lose their legs, their homes, their families while it all passes by my phone screen (made possible from the slavery and child labor driven by the Cobalt mining industry in Congo), a great big wave of human pain and suffering I don’t know what to do with as I cry in my bed.

  Part of me has felt as though I have no place to speak on this issue, that to share my opinion, my rage, my grief, my sadness, is to take up space that I am not entitled to. I’m not Israeli, I’m not Palestinian. I don’t technically have a dog in the race, but I have felt a rock lodged in the pit of my stomach, one that I feel I’ve carried around my whole life, for many lifetimes before mine, lodged not by the witnessing of this conflict, or the one in Congo, or the one in Yemen, but by the echoes and ghosts of every conflict waged against people who do not deserve it. I’m not Palestinian. But I am Vietnamese, and my ancestors have suffered over and over again at the hands of colonization, by the impact of forced migration because war has arrived at their doorstep.  It’s the rock that gets heavier the older I get, the more we are intent on proving that we never learn from our mistakes, that human life continues to be expendable depending on where you’re born, the color of your skin, that a few in power continue to profit by holding its great boot on the necks of the global south until they can no longer breathe. 

The U.S. killed 3M Vietnamese people over eight years. I had to look at that number for a few minutes to really process it. Like this genocide, they justified the carpet bombing and use of Agent Orange because of the nature of guerilla fighting, that “Vietcong terrorists” were operating in tunnels underneath villages and the domestic places of innocent civilians, that there was somehow no other choice but to obliterate and dismiss millions of people as collateral damage in a proxy battleground against the specter of Communism. Does it sound familiar, falling back on the justification that lives can be spent because they’re “human shields?”

“Another aspect of Vietnamization was the repugnant use of terminology such as “body count” to describe enemy casualties, not to mention the U.S. military’s infamous use of euphemisms, outright lies and doublespeak: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” (Salon Magazine)

The escalation of sending missiles against Vietnam was based on lies the government sold to the American people around the Tonkin Gulf incident, retaliation for something that never actually happened. They continued to hide behind lies throughout the war, spending the lives of American soldiers and Vietnamese citizens like the endless pot of money for violence, for our defense budget that never seems to be depleted. The media funneled these lies until they no longer could, until people had access for the first time to televisions and photographic evidence of the casualties, of the cruelty, of the innocent blood spilled. The power of the people’s ability to witness for themselves the reality led to some of the biggest anti-war protest this country has ever seen. 

“The business of obscuring language is a mask behind which stands the much greater business of plunder.”

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Today, with our unprecedented access to high resolution videos of war atrocities, of the bombing of hospitals and schools and sanctuaries live-streamed by journalists over social media, what has been most distressing to me is realizing how far some can hide behind mere rhetoric in the face of real human lives, 15,000+ of them, whole families of them, bloodlines wiped out. How words seem to weigh more heavily than human bodies. How trauma buries itself into the fabric of someone’s body until it twists itself into blind fear and perpetuates the same violence against others. How we cannot see that this doesn’t make Israeli people or Jewish people safer, it doesn’t make any of us safer. War only splinters into more conflict, into more hatred embedded into the hearts of the victims of violence, those consequences spiralling through the halls of histories and families. 

Last weekend I was at a retreat with a dear friend of mine Thea. She gathered a bunch of women who were freelancers or entrepreneurs, and we talked about strength and burnout. I was interviewed about what strength was to me, and I found myself talking about leaning on the histories and Stories of revolutionaries that came before me. Of people who made a difference because of their unwavering integrity and action. I’m thinking about the anti-war protests, of the eventual end of that war (millions of people too late, but nonetheless), of the power of student activism, of writers and artists who were brave enough to demand an end to senseless violence. 

What has made me feel hopeful is the education spreading like wildfire across young people thanks to platforms like TikTok and that access to information, to witness the amount of people who are turning out in historic numbers in London, in Sydney, in New York, in Texas, people who are bringing their bodies together in public spaces to demand compassion and basic decency. What has given me hope is reading reports of direct action across the globe — dock workers refusing to unload war ships, protestors flooding a bridge with their cars, throwing the keys into the water below and chaining themselves to each other, labor organizations standing up together to protest the unjust wholesale murder of Palestinians, of Jewish people shutting down Grand Central Station in a powerful act of solidarity. 

My hope is that our unbridled access to media and to the voices of the trampled can appeal to our better sides, can overcome the rhetoric and the propaganda and the misinformation, that the parts of us that are human and which demanded change and peace during the protests against the Vietnam War are still alive and ready to continue fighting, to be resilient and to recognize how these struggles affect us even if we are protected by the glow of our screens. I worry about continuing down this path of violence and genocide that we know never works, to never evolve past the darkest and most basest corners of the human psyche, of the consequences to our humanity if we look away, move on with our lives, watch it passively a decade down the line via a Netflix documentary. All struggles are connected, all of us are no different to each other, and to look away from that simple fact is to look away from yourself, to be separated from what makes you human. 

“The more the people understand, the more watchful they become, and the more they come to realize that finally everything depends on them and their salvation lies in their own cohesion, in the true understanding of their interests, and in knowing who their enemies are. The people come to understand that wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized, protected robbery.”

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth