Bombing & Bickering: An Interview With Randa Abdel-Fattah
"The more people attack you for speaking the truth, the louder your voice should be."
Palestinians are living a life with superhuman strength. That in itself is a reason for us to fight for their right to be ordinary and to live ordinary lives, says Randa Abdel-Fattah.
From challenging the right-wing media to reflecting on the asymmetry of power and exposing the dark underbelly of digital repression of Palestinian voices, the journey of a diasporic Muslim, in a country that will always be an apologist for Israel and pump its addiction to violence by being complicit in its murderous rampage, has not been easy.
Randa Abdel-Fattah, an award-winning author, activist, and ex-lawyer, tells Kasturi Chakraborty how Palestinians do not have the luxury to give up. She has been a prominent voice for the survivors of war crimes. She says her faith as a Muslim woman gives her the spiritual and intellectual tools to understand that it is not enough to be privileged in this life.
With a dream to reunite with her Palestinian father someday, she constantly advocates for the right to freedom from oppression and deconstructs the settler colonial reality.
Excerpts from the interview:
A lawyer, a human rights advocate, an author, and an academic – what inspired you to explore all of these fields?
Growing up in Australia as a Palestinian Egyptian Muslim and experiencing the difficulties, the challenges, the joys and the struggle of negotiating all those aspects of my identity really gave me a very strong sense of social justice and eventually it became a tool of resistance to fight racism, as a teenager and it stayed with me. I have always loved writing, the power of story-telling, and the power of words. I felt that a career in law and writing was something that suited me and my passions and ambitions to try to make the world a better place. I am very lucky that I was able to use my words as a way to fight for human rights and advocate on behalf of those who don’t often have an opportunity to have their voices heard.
You have been deeply connected with Palestine and you never abandoned your roots. What do you have to say about that?
I have a very strong connection with Palestine. I was raised in a family where social justice was something that was very much taught to us both by my Palestinian father and my Egyptian mother. My mother is an educator and my father was a research scientist. So, I grew up with a strong educational background and as part of that education, we were taught that we had to understand who we were and where we came from.
Reflecting on the current situation, I am hopeful about the amazing energy and the momentum of activism that I am seeing globally in terms of the alliances and the coalitions that are forging in such strong ways.
I am also deeply saddened by what is happening and the fact that I doubt that I will ever be able to return to Palestine with my father who is older now. Before fighting for activism, there was always that hope that I would go back with my father and I feel that dream is further and further away. However, it also inspires and gives me the passion to work even harder.
Being a diasporic Muslim, how do you fight head-on against settler colonialism, human rights abuses, and false narratives about Islam amid pro-Israel propaganda to systematically silence Palestinian voices? I am sure it has not been an easy fight, that too, in a country where Muslims are normally viewed as outsiders?
I still speak up because I do not have the luxury to stop and I believe very passionately that the more people attack you for speaking the truth, the louder your voice should be until you drown out dissent and their pathetic attempts to smear and misrepresent you. We cannot be cowed into silence.
Also, I am an idealist. I believe that even if my situation is comfortable, my faith as a Muslim woman gives me the spiritual and intellectual tools to understand that it is not enough for me to be privileged in this life. I have a responsibility to help others, to try and use my privilege and voice to empower others.
Knowing that I have purpose and understanding purpose and having that perspective particularly as somebody who is spiritual, allows me to keep going no matter what.
How does Australia feel about Palestine? Does it support the UN investigation into Israel?
The Australian government has a shameful history of supporting Israel. It’s not unexpected given that it’s a settler colony. There are shared values. The Australian government did not support the UN investigation into Israel’s war crimes in Palestine and pressed for the investigation to be halted based on jurisdictional grounds, which was shocking. This is why as Palestinians in Australia we raise our voices even louder. Because we know that our government is complicit and is responsible for offering Israel impunity for its actions.
There were mass protests all over the world and the voices on social media even louder and clearer this time. What has changed this time? Do you think there is a shift in the wave?
Well, we still face problems with Israel’s flare-ups of the explicit spectacle of violence and how they receive some attention. But as soon as the intensity of this violence drops, there is less media coverage on the Palestinian narrative. This is a struggle and a major challenge for us, to maintain people’s focus and gaze on those moments in between.
This time, I don’t see much has changed from the side of media and the governments but the voices of Palestinians and their allies are getting stronger and louder and that I think is making a difference in maintaining attention to what is happening. It is empowering to witness the bravery, courage, tenacity, and willpower of Palestinians, who are injured in injustice and refuse to be silenced. Their resilience, grit, and determination are what we derive from them.
I think the world is finally noticing Israel’s war crimes because Palestinians are refusing to remain silent. They are so brave in the face of unimaginable cruelty and barbarity, they are still protesting and raising their voices, tweeting, and sending their videos out. So, I think you cannot help but notice Israel’s war crimes. But the point is what are you going to do about it?
But now with someone like Naftali Bennett taking over as Israeli PM, what changes/extremities do you see in the policies of Israel?
I think the election of Bennett is a natural and predictable part of the trajectory of Israel’s political structures and political parties shifting more and more to the extreme right. Of course, it will make it worse for Palestinians. But I always resist thinking about the fate of Palestinians in terms of the domestic policies of Israel because of two reasons. First, that holds human rights hostage to the particularity of Israel’s political system. It also invests too much hope in the Left on Israel where we know that settlements grew the most under the Labour government. Second, we also know what is at the heart of the problem here. It is not the Left or the Right. It is not a measure or a spectrum of Zionism. It is the Zionist ideology itself. That is the problem and it does not matter on what side of the politics you are on, it will never be able to square the circle of what is wrong, which is a state that is defined in terms of privileging one racial, ethnic group over another.
So for me, in the short-term future, it is worse for Palestinians as if anyone else could be worse than Netanyahu, that’s how shocking the situation is. But ultimately the focus should always be on the political system and nature of Israel itself and not the domestic policies.
Can a territory be rebuilt after war?
Yes, I think a territory or a nation can be rebuilt from the ashes. Palestinians have proven that over and over again. I am in awe of the tenacity and resilience of Palestinians to resist and have a life despite what Israel throws at them, despite the conditions that they live in. I think it has been proven over and over again that the human will to survive and live a life of dignity will surpass all the challenges and yes it will be hard. It takes time but I think that it can be done and that is what Palestinians should continue to fight for.
People in Gaza are putting the pieces together every day. Do you see hope in this?
When I think about what the people of Gaza are doing, that gives me so much hope. They teach all of us what it means to never give up. It will be completely arrogant of me and self-indulgent to think that I could ever walk away or give up.
They teach us that we do not have the luxury to disappear and that is something we see over and over again. I hate that they have to be so strong. The fact that they have to be superhuman is a human rights abuse. No one should have to endure that. Why can’t we just give them the opportunity to let them be, have the normal abilities to resist, get frustrated and give up every now and then?
But they don’t even have the opportunity to give up. I think that is living a life with superhuman strength. And that in itself is a reason for us to fight for their right to be ordinary and to live ordinary lives.
What do you feel the future has in store for Palestine?
I believe Palestine will be absolutely free one day. Because every time I see videos coming out of Israel and Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, I see soldiers who are afraid even as they enact their violence. I see a society that is poisoned by its belligerence and violence and it is impossible to have a situation where you are maintaining a repressive regime on people who refuse to give up and it is the Palestinians refusal to relinquish their rights that will undo Israel because at some point they will be forced to realize that it is an untenable situation and cannot be maintained.
Abdul-Fattah’s truth is just what she wants to hear. When challenged to explain her hostile Israelophobia she deflects by saying “call me when the state you defend is willing to be held accountable for its crimes against humanity”, which is a disingenuous straw man argument.
She thus avoids facing up to the transgressions of the Palestinian leadership that have left the Palestinian people today in limbo.
“digital repression of Palestinian voices” – that is completely inconsistent with Abdel-Fattah’s refusal to accept an invitation to be interviewed on a Jewish radio program. Offered the chance to express her views she replied, “Call me when the state you defend is willing to be held accountable for its crimes against humanity.”
A totally gutless copout from her.