I begin writing this nearly a month after 7 October. Radio Alhara, a Palestinian station broadcasting from the West Bank with offices in Bethlehem, Ramallah and Amman, is currently playing on my computer. I learned about it more than a year ago thanks to Ibrahim Owais, when he was still living in Berlin. Ibrahim is a member of the Radio Alhara team and one of many artists who participated in documenta15 as part of The Question of Funding collective. The Oslo Accords of 1993 also had an impact on Palestine’s cultural institutions and art scene, which depend on conditional international funding. For many days now, I have begun and ended my days listening to Radio Alhara. One programme follows another as I move around my home or open new tabs in my browser. Almost all of these tabs lead to the same place: Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its genocide in Gaza. A place that connects the political oppression and resistance of many others.
Paula Cruhda would also talk to me about Radio Alhara, introducing me to its slogan thanks to a T-shirt she frequently and determinedly wears in Berlin: Sonic Liberation Front. In the city where we both live, the term “from the river to the sea” has been banned by the German authorities, making it a hate crime and grounds for arrest if it is cried out. Support for Palestine in Germany is deemed to be “potentially anti-Semitic”. Criticising or questioning Israel’s legitimacy is banned and has never been an easy conversation to strike up with locals. The state of Israel is part of the reason – and the guilt – of the German state. I look up the word “Semitic” in the dictionary, which is not exactly critical of the status quo, and it refers to the Jewish and Arab peoples as Semitic peoples. I wonder how a slogan that calls for the liberation of one of the Semitic peoples can be anti-Semitic. That the recognition and legitimacy of Semitic status for one people over another reminds me of how the humanity of certain individuals and peoples is recognised and defended to the detriment of others. Professor Steven Salaita recently posted on X that the phrase “from the river to the sea” does not imply any reverse genocide; instead “it describes the area in which Israel performed an actual (and ongoing) genocide of Palestinians”. The German authorities have also banned the wearing of the keffiyeh, a Palestinian headscarf that I wore during some of my teenage years without any awareness at the time of its historical and cultural meaning. History classes in my high school arrived at a 20th century of successes towards Western peace after many wars in the past and in “other places”. Despite the ban, I have been able to see keffiyehs and slogans in support of Palestine during my walks through the city in recent weeks. The street graffiti and posters that call for an end to the occupation and genocide are texts that I have been seeking in Berlin. The excuse that it “is complicated” to take a stance or “there is a lack of information” is coupled with a the cultural policy of a city that censors “voices that are inconvenient or uncomfortable”, as Candice Breitz states in an IG post in which she summons us to a protest against the “erosion of the German public sphere” this week.
When the team from AMAonline invited me to contribute to their Harvesting Knowledge section, I began to jot down what I was reading, hearing and seeing. Upon revisiting this sheet of paper on my desk, I read a list that was seemingly written years ago, despite my most recent notes being three weeks old. Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, Ursula K. Le Guin’s version of Tao Te Ching, Aho Ssan’s Rhizomes, Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s The Adventures of China Iron, a podcast with André Lepecki and another with Lucía C. Pino, both on Ràdio Web Macba. This incomplete list ends with arrows and illegible handwriting: “Twitter, Instagram, many media”. Many profiles and many news items, although the same root: colonised and colonists, oppressed and oppressors, dispossessed and extractivists. Palestine, Congo, Sudan and Western interests everywhere. Jumping from one network to another, opening one link after another, leaving a video halfway through to begin with the next or return to the previous one, taking screenshots to cross between networks, so as not to forget analyses, comments, situations and moments. But the time of a genocide is vastly different from the intellectual time of debate, the suspended time of the archive, or the distant time of the digital eyewitness. This is a time that questions decolonial projects in the delay of cultural institutions that have taken weeks to pronounce themselves or still remain silent. It is very fast, swift and accelerated. Every day counts too much, and too many people die because they are killed. Today’s death toll is always lower than tomorrow’s.
I write with a great respect for language, even with distrust. I think of the privilege of living or writing without having to use certain words. And of how not using them is also a form of violence. Those of us who work in the arts use many euphemisms, not always unconsciously. We are asked to complicate evidence, to make straight lines curved. Surrendering to algorithms does not help, although now we attempt to counteract this by overloading it with censoring information. I return to some open tabs in my browser: Fred Moten discussing Palestine and the Nation-State of Israel, the second encounter between Bassem Youssef and Piers Morgan, a podcast with Tareq Baconi about the history of Hamas, a documentary by Edward Said from 1998, a piece by Dana El Kurd entitled “Memory Voids and Role Reversals”, an open letter to Spanish cultural institutions calling for urgent action in solidarity with the Palestinian people, Ariella Azoulay’s website… Far away but close to Palestine, a letter from Crystal Z. Campbell to Tulsa that is part of their research into the 1921 massacre in preparation for a podcast. I have arrived at these pages and many others thanks to those who have shared them on networks or messages. I have also sought materials to share and support arguments in difficult discussions to come back to or those to come. I return to Radio Alhara and read the following phrase in the programme it has just broadcast with M. Trecka: “It is not my job to convince you with a compelling argument, but to provide you with a vibrational experience that can awaken an otherworldly desire”. Relying on Western sources to obtain credibility in any discussion about colonialism is not a solution but part of the problem. As if all the voices speaking from Palestine and the diaspora were not enough.
But not everything happens online, even if it is social networks that lead us to so many places and to the many demonstrations occurring throughout the world. In Barcelona, I was able to attend the fundraising concerts for Gaza organised by Jokko cantdefine.me and Zilzal in Foc. A few hours before going, someone from Gaza posted on X that the funds raised will never arrive, that we should speak up and exert pressure. In Berlin, where censorship monitors many projects that support Palestinian resistance and culture, the Oyoun cultural centre joined the international support network of the Palestinian Cinema Days Festival, despite media attacks accusing it of anti-Semitism. The reason: a statement against censorship, denouncing the violence in Gaza and its firm refusal to cancel an event of the Jewish activist group Jüdische Stimme in solidarity with Palestine. The day before the last big demonstration in Berlin, Oyoun screened director Carol Mansour’s Stitching Palestine and director Michel Khleifi’s The Tale of the Three Jewels, films that would otherwise have been shown in cinemas in Palestine. The auditorium was packed. Some people were wearing keffiyehs. Palestinian seamstresses embroider memory against the attacks and theft of their culture. The children protagonists of The Tale of the Three Jewels were dressed like us in the 1990s, although they lived, played and fell in love in Gaza, evading the violence of Israeli soldiers during the First Intifada. The following day, after the demonstration, we went to Hosek Contemporary. Karolina Grzywnowicz shared recordings of lullabies from her Bedtime project. We listened to songs coming from the voices of Aida, Dheisheh, Fawwar, al-Arroub, Balata, Jalazone, Qalandiya. These are refugee camps existing in a permanent state of siege, amid drones, grenades and tear gas. Sleep deprivation is also a method of torture used by the Israeli forces. It is used on entire neighbourhoods under the pretext of anti-terrorist operations. Another additional technique is that of cultural uprooting. Expelling the Palestinians, not only from their territory but also from their own culture. These lullabies, which sing of the past and present of the 75-year occupation, are acts of subversion. For Israeli soldiers, the songs are grounds for punishment. Sleeping is a form of resistance. I return to Radio Alhara and hear Cerpintxt’s “Funeral Chants for Gaza”.
I stop writing here to return to the news on networks. As African and Latin American governments break diplomatic ties with Israel, “Europe and the US negotiate with Netanyahu’s government to secure control of Gaza’s gas”. I end this text by wondering what else will have happened in Palestine by the time it is published.
Sonia Fernández Pan
8 November 2023
Sonia Fernández Pan, writer, (in)dependent curator and podcast host.