Palestinian resistance is decolonized medicine in practice
Fighting for the health & safety of our communities... by any means necessary
“Today, my body was a TV’d massacre.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits filled enough with statistics to counter measured response.
And I perfected my English and I learned my UN resolutions.
But still, he asked me, Ms. Ziadah, don’t you think that everything would be resolved if you would just stop teaching so much hatred to your children?
I look inside of me for strength to be patient but patience is not at the tip of my tongue as the bombs drop over Gaza.
Patience has just escaped me.
We teach life, sir.
Rafeef, remember to smile.
We teach life, sir.
We Palestinians teach life after they have occupied the last sky.
We teach life after they have built their settlements and apartheid walls, after the last skies.
We teach life, sir.
But today, my body was a TV’d massacre made to fit into sound-bites and word limits.
And just give us a story, a human story.
You see, this is not political.
We just want to tell people about you and your people so give us a human story.
Don’t mention that word “apartheid” and “occupation”.
This is not political.
You have to help me as a journalist to help you tell your story which is not a political story.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre.
How about you give us a story of a woman in Gaza who needs medication?
How about you?
Do you have enough bone-broken limbs to cover the sun?
Hand me over your dead and give me the list of their names in one thousand two hundred word limits.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre that had to fit into sound-bites and word limits and move those that are desensitized to terrorist blood.
But they felt sorry.
They felt sorry for the cattle over Gaza.
So, I give them UN resolutions and statistics and we condemn and we deplore and we reject.
And these are not two equal sides: occupier and occupied.
And a hundred dead, two hundred dead, and a thousand dead.
And between that, war crime and massacre, I vent out words and smile “not exotic”, “not terrorist”.
And I recount, I recount a hundred dead, a thousand dead.
Is anyone out there?
Will anyone listen?
I wish I could wail over their bodies.
I wish I could just run barefoot in every refugee camp and hold every child, cover their ears so they wouldn’t have to hear the sound of bombing for the rest of their life the way I do.
Today, my body was a TV’d massacre
And let me just tell you, there’s nothing your UN resolutions have ever done about this.
And no sound-bite, no sound-bite I come up with, no matter how good my English gets, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite, no sound-bite will bring them back to life.
No sound-bite will fix this.
We teach life, sir.
We teach life, sir.
We Palestinians wake up every morning to teach the rest of the world life, sir.” — Rafeef Ziadah, Palestinian spoken word artist and activist
It’s been a while since I’ve written to you. I appreciate your patience and support as I try to do this with as much dignity as possible.
As I write this, bombs are raining on Gaza. 5 minutes before I started writing this, Al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital was hit with an Israeli missile leading to an estimated 1000 deaths… so far. This brings the total toll to over 5000 Palestinians (update: it is over 7300 now) murdered by Israel in 2 weeks, half of them children, over 30,000 severely injured. Numbers can NEVER capture the pain & devastation. As I write this, and for nearly the last 100 years, millions of Palestinians have been murdered, tortured, maimed, exiled, displaced from their indigenous homelands and suffered unfathomable violence under the settler colonial, apartheid, occupying state of Israel. Millions. That is not an understatement. Anything you see on your news is the tip of the iceberg. Anything you see on the news is minimizing and normalizing the gravity of the oppression & violence Palestinians face on a daily basis.
Remember that what is happening in Gaza is not unprecedented, unique, new brutality for Palestinians. This is the status quo & it just so happens that you are watching settler colonialism unfold in full force in real time on your newsfeed. This is normalized genocide. It also is one of the most significant, meaningful decolonizing movements defining our era & our solidarity efforts can contribute to actualizing a free Palestine within our lifetimes, or in the next.
There are dried up blotches of tears on my keyboard. It’s been difficult for me to justify doing anything but organizing around Palestine recently. It’s been impossible for me to work. I am having trouble putting words on paper while my Palestinian friends— on the ground and in the diaspora, feel obligated to churn out infographics, articles & post graphic, bloody videos viscerally documenting the death & destruction of their loved ones. I am having a hard time and they… have to somehow remain functional, poised, articulate, stoic & do everything they can to shed light on their oppression, without the luxury to even mourn their dead. So I will try to write because I have the relative privilege of going to sleep at night knowing a missile will not kill me & everyone that I love. & I hope it is a worthwhile read.
I will not dive into all relevant context in detail so I urge you to read the posts I’ve shared on IG and my stories (saved in highlights) centering Palestinian voices, analysis & coverage from the ground. I am posting updates as regularly as possible & it is more doable for me than writing a long-form article on this.
Let’s quickly get on the same page though about the problem.
What led to all this? Israel’s violent settler colonialism, military occupation/ siege on Gaza and apartheid— together it is genocide that has been waged against the indigenous people of Palestine for nearly a century. That is the only thing you should be criticizing, condemning, critiquing, calling for an end to, etc. There is nothing remotely both sided about this. This is not a war or conflict. It is genocide & ethnic cleansing. Palestinian resistance on the other hand, which aims to end the genocide— is diverse, multifaceted & all of their efforts, methodologies & tactics are warranted, justified and expected. People have the right to resist their annihilation by any means necessary. Even if you feel uncomfortable about the unpalatable mess that resistance entails, you can still support it’s necessity if you truly care to fight for, sustain & preserve life. Decolonization is not a theoretical metaphor. This is how every empire ever has been dismantled.
I know because I would not be here if my grandparents & great grandparents did not pick up arms & fight for our land. Our fight is still not over & I am still displaced in the diaspora because the Hindu nationalist state of India is still killing, oppressing & suppressing religious/ ethnic/ tribal minority communities. But I know that armed resistance is an act of care & compassion integral to the decolonization process. Ok… let’s get into decolonized medicine.
I’ve been organizing around Palestine for over a decade now. You’d think I would be used to the intense backlash, repression, suppression, online doxxing and vitriol that comes with unconditionally supporting Palestinian liberation. In the last 2 weeks, I’ve received hundreds of death threats, vile DMs/ emails, hoards of zionists contacting my employer demanding I be fired and had many people unsubscribe to this newsletter leaving 1000 word emails or messages like “I loved your work, it really helped me and transformed my perspective but now… after I see the way you talk about Palestine, I realized that you are an XYZ” followed by an onslaught of personal, targeted ad hominem insults that are too unsavory to write out. Many paid subscribers especially have backed out, demanded refunds and cited regret for throwing a few bucks my way every month because they “would never want to finance terrorism”. Now there’s several layers that make such racist, islamophobic attacks problematic but I’m going to focus on Palestine.
Let me be clear— My firm & unconditional support of Palestinian resistance is not an exception to my other work. It is a part of it. It is a real time illustration of it.
My work focuses on decolonized medicine which includes the dismantling of settler medicine & building of autonomous, collectivist, community-based systems of care & research. Palestine has defined and shaped my approach to decolonized medicine. The more palatable parts of my work that people eat up- on community building, relationships, unlearning capitalism/ colonialism, ecological reconnection, addressing mental/ physical health thru a political decolonized lens, culture as medicine etc- are parts that emerged out of my organizing around Palestine. I’ve learned real medicine by watching Palestinians care for their people amidst unfathomable oppression.
P.S. 100% of the funds from this newsletter in the next few months will only be directed to mutual aid efforts in Gaza, starting with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society and eventually pivoting to other collectives that are not getting as much public attention/ donations. I will continue to share vetted aid efforts on my IG, if you have access to funds/ intergenerational wealth, I urge you to direct donate as much as possible to them.
Despite it all, Palestinians continue to resist— because what other choice do they have? And yet, they resist with joy, love, compassion, cultural vibrance, spirituality or religious convictions, rituals and show the world what living truly means. Palestinians have taught me that the ONLY way to resist oppression or even live during these times is by rooting into culture, community & land. Palestinians resistance/ resilience/ creativity/ joy/ art/ music/ food/ culture… all of it, is an embodiment of decolonized medicine. If you look closely, you are watching decolonized medicine manifest in practice today, right here, right now.
Resisting your annihilation by any means necessary is decolonized medicine in practice
Decolonized medicine addresses human health as inseparable from land health & individual health as entangled within collective health. Decolonized medicine targets the root cause of our sickness, distress & pain rather than fixating on bandaid solutions. It seeks to prevent, preserve & heal rather than profit. Decolonized medicine does not pathologize individuals & accepts that our symptoms are an endpoint, downstream manifestation of upstream, deeper, underlying inequities and state/ colonial/ capitalist violence inflicted on people, the land & all parts of an ecosystem. It refuses to diagnose or treat individuals in a vacuum as though their illnesses emerge contextless.
Decolonized medicine addresses the oppressive structures/ systems making people sick and in doing so, it embraces political resistance as an undeniably critical, necessary form of medicine. It accepts that in order for our resistance to be sustainable, we must be militant while engaging in soft community care & cultural resistance. If we care for our communities, then we have do everything to take our oppressors boots & nooses off of our necks while centering the beautiful things worth fighting for. That is the only way. If the root cause is never addressed, any wound will continue to fester, expand exponentially & lead to the emergence of new, compounding symptoms. Thus, medicine that is political, collectivist & decolonial, births solutions that are multifaceted, truly effective, community-based, culturally rooted, sustainable and far more complex/ creative than a single pill or isolated medical intervention. That is decolonized medicine in a nutshell.
What we can learn from Palestinians
Palestinians cannot be healthy under settler colonialism. Their health is contingent on their liberation. As is ours but maybe because some of us aren’t facing such overt state violence, we forget that, to our detriment.
In western societies, devoid of culture where capitalism rules, increasingly alienated people are more likely to individualize problems, think their struggles are unique, rooted in defective biology or faulty behaviors that need to be cured or therapized. People tend to blame themselves or each other for their distress. Violence exists here but its more covert nature makes people see their own oppression as freedom. & so they chase quick fixes that help them conform to the very status quo that is killing them slowly. In addition to such covert violence, Palestinians face daily visceral, unavoidable, extremes of state violence. Thus, it is more apparent to them that their health issues are not innate biological defects but the result of settler colonialism/ occupation/ apartheid.
Most importantly, the pursuit of solutions to oppression in the west tends to be heavily influenced by the same colonial/ capitalist values we’re seeking to dismantle. I’ve written about this before:
Palestinians have shown us that our relationships in community are everything. They show us that caring for the land is how we care for ourselves. The process of struggling for liberation is in itself a source of healing & medicine in the face of ongoing, seemingly never-ending trauma. Palestinians show us that we can only resist by prioritizing rituals, traditional cultural practices, preserving ancestral food practices, engaging in communal cooking, art/ music/ dance etc. We live for each other. The fight against capitalism in the west often leaves people hopeless, trapped in despair. In the absence of culture, people are left fixating on everything wrong with the world without enough reminders of what matters. (PS poem below is read in Arabic first, then English)
From Palestinians, I learned that if we truly cared about preserving life, we have to fight for our freedom- joyfully & militantly while supporting other indigenous people’s fight against their colonizers. When we move beyond the confines of colonial medicine, we see that protests are medicine, organizing is medicine, resistance efforts in any form are medicine. The messy kind.
All Palestinians resisting their genocide are by default healers & community caregivers tasked with supporting the health of the collective, using scarce tools & in the face of a wealthy, well-funded, abhorrently powerful colonizing monster. The only way that the health of a people can be attained or sustained is by pushing for the total abolition of violent, brutal, settler colonial empires— from Israel to the U.S, by any means necessary. Healers have to be community organizers & vice versa. Let it be clear, if I abandoned Palestine, I effectively abandon you. If I do not unconditionally support Palestinian decolonization efforts, then by extension, I do not have your best interests in mind. Our struggles are tied even if you don’t see the obvious connection.
Settler colonial medicine (which is the dominant system of “modern medicine” around the world) aims to maintain conformity & uphold the oppressive status quo. It is created, controlled & operated by our oppressors. Thus, it is reactionary at best, defined by bandaid solutions, compounds inequities, making the most marginalized communities the sickest. It does not proactively care for life. It profits off of sickness & ensures capitalism has a steady supply of oppressed subjects that can be exploited. “Let’s patch you up & get you back to work while profiting off of your pain” is it’s motto.
So settler colonialism hasn’t eased your pain. It has created it, profited off of it, worsened it & maintained it. In the same vein, condemning the resistance of the oppressed in the same breath as acknowledging their oppression— doesn’t help. It distracts from & normalizes the original violence of settler colonialism. In theory, denouncing “all violence” sounds like a “nice gesture” but it speaks more to the violence you have normalized. If you care about life— you will focus on the root cause of violence, not the response to it. Not just for Palestinians, but for your & my sake as well.
Last note: The safety of a people can never been built on the oppression of another
The safety of one people can never ever be established by the colonization & annihilation of another.
Reductive, over-simplistic analogies seem to work better than the actual footage of genocide so let me try one. If I wanted my loved ones to be safe, I would not establish that by going to the house next door, robbing them, killing them, depriving their children of dignity & creating a system to oppress them on the path to their total annihilation.
The logic of domination is so deep-seated that we don’t even question it. Capitalism tells us that our happiness is contingent on individual success which depends on the “failure” & domination of others deemed inferior. Colonialism tells us that the only way to establish safety is by taking away the safety, dignity & land of someone else. Colonialism tells us that exploiting others is the only way path to sufficiency, contentment, abundance & security.
A state built by colonizing indigenous lands, genocide & ethnic cleansing was never a state concerned with the safety of the people it claims to protect. Safety comes from caring for each other. Safety for one self comes from collectively ensuring the safety of our neighboring communities. Safety comes from equity. Safety comes from the lack of hierarchies. Safety is about ensuring everyone has food, water, shelter, care & community— the right to live with dignity. When I say safety will come from the total abolition of the settler colonial, occupying, apartheid, zionist state- that includes the safety of ALL CHILDREN.
Oppressive systems aren’t good for anyone— the people they oppress or the ones they privilege. For example, patriarchy isn’t good for men & colonialism isn’t good for white people either. Violent systems keep everyone from accessing community, connection & care, to some degree. Rich people aren’t happy even if they are rolling in their filthy money… because happiness doesn’t come from hoarded power & wealth built on exploitation of others, it comes from being enmeshed in a web of reciprocal, loving, equitable relationships with other humans & the land. With each brick dismantled from the ugly castle of settler colonialism, we create safety for generations to come.
That is all the words I have for now. I will continue to share info & “what you can do” resources on my IG as I have everyday. Don’t be desensitized. Don’t look away, take it in in spurts. Don’t become numb to the pain of Palestinians. It is unimaginably devastating. Let it devastate you in some capacity. Feel.
With care, in grief, enraged & hopeful,