Welcome to the weird world of Palestinian feminism
What does the "Palestinian feminist call for love" sound like? According to University of California, Santa Barbara history professor Sherene Seikaly and her co-panelists at the March 28 webinar on "Land, Life, Love, and Liberation," sponsored by the Palestinian Feminist Collective (PFC), it includes virtue-signaling "land acknowledgments," hatred of Israel, and the exaltation of a fantasy land of bucolic harmony called Palestine.
Seikaly's history of anti-Western polemics, such as her efforts to "contextualize" ISIS, complemented the prejudices of the panel's moderator, Selma Al-Aswad, a "queer Palestinian organizer." She explained that the PFC confronts "systemic gendered and colonial violence" by Israel. Like the other panelists, she considered her presence in the United States fundamentally illegitimate, for she spoke from the "occupied ancestral lands of the first peoples of so-called Seattle, Washington."
Along with praising the PFC as "life-affirming," Seikaly's fellow Israel-basher, University of Illinois assistant professor of Asian American Studies Lila Sharif, posed as a reformed trespasser. In Illinois, "these lands were nurtured by these native nations prior to their forced removal," she stated, embracing the mythical assumption that American Indians were environmentally conscious. Yet she denied historical Jewish indigeneity in Israel and asserted false "parallel violences" that afflicted the "lands between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, the land of Palestine."
Sharif imagined Arabs carefully cultivating Palestinian soil, even though the area was largely a wasteland before Zionist-sponsored development. "Palestinian land workers and shepherds would often tell me that when Palestinians take care of the land, the land takes care of the Palestinian people," she said. Returning to one of her favorite clichés, she noted that in this "symbiotic relationship" reflecting a "Palestinian indigenous approach," the "olive harvest is an expression of that reciprocal love and care."
In this harvest, Sharif fancied, "experienced elders share the wisdom of cultivation as children climb trees competing for the highest reach [and] women collect ripe olives in makeshift nets." In this prelapsarian idyll, "there was no garbage strewn about, everyone was taught to respect the land, as well as water, kinship, and ancestral ties, and the bounty of these sacred olive lands." In reality, "Palestine is classified among the top 25 percent of urbanizing countries" by the United Nations, and seventy-five percent of Palestinians live in urban areas.
Harvard School of Public Health graduate student Ayah Hamdan echoed Sharif, noting that olive trees "have stood in our families for generations." "We hold these trees dearly" and "celebrate the olive oil that we gain from each olive harvest season," she said.
Hamdan charged that Israeli checkpoints hinder delivering Palestinian women on their trips to hospitals, meaning "the occupation of Palestine is an issue of reproductive justice and largely it is a public health issue." Yet health indices, including Palestinian life expectancy and infant mortality rates, have improved dramatically under Israeli rule since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Worldwide, rising female literacy contributes to declining birth rates, Hamdan observed. Palestinians, however, are an exception, as Palestinian women have a "consistent fertility rate of around three and a half births per woman" despite rising education levels, demonstrating that these women "are pursuing their academic professional goals while still creating and nurturing families." In fact, the long-term trend of declining Palestinian birth rates indicates that Palestinian demographics will follow global trends.
"Palestine has taught me to love life," enthused Hamdan. She praised the "profound beauty of how Palestinians manage to center joy, family, celebration, and love into their daily life" despite the "ongoing settler-colonial project." Such ecstasy overlooks the brutal Palestinian "culture of death," which corrupts youths and celebrates terrorism against Israeli Jews.
Rutgers University assistant professor of Africana Studies Noura Erakat imagined this Palestinian utopia within a global struggle for socialism. The terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) "saw itself as a vanguard against imperialism on behalf of all peoples of the world," she said. The insistence of the PLO and other Palestinians on destroying Zionism "makes Palestinians and Palestine a destructive force," she boasted, with no acknowledgment of the horrors unleashed by PLO oppression and murder.
Palestinians, therefore, align "with other disruptive forces," Erakat proclaimed, depicting an irredeemably racist America. The Black Lives Matter movement has accordingly "insisted on the bankruptcy of citizenship" — a recipe for tyranny — and the "bankruptcy of an equality framework within an enduring colony." Her radical vision ignored the violence committed against LGBT communities among Palestinians and other Muslim communities, for in her mind, women "as well as queer and trans siblings" are prominent among Palestinians.
"What does it mean to decolonize?" Erakat asked, answering with incoherent platitudes, such as that land should no longer be "alienated properties rather than a source of life." Collectivism "means the dismantlement of racial capitalism. There is no solution that includes a capitalist economy" in the "rehabilitation of our social fabric," she declared. Somehow, consistently disastrous socialist economics would allow people "to slow down" and "be able to stop, to rest, to help one another, to dance, to share." Poverty's upside, one supposes.
Fidel Castro–style rhetoric appeals to Erakat and her fellow panelists, whose fashion tastes drew more on Vogue magazine than on the rustic garb of happy peasants laboring in an imaginary pastoral society. Affecting radical chic while enjoying the fruits of advanced capitalist societies evinces the intellectual and moral decadence of academe. Taxpayers and tuition-paying students who understand the costs and benefits of free societies should stop wasting resources on these spoiled ingrates.
Image via Max Pixel.