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A World Without Palestinians

Malak Mattar, When Family Is the Only Shelter
(painted during the 2021 assault on Gaza).

A massacre is unfolding in Rafah, where the population of two-thirds of the besieged Gaza strip—over 1.5 million Palestinians—has been forcibly displaced. News that the Egyptian state is building a prison camp to receive Palestinians, presumably after the impending Israeli ground invasion will have shocked the conscience of many, while footage already emerging day after day is harrowing: body parts strewn on the road; families, their homes, and a mosque burned to piles of ash; the shredded corpse of a young girl hanging off a wall, where it had been thrown by a blast. For Palestinians across the globe who are waiting, watching, and hanging on every moment, the feeling of dread suffocates us—we realize fully the simple fact that nobody is coming to save us. Meanwhile the colonizers post videos of themselves smiling while blowing up our homes, cook meals in our occupied kitchens while starving us to death, pose with our undergarments as trophies while calling us whores, and dance in merriment alongside a line of our blindfolded prisoners.

Despite the desperate cries of our people for an end to this unceasing bloodshed, despite the millions across the globe who have taken to the streets to demand an immediate ceasefire, despite a ruling by the highest international court that Israel must protect civilians and immediately allow humanitarian aid, a reconsolidation of global powers continues to fund, uphold, and turn their backs as a genocide unfolds, revealing a simple truth: humanity is content to exist in a world without Palestinians. “It no longer matters, after this, if anyone loves us, / or if anyone walks in our funerals,” Palestinian poet Samer Abu Hawwash wrote on October 25th. “We hold each other’s hands, / go forth alone in this desert of a world.”

What is this world? A world where our children fight against acrimonious acronyms like WCNSF: “Wounded Child No Surviving Family.” A world where our starving, sheltering families are shot in hospitals by snipers, drones, and aerial weapons with machine guns attached. A world where people do not die immediately by famine, but where the immune system is weakened, and the spread of preventable diseases ends up killing thousands. In young children, starvation permanently damages physical growth and cognitive development. An entire generation of Palestinian children are being debilitated and slowly killed. These conditions are entirely man-made, produced by the colonial Israeli state with the full backing of the United States and other global powers.

Palestinian struggles to end the Gaza genocide have sought to awaken the conscience of the world. Indeed, we have sought to plant the seeds of a new world. And yet, as this struggle so painfully reveals, this “desert of a world” is content to worship a resurrected colonialism. Perhaps this is what the Israeli President Isaac Herzog meant when he said that this war is “intended—really, truly—to save Western civilization, to save the values of Western civilization.” What are those values? Why doesn’t the United States stop sending weapons to Israel and begin to apply genuine and impactful pressure to stop the genocide and allow food, water, and medical care to reach our families in Gaza immediately? What does the world’s investment in Palestinian starvation, death, destruction, and disappearance teach us in this moment?

In the midst of this horror, how do we continue to summon the courage to dream, desire, grieve, and rage against this resurrected colonial conquest—against something we seemingly have no power to stop? Even as all the world’s weapons are turned against us, even while it feels that we are just screaming into the void, we do not have the luxury of turning away. Our work traverses the intergenerational lovescape of infinite grief and the growth of Gaza in the vastness of our hearts; it ensures that our people are forever protected and nurtured in the womb of the land—tunneling beneath, beyond the reach and away from the gaze of the transnational colonial cult of death.

To be Palestinian and to pour our love and lives into our Palestinian liberation movement at this moment—in this Time of Monsters—is to live and die in rebellion against this resurrected colonialism and malicious solidarity between White settler states. From the USA to Israel and beyond, complicity makes this genocide not only possible but also creates the impossible reality on the ground in Gaza.

Palestinians are one of the final reminders that a future without colonialism is possible. Right now, we continue to prepare for a future without colonialism while so many powers across the world are preparing for a world without Palestinians. Our presence and persistence reveal a dangerous truth. We are not only a register of love and life in the most precious and precarious of ways, we are a register of what is real. What this genocide proves is how settler colonialism endures in the twenty-first century. Standing up to this terrifying truth, beyond any one category or strategy, our people in Gaza represent the most powerful enactment of enduring love possible today. The fight to end the colonial conquest of our lands and people in Gaza is a fight for the liberation of all peoples.

Our fight requires that we grieve so far beyond any recognizable human capacity, for we know that there is no return to the before of genocide. We are already in an alternative time and space. We are already living in a new world. Our collective grief is a portal through which all our people are violently pushed into a future, not only of displacement and unbelonging, but a future where we alone resist our full eradication. We rebel against a future world without Palestinians. Our defiant love, even as we feel that a part of us is already dead, is not a defeat. Our intergenerational depth of feeling is not our weakness; it is our weapon. If the intergenerational is always also the spiritual, then our persistence is always also our spirituality. Our love, dismembered and buried under the rubble, requires us to collapse, to pray, and to hold our victory as we hold our grief; it is only by a vastness of spirit that we can still find a way to feel.

And what do we feel? What do we teach? A world without Palestinians is a world colonized and condemned. Palestinians teach a fundamental decolonial truth, which the current world is still unable to comprehend—that Gaza has liberated us all. This truth invites all who wish to build a new world to become Palestinian, to cast their lot with the wretched of the earth as a radical subject position that refuses colonial brutality and imagines something different. We Palestinians are already on the other side—surviving, persisting, and insisting on life in the face of our own vanishing.

DEVIN G. ATALLAH is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB). He is a diaspora Palestinian from the USA and Chile. Dr. Atallah developed a Palestinian decolonial healing guide with colleagues, CURCUMs Trees: A Decolonial Healing Guide for Palestinian Community Health Workers, which is available in English and Arabic with Mayfly Books.

SARAH IHMOUD is a Chicana-Palestinian anthropologist who works to uplift the lived experiences, histories, and political contributions of Palestinian women and Palestinian feminism. She is a founding member of the Palestinian Feminist Collective, an executive board member of Insaniyyat, the Society of Palestinian Anthropologists, and is assistant professor of anthropology at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.

"Grief Is a Portal," painting by Devin Atallah (2024)

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