Against ‘Resilience’

Malaka Shwaikh

It took me a while to be able to write anything on Gaza, where my family live. I have received several interview requests from the media since October. It has felt as if my voice only matters when there is more violence, or when the violence against my people in Gaza becomes more obvious.

Three of my cousins, aged nine, six and under one, were killed along with their parents and grandparents. Another cousin was killed in a drone strike that cut his body in half in front of his young son. Another cousin and his infant daughter were killed in a ‘fire belt’ attack, one airstrike after another. His mother and both his sisters were injured. One of my friends in Gaza lost her baby daughter, while she herself sustained skull injuries. Her three sisters and their children were all killed.

The loss has been huge among family, neighbours and loved ones. Death has never felt this close. As I write, at least 25,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel. Not to mention the people trapped under the rubble, still. Our lives will never be the same. And the violence against Gaza and its people is only intensifying.

I thought about whether I should accept the interview requests – I felt the need to speak up and amplify voices from the ground, the voices of my mother and father, my brothers and sisters, their children, and my wider family – but in the end decided not to. Having watched many of these interviews online, I saw dehumanising attempts to prevent Palestinians and their supporters from speaking freely. We are often interrupted, interrogated and belittled. I decided instead to focus on writing on social media, where I have more freedom. I write about what my family and friends communicate to me with the limited internet connection they have.

The distress I have felt in these past months has been unlike anything I have experienced. I have felt let down by communities who have long been active in their public support for decolonial and critical work, especially in my academic community.

I am often asked questions that expect me to show my strength, or ‘resilience’: ‘How are you still managing?’ ‘How are you still smiling despite everything?’ But I am doing neither. I am struggling to cope with this unbearable violence. And I should not be expected to cope with it.

People who wish to support Palestinians need to stop thinking of us as extraordinary human beings who, as I have repeatedly been told, are ‘chosen’ to live in the Holy Land. It is time to stop expecting supernatural ‘coping mechanisms’ from us. The reality is far from the romanticised version of ‘resilient’ Palestinians. The reality is that we are not exemplary in how we may ‘endure it all’.

We should call things what they are. The conditions in Gaza are inhumane. They are also human made. And they can and must be removed to enable justice and freedom to prevail.

Romanticising Palestinians, expecting us to show our strength, resilience and patience throughout it all, imposes mythical terms on our experience and our everyday struggles. It obscures our humanity, reduces the depravity of Israeli violence, and ignores other forms of violence, especially the structural violence that we continue to face every day.

Our loved ones in Gaza have not chosen this violence. No one chooses to be treated this unjustly. The reality is that many Palestinians in Gaza are trying to leave, to find safety wherever they can.

The response of the international community needs to be stronger to put an end to this madness. They can start by thinking of Palestinians as human beings who have feelings and daily struggles, even if and when we do not show or share them. To expect us always to show strength and patience, rather than fragility and vulnerability, is inhumane. We should not be asked how we are managing or why we are still smiling. It is wrong to demand ‘resilience’ from oppressed people. We need action that is immediate and global. We need resistance from outside Gaza to the forms of oppression we face while the root causes (which may force us to try to cope, because we have no other choice) are tackled.

I fear that the expectation of Palestinian ‘resilience’ normalises and enables more Israeli violence. It risks freeing the international community from its ethical responsibility to do more in order to put an end to injustice. And if violence is hardly protested, it will continue with impunity. We need to do more, with greater urgency, to stop the constant Israeli aggression on Gaza. We should organise more, speak up, write – above all, educate – to end this injustice against civilians.

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