Israel’s attacks on the storytellers. [notes from a speech for Free Palestine Central Vic – who meet Sunday 12pm Jaara Park]

 In contrast to politics, art doesn’t try to readjust or fix the machine. Instead, it does something more subversive and troubling: it shows the possibility of another world, – Zapatista Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano.

A society must assume that it is stable, but the artist must know, and he must let us know, that there is nothing stable under heaven, – James Baldwin

I’m speak today as an artist and a filmmaker. Many of my peers on this continent have been threatened with losing opportunities, had publishing and presentation opportunities cancelled or withdrawn and are being pressured for speaking out on Palestine.

But the situation is far far worse for my Palestinian peers. They are being killed. In Gaza and the West Bank – my peers – the artists, filmmakers, poets and storytellers are losing their lives, their families, their homes and their institutions.

Over 90 journalists have been killed and countless artists, poets and writers have lost their lives.

I am not speaking about this because a poet or a journalist’s life is more valuable than anyone else’s. I want to speak to this because of the deliberate targetting of artists, writers, poets and journalists.

Why is the Israeli regime killing the stroytellers?     

This deliberate targetting is about attempting to control the narratives, to control history, by silencing the story tellers.

In the last nine weeks over 352 educational institutes have been bombed, along with the destruction of universities and archives. This is an attempt to destroy stories and to destroy memories. This is an attempt at erasure of Palestinian histories, presents and futures. 

This week we have seen raids and attacks on the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank and the arrest of their general manager Mustafa Sheta.  

This week the Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abudaqa was killed. His colleague Wael Wahdouh, who just weeks ago lost his wife and children, stayed with him as he bled to death, Wael himself injured.

Israel’s war on Gaza is the deadliest for media workers ever recorded, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Against this erasure, as international media are denied access to Gaza we turn to the citizen journalists, we know them by their first names, Bisan, Motaz, Plestia.

Poet Sara Saleh explains that “poets name what is going on”.

Here is Australia we see attempts of silencing of artists with the backlash generated when three artists took their curtail call at STC wearing keffiyeh and by threats of removal from exhibitions and galleries – or cutting of ties such as Mike Parr who was dropped by his gallerist of 36 years Anna Schwartz.

Artists are not just here to help us make sense of the world – we are also workers, we can also strike, we can also refuse. We can use our platforms to amplify the voices of Palestinian artists and storytellers. I am part of both Creatives for Palestine and MEEA Members for Palestine

#CreativesForPalestine demands are:

  1. An end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
  2. For the Australian government and Foreign Minister Penny Wong to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
  3. For our arts institutions to join the call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
  4. For the safety and rights of artists to be honoured wherever they may work.

Finally, I want to be very careful with my language. I do not give voice to or speak for Palestinian people. Palestinian people have voices and they have been speaking for a long time – we must listen. Arundhati Roy said ““There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

We refuse to allow people to be silenced, we listen to their voices, we amplify their voices.

I won’t read the final poem of Professor and writer Refaat Alereer – today, but it’s opening line;

If I Must Die
Refaat Alareer

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story

Refaat, we will speak – we will tell your story.

We don’t speak for you, but we stand beside you – we will share your stories, we will refuse your erasure, we will refuse for you to be silenced. We will use our platforms. We will amplify your words.

Palestinians have strong voices and have a rich history of literature, poetry and filmmaking. I encourage you to seek out the words, films, poetry. You can find free e-books at Verso, Haymarket and streaming films at the Arab Film Institute, Aflamuna, Free Palestine Film Festival.

“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” – Toni Morrison

I stand with the storytellers, artists, poets and journalists in Palestine.

Your stories matter, you are teaching us so much. We will share them.

Summons by Aurora Levins Morales

“Last night I dreamed
ten thousand grandmothers
from the twelve hundred corners of the earth
walked out into the gap
one breath deep
between the bullet and the flesh
between the bomb and the family.
They told me we cannot wait for governments.
There are no peacekeepers boarding planes.
There are no leaders who dare to say
every life is precious, so it will have to be us.
They said we will cup our hands around each heart.
We will sing the earth’s song, the song of water,
a song so beautiful that vengeance will turn to weeping,
the mourners will embrace, and grief replace
every impulse toward harm.
Ten thousand is not enough, they said,
so, we have sent this dream, like a flock of doves
into the sleep of the world.

Wake up. Put on your shoes.
You who are reading this, I am bringing bandages
and a bag of scented guavas from my trees. I think
I remember the tune. Meet me at the corner.
Let’s go.”

Reading Summons at Free Palestine Central Vic rally.

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