Bearing Witness to Palestinian Struggles for Decolonization

Figure 1 Photograph by Shihab Nymur:

Written by Urmitapa Dutta, Edited by Dominique Thomas

This piece was originally published in The Community Psychologist (TCP) Summer 2023 Volume 56, Number 4. Past TCP columns are available online, at

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed in The Community Psychologist are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official position taken by SCRA or the Editor and Associate Editor of The
Community Psychologist.

What is the meaning of this present moment?
What does it mean when we can turn away from the massacre of Palestinian lives and life worlds by Israeli settler colonial occupation and apartheid regime?

What does it reveal about us when our capacity to be human and absorb the humanity of Palestinians is mired in conditions and contingencies (that do not apply to the violence of the empire with its catastrophic consequences)?

What does it reveal about the fault lines in our social justice ideologies that call for Palestinian people to defend their humanity time and again?

What are the tacit (and at times explicit) rules of engagement that permit speaking up against some forms of state violence/terror and not others?

What does it mean to be committed to decolonizing psychology, curriculum, training, syllabus, competencies, etc. without the same kind of commitment to actual struggles for decolonization – as our Palestinian communities are in the midst of (and have been doing so for the last 75 years)?

Bearing witness to the present moment…
We bear witness to the catastrophic violence, the genocide perpetuated by the Israeli state underwritten by political and economic backing of the United States. We bear witness to the emptiness and excesses of the empire that cannot garner unequivocal horror or grief at the killing of Palestinian children. We bear witness to the deafening silence of the empire as it renders disposable more than 8000 Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza in the past few weeks.

Against the deafening silence of the empire, we bear witness to Palestinian struggles for decolonization. We listen to the persistent and steadfast voices of our Palestinian friends on the frontlines of these struggles…

In “’Ghassa,’ The Lump in One’s Throat Blocking Tears and Speech,” Palestinian feminist scholar Sarah Ihmoud writes about what it means to practice feminism in this moment. Honoring the struggle of Mona Ameen, a young feminist scholar from Gaza, and so many other Palestinian women, Sarah Ihmoud offers the powerful reminder that “To practice feminism in the midst of bearing witness to genocide is to embrace love as a radical consciousness, as a radical decolonial politic of fighting for life. To practice feminism in this moment is to hold each other through the vast darkness of our grief, to walk with each other hand in hand, to bear witness to landscapes of death, and, as Mona urges us, to tell the truth. . .Telling the truth as feminists in this moment requires rejecting colonial narratives, and boldly affirming the power and creativity of our life force that we have always possessed and cultivated as Indigenous women, the power we have always wielded in service of dismantling settler colonialism and genocidal war, thrusting its overbearingness into crisis. In the same breath, telling the truth means amplifying our visions for freedom and dignity.”

Our Palestinian colleagues have been engaged in this kind of relentless truth telling.
Devin Atallah writes:
We serve up bitter coffee in the academy,
we cast spells and haunt our disciplines and our university halls,
we summon spirits, and set up our classrooms in the mortuary
our research labs in the crematory
our manuscripts—the documents that process our dead.

Sometimes, our writings feel like prison paperwork
texting against colonial logics
that hunt us as captive flesh
as incarcerated creatures—ghosts to the white gaze
This is the old, yet resharpened colonial instrument—a tool to decarnate
to de-person
trying to unpeople people … again and again … and again…
as bodies massacred by modernity—we are reminded that we are nowhere near the armistice line—nowhere near the line of the human …

The Love Toward Liberation Collective members confront this reality in their doctoral training programs as they encounter the limits of social justice discourses within the empire. In “Exposing the pervasiveness of and resistance to coloniality through the narratives of clinical-community psychology students,” published earlier this year, they expose the frayed edges of DEI rhetoric of institutions that use colorblind, power-neutral language to frame ongoing occupation of Palestine as a mutual loss of life and security for the occupier and occupied; the onus of “peace” is then placed on colonized people, which requires them to accept their oppression without resistance or struggle.

Palestinian writer Ismail Khalidi cautions us against the ways in which oppressive discourses are surreptitiously embedded in such calls for “peace.” In “The Bringers of Violence,” he writes: “When we hear generic calls for “peace,” we must recognize that it is not in fact peace that the colonizer wants, so much as he wants to be allowed to maintain in peace the unequal system which places himself above the indigenous “other.”…To question the inequalities and dehumanization at the very core of colonialism, whether with the ballot, the bullhorn, or the bullet, is itself the offense. The questioning of the order of things, in other words, is the problem, not the manner of the questioning.”

At this critical moment, we need to keep questioning the order of things! The Palestinian Feminist Collective has put together an incredible action toolkit for us to do this – to raise critical consciousness, to mobilize, and to otherwise show up for the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

At this moment of unfathomable grief, when words are difficult to come by, our Palestinian colleagues continue to hold the light to freedom. Devin Atallah penned this powerful piece, Beyond Grief: To Love and Stay with Those Who Die in Our Arms: “What does it take to love our babies, our living, and our dead in the midst of Israel’s genocidal colonial conquest? How do we care for our massacred bodies and all the collective residues of horror as our people are so violently thrown out of human consideration? When can we release our tears and let them fall free? This is not grief. This is our revolutionary, Indigenous love fighting against the apocalyptic violence of genocide. And when we love like this, anchored in Palestinian feminist praxis, we live and die with dignity, and we become the freedom we are demanding.”

The freedom that is woven in the fabric of resistance poetry by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:
One day I’ll become what I want
One day I will become a thought that no sword or book can dispatch to the wasteland
A thought equal to rain on the mountain split open by a blade of grass
where power will not triumph
and justice is not fugitive.

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