Baroud, El-Kurd Call for Authentic Portrayals of Palestinians

A Palestinian protester waves the Palestinian flag during a demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan, on March 10, 2023. (NASSER ISHTAYEH/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2023, pp. 58-59

Waging Peace

DESPITE EFFORTS by Israel lobby groups to prevent their participation, Palestinian authors Ramzy Baroud and Mohammed El-Kurd spoke on a panel titled “Authors Take Sides” at the Adelaide Writers Week literary festival in Australia on March 4.

Both writers insisted that exposing the reality of Israel’s actions in Palestine is a matter of journalistic obligation, rather than an exercise in taking sides. Further, they cautioned that calls for objectivity are often thinly veiled efforts to downplay and obfuscate the suffering of the Palestinian people. “Objectivity seems to only apply to the oppressed,” Baroud said, noting that pro-Israel reporting is rarely criticized for its bias. Palestinian writers have realized that objectivity is “a standard that only applies to us,” he added.

Zionist attempts to silence Palestinians are increasingly failing, Baroud argued. “We are imposing ourselves,” he said. “We are not just part of this conversation, we are at the core of this conversation, and no discussion about Palestine can happen without us….Because of that, they are resorting to these old tactics that are not going to work anymore: smearing the Palestinian, silencing the Palestinian. One Australian newspaper compared me to Kanye West. They said, ‘if we had the courage to prevent Kanye West from having a visa, why are we allowing this guy?’ These are tactics of desperation…. they are now on the defensive, they are scared.”

A Palestinian protester waves the Palestinian flag during a demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan, on March 10, 2023. (NASSER ISHTAYEH/SOPA IMAGES/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Going forward, Palestinians need to avoid reflexively responding to Israeli propaganda attacks and focus instead on reclaiming their narrative, Baroud said. This, he believes, includes ceasing efforts to present domesticized and sterilized images of the Palestinian people in a hapless effort to placate the inauthentic demands for civility of those who obstinately blame Palestinians for their own oppression. “This whole idea of trying to beautify ourselves and humanize ourselves and make ourselves more accessible—it does not work,” Baroud emphasized. 

El-Kurd, who participated virtually, agreed. “I think we have been engaging in kind of a failed strategy for the past few decades, in the sense that we overemphasize the women and the children, etc.,” he said. “We overemphasize our inability to commit violence, inability to feel rage.” He pointed to slain Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as an example. It is not enough that she was a Palestinian shot and killed by Israeli forces occupying Palestinian land, he noted, so many felt the need to emphasize that she was a journalist, a Christian and an American citizen in order to engender sympathy. “We think by doing this, we are able to relate the Palestinian person and the experience of the Palestinian person to the everyday Australian or everyday American,” El-Kurd said. Gently trying to be humanized obscures the reality that many willfully choose to dehumanize Palestinians, he argued: “They see us as human beings and they choose to vilify us, they choose to demonize us.” 

The fact is that rage, disdain and anger are very real human emotions that Palestinians and all people should be permitted to experience, El-Kurd said. Rather than exalting or belittling Palestinians, the world should simply “allow [Palestinians] the space to be complicated,” he said. “I want to ask you to not burden yourselves with the obligation of assigning sainthood to Palestinians or to any oppressed people.”

El-Kurd also encouraged supporters of Palestinian rights not to get bogged down in arguments over the exact nature of what Israel is doing, but to instead take action to change the reality. “Me and my friends have these arguments about, ‘it’s settler colonialism, it’s apartheid, it’s police brutality, it’s ethnic cleansing, it’s this, it’s that’—I don’t care [how it is classified] as long as there is a conversation happening in which the villain is portrayed clearly,” he said.

Dale Sprusansky

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