It is just after sunrise on the first day of Ramadan, and I am in Mali. This landlocked West African country is one of the most vulnerable in the world, and notorious for land grabs. My mind is indeed on land grabs, but it is thousands of miles away.
I’m so angry about Gaza. It’s the kind of anger that leaves me shaken but not shocked, like a heartbreak long in the making, or a confirmation of terminal illness in the family that could have been prevented.
On one side, this is not mine to grieve. I am not Palestinian, nor do I live the kinds of struggles that come with daily life in Gaza. This time around, I do not personally know any of the dead—at least not yet. When I go to a protest in any given part of the world, I most often emerge with a camera full of images of smiling and determined faces, colorful flags held high.
In Gaza, emerging from a peaceful demonstration unharmed—or even alive—is clearly not a given.
On the other side, I grieve this because it is deeply personal. Despite the roll of the dice that dictated the circumstances of my birth (and thus privilege), I have lived in Palestine—and visited Gaza several times, some of those visits taking place in the aftermath of massacres. I saw things there that no one should see, and these things will haunt me forever.
I met some of the most welcoming, intelligent, and resolute people that one could imagine—living in unbearable conditions—and I am fortunate to count them among my friends and colleagues. They are comrades who hold me accountable at times like these.
Most importantly while in Palestine, I unlearned the stubborn kinds of politics that hold on like a vice until something tears them away, unlocking the potential for freedom. So I was fortunate to have seen such unthinkable things, because seeing is believing, and believing can be a catalyst for action.
This also hits home in a more uncomfortable way, and that is that my country of origin, the U.S., provides the military power that is necessary for the Israeli army to go on killing sprees in Gaza and elsewhere in the occupied territories. That has always been the case, but the nationalist soaked belligerency of this current U.S. administration has fast-tracked Israeli atrocities in Palestine that are also done in the name of nationalism.
In the hardline love affair between Israel and the U.S., both parties have become drunk on power, with the European Union and others enabling the dysfunctional relationship through aid, trade, and other means. When it inevitably ends, the hangover will be debilitating but the sobriety to follow will be sweet. Occupation, militarization, and empire are simply not built to last—although their ultimate duration depends on those who facilitate them.
So because of this, it is mine—if not to grieve, to act upon. This so-called ‘conflict’ is all of ours.
What does this mean? Our actions must be constant. It’s easy—and appropriate—to feel so much emotion when the headlines and feeds of our social media are bubbling over with memorials to baby girls and double amputees whose lives were ended abruptly.
But death in Gaza doesn’t always happen with a well-documented strike of the sword. More often, it’s a slow drip of poison drowned out by background noise. Sometimes it comes by the way of a contaminated aquifer, an encroaching invisible border, or a staple food source blacklisted.
There are things we can do about this. We can invest in Palestinian-led sustainable development, and when necessary, humanitarian relief. We can divest from those who profit from Israeli militarization and occupation. We can educate ourselves, and then others, and we can take it to the streets.
And we can strengthen the movement to change the system, from anti-war to agroecology, because it is all intertwined. There is a place and a need for each of us—for our individual arsenals of talent—that can collectively arm the twin struggles for sovereignty and justice.
Today, back in Mali, I will join a small local delegation to the site of a Chinese land deal where communities will describe experiences of dispossession and strategies of resistance. Rural Malians know these things because they have lived them time and again.
Perhaps for that reason, there is a sense of unshakable solidarity with Gaza here. As West African Muslims celebrate the arrival of their holy month through fasting and prayer, they do so holding up Palestinians. They match that with action in the struggle against land and water grabs, not only in the Sahel but also around the world.
And so can all of us do our part to hold Gaza close, even if that means holding Israel accountable.
Salena Tramel is an activist and researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague and previously the Program Coordinator for the Middle East and Haiti at Grassroots International.