First published in Overland, 3 June 2021.
We, members of the Disability Justice Network of Australia, want to express our anger, sorrow, and solidarity with the Palestinian people.
As both Indigenous and non-Indigenous disabled people living in so-called Australia, we recognise and understand the violent and disabling nature of settler-colonialism, an ongoing structure that relies on the othering, dehumanisation, and disposal of our bodies and lives. We understand how the effects of historical colonialism, imperialism, and invasion continue to this day to create contemporary systemic violence.
We live on unceded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands, where the British settler-colonial project violently dispossesses and displaces these lands’ rightful owners. We acknowledge the pain and injury this violence continues to inflict, alongside the strength, resistance and survival of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who live in the different nations of this continent.
We know that the British colonial occupation in Palestine actively assisted the early Zionist movement in the dispossession of Palestinians and was instrumental in the foundation of the Israeli settler-colonial state. From the British colonial occupation in the wake of the First World War, to the Nakba of 1948, the Naksa of 1967, through the First Intifada, to the Oslo Accords, their aftermath and beyond, Palestine and its people have borne witness to successive histories of fragmentation and occupation, processes which Palestinians have resisted, via various means, from the very beginning. Sheikh Jarrah is only one recent example of the state of Israel’s continued dispossession of Palestinians, aided by the unconditional support of the American government. We understand that the profoundly asymmetrical violence occurring in Palestine today demands international accountability driven by a deep and critical understanding of history.
The oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in so-called Australia and the oppression of Palestinians are not the same, but they are deeply connected – historically and contemporarily. As such, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Palestinian resistance are inherently linked. We extend deep solidarity to all Indigenous peoples across the world who are fighting for their sovereignty and survival, including the Palestinian people.
We declare our solidarity with Afro-Palestinians in particular, who have always been integral to the fight for a free Palestine while also being oppressed by anti-Black racism from both the state of Israel and their non-Black neighbours. Freedom for Palestine also means freedom for Afro-Palestinians to live free from the violence of anti-Blackness and all its intersections. Disability Justice necessitates liberation from all forms of oppression.
We condemn the continued killing and torture of people across Palestine by Israeli armed forces, security personnel, and citizens. At the time we write this statement, the Palestinian death toll from Israel’s most recent spate of air and artillery attacks stands at 248, including 66 children, with more than 1,900 people wounded. 58,000 Palestinians have been internally displaced in Gaza. Nearly 17,000 residential and commercial units have been damaged or destroyed in Israel’s 11-day campaign, only the most recent in a long series of brutal assaults on besieged Gaza. Palestinians have been buried under rubble, both dead and alive, as Israeli air strikes have targeted and destroyed roads leading to Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical centre in Gaza among other vital healthcare infrastructure.
These are not acts of self-defence, nor are any acts of Israeli violence premised on Israel’s “right to defend itself,” which it claims is granted by Israel’s “right to exist.” As Fred Moten has stated in an impassioned call for solidarity with both Palestinians and Jewish people as separate from the state of Israel:
When the defence of Israel manifests itself as a defence of its right to exist, this is important. It is a defence not just of Israel’s right to exist but of the nation-state as a political form’s right to exist, and nation-states don’t have rights. What they’re supposed to be are mechanisms to protect the rights of the people who live in them, and that has almost never been the case. And to the extent that they do protect the rights of the people that live in them, it’s at the expense of the people who don’t.
– Robin D.G. Kelley & Fred Moten In Conversation (2017, 00:52:45).
We acknowledge that a ceasefire by no means signifies an end to Israeli settler-colonial violence.
In the West, it was easy for people to forget that during Israel’s bombardments of Gaza, Covid-19 was still raging in one of the world’s most densely populated areas. Israeli attacks that killed numerous medical personnel, damaged healthcare infrastructure, and elsewhere flooded hospitals with those people wounded by Israel’s military offensive, did so in the context of a healthcare situation that Israel has actively impoverished, from denying the importation of medical devices to bombing the 3D printing site that manufactured some of the medical devices that Israel would not permit to be imported into the territory.
In March 2020, according the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories B’Tselem, the Israeli military confiscated the tents of a Palestinian field clinic set up to treat Covid-19 patients. As Naarm / Melbourne based Palestinian writer and scholar Micaela Sahhar wrote in March, the beginning of the pandemic seemed to necessitate that the Israeli government at the very least recognise “that Palestinian infection rates and Israeli life were connected,” (Micaela Sahhar 2021) yet the arrival of the Covid vaccine allowed Israel to continue to deny Palestinians the resources they would need to protect themselves from the virus, in violation of their responsibilities as an occupying force according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Disability Justice requires an end to settler colonial projects, the violence of which creates and exacerbates disability, and makes conditions impossible for Indigenous disabled people—and others deemed as a threat or burden to the state—to survive and thrive in. The violence being perpetrated by Israel on Palestinians is inherently disabling—and the destruction of homes, neighbourhoods, and roads leading to hospitals—as well as hospitals and clinics themselves—prevents those being disabled by this abhorrent violence from receiving essential care. The arbitrary arrests, the denial of free movement, the caging of human beings whether momentary or prolonged, the destruction of resources, these too are all matters of Disability Justice.
Whilst the physical impairment and injury inflicted by Israeli violence is often made visible, the trauma and psychological distress created by ongoing occupation and oppression continues to be obscured. Samah Jabr, chair of the Mental Health Unit at the Palestinian Ministry of Health and one of just 32 psychiatrists in the Palestinian territories, has repeatedly drawn attention to the failings of Western-developed mental health assessment tools and broader conceptualisations of trauma such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “There is no ‘post’,” Jabr emphasises, “because the trauma is repetitive and ongoing and continuous” (Olivia Goldhill 2019).
Disability Justice speaks to the limits of diagnoses like PTSD, encouraging us to recognise that it is not always an accurate framework. We must identify the root causes of people’s pain and distress and challenge the pathologisation of oppressed communities. A Disability Justice framework demands we ask the question: “what is sick, the context or the person?” It is a politic that allows us to see and respond to sickness beyond medicalisation, recognising how bombardment, incarceration, subjugation, and the dispossession of Palestinian people from their ancestral homelands results in mental, emotional, cultural, and spiritual injuries.
We, the Disability Justice Network of Australia, declare our solidarity with the many people who have acquired disabilities as a direct result of Israel’s oppressive violence, and who are now being denied the services and support they need due to this unilateral violence the status of Palestinians under Israeli law. Disabled Palestinians wear this violence on and in their bodies and spirits, across generations.
The Palestinian Disability Coalition (PDC) has raised, time after time, Israel’s breaches of human rights, including disability rights. The PDC and other human rights groups have said that “Palestinian disability rights must be understood within the broader context of Israel’s institutionalised oppression and domination and apartheid regime over the Indigenous Palestinian people as a whole” (PNN Ramallah 2020).
We want to also acknowledge disabled Palestinians in the diaspora. We support the 10 Principles of Disability Justice (Sins Invalid 2015) as developed by our comrades across the ocean in the settler colony of the United States, and are adapting these principles to our context here in settler colonial Australia. We are committed to supporting disabled people in their struggle for justice and freedom everywhere. Disability Justice and the liberation of Palestine are inherently linked: both require abolition and the destruction of the settler colonial nation-state.
To this end, we support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign Australia, a campaign to pressure the State of Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the blockade of Gaza; to allow the Right of Return to Palestinian refugees to the land and homes from which they were violently expelled in 1948 and regularly since; and to ensure equal rights for all Palestinians living in Israel. BDS is currently the most powerful international vehicle challenging support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism across the world (BDS Australia).
“Disability justice means resisting together. From solitary cells to open air prisons. We will be liberated as whole beings. We are far greater whole than partitioned. To Exist is to Resist.”
– (Sins Invalid, 2018)
References and further reading
Jamal Nabulsi 2021, Righting the history of Palestine
Robin D.G. Kelley & Fred Moten In Conversation
Micaela Sahhar 2021, Covid among the Palestinians
Olivia Goldhill 2019, Palestine’s head of mental health services says PTSD is a western concept
PNN Ramallah 2020, Organizations welcome UN “List of Issues report” on the rights of PwDs on Israel
Sins Invalid 2015, 10 Principles of Disability Justice
BDS Australia n.d., What is BDS, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Australia
Sins Invalid 2018, Disability Justice for Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley Facebook