“Unspeakable”: Dr. Fady Joudah Grieves 50+ Family Members Killed in Gaza & Slams U.S. Media Coverage

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: As we continue to look at Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, we’re joined in Houston, Texas, by Fady Joudah. He’s an award-winning Palestinian American writer and poet, as well as a physician. He has translated several collections of poetry from Arabic into English, including work by the renowned Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Dozens of his family members have been killed in Gaza since October 7th. His recent piece for LitHub is titled “A Palestinian Meditation in a Time of Annihilation.”

Fady Joudah, welcome to Democracy Now! First of all, of course, our condolences on the loss of your family members. If you could say a little bit about those family members and how you and your family here in the U.S. are keeping in touch with people who remain in Gaza?

DR. FADY JOUDAH: Thank you.

We have had more than 50 or 60 people in our extended family killed by Israeli airstrikes. Some of them are in-laws of one of my cousins, and others are different families. Others were also killed by the dozens in one strike. One particular story is of a woman I knew since when I was a child in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. And her brother’s grandkids were killed because Israel bombed the house next to them, and in the bombing, one of the walls — one of the walls of their house fell off on them. And they were sleeping, and it killed the three grandchildren and the parents. And only the grandfather survives. So this is also a different spectrum of what we hear about the children being the only survivors in entire families. There are also stories of elderly people who have survived 1948, the Nakba, and/or 1967, and they’re the only ones who are surviving or who have survived their families.

We try to keep in touch with some family members through social media or WhatsApp or what have you, but you know there’s no guarantee that there is regular access or regular communication. You can send a message and maybe get a response the next day. In the beginning of the war, we could get a few phone calls in. But the stuff now is just very difficult to access many people.

The situation is unspeakable and will remain unspeakable, I think, for generations and decades, has been a culmination of the Palestinian experience for a hundred years, since the British Mandate and the beginning of settler colonialism with Zionist immigration into Palestine. It is really beyond words to describe what it means to be a Palestinian in this moment, the accumulation of multigenerational trauma and memories that activates in each one of us previous memories we’ve tried overcome with hope and a flair for life and for freedom, only to find that there is always some horrific episode that reminds us that we are on this Earth in this time, liable to be massacred and lied about. It is —

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of which, Fady — we’re speaking to Fady Joudah, who is an award-winning Palestinian American writer and poet and physician. As you speak to us from Houston, we’ve spoken to so many Palestinians in Gaza, in the West Bank, as well, but you are here in the United States. And the United States is so important when it comes to how Israel deals with Palestine, because of the amount of aid, to the tune of billions of dollars a year, and is now asking for much more. Can you talk about how the media here covers this issue?

DR. FADY JOUDAH: Well, it’s how the media doesn’t cover it. I think that I’ve written in the piece there — and I’ve written in other pieces before — there is a collective psychosis in the mainstream language of U.S. media and administration, that is bizarre to the point of ghosting Palestinians, permitting their erasure, year after year, decade after decade.

When we say, for example, Israel has a right to defend itself, we’re also saying that Palestinian lives are not equal to any other lives that we deem superior to them. And I think that we have not repeatedly asked the question in American media and culture: Do you believe that Palestinian lives are equal to Israeli lives and to Jewish lives? There are many, Jewish people among them, who believe the answer is yes. But there are many more who haven’t even entertained the question honestly. And I think the importance of the question is to go beyond the moral lip service reflex of saying, “Of course, yes,” because to say “yes” means that you have to believe in the equal humanity of Palestinians as a political condition for freedom. When we hear about all the stuff from Blinken or Biden, it is really a language that says, “We believe that the Palestinians have rights when we decide that they have equal rights. We will put it on the back burner.” Always on the back burner.

And what I say is that we have reached a point where the murder and the destruction of Palestinian lives has reached a point of every time it reaches, it goes up higher, escalates in what is permissible about destroying Palestinian lives. We are not just talking about the numbers of the dead. We are talking about 2 million people who are living a life worse than death, and they have to overcome that and the trauma, that is unspeakable. And I do not expect the U.S. media and mainstream media or politics to even care about this. The ghosting continues.

Yesterday in The Washington Post, they published a racist cartoon, in — which they took down because there was an immediate back — I mean, lashing out at the racist cartoon. It is unimaginable to think that this — and it shouldn’t be imaginable — to think that this would be directed at Jewish lives or Israeli lives, but it is permissible to dehumanize Palestinians, until it has become part of the accepted feeling within the American psyche or consciousness on the whole. And so, everyone, I think, on the whole, except pockets here and there, is really complicit in the permissibility of the destruction of Palestinian lives, that has reached an unprecedented level in our hundred years of being massacred, displaced, dehumanized.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Fady, I want to ask you about a point that you raise in this beautiful essay that you’ve written, “A Palestinian Meditation in a Time of Annihilation.” In the essay, you cite Aimé Césaire, the renowned Martinican poet, very important anticolonial thinker, who wrote one of the canonical texts on colonialism, A Discourse on Colonialism. You cite him saying, “Neither America nor Europe seem able or willing to solve their colonial addiction, their civilizational motif. Israel is a translation of that failure, a prized Western desire. But Israel has agency in mechanizing this desire.” Could you explain, elaborate on that?

DR. FADY JOUDAH: Well, I think that, for some of us who know, or don’t know, that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was a response to the Zionist movement in Europe by a Jewish people in Europe who had suffered a lot of oppression. But to overcome that oppression, they chose to side with the colonial aspect, the domineering aspect of the culture that dominated them, and export that as a mode for success and triumph into a Palestine, without much recognition of the racism involved in dehumanizing what they call the Arab population of Palestine.

And since then, it has been in the interest of the West and the U.S. to prop up Israel as an outpost, so to speak, for further domination of the Middle East for various reasons. But the problem is that this kind of propping up has really gone mad at this point. And, you know, I think we’ve reached a moment — and others have said it — where the degree of colonial viciousness that exists now in Israeli society, and is supported by the West, sends us back to 19th century barbarism, really, colonial barbarism. And then, obviously, Israel is interested in affecting this kind of behavior within the U.S. through major lobby influences and also cultural influences.

As I said, I — or let me say it this way. It would be an amazing achievement if Zionists in the U.S., and outside it, would actually say to a single Palestinian, “I am sorry.” Just once. This has not happened in a hundred years. It has happened, of course, on an individual level. I have Jewish friends and colleagues who have said it, because we are all human, and there is no monolithic collective anywhere.

But I think that one of the things we need to do is to begin to shift the language that speaks of the Palestinian and to allow for more Palestinian presence in the American consciousness, beyond death and dying. It seems to me that Palestinians in the West are only alive when they are dying, and that is abhorrent and unacceptable. And that is part of a settler colonial mentality that only humanizes its subjects when they are limp, near dying, completely helpless, obedient. Any sense of resistance or rise toward freedom or liberation is denied them through dehumanizing language and, you know, manipulative approaches and processes.

AMY GOODMAN: Fady Joudah, we want to thank you so much for spending this time with us, Palestinian American writer, poet, translator and physician, speaking to us from Houston. Dozens of his family members have been killed in Gaza since October 7th. We’ll link to your recent piece for LitHub, “A Palestinian Meditation in a Time of Annihilation.”

Coming up, we’ll look at last night’s Republican debate, which Donald Trump skipped again. Stay with us.

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