A Meditation on Death, Killing, and Possibility
I knew my body was healing from the surgery when I found myself ready to engage with the world and posted on Facebook: I am always anti-zionist. And never an antisemite. And always an anti-racist feminist against misogynist wars.
And then a few days later I posted: Zionist Trustees and Funders — Keep your hands off our Universities.
My rendering of the crisis in Gaza and for Palestinians is deeply private and painful but I thought that is what we should be doing now. Feeling everything we can — all the pain and death, and suffering, and hatreds that seem to be engulfing the world right now. But also seeing the amazing global voice for the liberation of Palestine, as has never been as loud and mobilized as it is in this moment.
The whole world is paying attention. The all-powerful U.S. in a unipolar world is over for all to see, except maybe for the U.S. and Israel. Countries across Latin America and the Middle East speak out for a free Palestine and ceasefire and challenge the hubris of Israel and the U.S.
Gaza and genocidal death, COVID the world over. Hatreds of all sorts. Misogyny catalyzing right-wing rule. All of it. They each exist together, and distinctly. These crises silence each other, and yet deepen the vulnerability of every human. And, as an anti-racist socialist feminist I know to always think about our bodies and what is happening to them. The body is always a site of political struggle — migrations, abortions, the fear of death.
My dear comrade/friend Patricia Zimmermann died on August 18. We had demonstrated and authored manifestos together against the Afghan and Iraq wars and spoke out in each imperial struggle for the past 40 years. And she was with me for every cancer hospitalization caused by my BRCA cancer mutation, found in Ashkenazi Jews. She had not been feeling well, but then died in two weeks’ time after the diagnosis of a raging stomach cancer. There was no preparation, and then total collapse. People said she was too young, that it was too fast. If she were here, I know she would be thinking about the thousands of Palestinians newly killed and dead — also too young.
Let me explain a bit more. Just three weeks after Patty’s death, on September 10, I went to the emergency room writhing in pain due to a cancer-related blockage from scar tissue. Patty was not with me this time, although she had been here dying just a few weeks earlier. I thought of her and all the pain and grief across the globe. I knew the ER was in total crisis. Not enough doctors. Not enough beds. Not enough of anything. And, then I thought of Gaza — with their constant bombardment and lack of every medical supply let alone water and food. But then I succumbed to my own body and thought of nothing else.
I have been recovering from surgery since the Hamas rampage on October 7, which annihilated any dream of peace and humanity. I hated what the death mongers did that day — erased people’s humanity with total abandon. These men were misogynist warriors — hating Israelis enough to become nothing but killers. They have no other identity for me — the enemy here is misogynist hatred, and Hamas is a mere symptom.
When one’s body is demanding everything from you to heal you become self-consumed with the process. And yet, as I started to heal, I then wondered how these people in Gaza and Israel and the West Bank can do it — with their bodies under constant siege. And in Gaza the hunger and thirst? Have you ever known thirst with no water available? The total domination of bodily needs? And then, the bombs. The noise. The destruction. Death so close, and continuously.
My own body — frail and hovering between consciousness and not caring about anything, including myself, consumed me in the first days of the Israel and Gaza terror. My friends and comrades were trying to manage these daily assaults alongside a world that is coming apart at the seams. And yet, they all make time to be present and assist and care for me.
The camaraderie is everything. How can anyone have hope for life or peace without love and caring? And yet love and hope are smashed again and again in Ukraine, in Congo, in Sudan, in Syria, in the West Bank. How is it possible that all these assaulted people can go forward? And into what? It is for the rest of us, out of the line of fire so to speak, to demonstrate the love and camaraderie we have for them. Nothing else really matters. Differences are not important in crisis moments. They are to be pushed away to find the shared humanity of our bodies — for life and justice.
And the world is speaking out for Palestine in massive demonstrations across the globe. This is a huge moment of resistance and resilience that must be recognized and nurtured by us all.
The world of the last half-century has changed radically and is still changing. There is more pro-Palestine commitment right now across the globe than ever before. There is more inside the U.S. too. It is part of the fact that the tight imperial hold of the U.S. does not exist in its old form even if it keeps warring as though it is master of the world. Other countries are shouting back. Movements across the globe are coming together.
In response, Israel tightens its grip. And Zionist groups in the U.S. try to shut everyone else down. The charge of antisemitism becomes the defense against all things Palestinian. And yes, antisemitism exists but do not use it as decoy of sorts. Zionism annihilates Palestinian self-determination. Being a Jew is distinct from Zionism (unless it is not for you). But do not confuse your anti-Palestinianism with antisemitism; or my radical humanism with antisemitism.
The genocide of Gazans/Palestinians continues. Even to write these words feels impossible. How to think? How to care? How to do something?
My mind, and I am assuming the same for many of us, is trying to think in newly humanist ways — to include a revolutionary capacity for recognizing each other as connected and responsible for and to each other. So many comrades feel overwhelmed — there is too much to know in an unknowable, unrecognizable world. Yet, we must try and know and think in new ways. Some of us are pushing to free ourselves from a carceral mind. Instead of punishment how do we create forgiveness and peace?
The exceptionalism of Zionism permeates most thinking, even if there are different depths to the exceptionalism. Exceptionalism is a violent mentality — it thinks that no other peoples have suffered like the Jews. It keeps reproducing itself. Any time I try to speak I am asked why I don’t say one thing or another, and what about Hamas? I am asked why I do not condemn them. I think too many people conflate Hamas and Palestinians. Hamas is like our right-wing Trump zealots. Those who stormed the Capital. The October 7 massacre was inhuman, inhumane, a total travesty because murder and wanton killing is an abomination. I condemn the killing. The hatreds. The forever misogyny of this global order.
Naming Hamas does not sufficiently expose the misogyny of Hamas and warrior mentality itself. All nationalisms are misogynist — they glorify power and force. I argued in my book “Hatreds” that nations are built with and on the bodies of women — each and every kind. It is why rape is so essential to every war everywhere. It is why women of any kind are so easily erased. In the past most language of war spoke of “women and children” as the vulnerable. Today in Gaza it is “the children” who are being counted as dead. What has happened to the women? Where is the feminist wonderings/wanderings of this war against humanity?
I keep reminding myself to think of the women in Iran, and the women in Afghanistan, and the women in Ukraine. How they are fighting against the misogyny of their rulers and for their bodies and the humanity of all. The women in all the struggles at this very moment remind us of a humanity that includes all genders, and gender choices alongside the multiples of races, and their hues.
And as we embrace the freedom struggles of Palestinians of every gender, we must remind everyone that, in the U.S., with no right to our bodies, no choice about having an abortion or not, there cannot be justice or peace. When abortion is about accessing our humanity, to lack the right to control our bodies means we are not part of the world. This connects women across this globe no matter how disconnected the struggles may seem. Focus only on Netanyahu and nationalisms and you will miss all the rest of this.
So, for me, it is less about who did what, but more about what they did. There is never a justification for killing, or war for that matter. We do not need more war ever. Instead we need the vision of a shared humanity that always trumps any nationalism. Let us use whatever means we must to do so: conversation, negotiation, listening, forgiving, wondering, imagining.
Do not be stuck in old tropes. And as I always said to my students: it is never either/or. The answer is always: both, and all. There are no two sides. There are multiple sides to the complexity of all this. If you are holding onto to past injustice you cannot go forward. And the future right now is too unknown. So, there is a chance that we can matter more than ever before. Until we try there is no answer here.
Forgiveness and reparation must be our guides. It is the only way to go forward. It is why decarceration of our punishment-oriented society has been a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Forgive and repair. Then, see what can be created, what can come next. History matters, but the present (with its possibilities) matter more.
My father fought in WWII. He liberated concentration camps at the end of the war. He was a forward observer — a dangerous position left to Jews. Yes, antisemitism was ripe in the U.S. armed forces. Just like racism was. Yes, these same forces were fighting against fascism/Nazism. Israel was founded out of the effects of antisemitism but also out of the displacement and erasure of Palestinians.
I don’t have an ounce of nationalism in me — for the U.S. or Israel. But I was brought up by atheist communist parents for whom being a Jew was a political choice — for anti-racist justice. As I got older, I added anti-racist feminism to my identity. There was no holocaust per se in my upbringing. I was taught, if I used the term holocaust, to always specify which one: Jewish, Black, Armenian, whomever. There is no exceptionalism here. No one person’s suffering trumps another.
It is such a hard time to think. Death seems everywhere and nowhere. One million people in the U.S. have died from COVID yet there is little public accounting of this. Tens of thousands of young people suffer with long COVID, and I think I want another world for them, and for me.
Our bodies make us especially human. They speak truth and vulnerability and strength. And my own body is still healing — my incision remains open to make sure it is fully internally healed, and so does the aching for all humanity. From my body to yours, to everyone’s.
Let this be our guide: NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!
Zillah Eisenstein is a noted international feminist writer and activist and Professor Emerita, Political Theory, Ithaca College. She is the author of many books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Hatreds” (Routledge., 1996), “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998), “Against Empire” (Zed Press, 2004), and most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).
Header photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash.