On “Collective Liberation”: It’s All of Us or None

In her second installment of “Reflections on Collective Humanity,” Managing Opinion Editor Tapti Sen ’25 argues that we must understand how Palestinian and Jewish liberation are intertwined to truly achieve global freedom from oppression.

These past few weeks, more than any other, I have seen a chasm opening in leftist and activist spaces, both online and at Amherst. Within this chasm, a political binary has been constructed pertaining to the Middle East/West Asia — you are either pro-Israel and anti-Hamas, or pro-Palestine and pro-Hamas. You are either pro-occupation and ethnic cleansing, or pro-antisemitism and terrorism.

However, this black and white dichotomy cannot function if we are truly dedicated to the collective liberation of all oppressed peoples worldwide. In saying this, I hope to not be misconstrued as a so-called “centrist” — the condemners of violence “on both sides” and call for a “return” to peace — as if Palestinians have been able to experience peace for decades. Rather, I believe that in this moment, more than ever before, our activism must be intellectually and morally consistent in our work towards anti-imperialism, anti-oppression, and anti-white supremacy.

My country, Bangladesh, is one of several that have refused to recognize Israel as a nation, viewing it as an illegitimate state on account of its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza — and for most of my life, the first page of my passport has said, “This passport is valid for all nations of the world except for Israel.” (While those words have been removed from the recent iteration of passports, a ban on travel to and from Israel has remained.) We grew up learning about the history of the formation of Israel through the lens of the Nakba — the common term used for the permanent displacement of Palestinians in 1948 — the world, for us, was framed as a world that hates Muslims, hates Brown people, and Western support for Israel was considered part of that.

Paradoxically enough, within our discussions of Palestine and the formation of Israel, the history of the Jewish people occupied little to no space. One reason for this is a gap in education: We learned about World War II and the Holocaust, yes, but we learnt little to nothing of the thousands of years of historically entrenched antisemitism across the world — the reasons that a Jewish state had been considered necessary in the first place.

Another reason was Bangladesh’s own demographics: us Bengali Hindus make up 8 percent of the population, and we learned almost nothing about them, so you can imagine how much we learned about a religious population that numbers less than 0.10 percent of the country. Because of this, to be blunt, the idea of Jewish people being a protected class seemed as ridiculous to us as Christians being a protected class. As young children, we had no understanding of ethnoreligions, or the existence of non-white Jewish people, so we viewed Jews just as white people — and how could white people be oppressed in the modern day?

To a degree, therefore, I believe there is some dismissal of modern-day Jewish trauma and discrimination in many Brown communities that amounts to antisemitism. I only began to understand the extent of this erasure once I came to the U.S. and it has been one of many biases I have had to unlearn. I think this is something a lot of us have to acknowledge and unlearn as well — especially those of us from homogenous countries with low to no Jewish population.

I mention this cultural context because I believe it is incredibly relevant in leftist conversations today. Within the past few weeks, I have seen inconceivable levels of antisemitic language in discussions surrounding Palestinian liberation. I have seen people celebrate the deaths of civilians — calling it justified which, I must emphasize, is extremely different from “provoked.” I have seen people deny the real grief and fear of the Jewish community worldwide. I have heard and seen Jewish people feel alienated from the leftist spaces they formerly felt safe in because those spaces are unable to hold up the torch of Palestinian liberation while also recognizing Jewish humanity. I can’t help but wonder how so many of my Bangladeshi friends and former classmates — who know all too well the horrors of intergenerational trauma, of genocide — so easily dismiss that same pain when it comes from a Jewish person.

I have also seen countless people, on the right and the left, attempt to justify the massacre of Palestinian civilians under the guise of protecting Jewish lives. Not only this, people have attempted to slander any pro-Palestinian speech as inherently antisemitic. The movement for Palestinian liberation as a whole has been declared “terrorist,” ignoring the vast array of viewpoints on what exactly that liberation could and should look like and flattening its supporters as“pro-terrorist.” A liberation movement that ultimately is united around a shared commitment to Palestinian humanity  has been criminalized by the wide world and “From the River to the Sea,” an often peaceful saying that originated in calling for the liberation of Palestinians in a secular democratic state encompassing both Israeli and Palestinian people has been stigmatized as terrorist speech and promotion of hate crimes, again, even though, again, people have multiple different interpretations of what it means. Palestinian voices are being systematically silenced and dehumanized.

Now, more than ever before, there is an extreme, urgent necessity for cross-cultural solidarity. People worldwide need to stand up for Palestinians, and all oppressed people are necessary in this fight. One historically marginalized group cannot win at the expense of another — and we see that reality in the founding of Israel. We should condemn that the creation of a national home for Jews was achieved over the dispossession and expulsion of thousands of Palestinians,  just as we should push back on calls for the reverse.

What is the purpose of your leftism if it doesn’t include Palestinian liberation? If it doesn’t include Jewish liberation?

In particular, I’ve been seeing a lot of Frantz Fanon quotes being referenced in pro-Hamas rhetoric — mostly those citing his infamous essay, “On Violence,” emphasizing the necessity of violence in liberation movements. That armed struggle has been paramount and necessary in numerous liberation struggles, from South Africa to my own country’s cannot be denied. Whether or not Hamas’ actions currently constitute an armed struggle is a whole other matter entirely, and not one I intend to engage with in this article.

Rather, I’d like to turn to the conclusion of Fanon’s book, “The Wretched of the Earth,” which, I think, is vehemently anti-violence. In these last pages, Fanon does not call for “the constant denial of man, an avalanche of murders.” He sees the violence perpetuated by the European model of conquering as “sickness,” “inhumanity” — “The notion of catching up must not be used as a pretext to brutalize man, to tear him from himself and his inner consciousness.”

No, Fanon calls for humanity to humanize its connection with itself: “What we want is to walk in the company of man, every man, night and day, for all times.” He urged for radical humanism and international solidarity “for Europe, for ourselves and for humanity.” He rejected the idea of historical colonial revenge, believing that humanity could be found only by “demanding human behavior” from each other.

And these are the words from Fanon I’d like to emphasize. At this moment, Jewish grief is being used as a cover by the Israeli government to commit horrific war crimes against Palestinians. At this moment, the hope of Palestinian freedom is being weaponized by groups worldwide to assert their own political agendas, to justify antisemitic rhetoric. But ultimately, it is the innocent civilians who are suffering.

The British Empire colonized Palestine and moved persecuted Jewish refugees with nowhere to go into the land, without input from the existing populations there, who were then expelled from their own lands. Was this truly out of support for Jewish people fleeing persecution in Europe, or was this to serve its own economic and imperial interests? Now it, along with other Western nations watch, as both Jewish and Palestinian lives are lost, as grief reaches a boiling point.

Within the Israel-Hamas war, the only winner is imperialism and colonialism — the U.K., for example, with its colonial actions in the 1920s to 40s has caused long-lasting instability in historical Mandatory Palestine, with little to no consequences. And the losers in the end, are primarily Palestinian civilians, who are watching as the world continues to do nothing to prevent their mass displacement and genocide, as they see their historical oppression perpetuated.

When I first started writing this series a week ago, the death toll in Gaza was 5000 people. Over the course of my writing and publishing last week’s article, the death toll reached 5700. The death toll in Gaza has currently surpassed 8000, with over 1.4 million Palestinians displaced. Israel has just bombed a refugee camp, killing and injuring hundreds for the sake of targeting one Hamas commander, and the U.S. has refused to consider a ceasefire or deescalation of conflict.

Do we all truly think that the U.S. cares for Jewish lives any more than it does for Palestinian lives? Right-wing politicians are currently using antisemitism as a talking point to suppress speech on college campuses and perpetuate Islamophobia — the very same politicians who have long perpetuated and spread antisemitism themselves for years. The U.S. does what is politically expedient for itself, always, and it is politically expedient to pretend that America’s true goal in supporting Israel is the protection of Jewish lives.

And this is exactly why we cannot operate within this Western colonial paradigm, where Jewish and Palestinian liberation are pitted against each other. Because Jewish and Palestinian fates are, as Edward Said put it, “intertwined” — because of all of our fates — those of us who have been historically marginalized, colonized — are intertwined. This is what collective liberation looks like — if even one of us is trapped, we all are.

To be honest, the last few weeks have me feeling insane — and feeling like others are going insane as well. In their justification of Israeli government actions, people have cited to me facts and figures released by the IDF and Israeli government, as though the Israeli government doesn’t have a long history of spreading disinformation, as if world governments, particularly the U.S., in general do not have a long history of weaponizing disinformation as well, even when fighting terrorism, for their own end. Others are rigidly declaring Hamas a purely leftist liberationist group that only has Palestinian best interests in mind, as if that is not demonstrably untrue when viewing public opinion polls and history. I am amazed at just how ready people are to believe any information posted on the internet without fact-checking or considering political motives. In this moment of mass misinformation and disinformation, quite literally every fact we read has to be verified and questioned and considered — it’s the only way we can even reach a proximity of the truth.

People are telling me that Israel bombed this hospital, no Hamas did, no Israel did — and all I keep seeing are bodies piling up, death tolls increasing, more families vanishing off the face of the earth. There are so many things I want to say to people right now— like that the only proof we’ve ever had of Hamas hiding under hospitals in tunnels is from the IDF, scarily reminiscent of when Bush said that Al-Qaeda was hiding under tunnels in the 2000s. I want to ask what it means to kill thousands of innocents to kill three militants. What it means is that Israel told Palestinians to evacuate through the Rafah crossing and then proceeded to bomb it.  I want to ask: Even if Hamas is using innocent civilians as ‘human shields’ why are we allowing them to do so? Why are we accepting the death of Palestinians? If Israel “gets” Hamas by bombing and massacring the entirety of Gaza — will we think it was worth it? Will it have been worth it?

How much does it matter who bombed the hospital, as it does who paid the price?

I have no answers. I have no arguments left to give. I am just horrified. Horrified at the current loss of life, and horrified for the future loss I know will come. But even in terrible, hopeless moments like these— it is all I can do to hold onto the tangible impacts of collective humanity that I know must and do exist.

I want to end this series of reflections with a quote from this incredible Jewish Currents article by Arielle Angel, “We Cannot Cross Until We Carry Each Other”:

“On the left, I hope we do not mistake the inevitability of the violence for an inescapable limit on our work or the quality of our thought. Even if our dreams for better have failed, they must accompany us through this moment to the other side. We need to imagine a movement for liberation better even than the Exodus — an exodus where neither people has to leave. Where people stay to pick up the pieces, rearranging themselves not just as Jews or Palestinians but as antifascists and workers and artists. I want what Puerto Rican Jewish poet and activist Aurora Levins Morales describes in her poem “Red Sea”:

We cannot cross until we carry each other,
all of us refugees, all of us prophets.
No more taking turns on history’s wheel,
trying to collect old debts no-one can pay.
The sea will not open that way.

This time that country
is what we promise each other,
our rage pressed cheek to cheek
until tears flood the space between,
until there are no enemies left,
because this time no one will be left to drown
and all of us must be chosen.
This time it’s all of us or none.”