Ruled Over While Tilling the Soil: Trans Life, Palestine, and the Texture of Exile
1st of July 2022
I was walking down Nassau Street one night in early December and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sunnyvale, a trans-majority community centre in north Stoneybatter, which had just been evicted. After the fight, everyone who called the industrial lot home got together to help build it back – climbing over makeshift barricades and crawling through murky halls littered with broken possessions. We picked up nail-sized shards of glass smashed on the concrete ground and took apart walls ripped out of abandoned buildings and caravans after hours of assault by heavies’ invading sledgehammers. We don’t like to talk about it much, though the day and every moment since tends to weigh on us and emerge one way or another. Every humiliation and injury by the gardaí, every community space slated to become a hotel, every time we look at one another and get blocked behind some wall that keeps us from talking about what happened, it’s like we’re living through the eviction all over again, digging ourselves deeper away from the surface.
I reflected on all of this while turning onto Fitzwilliam Street Lower to a house someone I knew had rented for the weekend on Airbnb. It was supposed to be a Haunukkah party with a few friends I’d met in our college’s Jewish society. The host and her family, who had flown all the way from Texas, were Ashkenazi Jews who had all been through all of their life cycle events and education at an average synagogue. Most of us in the college society had a much different experience. Either we had just completed our conversion, or our families had been Jewish for ages and either ignored the fact or hid it from us. My family in particular had gone completely underground (one might say stealth.) After struggling for years to pull anything from my mother and grandmother’s sealed mouths, I learned we were Sephardim and had concealed our Jewish roots for over a century. In other words, everybody in the group was Jewish, just in different, equally complicated ways. The society was and remains an important space for us to meet others and untangle our identities together. The only other relevant fact for what follows is that I had just gotten a new tattoo which was visible under the sleeve of my dress. It said, in Yiddish, ‘באפריי פאלעסטינע [Free Palestine].’
In 2007, the Israeli state decided to launch a marketing campaign to change how the rest of the world viewed its government. The campaign was called Brand Israel and it aimed to promote Israel as a bastion of rights for gay and lesbian people, encouraging LGB tourism to cities like Tel Aviv. At that same time, violence and hatred against Queer minorities was still present in the city, with a mass shooting in 2009 injuring seventeen members of the community. This was specifically part of an effort of what Palestinian activists have identified as ‘pinkwashing’, ‘how the Israeli state and its supporters use the language of gay and trans rights to direct international attention away from the oppression of Palestinians.’ One of the major rhetorical effects of pinkwashing Israeli apartheid has been a new resurgence of Orientalist language which defines Palestine and other regions in the Middle East as inherently repressive in their attitudes towards gender and sexuality (Said, 205). It also defines the Occident, Israel, as welcoming and open minded towards Queerness in comparison (the most important writer on the topic of Orientalism, Edward Said, was Palestinian.)
This ties into a common myth identified by philosopher Gayatri Spivak as ‘white men are saving brown women from brown men’, which sticks itself in our minds by structuring how we talk about international gender issues, limiting the ways resistance or acknowledgement of colonial structures can be discussed (Spivak, 92). To put it more simply, by leaning into gendered, colonial rhetoric which argues the ‘West’ saves the gendered minority of the ‘East’ from its own ‘inherent’ patriarchy, Israel has painted itself as a kind of widely recognisable saviour, giving it power in the eyes of people familiar with that rhetoric regardless of what they actually do. The most obvious problem with this is that it talks about Israel’s settler colonialism as a kind of protection or salvation, making it seem like the mass exodus comprising the experience of the Nakba (meaning ‘The Catastrophe’, a term referring to the ongoing expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War) was a kind of gift.
One of the most famous retellings of the creation of humankind, as detailed by what Christians call the Book of Genesis, is the epic poem Paradise Lostby John Milton. Milton was a Calvinist and an ally of Oliver Cromwell who wrote during the English Civil War. His poem tells the story of Man’s fall due to the schemes and manipulations of Satan, who had just been cast into Hell after turning against his Creator. In the epic, Adam and Eve are depicted as the ultimate example of binary genders in a heterosexual union. When they are first referred to by name in the poem, they are described as, ‘Adam first of men […] first of women Eve.’ In a conversation with Adam in the first half of the text, Eve says,
“O thou for whom And from whom I was form’d flesh of thy flesh, And without whom am to no end, my Guide And Head, what thou hast said is just and right,”
She is written to play a passive role by submitting to her husband, testifying to his rationality and morality. When it comes time for them to Fall, Eve is seduced by Satan’s speech as a snake,
“his words replete with guile
Into her heart too easie entrance won:
Fixt on the Fruit she gaz’d, which to behold
Might tempt alone, and in her ears the sound
Yet rung of his perswasive words, impregn’d
With Reason, to her seeming, and with Truth.”
Adam on the other hand gets to ruminate on his decision to join her in turning against their Creator, completing the epic’s ongoing conversation about the nature of the Divine and Free Will. He was given the time to make a choice. In other words, Paradise Lost tells the story of the first Man’s foolish, gullible wife and her original sin which resulted from her inability to use critical thinking to avoid trusting a sketchy talking snake.
In Bereshit 1:27-28, from what the Christians call Genesis, the first human was created. To quote in translation,
“And יהוה created humankind in the divine image, creating it in the image of יהוה — creating them male and female. יהוה blessed them and יהוה said to them”
In other words, the first human (Adam in Hebrew has connections to both ‘human’ and ‘soil’, referring to how this first Human was created from the material of the earth) was neither male nor female, but contained both aspects within them in a unique combination. When their partner was created,
“יהוה took one of [his/their] sides, and closed up the flesh at that site. And יהוה fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to [him/them].”
This gets trickier when we remember that the Sex/gender system which tries to divide bodies and social roles into two polarised categories didn’t really become a thing until much later in the historical record. In other words, in Hebrew translation and Jewish tradition, the creation of Adam and Chava wasn’t the formation of the original cishet nuclear family, but the formation of self and other, the making of difference among all people. This interpretation has been told and retold for generations, treasured by Queer Jews and passed onto their chosen descendants. Notably, conversations about this section of Torah and its implications for Jewish life and practice began to gain newfound attention by rabbis in the sixteenth century after the perils of the Reconquista and Inquisition forced Jews out of Portugal and Spain, a population who would become known as Sephardim and eventually lead, albeit after centuries, to me. The most relevant themes which come up from this story specifically focus on the creations of further differences, between a home made for us and a wilderness we are expelled into or living as part of a shared community and dying in the fossils and shackles of violence from the past.
A recent UN publication not only stated that the situation in Palestine was apartheid, and it also described the occupied territories as an, ‘open-air prison.’ To cross between regions, people must undergo invasive searches and checkpoint procedures, conditions of which vary based on assigned nationality. To navigate these checkpoints, people are required to have a series of corresponding identity cards, permits, and other documents; these borders have been recognised as an explicitly gendered space, a ‘social geography of horror,’ where permissions for crossing are granted on a sexist basis (they’re usually only granted to women for exceptional medical or religious purposes) and the facilitation of crossing is founded on strict compliance with embodied gender norms as enforced by Israeli soldiers’ rifles and gazes. The creation of strict gender norms in the carceral structure of the prison or occupied colony is not unique to Israel; Angela Davis in her book Are Prisons Obsolete? details how, ‘the deeply gendered character of punishment both reflects and further entrenches the gendered structure of the larger society.’ (Davis, 61) Along similar lines, Dean Spade argues how,
“For trans people, administrative gender classification and the problems it creates for those who are difficult to classify or are misclassified is a major vector of violence and diminished life chances and life spans […] The aim of creating increased security for the nation hangs on the assumption of a national subject that deserves and requires that protection: a subject for whom these identity classification and verification categories are uncontroversial. (Spade, 77-85)”
In other words, the creation of a security state or prison system relies on the enforcement of an ideal person, a person who is defined by the social systems constituting race and gender in that state. For Palestine, the carceral subject under Israeli occupation is the Palestinian who will soon be eliminated by the settler colonial state. Cruelty is the goal; they are not meant to survive. For trans subjects in particular, the systems of policing, surveillance, and apartheid are made even more dangerous by an increased risk from the normal dangers of not fitting into a stable, identity-based system. Israel and its allies don’t care if they discriminate against trans Palestinians because, in their eyes, they are just particularly targetable Palestinians who shouldn’t be in Israel in the first place. Pinkwashing is not only a dishonest marketing strategy, but also a hypocritical alibi for genocide.
At the party, I decided to help my hosts make latkes, fried potato cakes traditionally served during the holiday. A number of friends I expected would be there had sent their apologies, so for a while the only people around to chat with were all standing with me in a circle binding shavings together and browning them in oil. We made jokes back and forth about which toppings are more Jewish, applesauce or sour cream. I learned all of the men in the family had joined the military in America and were quite proud of this fact. In my head, I could see my dad with his eyes locked on me gripping the honorary sword he received for his work on the border in Korea, keeping it safe like the tokens his dad had taken from Okinawa in the forties. My uncle had flown south to Peru at seventeen and died in a plane crash, and at the same age a version of me went east and quickly transitioned; to him, we both went in the wrong directions. Their father wore a t-shirt with the names and numbers of the people he had served with. I was cutting myself with a grater, spilling blood in the onions, while the rest of them moved and chatted together like a frictionless machine.
I was aware of the fact that I was different from the people around me, what I couldn’t admit was how much I wanted what they had. I needed to feel like I could be in a space without fear of hurting everybody else or being hurt myself. The sister suddenly saw my tattoo and asked with excitement what it meant. I knew I couldn’t tell the truth; I couldn’t lose another home. I tried to shrug it off saying, ‘it’s from an old protest chant.’ They pressed on, wanting to know word for word what I had decided to mark on my body. I lied. ‘It means, “There is no Planet B.”’ It seemed to work; I can’t be sure whether or not they bought it, but they were satisfied either way. I felt caged in and alone, after all that had happened there was no one around the room I could turn to for recognition. They went on to joke about the minor differences between Texas and Dublin. I stepped out into the hallway and tried to feel my feet on the ground.
Featured Image: ‘Sunnyvale Lost’ by Penelope Norman
This article was supported by: Engagement Coordinator Aislin
February 20th marks the World Day of Social Justice 2020, and young people across Ireland are finding themselves facing an uncertain future on all fronts. Fighting against ever-increasing university fees, and laden down with the knowledge that just 20 companies worldwide are responsible for one third of all global emissions, it can be hard to believe that any individual can take action to truly level the playing field.
One person alone might feel as though they can’t make a change, but what happens when 10000 third-level students come together to take one small action each for a better world? This is what STAND, a Suas Educational Development initiative, and the Unions of Students in Ireland (USI) are trying to encourage by partnering on a new platform called 10000students.ie.
The 10000 students website, which provides examples on how to take action for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in every USI affiliated college across Ireland, allows students to pledge to take one action on their campus. It also counts how many actions are being taken across Ireland as a whole, with the idea being that students will see strength in numbers when it comes to taking action collectively.
Speaking from the launch event at GMIT, Mayo, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick had the following to say:
“Pledging to take any action on 10000students.ie is an easy way to raise awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals and to see how simple it can be to make a difference through implementing these changes in their daily lives. Students have always been at the forefront of positive change in Ireland and it is no different when it comes to the SDG’s. Last year, USI was announced as one of the twelve Sustainable Development Goal Champions and we are delighted to partner with STAND to launch this campaign to make it easy for students to make a difference while challenging their friends to do the same.”
Want to see how you can get involved? Visit 10000students.ie today and pledge to take one small action on your campus for a more sustainable planet.
Every Month, STAND brings you a quick fire Q&A from people who work in NGOs, with government or in community projects. This month we speak to Peter Schouten, who has been Spokesman for War Child since September 2014. Based in the Netherlands, War Child helps children affected by war in 14 countries all around the world.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do? I’m the spokesman for War Child Holland, which means being accountable for all media and press relations. I do this through managing spokespersons, initiating and coordinating press conferences, press releases, briefings, trips and media events. Our objective is to position War Child as the expert when it comes to children affected by conflict, being able to influence key stakeholders and contribute to our mission: ‘No child should be part of war. Ever.’
What do you love most about your job? Since I’m a real news addict I really love to work with and for media and to be up to date 24/7. It’s never a dull moment. I like the diversity in my daily work. It’s not only working from behind your desk but also travelling to the 14 countries in which War Child is active. During such field trips I bring journalists with me in order to show them how, why and what we do to help children affected by war.
What do you dislike most? A thing that I can’t get used to is the stories I hear from the children who I visit in our program countries. It’s sometimes really heartbreaking to hear their experiences. At the same time it gives me that new energy boost to let their voices be heard in the (inter)national media in order to help them and their peers.
How did you get into this area? I graduated in both International Relations and Journalism. After working for 5 years at the Dutch Prime Minister’s Office in The Hague I decided to join War Child in 2014. I came across the organisation in Uganda and I was really impressed by how my colleagues were dealing with the war children. From that moment on I started following War Child and once the function of spokesman became vacant, I applied immediately.
What advice would you give to students who want to work in this area? If you would like to be a spokesman it might help you to have some experiences as a journalist as well. In that case you know best of both worlds which enables you to do your work as a spokesman better.
War Child helps children affected by war. It offers them a combination of psychosocial support, protection and education. War Child was founded in 1995 and is an internationally acknowledged expert on children affected by armed conflict. Last year approx. 300,000 children participated in its programmes.
Laoise McGrath looks at Kiribati, a country which could soon be ‘Home’ to the world’s first climate refugees.
What is Kiribati? The Republic of Kiribati is made up of a patchwork of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The country is so remote that its nearest neighbour is more than 5000 km away. Although the country is dispersed over 3.5 million square kilometres it has only 110,000 inhabitants – and that number is declining.
How is climate change affecting the country? The people of Kiribati are likely to become the world’s first climate refugees. All of the islands are between one and two metres above sea level, and in 1999 two Kiribati islets disappeared entirely underwater. Due to the patterns of the tides the atolls are constantly changing shape, making life for the inhabitants of Kiribati very unstable and their future uncertain.
The country faces the constant challenge of protecting itself from flooding and providing permanent housing that is not washed away by the sea. The landscape of Kiribati is unsuitable for farming, and thus the country relies heavily on imports and the sea to provide its food; it is considered one of the least developed countries in the world.
As sea levels rise, the Kiribati people are being put under more pressure. They live a paradoxical life which is intimately connected with the ocean; it is the biggest threat to their livelihoods, and yet they depend on it as a primary food source.
In a world where climate change is becoming more apparent, Kiribati and its inhabitants could become the first climate change refugees as their home land disappears before their eyes.
STAND regularly brings you a quick fire Q&A from people who work in NGOs, with government or in community projects. This week, we speak to Sinead Kerin, Acting Managing Solicitor at the Mercy Law Resource Centre, providing free legal advice and representation to homeless people.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do? I am acting Managing Solicitor of Mercy Law Resource Centre. We are an independent law centre that is a charity. Mercy Law Resource Centre provides free legal advice and representation, in an accessible way, to people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in the areas of Social Housing and Social Welfare Law. We provide the following free services:
Legal Advice Clinics in Homeless Hostels;
Legal & Training Resource to Homeless Organisations;
What do you love most about your job? Being surprised and humbled when you meet resilient strong people who are living through really tough times, in awful conditions, in emergency accommodation and they are still in a great mood. Or getting an outcome for a client, which may mean that I had to convince a local authority to provide emergency accommodation for a family – i.e. getting children and parents off the streets into a safe place for the night. It’s that basic now – a few years ago a good day was getting someone a council house, now its emergency accommodation.
What do you dislike most? Meeting parents and their children who are long term homeless, living in a bedroom of a B&B or hotel for over two years. They usually present with mental health or physical health issues. It’s very rare that I meet a well child in a legal clinic. That makes me really mad, and sometimes sad.
I try and turn this dismay and alarm into action for our clients and push hard for an improvement for them. Most of all I really, really dislike that there is NO right to shelter in Irish law.
How did you get into this area? I always wanted to work in human rights and was a researcher before I trained as a solicitor. I worked for Focus Ireland before I worked for Mercy Law Resource Centre.
What advice would you give to students who want to work in this area? It really is a very difficult area to work in, as you meet human beings rather than notes on a case in a book, and the misery can get under your skin. Research is way easier! Saying that, the world needs more people working in social justice who are committed and recognise the dignity of every human being.
The Right to Work campaign was launched on June 14th 2018 at Liberty Hall Dublin by the Movement of Asylum Seekers of Ireland (MASI). This movement is led by asylum seekers and demands the right to work for all asylum seekers. They are seeking access to the labour market without restrictions for those who are under the Direct Provision system. Currently, Ireland is one of two countries in the European Union with a complete ban on the right to work.
Asylum seekers are at present given a meagre allowance of €21.60 per week under Direct Provision, but are not allowed to seek employment in more than 60 work sectors including hospitality and construction. MASI urges the government to end Direct Provision, unfair deportation and forced removal. They also support the right to work and education of all asylum seekers. While the high number of personal accounts shared at the launch may have been disheartening, they are an important step on the road to equality. MASI simply asks for freedom, dignity and justice for all including the asylum seekers.
Who is an ‘Asylum Seeker’? “Asylum seekers are people seeking protection as refugees, who are waiting for the authorities to decide on their applications. They are legally entitled to stay in the state until their application for protection is decided. They also have a right to a fair hearing of that application and to an appeal if necessary.” – Irish Refugee Council
In the fourth installment in our human rights series, Lynn Rickard looks at the Refugee Crisis in Europe.
In 2015, over one million refugees travelled into the EU zone by sea, while 3,771 were either “dead or missing”, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Two years on, Amnesty International Report 2017/18 reported at least 3,119 people died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe last year. When they land in Europe, refugees suffer overcrowded and unsafe living conditions on Greek Islands. In December, around 13,000 asylum-seekers remained in limbo, stranded on the islands.
Aquarius This week, Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported that 629 Libyan migrants on a rescue ship Aqaurius in the Mediterranean were refused entry in both Malta and Italy. The decision comes after Italy’s recent elections, with the new deputy prime minister and interior minister Matteo Salvini stating that his country’s ports would remain closed.
Malta and Italian Rescue authorities have sent food and water supplies to Aquarius. After waiting off the coast of Sicily since Saturday MSF say some of 629 onboard the rescue ship Aquarius will be accepted in Valencia, Spain. Since 2014, more than 600,000 refugees have arrived in Italy.
MSF Sea tweeted: “#MSF calls for people’s safety to come before politics.”
Larger Problem According to the UNHCR, 65.6 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide while 55% of refugees fleeing conflict and persecution come from just three countries: Syria with 5.5 million displaced refugees, Afghanistan 2.5million and South Sudan 1.4 million. Currently the number of stateless people who are “denied basic human rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement” exceeds 10 million.
Despite growing opposition to migrants in the EU, the countries that host the most refugees are all outside Europe. They include Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran, Uganda and Ethiopia.
What is Ireland doing? The UNHCR Ireland statistics list the total number of resettled persons in Ireland since 2013 as 1,517. 2015 saw the number of refugees seeking Asylum in Ireland peak with 624 people. Ireland experienced a decrease by almost half in the following year as 325 refugees are recorded as resettling in Ireland and 54 persons this year so far.
What is Desertification? Desertification is a process by which a fertile land becomes a desert due to drought, deforestation and exhaustive use of land for agriculture. This affects the soil productivity.
Why should we care? Urban development has led to the mismanagement of natural resources and has resulted in large-scale food and water loss. It also leads to an excessive emission of greenhouse gases which has contributed drastically to global warming. Desertification has thus, led to the forced migration of thousands of people across the world in last few decades. The livelihood of people who depend on farming and agriculture are now forced to find other locations for survival.
What can we do? Every year the United Nations Convention to combat desertification (UNCCD) observe an international day to raise awareness. UNCCD through this campaign urges all of us to sustainably use land and resources, and promote awareness of international efforts. The day falls on June 17th this year, and the#2018WDCDcampaign aims to raise awareness about our everyday decisions that have an impact on the environment and specifically forced migration. If we spend our money on fairly traded products, much can be done to avoid degradation of land resources.
You can do your part in observing WDCD2018 by hosting an event and sending a short paragraph with information about the date, venue and activities that you have planned to the WDCD. The WDCD2018 will use it as part of their global country-by-country infographic.
Over the Festive season, have a think about those who are less fortune this Christmas and lend a helping hand. Below, Hugh Fitzgibbon, a student tells us a bit about St.Vincent De Paul society and how fellow students can get involved.
The Trinity branch of the Society of St Vincent de Paul is over 40 years old and one of the most active SVP branches in Ireland. We run over 30 weekly activities working with children from disadvantaged areas, adults with intellectual disabilities and people who are currently experiencing homelessness.
Our work with people experiencing homelessness includes our street outreach programme which sees volunteers walk around the streets of Dublin on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights talking to people who are sleeping rough and distributing tea, coffee, sandwiches, and soup. This runs from the beginning of the academic year in September until the end of the academic year in April/May. This year, we have joined forces with De Paul, an organisation which runs several homeless shelters in Dublin. Volunteers help out in the service centers for a couple of hours each week, having a chat and a cup of tea with service users and playing games of cards etc.
In recent times, there has been a move within Trinity Vincent de Paul to focus on advocacy and achieving long-term change for the people we work with. As such, members have been working hard over the past two years to set up a Social Justice initiative within the branch. This year, we are focusing on the issue of homelessness. We have three main aims: (1) to educate (research and educate ourselves on the issue of homelessness); (2) to raise awareness (both inside and outside of College); (3) to effect change (projects aimed at achieving long-term change).
Over 30 volunteers come together each Tuesday evening to discuss readings, reports, academic articles etc. and to work on our projects. Our projects this year include; the making of an informational video which presents the facts of the homelessness crisis in Ireland in a short, engaging way, a Homelessness Perception task group which aims to break down certain perceptions of homelessness among the staff and students of Trinity, a soup run organisation task group which will aim to facilitate information sharing between the different organisations within Dublin which run soup runs/street outreach programmes to avoid duplication/ waste of resources, a project to make our resources available to FoodCloud, to help ensure that food is not wasted and leftover stock is made available to service users.
On top of this, we are hosting a debate in November with the Philosophical Society on the motion “This House Regrets Celebrity Involvement in Social Justice Issues”, in the wake of last year’s Apollo House with Fr Peter McVerry speaking. In December, we will be hosting a panel discussion, titled ‘Being Homeless in 21st Century Ireland’, with panelists who have either experienced homelessness or are currently experiencing homelessness and those who work as direct service providers.
Every year, during the last week of term before Christmas, Trinity Vincent de Paul runs an Annual Christmas Appeal. This is a week-long appeal for Christmas shoeboxes, toiletries and so forth which are then given to local homeless services to be distributed over the Christmas period.
Period poverty is a growing problem in Ireland. It can be an off putting topic for some, but the fact is that women and trans men who are homeless or living in hardship cannot afford sanitary products, which can be dangerous to health and take away a person’s sense of dignity. According to CSO statistics from 2015, just under 9% of Ireland’s adult population lives in consistent poverty.
Take a stand against this injustice with Period Poverty Ireland, who have started a gofundme campaign for those with no access to sanitary products, or sign their petition asking our Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to provide free supplies to those in need. The Homeless Period Dublin also accept donations of sanitary towels and tampons to provide homeless women or those in direct provision with what is a necessity. Let’s follow Scotland’s example, who recently decided to give out free sanitary products across Aberdeen.
Follow Period Poverty Ireland on Facebook for updates