A guide to dialoguing with Palestinians

How are Palestinians supposed to speak with their gullets compressed by the gun butts of the Israeli army?

Mamoun Wazwaz APA images

Zionists are big on dialogue. Nary does a criticism of Israel occur without an appeal to dialogue in return.

Dialogue is especially popular on campus, where Zionist groups respond to Palestinian human rights activism by vigorously requesting dialogue.

Those with whom they request dialogue rightly recognize the offer as an implicit threat. To decline means facing what comes next: all the repression Sheldon Adelson’s casino money can buy.

It’s a neat rhetorical strategy. The party holding the vast majority of power can position themselves as an eager moppet who merely wants to talk even though they support a settler-colonial regime with nuclear weapons, while the party pursuing justice – against the predilections of administrators, billionaires and politicians – immediately becomes obstinate for vague reasons of culture or religion.

Could it be possible that Zionists don’t want “dialogue” in the sense of a frank and open conversation? Does this version of dialogue coerce others into moderating their commitment to Palestine’s liberation in service of the colonizer’s security?

It’s likely the case, but I can never get Zionists to answer those questions. They don’t really like dialogue unless it’s unidirectional.

Don’t get me wrong; I understand their hesitation. Cheering oppression is difficult without pretending it’s godly or noble. That’s why all colonizers regularly suffer existential angst.

Talking Palestinians to death

I realize I’m being a bit abstruse. Folks with impressive titles are always advising Arabs to be more practical. I don’t want to disappoint them, so I’ll give it a try.

Criticizing Israel and receiving in response a farrago of disapproval for eschewing dialogue produces terrific confusion.

Are we supposed to let somebody vet our criticism before airing it? Is there a special council of dialogic savants to approve the tone and content of anything related to Israel?

How, in any case, are Palestinians supposed to speak with their gullets compressed by the gun butts of the Israeli army?

The confusion doesn’t end here. In these dialogues, what exactly do we discuss? There hasn’t been any misunderstanding.

Zionists stole Palestine from its original inhabitants. Israel doesn’t allow the people it displaced to return. It brutalizes those who remain. It’s not like we have to figure out what the hell went wrong.

I’m not one of those bad Arabs, though, so I welcome calls to dialogue no matter how much they befuddle me. In fact, I’m going to assist our uninvited interlocutors by providing them a simple guide to dialoguing with Palestinians.

This guide is my gift to those who insist on dialogue as an alternative to justice. May they ever use it wisely.

Issue: Right of return

Visit any refugee camp in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank or Gaza Strip, where you’ll encounter countless Palestinians eager to chat. Explain that they must remain in overcrowded quasi-polities built of cinder block and barbed wire, in exile from their ancestral land, for the simple reason that they’re not Jewish.

Issue: Boycott, divestment and sanctions

Find a Palestinian you think is violent (which is to say, any Palestinian). Tell her she needs to commit to nonviolence. After she accepts your demand, explain that it doesn’t count because she chose the wrong kind of nonviolence.

Issue: One-state/Two-state Solution

This one is tricky. Palestinians have lately shifted in considerable numbers from the old model of colonial partition to secular binationalism.

No matter how adamantly Palestinians insist they’re willing to coexist with Israeli Jews, based on free elections and equal civic participation, proclaim that they’re too primitive to understand how democracy works.

Issue: Terrorism

Find one of the thousands of Palestinians who has lost a loved one because of Israeli bombs or chemical weapons, dropped in the service of maintaining a ruthless colonial apparatus, and point out that every act of violence in Israel’s history has been reluctant and defensive. (Alternate strategy: mindlessly repeat “terrorism,” devoid of context or analysis, until Palestinians express any sort of frustration, at which point you can announce that your thesis has been validated.)

Issue: Gaza’s 551 lost children

You want to be sensitive here. Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014 showed that while many Americans can ignore or tolerate the sight of dead Arab adults, they’re apt to sympathize with suffering Arab children.

But dialogue demands integrity, right? You’re convinced that Palestinian depravity forced Israel to slaughter those kids.

On to Gaza you must travel, then, and share your benighted outlook with hundreds of bereaved mothers and fathers. Grieving Western parents don’t like being blamed for the death of their own children, but Palestinians are obviously less sensitive.

Issue: Settlers/settlements

Like any self-respecting denizen of modernity, you hate the settlers. Palestinians hate them, too. Not much to talk about, right? Supervising criticism of Israel is a full-time job, however, an occupation, if you will.

And Palestinians have the annoying habit of criticizing pre-1967 settlers, whom you adore.

The best way to dialogue about this issue is to tell Palestinians that Israel must be preserved as an ethnocracy in which non-Jews are legally dispossessed because a few thousand ideologues from the American suburbs need a spare country to fulfill their Orientalist fantasies.

Issue: Safe spaces on campus

Find the many professors and students who have been fired, criminalized or otherwise punished for criticizing Israel, and declare that their suffering, while unfortunate, serves a greater purpose: your desire to inhabit a world in which one can support war crimes, settler colonization, limitations to academic freedom, ethnic cleansing, administrative corruption, corporatization of higher education, suppression of free speech, nuclear proliferation, donor overreach, police intervention, military occupation, top-down discipline and biological determinism without the inconvenience of condemnation.

Conclusion: Talking about irony

While it might be life affirming for you to bemoan how colonization is so damn complicated, I humbly suggest that those who endure the brute end of conquest and settlement are probably tired of hearing this particular lament.

I don’t mean to nag, but if I can be frank: you’ve really been screwing up the whole dialogue thing. Dialogue is supposed to facilitate conversation, not shut it down. Yet somehow your calls for dialogue have a strange way of suggesting that you don’t want to discuss certain things at all.

Using my handy guide will take care of that problem. I’m not falsely boasting when I say it has the potential to alter the dynamics of public conversation around the question of Palestine.

Already, millions of Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, Israelis, Palestinians, Blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians, Turks, Europeans, Persians, Natives, heterosexuals, queers, sluts, prudes, vegans, carnivores, pescatarians, baldheads, longhairs, bikers, drivers, pedestrians, minors, elders, students, teachers and retirees are in acute community through a collective devotion to ending this so-called conflict.

Perhaps you find these wonderful sites of discussion and interchange profoundly threatening. If so, you should speak with somebody who might help you overcome the fear of dialogue involving more than one person.




Prof. Salaita, you're bashing an easy target: proponents of phony "dialogue." Your invitation to join real dialogue among the "acute community" that has "a collective devotion to ending this so-called conflict" is accepted. But what about honest people who aren't yet there with us and may even still believe the false myths but are nevertheless honestly open to listening and learning? Don't you know people who used to be in that group and who have come around? I'm sure you do. There are thousands, and our ranks are growing. Unless we're open to sometimes difficult dialogue with them, our "acute community" will remain much smaller than it could be. Not dialogue for dialogue's sake and certainly not at the direction of those who want to abuse it to derail potential solidarity; but openness to honest listening and learning that will not always succeed but sometimes will lead to real understanding and then, action. Rejecting that is self-defeating.


What exactly is there to discuss, dialogue or debate? The ethical and moral virtues of ethnic cleansing, pogroms, racism, inequality, exclusion and injustice? There are none.

Seems to me what we should be focusing on is agitating, educating, organizing and then agitating some more. Anything else plays into the obfuscations, digressions, dishonest denials, fabrications, lies and hypocrisies of the racists.

The tactics that the racist Torah desecrators utilize and attempt only put off the inevitable: the day when the evil of Zionism (which is both racist and wrong) ends. If there is one word that could, or should, be said to those racists it is the word, CHANGE!