Against the Imposters
A long time ago, a former Palestinian political prisoner told me a story. It went something like this:
In a rusty Israeli prison cell, an old, crippled man had laughed at young men who constantly discussed Big Ideas: Marxism, Zionism, Democracy, Imperialism, National Liberation.
One day, he stopped laughing and said:
“Can I tell you a story today? I fear that my days are limited. And I want this said.
In my youthful days, I encountered a young man who constantly bloviated about his triumphs in fist fights with three and four men, each twice his size.
Having lived a hard life, I could spot an imposter when I saw and heard one. And having been a cripple in status before my physical crippling at the hands of the Israeli military machine, I decided to act, and at least once in my life, show this imposter for what he really is.
On a dark night, I confronted him to prove once and for all that his exaggerated claims were false. He immediately shriveled and sunk to his knees, kissing my feet begging for mercy. The imposter, the coward!
Despite my triumph, the next day, he came to the town coffee shop. And he bloviated, and he boasted with the same nonsense he always filled his countless admirers with. I had had enough, and I confronted him again, this time in front of everyone. I demanded that in the light of day, he admit to the truth that he had kissed my feet on that dark night.
And he said, ‘Yes, what he says is true. That did happen. But what he doesn’t tell you, what he doesn’t even know happened, is that I put my hand in between my lips and his feet before kissing his feet, without him noticing!’ And the crowd cheered in pleasure.
So, I went back to the background. And I continued my life in the shadows, until the day when a new set of imposters came in their Zionist military machines. Then I thought, again, for once in my life, I should show these imposters for what they really are. That was when my crippled status finally caught up with my body and became physical.
Today, the original imposter is still bloviating as if he is a hero, and he still has his sea of admirers. He has managed to keep his status in dark nights and in broad daylights, and he now sends some of his crowds to this rusty prison cell to take care of me.”
Though he did not believe that the old man recounted a real story from his life, this former prisoner explained to me that the tale’s cryptic message haunted him. He was not able to sleep for nights. He began to ask himself: Had he sacrificed everything for bloviating buffoons in the Palestinian leadership, who did not mean what they say when they talked about national liberation? Were he and the other young men, mostly from the poor working class and from fellahin backgrounds, imprisoned so that imposters could live the “good life”?
Recalling this story today, as Israel drops bombs indiscriminately over more than two million Palestinians besieged in the Gaza Strip while depriving them of food, fuel, water, and all humanitarian aid, it seems to raise a different set of questions. Is this world made for imposters? Do imposters end up on top precisely because they are imposters? Worst of all, when you reveal the imposter for what they are, does that not have any consequences for them or their high status in the world, but in fact help them maintain and build their high status?
This past week, we have seen so many people revealed as imposters: Western academics, journalists, artists, politicians, and human rights defenders who have either remained silent, hedged and hesitated, or actively supported Israel’s genocidal operation against Palestinians in Gaza.
A few features mark the discourse of these imposters. Perhaps most importantly, they have dumbfoundedly decided to start the clock in their explanations of what is happening in Palestine and Israel on October 7, 2023. They have accepted the idea that this is a “Hamas-Israel war,” reducing the hundred-year Palestinian struggle for liberation from a Zionist Euro-American settler-colonial project to an ideological war between a “barbaric” fundamentalist Islam and a “civilized” modern liberal state. They have engaged in the ridiculous argument that all of the death and destruction being rained on Palestinians is the responsibility of Hamas and not the Israeli state that is killing and destroying Palestinian life. They shamefully and disgustingly accused all who spoke about the unlivable conditions that Palestinians endured for decades before the armed attack against Israel on October 7 of justifying the killing of Israeli civilians. And they have framed Israel’s military onslaught on the Gaza Strip as righteous self-defense, a necessary response to Hamas’s barbarity.
The story of the Palestinian struggle is of course a complex one; the rise of Hamas within Palestinian political life alone has been the subject of many books and articles. And many Palestinians are opposed to Hamas on a number of issues and from a variety of perspectives, myself included. But what all these Western imposters have never understood is that we understand our struggle as a people’s struggle, not the struggle of this or that political faction. Across all our big and sharp differences, we know that we are all together in the end because it is all of the Palestinian people who are under brutal occupation and assault, aspiring for the same freedom and liberation. Palestinians, of course, share their experience of colonial violence with many communities and peoples from across the world, both historically and into the present. But we also understand that we are indeed alone in experiencing the specific structures of Israeli settler-colonial violence, and that we therefore must always stand together and help each other as people. Our collectivity as a people is our support and our guide.
And no one will analyze recent events more critically than Palestinians; the debates will be heated and numerous. Leadership will be questioned both in Hamas and in the Palestinian Authority; political factions and their strategies and tactics will be scrutinized and critiqued on moral, tactical, and strategic grounds. The question of “what are we sacrificing everything for?” will be asked and will torment many, as it did the prisoner in the story. Some of this is already happening privately.
But this is not the time to talk about all that. This is the time for survival. This is the time for withstanding a genocidal onslaught against our people, not just from the Israeli state but the entire institutional infrastructure of the West: military, politics, media, culture, and education. Perhaps naively, I still have faith in people across Western states: faith that they are also dissatisfied with their states’ and their institutions’ complicity in ethnic cleansing and murder, that they can also see right through the emperor’s clothing, that they want their own states to serve the people and not primarily elite political and economic classes.
The West never tires of telling itself and the whole world that it stands up for and represents the ideals of human rights, democracy, negotiations over the use of violence in resolving our differences, and so on. The unflinching state support for the brutal siege of Gaza should reveal all these voices as imposters, whose only guiding principle is, and has always been, the generation of power and wealth through any and all means available, including genocide. We must never forget that Israel acts as an imperial outpost in the region for the United States, helping it secure access to resources, trade routes, and markets, and expanding the profitability of the financial and weapons industries. These facts are inextricable from support for Israel’s settler-colonial project.
And what will the consequences for these imposters be? Will they lose their high status? Will the imposter politicians be removed from their positions? Will people stop reading the work of imposter academics? Will people stop consuming the work of imposter artists? Will people stop giving funds to the imposter human rights organizations? I’m afraid not. They will be called out by the people who are truly committed to a liberated humanity, but not by the majority. Uncomfortable as this truth is, I think we must conclude that this world does indeed reward the imposter. And those of us who call out the imposter, who resist asymmetric power relations and systems of oppression and violence, risk damage to our status and physical being. Depending on where we live, there is a serious risk of imprisonment and even death.
But I will not suffer any sleepless nights about our path. Fighting for truth and justice is worth it. The Palestinian people have shown, and are showing, people across the world that we will not give up. Not in the aftermath of 1948; not now; not ever.
The imposter only lives in the world of the present. In this wretched world, they will satisfy their immediate self-interest and indulge in the fleeting satisfaction of their base desires for power and wealth. But the voices of those who call out the imposter live in the world of the future. We will always haunt the imposter and all of the imposter’s followers. Because we chase after truth and justice and not self-interest and base desires. It is our voices which will stand the test of time and continue to direct human energies towards a truly liberated world that is worthy of all that is glorious about human life.