5 min read


Winter waves breaking on Rodeo Beach, bright humans dotted on black sand, red roofed barracks in the sunset, a fingertip.


It is a new year, whatever that means. Bombs are still falling, Palestinians are still being murdered, and I have been too soul weary of this country's mundane support for death and ruin to feel much of anything other than bland despair for the past few months. The only books I have managed to read are still Laurie Marks's Elemental Logic series, an epic fantasy set in a land called Shaftal, which has been under colonization by a people called Sainnites for the twenty-plus years that the series spans. I am currently re-reading the second book, Earth Logic, in which Marks introduces more and more Sainnite characters, fills in their history as refugees from their own war-torn land, and requires us to know the people we might otherwise uniformly hate. Again and again, I wonder if Marks had Israel and Palestine in mind while writing these books, and wonder too at the moral clarity she brings to some of the most complex plotting and characterization I have encountered in any fiction (speculative, realist, or otherwise). Even if not, the books offer the only refuge of the imagination I have found in the past 80-some days.

I have also read brilliant, mind-nourishing essays and articles this month. I want to share some of the best with you below (if you encounter a paywall, https://12ft.io/ will help).

Notes on Craft: Writing in the Hour of Genocide, Fargo Nissim Tbakhi (Protean Magazine):

This is what Craft does to our writing: pressures and pressures until what matters, what we need to say, gets pushed to the margins or disappeared entirely. It is a Craft decision to describe Palestinians as human animals. It is a Craft decision to pressure U.S. officials not to use the word “ceasefire” or “de-escalation.” It is a Craft decision to describe Israelis as “children of light” and Palestinians as “children of darkness.” It is a Craft decision to begin interviews demanding Palestinians condemn violent resistance, a Craft decision to erase the perpetrators of bombings from headlines describing the bombings, a Craft decision to question the reliability of Palestinian death counts. These are Craft decisions because they are decisions which occur in language, and that language feeds and is in turn fed by policy. Somebody, with a name and an address, wrote, vetted, revised, and spoke aloud these words. The tools they used to do it, the ideologies which filled their vocabulary—these are Craft.

In the Shadow of the Holocaust, Masha Gessen (The New Yorker):

The insistence on the singularity of the Holocaust and the centrality of Germany’s commitment to reckoning with it are two sides of the same coin: they position the Holocaust as an event that Germans must always remember and mention but don’t have to fear repeating, because it is unlike anything else that’s ever happened or will happen. ...
Some of the great Jewish thinkers who survived the Holocaust spent the rest of their lives trying to tell the world that the horror, while uniquely deadly, should not be seen as an aberration. That the Holocaust happened meant that it was possible—and remains possible. The sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman argued that the massive, systematic, and efficient nature of the Holocaust was a function of modernity—that, although it was by no means predetermined, it fell in line with other inventions of the twentieth century. Theodor Adorno studied what makes people inclined to follow authoritarian leaders and sought a moral principle that would prevent another Auschwitz.

A Palestinian Poet's Perilous Journey Out of Gaza, Mosab Abu Toha (The New Yorker):

Now, when Maram and I talk about leaving, we understand that the decision is not only about us. It is about our three children. In Gaza, a child is not really a child. Our eight-year-old son, Yazzan, has been talking about fetching his toys from the ruins of our house. He should be learning how to draw, how to play soccer, how to take a family photo. Instead, he is learning how to hide when bombs fall.

The Free Speech Debate is a Trap, Andrea Long Chu (New York Magazine):

What everyone knows on some level, I think, is that speech has the power to incite action because speech itself is already a material act. Yes, anti-Zionism is an idea, not a rock; but if it were only an idea, without any practical potential, then there would be no point in throwing it. The difference right now is that, given the tremendous political and ideological instability introduced by the war, a number of powerful people in America currently believe that talking about freeing Palestine could actually end up freeing Palestine, and it is this cascade of actions that they are ultimately trying to suppress. This tells us something very important: They are afraid. The question is not whether intifada, which means “uprising” in Arabic and invokes both civil disobedience and violent resistance, is a threatening term; if it were not threatening, the House would never have convened an entire hearing about it. The only question is whether threatened parties — the Israeli apartheid regime, American foreign-policy hawks, all the board members and lobbyists and donors and hedge-fund managers — deserve to be threatened.
They do. For as often as pro-Palestine speech is described as an existential menace to Jews in Israel and across America, our major newspapers are saturated with equally plausible incitements to violence — for that, my friends, is what it means to support a war. The difference is that when the New York Times editorial board defends the bombardment of Gaza or urges lawmakers to send Israel more Hellfire missiles, this may not look like incitement because the violence in question is endorsed by the White House, funded by Congress, and normalized by the media. There is no denying that this is an American war, even if there are no American boots on the ground. The House recently approved a resolution declaring that all anti-Zionism is antisemitism. This was truly disturbing on First Amendment grounds: It suggested that the government really might try to abridge the freedom of speech on grounds of sedition, as wartime governments have been known to do — including Israel, whose occupying military forces have restricted the free-speech rights of Palestinians in the name of “public order” for decades.

That's all for now. I hope this month brings you warmth, kindness, and respite from whatever misery may be keeping you company.

Until next time,



>> I have a new column, The Human Animal, that will appear quarterly in Bay Nature magazine (my favorite magazine of all). Print copies of the winter issue are out and about in the world; the column will be available online in mid-February.

>> I co-wrote a statement of solidarity with Palestinians on behalf of Black Studies grad students at UC Berkeley that you can read here.

>> As always, Narinda Heng's words on climbing, resistance, and genocide, are worth visiting and re-visiting.