Opinion: Amidst violence in Russia, Gaza, for whom do you mourn?

In this Jan. 3, 2008 file photo Palestinian Fatah supporters hold up flags with the picture of the popular Fatah leader jailed in Israel, Marwan Barghouti, as they celebrate at a rally marking the movement's 43rd anniversary in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In this Jan. 3, 2008 file photo Palestinian Fatah supporters hold up flags with the picture of the popular Fatah leader jailed in Israel, Marwan Barghouti, as they celebrate at a rally marking the movement's 43rd anniversary in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Alvaro Barrientos/ AP


Published: 03-02-2024 6:00 AM

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. His columns are archived at robertazzitheother.substack.com

‘Violence is initiated by those who oppress, who exploit, who fail to recognize others as people - not by those who are oppressed, exploited, and unrecognized,” Paulo Freire wrote in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” “It is not the unloved who initiate disaffection, but those who cannot love because they love only themselves. It is not the helpless, subject to terror, who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete situation which begets the ‘rejects of life.’”

I spent much of this past week thinking about considerations of violence; how our perceptions of “violence” depend on whether we are perpetrators or victims — how I have come to believe also that those who witness violence but remain silent are complicit with the perpetrators.

Recently, as the world witnessed the assassination of the 47-year-old Russian political prisoner Alexei Navalny in a Russian corrective colony in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (region) of the Arctic Circle, it was easy for most of the world (other than Putin allies like Donald Trump) to condemn the violence.

It was a deliberate act of political violence that targeted an internationally known and nearly universally admired charismatic opposition leader and anti-corruption activist whom Putin most feared.

Fearless and unbowed, Alexei Navalny died alone.

Russian citizens who publicly mourned his death were arrested.

Putin had him murdered not just because he could but because of a not unjustified sense that there would be no long-lasting repercussions.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Sanctions, he believes, are survivable. Viable oppositions are not.

I think he’s right.

Putin had him murdered because he knows, as do people like Hungary’s Orban, Turkey’s Erdogan, India’s Modi, Saudi Arabia’s Bin Salman (MBS), Israel’s Netanyahu — even presidential wanna-be Trump — that tolerance of political violence appears to be increasingly tolerated by powerful elites, especially by those in authoritarian-leaning countries.

Today, such dictators and authoritarians, the truly unloved, believe agitators and activists like Alexei Navalny are allies of foreign interests and are erasable nuisances, easier to eliminate than their distant patrons.

I remember, for example, that after the barbaric dismemberment of my friend, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, at his country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, repercussions over that act of savagery were short-lived.

By 2022, Biden and MBS were fist-bumping at the palace gates.

“You don’t make peace with friends,” I remember Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin saying in 1993. “You make it with very unsavory enemies.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 following the signing of the Oslo Accords, “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.”

That peace agreement was opposed by Netanyahu, who at the time was the leader of the Likud. Indeed, Netanyahu and other senior Likud members even attended a political rally in Jerusalem where protesters branded Rabin a “traitor,” “murderer,” and “Nazi” for signing the peace agreement.

Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, not by “unsavory” Palestinians but by Yigal Amir, an extremist Jew, who was opposed to the Oslo Accords and the return of parts of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

It is with such memories that I fear what Netanyahu might do to remain in power.

Today, I worry about the safety and life of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti. It is reported that he has recently been moved from Israel’s Rimonim prison to Ayalon-Ramla, is in solitary confinement, and not permitted to meet with his lawyers.

Barghouti, sometimes referred to as the “Palestinian Mandela,” has been in Israeli jails for over 20 years. He was arrested in 2002, during the second Intifada, and later convicted by an Israeli court on five counts of murder during the first and decond Intifadas while protesting against Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank.

As reported in The Guardian, “At times of great upheaval in Palestine, people start to talk about Marwan Barghouti. The 64-year-old [Hebrew speaking] political leader serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison for murder represents the prospect of a genuine shake-up to the status quo. Palestinian towns – and the Israeli-built concrete walls that cut them up – are covered in graffitied images of Barghouti, his handcuffed hands held high above his head.

“Virtually every opinion poll since his imprisonment two decades ago shows Barghouti to be the favourite presidential candidate for the Palestinian people, were they able to hold free elections.”

“With Palestinian factions deeply divided, Barghouti operates in a middle ground – respected by secular nationalists but also Islamists, many of whom he formed close relationships with in jail. Even Hamas, which despises the western-friendly circles that he is part of, has called for his release as part of a proposed Gaza ceasefire deal.”

There is precedent for the release of Barghouti: Nelson Mandela spent 27 years, of a life sentence, in prison for leading the African National Congress (ANC) in its battle against the white apartheid government.

“The world was addicted to watching; over and over, they were reborn, made whole and silver and resplendent, only to crumple into themselves again,” Palestinian American Hala Alyan, whose family was forcibly displaced from Jaffa in 1948, wrote in “Salt Houses.” “Each time felt like the first time, the destruction so immense it bordered on the majestic. Souad watched the dust-fogged streets, people’s panicked faces as they shrieked for those they loved. She felt her heart move with the shaking cameras. Smoke and fire spilled from the buildings like blood from a gunshot wound, and people began to jump, their little bodies unreal as they lurched from the sky, dolls in someone’s nightmare.”

Amidst violence “so immense it border[s] on the majestic...” for whom do you mourn?