‘Here We Will Stay’: Zionist Genocide and the Battle for Civilization

Palestinian painter Heba Ragout was killed in an Israeli airstrike on October 13. (screenshot by Hyperallergic via Palestinian Artists on YouTube)

By Louis Brehony

Palestinians in Gaza continue to show the world that they will stand firm in the face of Zionism’s bloody dehumanization.

The infamous Lord Balfour once wrote that all of the great Egyptian contributions to civilization had come about under “despotism,” and claimed that British colonial rule would safeguard this heritage for both occupier and occupied.

The historic treasures of the Egyptian people were looted for British museums, with brutal imperialist rule brought to an end only by fierce and heroic resistance. Zionism has long plundered Palestinian indigenous culture: the artworks of pre-1948 Palestine, 1982 Beirut, and other conquests remain under lock and key in military archives, and everything from hummus to Arab musical instruments is appropriated as “Israeli.”

But the present genocidal onslaught is not merely about preserving this cultural theft. The destruction of Gaza is a war to obliterate a millennia-old civilization and a whole people who resist so bravely to keep it within their grasp.

Those martyred during just three weeks of Zionist terror include poet, oud player and community leader in Nuseirat camp, Omar Fares Abu Shawish (October 7); vocalist “al-Nabatshi” Mahmoud al-Jubairy (October 16); painter Heba Zagout, killed with her two children on October 13; and muralist Muhammed Sami Qariqa’, on October 13.

On October 30, the occupation murdered actress and children’s workshop leader Inas al-Saqqa, along with two daughters and a son. Inas was a well-loved figure who had performed alongside Syrian actor Duraid Lahham when he visited Gaza. This is not to single out cultural figures from the thousands killed by the Zionist state in this genocidal campaign, but their presence among the martyrs only serves to highlight the fact that most Palestinian musical, artistic, and cultural actors are entwined with the grassroots, among and of the people, not sitting out of harm’s way in positions of comfort and privilege.

There have also been arrests and threats against Palestinian cultural actors – and of course many others – in historic Palestine. Dalal Abu Amneh, held briefly from October 16-18, is one well-known figure. In Gaza, the implementation of a sadistic policy of communications blackouts means that the massacres and everything lost in these ongoing assaults are never fully detailed. Millions lie awake wondering if they will be next. Sol Band percussionist Fares Anbar wrote from Gaza City:

I had not slept until this moment. Bombs from the east, west, south and north did not stop firing at us from all kinds of military weapons… A party [with] the world’s number one DJ, Israel, and the party’s financier, the Arab world and the Europeans, and the primary beneficiary, the US.

Captioning her painting of a female oud player, Heba Zagout wrote on September 16: “We live our lives like the rhythm of music. Sometimes it is loud music and other times it is like quiet music.” Other Sol musicians, Said Srour, Hamada Nasrallah, and Rahaf Shamaly are scattered throughout the Gaza Strip and have become activist reporters, hitting back at mainstream media silence.

Music has been central to the ways Palestinians in Gaza have resisted and kept together their families and communities, through intifadas and other historic moments.

A video has circulated of the large family of al-Jazeera journalist Wa’el al-Dahdouh, sitting outside in the dark – like many thousands displaced from their homes – keeping warm around a fire and singing Bektob Ismik ya Biladi (I write your name, my country). This is a song of ghurba, exile, composed by Lebanese songwriter Elie Shwery, and has made its way into the Palestinian resistance canon. Gaza itself is a place of exile.

On October 25, Wa’el’s wife, two children and grandson were killed in a Zionist strike on Nuseirat camp, where they had sought refuge after leaving their home in the north. Umm Ali, who grew up in Bureij camp, Gaza during the first intifada remembered hearing the same song on a black and white TV, sung by Duraid Lahham, and began to sing it with PFLP-supporting family members. Bureij and Nuseirat were then, and remain today, places of fierce, physical opposition to Zionist incursion.

Among the many heroes of the Palestinian response to this genocide have been medical workers. Refusing to leave al-Awda hospital after repeated Zionist threats, doctors and nurses gathered outside its entrance on October 26 to sing Sawfa Nabqa Huna (Here we will stay). Set to poetry by Adel al-Mashiti, it is a song known by many in Gaza. Abu Maher recorded his three children singing it during the internet blackout, smiling in the dark at the camera and assuring whoever heard that they would not be forced from their home in Hayy al-Nasr, Gaza City:

Here we will stay

Until the pain goes away

Here we will live

And the melody will be sweet

My proud homeland

Answering the Orientalism of Balfour and other British imperialists, Edward Said observed that their narratives were “both antihuman and persistent,” in how they dealt with the cultures of the colonized. But these very cultures are, by their very nature, expressive of human life and all its aspirations.

Palestinians in Gaza continue to show the world that they will stand firm in the face of Zionism’s bloody dehumanization. When Palestine sings, it resists. When Palestine resists, it sings.

– Louis Brehony is a musician, activist, researcher and educator. He is author of the book Palestinian Music in Exile: Voices of Resistance (2023), editor of Ghassan Kanafani: Selected Political Writings (2024), and director of the award-winning film Kofia: A Revolution Through Music (2021). He writes regularly on Palestine and political culture and performs internationally as a buzuq player and guitarist. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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