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Palestinian Voices: Sally Abed, Standing Together

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Sally Abed was the featured presenter at an online event hosted by on January 18, 2023. Co-hosts and co-producers were Molly Freeman and Rose Levinson.

These are edited excerpts from the session. To listen to the entire presentation, head here.

Sally Abed is a Palestinian leader of Standing Together, an organisation that fights for the end of occupation, the end of differential treatment of Jews and non Jews in Israel and better conditions for all Israelis. Sally also co-hosts the podcast Groundwork. She lives in Haifa.


My name is Sally Abed. I'm a Palestinian. I'm also an Israeli citizen.

One day, telling my Jewish friend our family story, I said, “Grandma, can you tell my friend your crazy stories that I grew up with? And she shouted at me for the first time I remember, and said, “We don't tell these stories to Jews.”

We exist separately in parallel universes. We need to not only work towards coexistence, but toward partnership and shared life, shared society, which is completely different.

We Palestinians are always living a conditional existence, conditional democracy, conditional citizenship, conditional professional advancements. There are spaces where real partnerships still happen. Very rarely, but very surely. Standing Together is definitely one of them. We are not only two different peoples. We are all part of a much larger majority. It’s us, all of us.

I believe in the new us, and I deeply feel I'm part of a majority in Israeli society. Not just Israel, but Israel Palestine. We are all part of the majority of people who deserve peace and equality and social justice in our shared homeland.

You have heard about the anti-government protests. Standing Together organized the first of these protests. You saw the photos. As a Palestinian, I identified myself as a Palestinian. I extended my hand for partnership. I felt part of this with all the 30,000 people there. And when I came off the stage, many women came to me saying, “why are you ruining this?” I asked, “what do you mean?” They said, “no one wants to hear about Palestine right now, and about the Occupation. People don't want to know you’re Palestinian.”

The next day there was so much buzz about the protest and its success. It was a success. But I felt really sad. Because I was like, oh no, my war is not only against the fascist government and radicals who openly want me out of here, out of my homeland. But I need to fight with the other half that still insists on giving me a conditional partnership.

Standing Together realizes this is a historic moment.

We need to be brave. And by bravery, I mean I want my Jewish partners to be more accepting and more understanding of the fact that we need to be as broad a movement as possible.

And I don't mean just Palestinians and Jewish citizens of Israel. I also mean being brave enough to include the ultra orthodox community and to include the peripheries, the Mizrahi and Ethiopians. That's the political story Standing Together seeks to build.

We need to define a new ‘us’ as a broad coalition that understands we share an interest in peace and equality and in social and climate justice. That's the politics. Now, how do we do it?

What we understand is that mobilizations, even mass mobilizations, are not enough. You need to sustainably build power for social change. Standing Together has over 4000 monthly sustaining members organized around 8 different local chapters as well as 9 student chapters on campuses. We have over 60 people, half Palestinian half Jewish, who are leading our movement around issues of peace and anti Occupation.

We also lead progressive social campaigns. For example, our campaign over the last year and a half has been about a livable wage. During that campaign, we were able to mobilize women, ultra orthodox women and Palestinian women, who work together.

Despair is losing our belief in our ability to change. And the opposite of that is hope, our ability--and our belief in our ability--to change. I believe we have the ability to change things. And that's what hope is. And you can't have that by yourself. You can't maintain that by yourself.

It's probably the most difficult thing you can do, to be hopeful during these moments. If you despair and you don't believe in your ability to change, then you don't have to do anything, right? It liberates you. But if you cling to hope, you realize you actually have to do something.

The good news is when you are in an organized community, it's much easier. Even if you fail, you always know what the next step is because you have a strategy. When you organize, you have a community, and you have like-minded people who understand your DNA, who understand your strategy, who understand that if this step doesn't work, there are others that will.

And you never lose. You just learn.

I say this in general, and especially to Americans: one way you can have an impact is by giving us platforms from which to be heard.

We want people to get to know people on the ground and actually feel the complexities. It’s one reason for our podcasts. And you get a completely fresh perspective that is usually non-binary.

It's always surprising to people, but a lot of the Palestinian solidarity movements are completely overlooking that there are people living in Israel, both Palestinians and Israels. And their talk of the boycott, the BDS movement, for example, or the anti normalization movements, limit the conversation.

I don't think it's right for Palestinian people to ask people to boycott settlements or the IDF. I don't think they should boycott us. Israeli organizations, social justice organizations, and peace organizations are working not only in solidarity with Palestinians, but with a clear understanding that we need to build political will and the political capital within Israeli society for peace.

And we need to understand that people here also suffer from systemic discrimination, from inequality, from poverty, from racism, from police brutality. Not just Palestinians. You have Ethiopians and the Mizrahi and former USSR immigrants. There are many marginalized communities that face a lot. And we need to organize them.

I always say to people abroad, if you are pro Palestinian liberation, you necessarily have to be pro Israeli people. And vice versa. These are the messages I would ask you to tell people. And the third thing, which is the obvious one, is monetary. Not just donations. You in the community abroad are much better at crowdfunding, for example.

We are a broad grassroots movement. We’re unlike NGOs, specialized professional organizations that do a specific thing. We organize around many issues. We have a Green New Deal, for example, that we organize with the Green Cause, a green movement.

We work closely with Power to the Workers, a democratic trade union. We work with Climate Justice, talking about a just transition, talking about how the workforce and climate interact.

Of course, we work with anti-Occupation groups such as Combatants for Peace, Breaking the Silence and the Parents Forum, all of these peace organizations. On the minimum wage, we collaborate with ADVA, a center which prepares professional reports about social and economic issues and inequality in Israel. There's so many. We are trying to build an ecosystem, basically, of the new political current. And we're trying to spread our theory of change for people to understand that our role is to be a lever that moves everyone to the Left.

Israel is outsourcing the occupation to the PA. The Palestinian people don't have their own democratic institutions which represent their political will.

We had an Arab minister for the first time in Israeli history. So the question is, representation versus partnership. No, I don't want to increase representation for the sake of just increasing representation.

I want to see a final product where we see real political partnerships that don't exist right now. After we build real political partnerships on the grassroots level, we believe change will occur. That's why I'm trying to understand what the road map can be because we can't stay in the grassroots. We want to have positions of power and decision making.

After we build real political partnerships on the grassroots level, we believe change will occur.

We organize students. We are very impactful, very political on our campuses, which have been completely depoliticized in recent years. Huge public pressure has been exerted by the right wing; look at them now. They’ve taken over student unions.

We can't actually run for office in municipalities, but we are training people in 20 different towns, including Tiberius, which is a very poor and very right-wing place. We have liberals and women there who want to run. They are part of our coalition. We want to impact local politics.

During May 2021, there was significant intercommunal violence among binational citizens in the cities due to aggression and the war on Gaza. Standing Together organized mass mobilizations. We were able to get people out on the streets, which was really unprecedented without an actual war.

Before the ceasefire, the doctors and the nurses were one of the main blocks of the social fabric that kept people together. They had a very strong presence. Jews and Palestinians, we refused to separate. We worked together.

With that being said, it's very difficult to mobilize medical professionals. They are pressured to be depoliticized. It's scary for them to be political.

We support their struggles. There was the medical interns strike which lasted for a long time. And we supported that. We organized them. Not all of them joined our movement, but we were there with them.

During the first protest this past month with 80,000 people we had 4 out of 9 speakers who were Palestinian. It was bombarded with Israeli flags, and people who held Palestinian flags were often attacked. It is physically hostile for Palestinians. Many of the leaders of that protest are in coalition with us. Unfortunately, we have internal discussions and arguments with them.

The Supreme Court approves the demolition of Palestinian houses in east Jerusalem, and the expansion of settlements. There are many things they approve that we don't perceive as something that is for us. We see people fighting for their Jewish democracy, a democracy of which we are not a part.

Many of the reforms that are going to happen under this new government are mainly targeting Palestinians in Israel and obviously in the occupied territories. But also LGBTQ+ people and women and handicapped people and many other groups.

We had 5 rounds of elections and every single time we were very involved in get out to vote campaigns. We were quite successful. It was just not enough. Why systematically oppressed minorities don't vote is a global issue.

And then we raise the voter turnout, but it's not enough. It's not enough to raise the voter turnout of Palestinians because it's not just on us. The Left ignores the people most marginalized in this society. And the Right has been playing on an empty field without a goalie for years.

There's no Left. There's no competitive political story. And definitely not one that invites Palestinians in Israel to be part of it. So we are trying to build that story.

We are constructing a new story. We're telling one. And we tell it for every single person. They encounter that story in different ways. Some hear the story in minimum wage battles; some in housing. Some find the story through anti occupation protests. And some through learning how to understand power. And it's not really just a story.

It's really a new political current and political imagination of what we can do. And hopefully, more and more and more people will subscribe to it.

Sally, that's what you're engaged in. And from a systemic perspective, changing paradigms is the most effective lever for transformation.

We also use Gramsci who talks about common sense. What's nonsense and what's common sense? Take the idea of Jewish superiority, for example. We’ve experienced Jewish supremacy since the establishment of the state. And there’s never been anything that challenged it and gave a better alternative, a more competitive alternative. For both people.

How can you take that slogan “Love thy neighbor as thyself” as an approach to people who are your neighbors? Who may have different flags or curtains in their window, who may speak a different language, who may not have the same politics as you?

I'm deliberately provoking disappointment. I don't think the key to building the political capital, or the will to resist the Occupation and to resist Jewish supremacy and to advance a shared future and a shared homeland, is necessarily love. It's shared interests.

Solidarity is a very powerful thing. Solidarity is very, very powerful. We encounter it through shared interests and joint struggle. But most of the glue will be shared interests. It's purely individualistic or collective as to who or what I see myself as being part of. And that's okay. The big ‘us’ still contains all the smaller ‘us’.

You can't erase that. You need to embrace it. I don't think Palestinians and the ultra orthodox are going to be in love with each other. Through group struggle, you can tackle racism in a much more effective way than narrative bridging or dialogue can do. You can develop an appreciation for the other group.

But it's very political. And that usually does not rely on love. It relies on interest, self interest. It's very scary. Of course, it can develop into love afterwards, right? But it takes time. A long time.

I've been working with my Jewish colleague in the movement for 5 years. And I'm going to be honest. It took me a long time to develop love or appreciation for my Jewish partner’s relationship with this land.

I've been working with my Jewish colleague in the movement for 5 years. And I'm going to be honest. It took me a long time to develop love or appreciation for my Jewish partner’s relationship with this land. It took me a long time. Even as I understood it, rationally, it took me a long time to deeply appreciate his connection to this land as a Jewish person.

It was something that bothered me. Especially because he came from outside, and he’s not a native like me. So the love that you talk about, it comes because now I am also very, very active, for years. So maybe. Maybe in like two generations.

[Rose Levinson comments in conclusion:] It's conversations like this that begin to move the dial. It's a slow movement, very slow. But we just keep doing what we can. So there's another program coming up in April with Al Haq. We'll continue featuring Palestinian voices, helping to build platforms and bridges.


Join our next Palestinian Voices session: Palestinian Voices: Aseel Albajeh

1 Comment

Shiraz Mahomed
Shiraz Mahomed
Oct 08, 2023

Hi, say your interview on Skye News. This is truly a sad moment where the extremists (the leaders on both sides) can revel on their separatist agendas being fulfilled. It is a shame lets pray that the pain is minimized and coming out these ashes we have a way forward to live as one in one country. We do not need separate counties for people grounded with the same roots, culture and belief systems.


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