The Good Shepherd Collective met with the village councils of Atuwani and Masafer Yatta on October 4th, 2022. In this meeting, the councils reaffirmed their support for the work of the Good Shepherd Collective and, more specifically, the urgency and necessity of the Defund Racism campaign.
Our disengagement from Um al-Khair
After much consideration and discussion, the members of GSC have done our utmost to explain in detail our split with Tariq, Awdah, and Eid Hathaleen and our disengagement from Um al Khair.
Disengagement from Um al Khair: The Good Shepherd Collective disengaged from these men as a result of conflicts of principles on several levels, many of which are expanded upon in the sections below. One such central conflict, which was made clear throughout regular interactions between women within GSC, visiting interns, and international tourists and these men was the treatment of women. Over the years, GSC was made aware of accusations of inappropriate conduct carried out by Awdah and Tariq, ranging from sexual harassment, unwanted advances, and misconduct to an atmosphere of disregard for women’s safety and equality in organizing spaces.
As an organization vehemently opposed to all forms of oppression and led in part by survivors of sexual assault and multifaceted violence/oppression, members within GSC attempted to respond to allegations of misogynistic behavior and sexual misconduct with internal efforts to ensure women’s safety in our shared workspaces. Simultaneously, we held conversations about the accusations with these men, offered cultural insight where it felt appropriate, and indicated what constitutes appropriate behavior in these interactions, particularly with foreign women. At the time, we believed that our former partners had an earnest interest in addressing these concerns and adjusting their behavior, and we felt that we were well-situated to support these efforts from a place of mutual support, rather than punishment, or disposability culture. It became clear over time, however, that this was not the case.
The last incident that was brought to our attention happened in early 2020, shortly before we began our disengagement from these organizers. At this point, we felt it was clear that these individuals were not earnestly engaged in reflective processes or had any real intention to prioritize women’s safety and comfort in these spaces. In the last few years, we have emphasized our concerns privately to those still engaged in efforts to bring internationals into those spaces and house them in the village, urging them to prioritize the safety of these women.
Finances and fiscal sponsorship: In May of 2021, these men, in coordination with Israelis, organized an attempt to disrupt funding to the collective and contacted our fiscal sponsors with allegations of financial wrongdoing. After a review of the financial documents, our fiscal sponsor’s oversight mechanism concluded after an audit that the financial allegations were impossible. Coupled with an interview with other Palestinians working with GSC, our fiscal sponsors concluded that there were no financial wrongdoings and they remained committed to the broad Palestinian organizing that the GSC helps to facilitate.
GSC decision-making: The decision-making body has always been more than just one person, as is any decision-making structure aimed at building a participatory movement. GSC has always engaged in collective decision-making processes within the group, with deference to different kinds of expertise (e.g. fundraising; community dynamics).
In addition, we have always and continue to rely on the analysis and advice of Palestinian organizers/activists on the ground where we are active, organizations, and local leadership to reach decisions. Contrary to the framing of the defamatory statements circulated by these men, our organization has never been led by one person holding an executive position, but rather all active members of the collective in dialogue about how to carry out our work within the framework of shared principles. Today, GSC organizing and decision making is done by the four people working within the GSC, three Palestinian women and one international within an anti-zionist and decolonial framework.
Disagreements: GSC has aligned its work with the guidelines of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement—specifically in regards to normalization. Since leaving GSC, these men have organized or been a part of joint initiatives alongside J Street and other liberal zionist organizations which clearly qualify as normalization. For example, their joint event “dedicated to” the beloved Hajj Suleiman with J Street—a zionist organization that openly advocates for advancing the US policy to invest in the arms trade with Israelis and is openly opposed to the BDS movement—crosses a clear red line outlined in the anti-normalization principles as expressed through a large cross-section of Palestinian society. This is just one example of engaging in normalization with zionist institutions.
The issue of normalization and collaboration with zionist organizations had long been a point of contention among members of the GSC prior to this disengagement. While some believe that collaborating with zionist organizations is worthwhile (and the financial benefits that factor into that view cannot be ignored), GSC has steadfastly refused to do so. We are fully aware that settler-colonialism legitimizes itself and ultimately prevails through normalizing its presence. We find it self-defeating for the resistance when members of the colonized community cooperate with such organizations, since by doing so they empower the zionists to present themselves as the good guys, “supporting” the very oppressed population their ideology and less-“liberal” zionist colleagues are in fact repressing. These men, have in the past, and to this day, continue to align themselves with zionist organizations.
Engaging in normalization is not only morally egregious but devastating in building Palestinian unity. It negates the possibility of building a broad movement of Palestinian organizations, villages, and community activists—an effort that the GSC has been able to do with dramatically increased effectiveness after decoupling the organization from these men. GSC’s position as an anti-normalization, anti-zionist organization is a central organizing feature of the larger coalition within which we work. Because of these organizing principles, we were able to push forward with a broad coalition of Palestinian organizations operating on the ground, including Youth of Sumud, the Hebron Defense Committee, the Community Peacemaker Teams, and the Human Rights Defenders.
Mediation: GSC requested the assistance of a Palestinian colleague, a well-known supporter of Um al Khair and an individual trusted by GSC, to facilitate communications following a coordinated attempt between these men and a zionist organization in 2021 to disrupt the organization’s funding. We made an honest effort to engage in this process of mediation, but it was ultimately unsuccessful because these men did not commit to the principles of the mediation process. For example, they continued to publicly attack GSC throughout the process.
This attempt to disrupt our work at a time in which we are co-organizing a broad, anti-zionist campaign to defund the US-based charitable organizations sending millions of dollars each year in funding to Israeli settler organizations that affect the entire geography of Palestine is an attempt to set our coalition partners and us back by years. It is a spiteful attempt to smear our organization, and our long-dedicated allies, using identity politics and a misrepresentation of the history of this organization and our interactions with these individuals and the village of Um al Khair.
Village councils’ statement: GSC immediately reached out to the village councils of Masafer Yatta and Atuwani as soon as we were made aware of the statement circulated by Tariq. Although we are no longer permanently based in Masafer Yatta, we continue to offer support and solidarity in these communities. After conversations with the heads of these councils, we were assured that this statement was signed approximately three years ago–around the time GSC split from these three men–under false pretenses. In the course of these conversations, these council heads have reaffirmed their support for GSC.
We want to note as well that the false and misleading information provided in these statements is not limited to what has been printed about GSC. It’s important to note as well that the statement by the village councils, from what we have been made to understand through conversations with council members, was signed approximately three years ago. In the most recent circulation, Tariq attached copies of the original statement that included no date or timeline (Screenshot A, B). However, only a few weeks ago, the same statement was circulated with the date August 25, 2022 written beside the signature for the council of Atuwani, implying that this was a recent statement (Screenshot C). This version was circulated to US-based Palestine solidarity NGOs in September.
This has been a particularly difficult time to navigate these attacks as Masafer Yatta is dealing with the ongoing threat of ethnic cleansing, with more than a thousand people facing forced displacement from their homes. Having to request urgent meetings with council members in this area during this time, and responding to false accusations rather than spending time organizing, has been a drain on time and resources better spent supporting local communities. Nonetheless, the need to respond publicly and transparently has become clear to us over time.
We wished to have never needed to address these issues publicly, but we are aware that these men are eager to aggravate the situation with the help of specific organizations and individuals, possibly as a result of the wide publicity and support that the campaign to Defund Racism has garnered both in the US and locally.
We take pride in our anti-zionist principles and will continue to work against zionism and to dismantle structures meant to subjugate and erase Palestinians. If you have any questions, or want to have a conversation, you can email us at email@example.com.