A Statement in Support of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank

By Rima Vesely-Flad, Ph.D.

Today – May 15, 2024 – is observed as Nakba Day, the commemoration of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were driven from their homes seventy-six years ago. On the land of their ancestral homes, colonial powers and Zionists established present-day Israel. Many of the Palestinian refugees who were driven out during the 1948 Nakba fled to present-day Gaza, which is now under siege in an unprecedented way. As I write this statement, Rafah has been invaded and a half-million Palestinians are once again fleeing; Khan Yunis is in ruins; and Gaza City is scantly populated, with most of its residents experiencing human-made starvation. The health care system in Gaza has been completely destroyed, as have universities, schools, libraries, businesses, and most residences. The numbers of Palestinians held within Israeli prisons, jails, and detention centers – and the atrocities enacted against them – is escalating. Palestinians in Gaza fear another Nakba.

At the same time, Palestinians in the West Bank are undergoing ethnic cleansing, the kinds of atrocities that mirror the tremendous violence that permeated Black life in the South in the nineteenth century after the Civil War. Israeli settlers are routinely driving out Palestinians in rural communities and cities, setting fire to their homes and fields, stealing livestock, and rendering generations of Palestinian families homeless. Enduring poverty is setting in.

How does Buddhism speak to such atrocities? Buddhist Ethics calls us to act with wisdom, to look directly at our suffering and others’ suffering and to do everything we can to alleviate it. Buddhist wisdom refuses to avoid suffering, including state violence. Buddhist wisdom refuses to allow state violence to take place with impunity: suffering arises as a result of causes and conditions, and we are required by our Buddhist ethics to cultivate conditions that lead to liberation. Cultivating life-giving conditions requires the capacity to look directly at harm, at suffering that arises from violence. Looking directly at state-drive violence in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as within Israel, requires tremendous capacity.

We must speak out against state-driven Israeli violence that takes place with impunity. We must hold the Israeli government accountable. Our ethics requires the capacity to acknowledge and refuse to stay silence. Every morning I start my practice by acknowledging the great harm that is taking place and my own culpability and responsibility for it. I attempt to turn towards it all. And I am always aware that I am turning towards such great suffering from a great distance, from the safety of my home in North Carolina. I listen to the voices of Palestinians who post on Instagram, watch Al Jazeera nightly, and read the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz. I write letters to Biden every day urging him to hold the Netanyahu government accountable for its violence, myopia, and egregious self-interest. I uphold the student protestors who continue to sacrifice so much in order to collectively embody a counterweight to the Biden Administration’s complicity in Israel’s war crimes as well as the Netanyahu’s right-wing agenda of settling Gaza and the West Bank with Israelis. The students, faculty, and staff at universities throughout the U.S. are refusing to be silent in the face of ethnic cleansing and genocide. They refuse to be complicit. They are collectively embodying the fortitude that I have gained from my own Buddhist practice. They refuse to look away, deny, diminish, or gloss over the realities of Israeli-driven mass suffering in Gaza. Many of the student and faculty protestors are Jewish and are living out their Jewish values of “repairing the world” through the encampments.

Their sacrifices have spurred me to make my own. As I look directly at the suffering of Palestinians from a great distance, and am reflecting upon the Nakba today, I have made the decision to stop financially supporting businesses that profit from the Occupation. Practically, this means that I look up businesses and products on the “No Thanks” app. It means financial sacrifices, large and small. It is a small ethical step towards supporting the liberation of Palestinians who have and continue to be displaced, wounded, starved, and killed en masse. And I continue to look for ways to support the international movement for Palestinian statehood and liberation.

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Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition:

The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation

30% off if purchased on the NYU Press Website, use code VeselyFlad30
This book investigates: healing intergenerational trauma through Buddhist practice; honoring ancestors and the land; dharma teachings such as the Four Noble Truths, the Five Aggregates, and relative and ultimate reality; the body—particularly gender and sexuality in the path of liberation; and the importance of community and love in dharma practice.

Recent News

The Dharma of Baldwin and Lorde


In the Union course The Dharma of James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, Dr. Rima Vesely-Flad and her students explore these two as icons who illuminate Buddhist teachings.

Interview excerpt:
Q: I am so interested in hearing your thoughts on the significance of Baldwin and Lorde as individuals, as two peoples whose legacies can be studied together, and also the value of exploring their legacies through a Buddhist lens. Can you tell us a bit about this course? How did you decide to offer it and how long have you been teaching it?

Rima: I recently published a book called Black Buddhists and the Black Radical Tradition: The Practice of Stillness in the Movement for Liberation. In the sixth chapter, which is one on gender and sexuality, I engage Baldwin and Lorde. It’s really because there are three dharma teachers who write personally about their interpretations with Baldwin and Lorde, who all come from different Buddhist lineages. So I did a deep dive into these dharma teachers’ books, and coming out of writing that chapter, I thought, ‘I would like to teach a course on this and look at why these two writers are so compelling to these amazing dharma teachers.’ 

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