Sarah Kay 🔖 Erasure takes so, so many forms.


We talk of erasure when talking about censorship; silencing; oppression, suppression, and the annihilation in its absolute form, genocide. In an era of rampant state violence, from police brutality to wars of expansion, the chant remains the same: say their names. But how do we pass on this knowledge? Above all, what does bearing witness mean?

Erasure is an odd term. It can be active or passive. It doesn’t, in itself, indicate violence. If nothing else, it is about the passing of time. Remnants of past civilisations – Pompeii, Athens, Jerusalem, Homs, Bamiyan – those places were erased, but not for the same ggkreasons. The elements do not have criminal liability. Survivors are not carrying the same burden.

In Against Erasure, we catch a glimpse at life in Palestine before the 1948 Nakba. A Palestine that rises from the ashes of military destruction. We see multigenerational families tending to olive groves; we see patriarchs with long white beards reading to young grandchildren; we see women in colourful dresses, resting on a thick, rich rug, sharing tea and wisdom amongst themselves. We see lives, intertwined and interdependent, living peacefully, including the presence of other ethnicities: an Armenian family; a Bedouin tent; a group of Coptic monks. Musicians, artists – singers, oud players, trumpetists – adorn the pages of this book, full of life, full of history, heavy with millennia-old knowledge.

Erasure, in a genocidal context, is not simply about human extinction. It is about annihilation of culture, of tradition, but most importantly, of memory. We see the same dynamics at play on a lesser level but with the same intent elsewhere: book bans, historical revisionism, passive voice in news coverage. By erasing suffering, we erase victimhood. By erasing victimhood, we erase its cause. We erase culpability, and root causes. We then all become unwilling participants in the process of destruction.

Bearing witness is not about the reckless consumption of graphic horror on the daily basis. Bearing witness Is knowing what is in front of us – erasure – and refusing it. We say names, but we also know the faces. We talk about places, but we also know what they looked like before walls, checkpoints, and military patrols. Candlelit processions to mosques, parades, murals on the walls of schools and processions in Gaza, the times of the British mandate however must not be seen through positive nostalgia. It was colonisation still, and state control pouring out of every frame. But the aspiration for a different and better future was still there.

Against Erasure affirms that Palestinians have the right to exist; the right to live free from violence; the right to their language, their history, their culture and their land, a fertile one stretching from the river to the sea. Our duty is never to forget.

Teresa Aranguren and Sandra Barrilaro, 2024, Against Erasure: A Photographic Memory of Palestine Before the Nakba. Translated from the Spanish edition by Róisín Davis with Hugo Rayón Aranguren. Haymarket Books.ISBN-13: ‎978-1642599800.

⏩ Sarah Kay is a human rights lawyer.

Against Erasure

Sarah Kay 🔖 Erasure takes so, so many forms.


We talk of erasure when talking about censorship; silencing; oppression, suppression, and the annihilation in its absolute form, genocide. In an era of rampant state violence, from police brutality to wars of expansion, the chant remains the same: say their names. But how do we pass on this knowledge? Above all, what does bearing witness mean?

Erasure is an odd term. It can be active or passive. It doesn’t, in itself, indicate violence. If nothing else, it is about the passing of time. Remnants of past civilisations – Pompeii, Athens, Jerusalem, Homs, Bamiyan – those places were erased, but not for the same ggkreasons. The elements do not have criminal liability. Survivors are not carrying the same burden.

In Against Erasure, we catch a glimpse at life in Palestine before the 1948 Nakba. A Palestine that rises from the ashes of military destruction. We see multigenerational families tending to olive groves; we see patriarchs with long white beards reading to young grandchildren; we see women in colourful dresses, resting on a thick, rich rug, sharing tea and wisdom amongst themselves. We see lives, intertwined and interdependent, living peacefully, including the presence of other ethnicities: an Armenian family; a Bedouin tent; a group of Coptic monks. Musicians, artists – singers, oud players, trumpetists – adorn the pages of this book, full of life, full of history, heavy with millennia-old knowledge.

Erasure, in a genocidal context, is not simply about human extinction. It is about annihilation of culture, of tradition, but most importantly, of memory. We see the same dynamics at play on a lesser level but with the same intent elsewhere: book bans, historical revisionism, passive voice in news coverage. By erasing suffering, we erase victimhood. By erasing victimhood, we erase its cause. We erase culpability, and root causes. We then all become unwilling participants in the process of destruction.

Bearing witness is not about the reckless consumption of graphic horror on the daily basis. Bearing witness Is knowing what is in front of us – erasure – and refusing it. We say names, but we also know the faces. We talk about places, but we also know what they looked like before walls, checkpoints, and military patrols. Candlelit processions to mosques, parades, murals on the walls of schools and processions in Gaza, the times of the British mandate however must not be seen through positive nostalgia. It was colonisation still, and state control pouring out of every frame. But the aspiration for a different and better future was still there.

Against Erasure affirms that Palestinians have the right to exist; the right to live free from violence; the right to their language, their history, their culture and their land, a fertile one stretching from the river to the sea. Our duty is never to forget.

Teresa Aranguren and Sandra Barrilaro, 2024, Against Erasure: A Photographic Memory of Palestine Before the Nakba. Translated from the Spanish edition by Róisín Davis with Hugo Rayón Aranguren. Haymarket Books.ISBN-13: ‎978-1642599800.

⏩ Sarah Kay is a human rights lawyer.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent writing Sarah - so pleased to have it on TPQ

    ReplyDelete
  2. "the right to live free from violence;"

    They behead anyone suspected of being LGBTQI. What about their Human Rights?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Stevie,

    The piece is about the erasion of culture, language...ways of life. It is happening on your doorstep today but you probably don't see it or you turn your head and look the other way.

    You are an immigrant living on a South Pacific Island and today you have more rights and legal protection than the Indigenous Australians ...The last few lines of the piece read....

    "LGBTIQ+ Indigenous people experienced the highest rates of discrimination out of any intersectional groups.........The report found that most Australians are not highly prejudiced, but a “sizeable minority are”.

    “Many Australians continued to have little to no contact with certain minority groups, and lack of contact was associated with higher prejudice,” it said."


    (Instead of pointing fingers at Palestinians point them at people with your own community first and shame them----Clean up your own back yard first....)

    ReplyDelete