Nadia is an activist, a working class advocate, and an organiser for the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa, working on campaigns for early childhood education (ECE) workers. In this highly gendered workforce, where issues of exploitation and underfunding have taken a toll on teachers and whānau, Nadia works directly with union members to build their collective power.
She is also Palestinian-Kiwi. In 2018, she, alongside Jewish New Zealander Justine Sachs, wrote an open letter to Lorde successfully urging her to cancel her concert in Israel as part of a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This resulted in a fine from the Israeli court, which they refused to pay, and instead raised over $40k NZD for The Gaza Mental Health Foundation.
Given recent escalations of violence against Palestinians by the Israeli Defence Force, we wanted to reach out to Palestinian women and non-binary folks here in New Zealand to amplify their stories. We would like to share their perspectives amidst a media landscape where Palestinian voices are becoming increasingly censored. This is the first interview in the series, and we are so excited to share it with you.
The spaces I’ve worked in exist because people before us worked hard to build organisations. Often without accolades.
My parents never hid political reality. We grew up discussing political prisoners and liberation struggles. Then I got involved in radical politics. At first it was a refuge, but then it took me out into the world. The people I admired were all committed around issues like housing, unemployment and workers rights. Peel away any of these economic problems and you’ve got fallout from racism, sexism and colonisation.
I decided 8 years ago to focus on stuff going on here as well as in Palestine. That’s my responsibility as a guest here on a land with its own history of violence. If we want to organise against capitalism and the theft of land or wealth, then organise alongside the leadership of women, indigenous people and migrants. Not just because that’s where the exploitation is, but also because it’s where new forms of political leadership exist.
If we want to organise against capitalism and the theft of land or wealth, then organise alongside the leadership of women, indigenous people and migrants. Not just because that’s where the exploitation is, but also because it’s where new forms of political leadership exist.
People working in ECE are so creative, skilled and holistic in their approach to education. It’s a privilege to serve them.
Humans have always worked out how to make change together, so I get suspicious when campaigners overstate our role or expertise. It’s a process that’s messy and dynamic despite the best written plans! The best thing about the job is that wherever we go; power, leadership and expertise are already there. It’s a kind of alchemy working with groups to draw it out and harness it. That's the bit that society doesn't teach us!
Women working in ECE still haven’t fully tapped into their social and industrial power. They hold up half the economy, as well as playing a spiritual role in communities.
That's a challenge and an invitation. The sector remains underpaid and in a deepening state of crisis. There are so many opportunities to improve things, and through collectivism we will win. But the shifts we require never happen on the timeline we need.
I've done both jobs, and yes it has. It's a cliché out of Covid lockdowns that we all appreciate teachers more! The deeper memory we carry is just how hard it is to care for children when you’re faced with compounding pressures. Childcare is work. Rewarding and beautiful, but hard work. It's tough for parents to try to work and simultaneously do that care and education. Just like it's hard for ECE teachers to do both those things without the resources or staffing levels they need. It’s no coincidence that misogyny and white supremacy undervalues the work of both mothering and ECE. If we flipped that round it would change the world.
Your first line says it all! Covid crystallised for us the gulfs that are widening between the super rich and those who create that value: working people. We watched workers in many countries be sent out to their deaths.
Inequality is so bad today because big business worked to kill union and worker power 30 years ago. We’re not taught that. Unions can be flawed like lots of other organisations, but they also hold life-changing potential. They are at their best when they are ambitious, democratic and closer to social movements. The last 30 years got characterised by scars and memories of defeat, but the fightback is simmering away again.
Recently it’s been amazing seeing more groups like teachers and nurses challenge their unions to lead strikes as well as watching retail workers demand living wages. Strikes are awesome because it’s not about begging, it's an assertion of the power from the people who literally run shit. Without a fight-back from workers, our public health and education services would be left to rot. When unions win, so do communities.
Women are leading in the renewed space. Women are now the face of the working class and the future of unions.
Women are now the face of the working class and the future of unions.
100%. Good union work is anti-racist and feminist work. Because gender and race impact people in their workplaces everyday. When we work with people to improve their conditions at work it encourages people to understand their power. Not just in their workplaces, but in their communities too.
The core of good activism, union or otherwise, is organising. That means building collectivism, capacity and new layers of leadership. If we do that then we shift things.
Palestinians have different experiences based on geography. Millions were scattered to four winds in the diaspora, that's one face of dispossession. It comes with its own challenges, but it’s not comparable to the experience of my family living under military occupation in the West Bank. They are faced with an expanding settler colonial regime. Illegal Israeli settlers on our family land ripped up olive trees my family planted and replanted multiple times over.
My birthplace means I’ve got basic rights that many of my cousins are deprived of. Things like freedom of movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, unimpeded access to education and healthcare. You know, many Palestinians can't even travel to the beach.
Palestinians are intellectuals, cooks, philosophers, scientists, horticulturalists, storytellers and poets. Many gifts and responsibilities come with the heritage. l’m proud of it and the things that being Palestinian has exposed me to. We understand resistance as a matter of just existing. It makes us sharp advocates for justice on other issues too.
l’m proud of it and the things that being Palestinian has exposed me to. We understand resistance as a matter of just existing. It makes us sharp advocates for justice on other issues too.
Living here, I introduce myself first as tau iwi or tangata tiriti, because these words explain my relationship to this place. I feel so grateful to have landed here in Aotearoa. Witnessing Māori assert their right to be Māori on their own land has taught me more than I can explain about being Palestinian.
I’ve got Palestinian and English ancestors so that’s also how I identify. But there’s also just my identity as a misfit, because that's how I've always felt tbh. These days I’m more comfortable with my code-switching weirdness. Life’s revealed to me all the ways that it's its own strength to be able to see from the outside.
Yes, some things I’ve learnt from others in the Palestine movement and beyond:
1. What we're for is always more important than what or who we’re against.
2. The most important conversations we can have are with the people who haven't decided where they stand yet.
3. Cornel West: “We need the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people”
4. Amazing women and non-binary people often need encouragement and validation to believe they can lead and speak. Give it generously to the people you believe in.
5. On that note, building people’s confidence isn’t a fluffy nicety. It's a solid organising strategy. Especially if you’re not working with cis-het men.
6. Make important decisions that implicate others in community, not isolation. Get advice from respected leaders. You don't always have to follow it, but you do need to hear it.
7. Analysis is important but we need more than the report on how bad it is, we need the vision, the plan and the will to do the hard work to change it.
8. “Organising is a mess, not a refuge”
9. From my good friend Kassie Hartendorp, “trust yourself”
You just made the case right there! We live in a globalised world. Israeli apartheid has always relied on military, financial and cultural support from countries like the US and UK, and even Australia, Canada and NZ, to continue its crimes against humanity.
We might feel far away but New Zealanders worked together to oppose our ties with a faraway apartheid state during the Springbok tour. Solidarity works. Palestinians have asked for a similar approach from the world. They called for a campaign of targeted Boycotts Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
People can honour that call and learn about BDS, it’s easy to respect the ask. You can take part as an individual consumer, as someone who belongs to institutions or as a voter. It’s a non-violent movement in motion in every corner of the world. Our small actions, when part of a bigger strategy, can be more impactful than we know.
The other thing is to use platforms to elevate Palestinian realities and experiences just like Storyo has here! We’ve spent decades being dehumanised and blamed for our own oppression and murder, but when our stories are heard we reclaim the narrative. Despite the attacks, I notice how irresistible our liberation struggle is when people are invited to understand it.
I don’t! The feeling of “not enough” stalks me in every aspect of my life. A few things that help:
1. Being unapologetic about carving out quality time to be with the formidable women who sustain and inspire me - supporting them and seeing them succeed reminds me that we are many.
2. Having an amazing partner who always encourages me to look at what has been achieved, rather than agonising over what hasn’t.
3. Doing some work on my bullshit! If we’re led from a place of ego, I observe that we’re prone to either try and make ourselves indispensable as martyrs, or alternatively, obsess over being useless and compare ourselves to others who we perceive as better. Both are toxic.
4. Trying to use collectivism, not ego, to guide my decisions. I’m still working on it but when I do, my contributions are more intentional and my expectations of my role are more appropriate.
Sometimes stepping back is good so that new people step up, other times I'm called on to play more of a role because I have something that is needed. Collectivism has its ebbs and flows.
The obvious bit is that when you have a child together there's a whole other person in the relationship. A person with their own life force, which our daughter certainly came out with! She is such a funny, clever and social human.
Our relationship to each other, to society and particularly to our time has changed a lot. But what’s important to me and the things I want to do didn’t really change at all. People said they would, but reject it when people tell you dogma about parenting. There's a million ways to do and experience it. My ideas about the world are very similar to what they’ve long been. Thanks to some therapy over the last year I’m becoming a bit more gentle on myself and other people. You realise most people are just products of their experiences doing what they can with the tools they have. That’s helpful to mothering and life in general.
In amongst the busyness of work, activism, and being a mum, what are the everyday moments that bring you joy?
Moments of play. My daughter gets us playing heaps, but adults can play too. Being silly or just doing a creative thing for the process not the outcome.
What makes you feel most at peace?
Going away with a group of people. No work. No clock watching, no racing to meetings. Just sharing the cooking and feasting.
Are you learning/pondering about anything right now that you would like to share?
I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Highly recommend it.
And finally, whose story would you want to read about on here?
I’d love to read the stories of people doing frontline work in spaces that don't get celebrated much. Often they're so busy we don't hear about all the ground they're breaking! People like kaiako in kōhanga reo, rural midwives, social workers, mental health nurses and educators working around racism and equity issues.