Besides writing the book, Busy Dying,
Hilton Obenzinger is a long-time Palestine solidarity activist who now teaches writing at Stanford University. Following is the text of a recent email interview with Busy Dying author Obenzinger.
An interview you did last year about your Busy Dying book that's posted on the video.google site
mostly just discussed the 1968 Columbia anti-war student protests, but doesn't make much reference to the impact of the Israeli military occupation of Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights that happened less than a year before the 1968 Columbia Student Revolt. Would readers of `Busy Dying’ find any indication in the book as to why you later become such a strong supporter of Palestinian human rights?
Hilton Obenzinger [HO]: In 1968 many of us didn’t want to be “Good Germans,” passively accepting genocide and vicious Jim Crow racism. Engaged in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, right after graduating college I taught school on an Indian reservation – and my eyes opened. I began to understand the US more deeply as a settler society, and consequently the similarities between the US and Israel.
I wrote Busy Dying trying to stay within much of the consciousness I had then – and Israel was not a central part of my concerns at the time. It’s an indication of just how un-Zionist many of us were, and how much Israel was on the periphery of our consciousness (although I know I was deeply aware of being Jewish, of my family’s murder at the hands of the Nazis, the narrative of Israel as Jewish redemption after death and persecution).
Rejecting being a “Good German” expanded in time to include other things, such as rejecting silence about Israel’s colonization. So, Columbia 1968 was a decisive, formative experience for me. I got a glimpse of a new world, of the possibilities of change, and of overturning injustice, and that glimpse has kept me going ever since.