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Wars on All Fronts: Why Solidarity Among People of Color Matters

In Decolonization, History, The Revolution on August 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM
Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

Art by Melanie Cervantes at Dignidad Rebelde (dignidadrebelde.com)

I was in San Pedro Sula when the first bombs from the latest Israeli offensive were dropped onto Gaza. I was already in bed, but my decision to jump into the Facehole kept me thinking.

It was my last night in the city that gave birth to my mother, and where a good deal of our family still lives. And having had the opportunity to experience—if only tangentially and precariously—life in what bourgie whites have dubbed “the most violent city in the world,” I tried to relate what I saw and heard to the news accounts coming out of my MacBook. Before I even had time to process my thoughts on this emotion-ridden trip, I saw (in one of those brief moments of Internet access) a post on my Facebook News Feed from the Electronic Intifada: an unmistakable cloud of dust over buildings in Gaza City. It was, supposedly, the culmination of a series of events that could be traced back to Nakba Day, when two Palestinian youths were shot dead by Israeli soldiers. It was a culmination of events that brought on a full-scale bombing by one of the world’s most well-equipped military regimes in the world. (As of 2009, Israel’s military was only second to the United States in terms of per capita spending)

It was already almost midnight as I read about it on my smartphone. Gang-based terrorism keeps most of the San Pedro Sula indoors by nightfall, so it was, for a New Yorker like myself, more solemnly dark and quiet than I was used to. I had spent a good part of the past week reflecting on something that has been making headlines for months, but now it felt all-too-real in its complexity: What were the factors that would propel people to flee a narco-run Honduras, risking their lives to avoid a destiny of insecurity, if not death? What was driving this renewed genocidal impulse against Palestinians? And in this latest show of force on a marginalized, Black community in a St. Louis suburb, I’ve been made to wonder again, now from the luxury of my Brooklyn apartment: what does it mean to be an American citizen and a person of color in a time of ongoing wars?


Coming back from Honduras, I didn’t know what to make of the relative lack of non-Arab people of color at the Palestine solidarity marches. Where are the people who came out on May Day to protest the Deporter-in-Chief? Where are the people who made their beautiful voices heard on Union Square—and in the spontaneous follow-up march—the day after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted last summer? Likewise, are the Arab youth who made their way to the United Nations some weeks ago also seeing an image of their brethren in the Brown children being deported at the border, or the unarmed Black youth gratuitously shot multiple times by hyper-armed, racist Pigs?

This brings me to the point of this exercise: Solidarity. Lately, the most inspiring, hope filled moments in this time of War—in Gaza, in urban America, in the borderlands—have been during the courageous displays of crucial love and support, even when these displays were no more than symbolic. It has been demonstrated in protest signs, joint letters (examples: here and here), and countless alliances; here, too, social media seems to have played a role in at least making them more visible (if not also helping facilitate the exchanges).

So having, like many of my friends, absorbed most of my news media through my Facebook and Twitter accounts, my online Walls have forced me to home in on the linkages between the issues that matter to me. While we’re often inured into parsing issues by region (e.g. the Middle East, urban America, the Southwest), exhibitions of solidarity also have the potential to break down the dictatorial walls of rigid disciplinarity and news-mandated regionalism, and help us see common ground and common goals. After all, as frustrating as it is for me to choose between a march for affordable housing in Manhattan, and a concurrent march for Palestine in Brooklyn, or between a bus trip to Ferguson and a bus trip to Nogales, having to ghettoize the world’s problems the way we do our cities strikes me as counter-revolutionary. (This is not to argue in defense of large mobilizations versus smaller formations, but, rather, that when we make our way to our respective marches and rallies, we should have the plight of others in our heart as well)

Our data-drenched world also has the potential to facilitate a broader, more critical understanding of what has long been intuitively felt: the same multinational corporations, like Elbit Systems or Caterpillar, will be as involved in the destruction of communities at the US-Mexico border as they are in the construction of Israeli settlements and separation barriers that torment Palestinians in the West Bank. The back-and-forth exchange in surveillance and “defense” technologies, as well as policing tactics, between the states of Israel and the United States will end up producing analogous outcomes against Black and Brown people around the world. The flip side of this liberalized exchange, however, is the accessible, live action sharing of information between peoples struggling for liberation, as was seen in the Tweet suggestions between protestors in Palestine and Missouri, both of whom have faced the tear gas canisters manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc.

Shedding light on the crucial linkages between mass incarceration, militarized policing, immigration politics and the War on Terror is not merely an ideological exercise—it is a necessary part of the struggle for liberation. As the error-prone militant groups from the early ’70s themselves realized, tracing out the different ways in which oppressive neo-colonial logics and technologies work to ‘divide and conquer’ is part of the ongoing work against capitalist white supremacy. And so I put myself to work researching around three battleground areas: Gaza, criminalized/gentrified America, and the US-Mexico border.

And then the political economy crept back in again. I realized these issues, while rising in prominence in the last decade, had common roots in the 1980s—the same period most commonly attributed with the rise of global neoliberalism. As made evident in David Harvey’s iconic A Brief History of Neoliberalism (among other texts), the decade saw: the roll-back of the welfare state; the growth of austerity programs locally and abroad; the pummeling of poor (er, colonized and robbed) economies; the rise of civil wars in Central America and the concomitant migrant refugee crisis; the crack “epidemic” and the rise of the War on Drugs (and with it, the beginning of the rise of mass incarceration); and, lastly, the beginning of the first Intifada.

Recognizing the perverse capitalist incentives that enable for these common oppressions, and tracing the genealogies of colonial thought that make themselves manifest in the undying quest to destroy the livelihoods of people of color, one comes to see that solidarity is not only useful—it is essential. And resistance is not simply justified—if we are to survive, it is mandatory. That protestors in Ferguson and Gaza need even supply a rationale—that resistance under occupation is justified—already speaks to the heavy hand the State exerts in the colonized mind.

In speaking about solidarity with Palestine (or about child migrants or the gunning of black youth, for that matter), it’s not enough to talk about “humanitarian crises” and the condescending “poor people” of Gaza. This dispels actions abroad as something that is out there, when the reality is that they are just as much in here. If there is a message I would like to emphasize above all others, it is that this is not a “Middle Eastern conflict”—this is (for those of us in the United States, but also everywhere) just as much about us, and our complicity as purveyors of genocide, as it is about the people who are resisting.

And in directing this message particularly to the people of color of the United States (“people of color” being as problematic a phrase as any, but being useful in this context), the intent should be clear: a failure to show solidarity among ourselves is not merely a tactical error. It’ll be a perpetuation of the colonial divide and conquer strategy that killed off my ancestors in the Native American Holocaust. The tired ol’ adage of people not knowing their history will be ever more real in this context.

 

Statement in solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza and with seekers of freedom and justice world-wide

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2014 at 11:02 AM

INCITE! Blog

[A boycott how-to is below this powerful statement. -Eds.]

Statement in Solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza and with seekers of freedom and justice world-wide

As Palestinian, indigenous, women of color, anti-racist, and Jewish feminists involved in a range of social justice struggles, we strongly condemn the current massacre of the Palestinians of Gaza and affirm our support for and commitment to the growing international movement for a free Palestine and for racial justice, equality, and freedom for all.

As many of us know from time spent in Palestine and in other movements for justice, the connections between the movement for a free Palestine and anti-colonial struggles for self-determination throughout the world are inextricable.

The current Israeli attacks on Gaza have resulted in more than 1900 Palestinian deaths, including over 450 children; the displacement of up to 25% of the population; and the destruction of crucial infrastructure such as sanitation…

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The Zionist Propaganda Machine: Why People Aren’t Taking the Streets

In Decolonization, Geography/ Spatial Justice on August 1, 2014 at 9:44 AM

zionist_propaganda

Having attended a few rallies and marches here in New York City in solidarity with Gaza and besieged Palestinians, there were a number of things that struck me about who was, and wasn’t, present. Although the demographics changed based on the type of demonstration, I could say—by and large—there were more women, children, and elders than “typical” rallies. There was something powerful to giving voice to women and children leading chants, crying out in English: “Free free Palestine! Free free Gaza!”

It was also clear to me that the larger rallies were dominated by people of Arab descent. This is clearly not surprising: it was great seeing new, younger, Brown faces that weren’t typically visible in the activist Left scene of New York City. But having been to countless demonstrations in New York, there was something a little off about this. While there were some Blacks and Latinos present in these solidarity marches, as a collective, our presence wasn’t as great as it could have been.

Overall, I couldn’t help but wonder where the non-Arab activists of color were. Where are the people who showed up en masse during May Day, shouting down Obama’s deportation policies? Where are the folks who came out so energetically in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial last year? People should have been out on the streets in those occasions—but the senseless genocidal bombing of Gazans? Does the PoC Left not consider this as part of our issue?

As I reflected on why many of my fellow Latinxs weren’t showing up, I went back to my understanding of news media and the critical role of information dissemination in social movements.

It occurred to me that, just as euphemistically dubbed “development” programs were key hegemonic strategies for the dispossession of people of color in the city, carefully engineered propaganda from the Israeli lobby also played a role in deterring participation from marginalized communities in the U.S. Given my interest in the symbolic and material linkages between cultural hegemony, propaganda, and geopolitical violence, I felt an impetus to investigate what it was about Zionist propaganda that distorted our understanding of the “Middle East conflict” and hindered mobilization.


 “Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government”
– Edward Bernays, the so-called father of “public relations”

Stop-Hamas-Terrorism-on-Israel

Part of a Stop Hamas Terrorism art campaign that resulted in considerable uproar. The racist stereotypes say it all.

In the first half of the 20th century, Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci developed a notion of cultural hegemony that was meant to describe what he witnessed during the rise of fascism in Italy. Building on Marx’s theory of ideology, Gramsci wrote about how much of the consolidation of consent that harvested the support of the proletariat on behalf of bourgeois elites was due to an indirect form of governance that relied on implied power—that is, coercion that did not involve military power in the form of invasion, occupation, or annexation.

Rather than use physical military or police violence to quell dissent and garner the support of the masses, the elite could use the political and economic tools of the mass media—in other words, propaganda—to change public opinion in their favor. This, after all, was a more efficient, more cost-effective, and far less bloody way to conquer and control.

Although cultural hegemony can be enforced through a variety of means, what we call “mass media” and “propaganda” have long been among the most effective modes of changing public opinion. Indeed, in their Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1983), Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman discuss how public North American opinion around conflicts abroad—whether in the genocides of Central America or Southeast Asia—were shaped by propagandistic efforts by corporate and state elites. In their “propaganda model,” they write about how “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and private interest to get their messages across to the public.”

In tracing back the history of modern propaganda—now euphemistically taught in university courses as “public relations”—they invoke the writings of Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays, both of whom were deliberate about the uses of propaganda as a means to manipulate mass psychology. In other words, propaganda was a tool towards quelling dissent and consolidate cultural hegemony.

It should not come as surprise, then, that the Nazi regime was enormously successful in garnering the support of the majority of Germans after World War I after the Führer, supposedly learning from the success of the British, resorted to mass dissemination of anti-Semitic and war mobilizing propaganda (see: German Propaganda Archive).

In Mein Kampf, he lays out his understanding of the purpose of propaganda, the art of which “consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses.”

It was after the association between propaganda and Nazism that Bernays decided to re-brand it as “public relations”—a practice of information dissemination that has been refined and mastered by corporate media groups and the Zionist lobby.

This particular history of modern propaganda might seem incredibly ironic to those of us familiar with the history of the Israeli state, which officially formed in the aftermath of World War II and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians (read: Nakba). Sixty-six years after the birth of the Israeli state, there is something cruelly ironic about the semblances between anti-Jewish Zionist propaganda and an intricate field of Zionist, anti-Arab public relations.


How Zionist Propaganda Succeeds

Screenshot 2014-08-01 07.57.09

It’s the other way around: Israel hinds behind Hamas to justify the killing of children. Screenshot of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s website taken Aug 1 2014.

As missiles continue to rain on Gaza, arguably the largest open-air prison in the world, I’ve had considerable luxury to think about what’s happening—and to think about why more people aren’t outraged. After all, aren’t the following facts and figures clear to everyone?

  • From July 8th to July 31st, more than 1,400 Palestinian deaths have been confirmed by the Gaza Health Ministry.
  • At least 324 of those killed were aged 18 or under.
  • The U.N. estimates that over 75% of the killed were civilians (i.e. not combatants affiliated with Hamas).
  • On the Israeli side, 56 IDF soldiers have been included, as well as 3 civilians.
IP_conflict_deaths_total

Source: Vox magazine, from 14 July 2014, before the death toll went above 1,200.

Yet, even under the face of such ostensible facts that not even the mainstream, corporate media can disguise, there is a public indifference that I think deserves considerable attention.

Yes, there have been amazing shows of international solidarity. But if we were to compare the solidarity demonstrated after 1,000 Gazan deaths with the outcry immediately following 9/11—the (mostly) uncomplicated affection and material support provided by people around the world for approximately 3,000 deaths—the public unease would become obvious.

So why aren’t more people hitting the streets? And why are people feeling this complicated unease with an unequal genocide against a people without a formal army, let alone a real, sovereign state?

Thinking back to my own history as an organizer in communities of color, I held back from being more vocal against Zionism for years. It was a complicated bag of not feeling confident about my historical knowledge, as well being confused by the contradictory messages coming from the mainstream press.

Growing up in New York City, with teachers and classmates who could have been the confusing “liberal Zionist” discussed in this article, I grew up awash in contradictory and confusing information for years. From Jewish history teachers who talked about the “age-old” conflict in the Middle East, to liberal friends who talked about the uncertain positionality of Jews under the boundaries of whiteness, I had been surrounded by conflicted messaging.

This conflict, however, unfolded against a backdrop of an intense, intuitive understanding I had of the ugly nature of racism. I felt something in my heart that I couldn’t dare vocalize—partly due to a Zionist conditioning that claimed that to speak out against Zionist prerogatives was being “anti-Semitic” (a confused term if any.

Given the numerous, well-written accounts on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well critiques of Zionism, I don’t feel a need to waste my breath on this. What I do wish to speak to, however, are the depths through which Zionist propaganda has shaped popular discourse in ways that align with Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model:

  • Since Manufacturing Consent‘s original publication in 1983, news media consumed by (U.S.) Americans has been collapsed into the hands of fewer and fewer corporations12, with (as of 2011) six corporations accounting for 90% of “what we read, watch, or listen to.” When it comes to the distribution of influence on news media, well-endowed, multi-million-dollar pro-Zionist organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (or AIPAC, exert an incommensurate sway that consistently outperforms any pro-Palestinian lobby.

    (To verify this, compare the budgets of AIPAC and the top, explicitly pro-Palestinian lobby groups, the American Task Force on Palestine. Analyses of the pro-Israel and pro-Arab [sic] lobbies are also available here: Jewish Virtual Library; ABC News; a comparison of the amount of money funneled by lobby groups can also be found through the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group based in Washington, D.C. There, you can also find a list of the top pro-Israel lobby groups)

Stop Hamas Terrorism video exalting the “bad guy-fighting” Israeli Defense Forces.

A Haaretz article's headline focuses on the two IDF soldiers killed, while 40 Palestinian deaths are lumped below under a statistic.

A Haaretz article’s headline focuses on the two IDF soldiers killed, while 40 Palestinian deaths are lumped below under a statistic.

  • Part of the obfuscation perpetuated by Zionist propaganda is also found in the subtle ways in which “objective outsiders” are brought into a limited, dichotomized debate around Israel and Palestine. Bearing such innocuous, objective-sounding names like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), or the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Zionist organizations can proliferate pro-Israel media while claiming to do so under the fight against anti-Semitism.
  • In their propaganda model, Herman and Chomsky devote a chapter to the dichotomized bias in treatment accorded to “worthy” and “unworthy” victims. That is, victims of enemy states will be found to be more worthy of news attention and sympathy, while those victimized by the U.S. or its ally clients are seen as less worthy. In this case, the disproportionate media limelight given to relatively fewer Jews killed by Hamas-controlled missiles is an example of treatment for ‘worthy’ victims. Conversely, although more than a thousand Palestinians have been killed (over 75% reported to be civilians by the U.N.), they are typically treated like an amorphous, dehumanized statistic.
  • The conflation of the terms ‘Jewish,’ ‘Zionist,’ and ‘Israeli’ have consistently worked in the favor of Zionist propagandists. Through conflation of these terms, it becomes easier to accuse someone who is anti-Zionist, or against the state of Israel, to be “anti-Semitic” (read: anti-Jewish). I can’t mention the number of times I’ve communicated with Zionists/Zionist apologists who simply didn’t know that there were numerous Israelis protesting the occupation, let alone the long-standing existence of Jewish Anti-Zionists globally.
  • The multi-million dollar Israeli lobby has also conducted a broad effort to proselytize Zionism among people of color in the U.S., as attested to in this Colorlines piece
  • One of the biggest accomplishments of Zionist propaganda has been to limit or obscure historical memory, bracketing off a violent history of colonization, dispossession, and ethnic cleansing into smaller, decontextualized periods (e.g. “post-Oslo”, post-1967) so as to make the negotiation rounds between Israel and Palestine seem like they’re on fair and equal footing. Even if Palestine and Israel were to fall back to the two-state ’67 borders, it would still not appropriately handle the ‘right of return’ for dispossessed Palestinians from the ’48 Nakba—many of whom are alive today.
  • If nothing else, even if Zionist propaganda doesn’t completely succeed in convincing people that Palestinians are terrorists worthy of destruction, they’ve at least sowed enough seeds of doubt to prevent people from coming out in large numbers. Through a combination of misinformation, ahistorical analyses, and sowing the seeds fear, confusion, and doubt, the potential backlash to Zionist atrocities is largely restrained.

Given the role of mass media in shaping public opinion around Palestine, it is worth wondering: will lifting the veil on shameless pro-Israeli propagandism change the terms of the debate?

Will accurate, un-abridged information about the persecution of Palestinians ensure enough of an outcry to stop the ongoing genocide?

At the very least, I would like to think that ending the hegemonic thrust of Zionist propaganda, with its ongoing loop of misinformation and fear-mongering, will lower the barriers to aiding the occupation resistance. Whether or not this is enough remains to be seen.


Images of the Shujaiya Massacre
What arguments, archetypes, images, and tropes are used to justify the slaughter?

Screenshot 2014-08-01 09.08.11 Screenshot 2014-08-01 09.07.55

**TRIGGER WARNING: Video below depicts Israeli shelling that killed 17 Palestinians. According to the Electronic Intifada, these were civilians “at a market where people had gone to shop during what they thought would be a four-hour “humanitarian truce.” Depicts graphic violence that some might find disturbing.**

And how was the massacre in Shuja’iya justified, you ask? The IDF blog uses the following imagery below, as well as articles that target “terrorist cells” in civilian homes. You can decide for yourself whether the massacre of non-Hamas affiliated civilians was justified.

shujaiya-map-en-1Screenshot 2014-08-01 09.12.42

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