Upon entering Tufts – an elite liberal institution – we are discretely told which problems to focus on and which problems to ignore. “Think beyond borders,” we are encouraged; be a “global citizen.” Go solve Rwanda’s, India’s, Guatemala’s and Jordan’s problems; export the values of freedom and equality that America has to offer.
Typically, these initiatives come from places of good intention. Often they succeed somewhat in alleviating difficult conditions in the “underdeveloped” (or more accurately, over-exploited) world, but they nearly always serve to minimize similar domestic issues of inequity and poverty and obscure the reality that the U.S. caused many of these prob– lems in the first place. We are told to focus on the global periphery and not told that our domestic problems and international problems often stem from the same inter-connected systems. We are told to care, but in very specific ways that uphold colonizing systems, about everywhere.
Palestine solidarity work is often grouped into the “external” category. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perceived as a tribal feud, a religious war and a lost cause. Despite the vast geographic distance between the U.S. and Palestine, the issue remains very close to home. Palestine is so controversial here in the United States precisely because it isn’t really about Palestine, it is about the destructive way many U.S. systems operate around the world. The question of Palestine raises issues that expose internal American institutions of power that prefer to operate incognito. Naming systems of oppression begins the process of dethroning them.
Palestine is about the United States, and Palestine is about antiracism.
First of all, anyone who studies the history of Palestine and “the Nakba”, or the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948, must recognize the glaring resemblance to the history of genocide, settler-colonialism and anti-Indigenous racism that the U.S. is built upon. Seeing the reservation-like population centers that Palestinians have been forced onto and the perpetually expanding Israeli settlements, many Americans cringe to remember the historical land grabs white settlers partook in, stripping Native Americans of their homes and properties. The United States is terrified to acknowledge the humanity of Palestinians because that would mean having to do something about its marginalized, erased and ghettoized indigenous peoples who have survived the American project of expansionism and cultural genocide.
Secondly, we have legalized corruption. According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, “Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since WWII. To date, the United States has provided $118 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance.” At a time when the U.S. economy is struggling, this is a glaring anomaly in our political system. Lobbies like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the only superficially more progressive J-Street continue to strong arm congressmen and presidents alike to swear their allegiance to Israel and hound those who dare voice even tepid dissent, such as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association (NRA) blocks overwhelmingly popular back- ground checks, and pharmaceutical lobbying combats grassroots reform of the healthcare system, all with the same corrupt political money. One begins to wonder, do we live in a democracy or a plutocracy where the dollar is king?
Third, prisons there support prisons here. The U.S. prison-industrial complex finds a global partner in the Israeli system of child detention and mass incarceration. The state of Israel detains hundreds of children each year and holds over 100 political prisoners in administrative detention, allowing the “democratic” state to hold Palestinians indefinitely without evidence or trial, according to Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. If you are a Palestinian male living in the Occupied Territories, there is a 40 percent chance you have served prison time since 1967, according to Addameer. In the United States, that statistic is about 30 percent for black males, according to the Center for Children’s Law and Policy. As Tufts students, our tuition dollars are invested in companies that profit from prisons both here and in Palestine, such as Motorola, which wires the infrastructure of jails and check- points, as an investigation by the Israeli nongovernmental organization Who Profits revealed. We are implicated in twin unjust criminal “justice” systems.
Fourth, there is a perception of enemies being everywhere. Israel has come close to finishing its apartheid wall, an eight-meter high concrete barrier more than twice the height of the Berlin Wall that weaves its way around the West Bank (only 15 percent of it runs on the inter- nationally recognized Green Line border established in 1967) separating farmers from crops and families from relatives. Israel has also begun the construction of high-voltage electric fences across its Syrian and Lebanese borders – the physical manifestation of the problematic ideology of demonizing those that you fear. In a similar vein, the U.S. has constructed portions of a wall along its southern border fueled by xenophobia, racism and corporate interest. It is no coincidence that the same company, Elbit Systems, has been contracted to construct portions of both the Israeli and U.S. walls. structures in the U.S. and Palestine are being built by the same company, Elbit Systems.
Fifth, cameras in each country fail to see clearly. The counter-narrative of the Palestinian struggle is purposely omitted from the U.S. mainstream media, revealing the complicity of the media in Palestinian suffering. Liberals scoff at Fox News without also noting that, on Palestine, even the New York Times is brazenly uncritical of the violence of the Israeli state, refusing to include words like “Occupied.” The politics of what makes a tragedy reveal bias: Sarah Weir discovered that in one major U.S. publication, Israeli children’s deaths during the Second Intifada were covered at 25 times the rate of Palestinian children’s deaths. Palestine is neatly obscured by the “free” press, revealing a black hole of awareness and complicity in injustice that swallows up everything from indigenous rights to workers’ strikes in the United States.
Sixth, understanding the question of Palestine exposes the contemporary poli- cies of American colonialism across the Middle East, a region where the U.S. has toppled democratic regimes, propped up dictators and coveted petroleum and strategic military outposts with bottomless lust. The Islamophobia and anti-Arabness informing U.S. foreign policy are visible in the harsh grip the U.S. holds on the Middle East. Most of the ruling governments in the region have been funded and supported by America for years, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Bahrain, amongst others. The U.S. has a history of bankrolling tragedies in the region, from weapons sales to both sides of the Iran-Iraq war to massive support for the brutal Saudi regime today. We come to realize that Uncle Sam’s boot is still on the throat of the Arab world and truthfully, much of the global south. The systems of oppression that govern the Occupied Territories and police bodies of color abroad mirror American systems. In the words of academics Sunaina Maira and Magid Shihade, “Every war waged by imperial states abroad is accompanied by a war at home.” Just as this was true for Japanese Americans facing internment during World War II, it is true today for Arab-Americans, Muslim-Americans and anyone perceived as such in the so-called War on Terror.
The Students for Justice in Palestine believe that solidarity with Palestine is absolutely in line with the values America prides itself on but often does not act upon. Just as so many groups in America have and continue to bravely organize to demand their rights, Palestinians fight for their own freedom from Western domination. When America is finally able to turn the looking glass on itself, then Palestine will be free of its neo-imperialist chains.