My political education in Palestinian Intifada

Kamal Boullata

When I became active in Palestinian solidarity at the University of Minnesota after the 1967 war, it was a handful of Arab foreign students & myself. None of them were Palestinian–although it was a lone Palestinian picketer at the student union who drew me to the movement. They all came from quite wealthy backgrounds (& returned to those backgrounds) & their political perspectives were more conservative than my own. It was pre-feminist movement days & I once had to put my foot down about meeting in a local strip joint to discuss activities. But we worked out our collaboration to good purpose.

At one point, Jerusalem-born Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata held an art exhibit at the University. He is a profoundly intellectual man & was (& I believe remains) an activist who spoke, wrote, & contributed substantially to creating political art & posters for the movement. It was from Kamal’s commitment & explanations that I began to understand deeply what the Palestinian struggle was all about. Though he had long been in diaspora, there was no detachment in his politics, which had been an issue in the U of M group. I doubt if my commitment would have been sustained without what I learned from him.

As an aside to this story, I moved to NYC in 1970 for the women’s movement & kept up Palestinian activism at NYU where I worked. Zionist organizations called a Sunday morning rally in the Wall Street area & Palestinian groups called a counter-protest. The rally was massive with hundreds of Zionists & a handful of Palestinians plus myself behind a police barricade across the street. Without provocation, the police came after us with billy clubs. It felt like I was in some kind of space warp as I watched police beating the hell out of the Palestinians, including chasing them down into the subway & continuing to pummel them mercilessly. Though I was in the midst of the counter-protest, the police never even looked at me, probably assuming I was an accidental participant. All of them were injured; I walked away scot-free but traumatized.

I still have a collection of Kamal’s political posters which have historical & current political value. When I retrieve them from storage, I will find a fundraising event to offer them for the children of Gaza.

(Photo is one of Kamal’s current art works)

Attempts to portray refugees as terrorists & as rapists

There’s an attempt shaping up to associate refugees with criminality, in particular assault crimes against women. It’s a clever maneuver to taint them not just as potential terrorists but also as potential rapists–which explains why they’re targeting single men among refugees for deportation. It’s good that attention is brought to crimes against women since we’re more accustomed to having them dismissed as exaggerated claims. But this is just another twist on the theme of using feminism to promote racism, xenophobia, & militarism.

It’s hard to find meaning in the statistical comparisons of rape from different countries. They’ve been done but you can’t figure out what they mean. Quite frankly, they’re almost worthless. We know sexual assault against women & children is a massive problem everywhere but on face value, in the statistical charts, the highest rates are in places like Australia, the US, Sweden, Costa Rica, South Africa, Belgium, New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, Israel. The countries from whence the refugees are coming have the lowest rates.

Of course there are criminals among the refugees–like in any society this side of Utopia. But this scare-mongering is nothing more than the age-old technique of discrediting refugees & immigrants by associating them with criminality, including drugs. They’ve been doing that with Mexicans & Central Americans for decades but repeated studies by reputable research institutes going back nearly a hundred years show they have considerably lower crimes rates across the board than native born residents.

Let the xenophobes put that in their pipes & smoke it.

BDS victory: Donovan, the Scottish singer, cancels concert in Israel

A victory for the cultural boycott of Israel: Donovan, the Scottish singer, has cancelled his performance scheduled for this Wednesday in Israel. He was going to perform some kind of phony peace concert but the many appeals by BDS activists on his Facebook wall must have made him realize the clash of such an event with Israeli apartheid & ethnic cleansing. We respect people who do the right thing.

A photo of EU refugee policy worth a thousand condemnations

Syrian mother and children in box (Petros Giannakouris:AP) Jan 25 2016

It’s probably sufficient to let this speak for itself as a photo worth a thousand condemnations of EU refugee policies–not to mention media coverage of the crisis.

This Syrian woman & her two little kids ended up on Pasas, an uninhabited Greek island in the Aegean, & found shelter in this box. How in the world did they end up there? Did their raft sink? Were they dumped by human traffickers? Did they think they were landing on Lesbos? Did anybody else land with them or are they alone? Whatever has jaded media’s investigative faculties so badly that her plight does not merit some elaboration?

Consider the possibilities for what might have happened to them if the photographer hadn’t been around. Consider the barbarism of war & EU refugee policies that she could have died with her children on a deserted island.

The EU, & Greece as the front line of immigration policing, are flouting international law governing treatment of refugees–just as Syria, Russia, the US & the whole criminal coalition are flouting international law governing war.

Immigration is a human right & those who obstruct it should be prosecuted. War is an abomination & it should be opposed.

The historic imperative remains: rebuild the international antiwar movement & open the borders.

(Photo by Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Media ignores 60 million refugees in the world like they didn’t exist

Refugees Miratovac, Macedonia (Marko Djurica:Reuters) Jan 25 2016

There have been news blackouts on the refugee crises all over the world. That’s an extraordinary, almost criminal omission when you know that over 60 million people are now on the move, displaced by wars, persecution, & neoliberal economic policies involving land theft for mining & agribusiness, sweatshops, & child labor. They’re running from the killing fields of neoliberalism, the barbaric phase of capitalism.

It’s a humanitarian & political crisis involving tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the US border–with no coverage in local or national news; involving hundreds of thousands crossing the Mediterranean from Africa–with no coverage of the African diaspora, most importantly if FRONTEX naval operations have rescued thousands from drowning. In the past few years on that route, over 25,000 drowned, making the Mediterranean a crime scene for which European Union (EU) officials still should face prosecution. Media reporting on the FRONTEX operation is locked down tighter than a drum so we don’t know what’s going on–except for a few reports of drownings.

Since winter began, media reports of the Turkey to Greece diaspora from the Middle East went down to almost nothing, giving the impression that the crisis had abated. In fact, according to the UN refugee agency, the number of crossings since January 1st of this year is nine times what it was a year ago. In January 2015, 5,560 arrived by sea; already this year, 46,121 have arrived. Drownings in the Aegean have increased to 149 just this month, 45 this past week alone when their boats sank near the Greek islands.

Using a deft switch & bait technique, EU officials try to dump the blame on human traffickers for the drownings. Why aren’t FRONTEX ships & Greek & Turkish coast guard ships out there on constant search & rescue missions? Why are they allowing refugees to travel in plastic rafts rather than sending ferries to carry them safely? Truth of the matter is, human traffickers wouldn’t be in business if the EU wasn’t throwing up dangerous obstacles for refugees fleeing war.

Perhaps the most damning feature of the EU response to this massive crisis (& this prevails on the US-Mexican border also) is the governmental refusal to provide any kind of assistance to the refugees. The food, shelter, medical aid, thermal blankets, & human kindness they receive comes entirely from volunteer groups & local residents while regimes do the policing & enforce impediments to asylum–separating refugees by nationalities & asylum seekers from those to be deported; fingerprinting & documenting; bussing them (especially single men) to detention centers. UN officials seem to function primarily as high-paid bean counters & have made themselves useful by keeping a daily count–at least of the Middle East diaspora.

These news blackouts are a political choice by media, a method of dehumanizing refugees so that regimes can blither on without challenge about ISIS & terrorists sneaking across the borders in the guise of refugees.

This photojournalist has an album from the current winter trek of refugees. He headed for the Serbia-Macedonia border to document how refugees were coping with -20C/-4F temperatures in snow conditions & with “wind so strong you have to walk backwards into it.” He said “The wind was so noisy that the migrants weren’t able to talk to each other. Many of them were crying from the cold. I was speechless.”

We’re speechless too. And outraged. The refugee crises are a challenge to the very foundations of human civilization. If, like our governments, we were unwilling to render human solidarity, we would align ourselves with the forces of barbarism. But every inch of the way, refugees have encountered the kindness of strangers who recognize a human being when they see one & think that matters. Now the task remains to bring our political solidarity into accord with our humanitarian assistance.

Immigration is a human right. Open the borders.

(Photo by Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Family gatherings need a block button too

I had to block my own niece today on Facebook after she brought my adrenalin to the boiling point. My entire family, with some exceptions, is conservative & have always objected to my politics. Producing a socialist from a clan of right-wingers is one of nature’s sarcasms. My aunts & uncles are all Republicans but still beloved to me. I would never be disrespectful to them in language or attitude–nor have they ever been disrespectful to me, despite their disapproval. But when you’re a socialist people sometimes think they can take liberties & get outright insulting. That doesn’t work for me, especially coming from someone who combines insolence & ignorance with bad politics.

She was objecting to my internationalism & advocating provincialism but that’s a political ruse I’m familiar with. Her FB wall had comments like “If you can’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” That’s not provincialism; it’s aggressive support for US wars.

I didn’t block her because she is right-wing & disagrees with me but because she was disrespectful. Call me old-fashioned but I think you ought to refrain from calling your aunt stupid. It’s probably not self-serving to say that most of those I’ve blocked were rude or insulting to myself or others. You can’t have a useful discussion exchanging insults–& sharp repartee is not the same thing.