The Palestine-Mexico border
Posted: 03 May 2010 09:09 AM PDT

January’s revelations about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assisting with the design and installation of yet another border wall around Palestine, this one placed under the ground, is just the latest development in a series of relationships between: North American neoliberalism, U.S. domestic and foreign drug policy, structural anti-latino racism in the U.S., the Egyptian government, Mexico’s ruling elite and Israel’s military occupation of Palestine.
To find connections between various international interests is not surprising but the links between, for example, Mexican classism and President Mubarak’s aversion to democracy are perhaps less known. How the occupation forces action from one and provides tools for the other is a connection worth exploring as is the potential for joint struggle between individuals and communities focusing on seemingly disparate issues amidst broader struggles for justice.
The first part of this interaction has Egypt using tools and training developed for use on the southern U.S. border to seal off the Gaza Strip. Egypt sees a Hamas-led end to the occupation as detrimental and it pursues a policy of tight closure on the border with Gaza to prevent this.
President Mubarak’s regime has two main motivations for enforcing the Gaza siege; 1. To ensure the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas achieves no further success and, 2. To play its role as a U.S. client state with the benefits – political, military and economic support – it brings. Domestically, Mubarak continues a long-term crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood as they currently pose the biggest threat to his family’s intended presidential monarchy. Even modest success by a Hamas-governed-Israel-occupied Gaza would add prestige to the Muslim Brotherhood and further weaken Mubarak.
To this end U.S. military engineers, deployed to help uncover Palestinian tunnels in 2008, are on the Gaza border with their Egyptian colleagues installing a purportedly indestructible wall. Underground. A wall installed in solid space in the hopes of preventing the ground’s perforation by smugglers but only to a certain depth and breadth, beneath or around which smugglers are free to continue their already-proven technique as Israeli security officials have acknowledged.
At least until a method of breaching it is developed, almost a certainty as the historical relationships between the occupation and Palestinian resistance is coevolutionary. Perhaps the subversive technology the Palestinians have used to consistently conquer the wall around East Jerusalem, the ladder, could be adapted for use underground. Certainly an underground ladder can be no less functional and no more absurd than an underground wall.
(The sarcasm should not be understood to minimize the danger or effort involved in making tunnels. It’s dangerous and difficult work as any tunneling profession is, even in the best of circumstances. Witness the deaths during Boston’s Big Dig or more recently, of coal miners in West Virginia. Point being that the underground wall being farcical doesn’t mean it’s not also tragic.)
The border siege on the Gaza Strip and West Bank has many direct connections, discussed below, to the militarization and escalation on the southern border of the United States. It also shares political analogies with the North American experience of border policies working against existing political and economic structures.
One can be found on the outskirts of East Jerusalem in Sheikh Sa’ad. It’s part of occupied East Jerusalem’s contiguous urban metropolis but lies outside the city’s boundary as established by Israel after the Six Day War in 1967. The policies of periodic closure implemented after 1991 caused a severely deteriorating quality of life for Sheikh Sa’ad’s residents, leading to permanent relocation inside the city’s borders whenever possible.
The area faces almost total depopulation due to the wall’s construction with most choosing the East Jerusalem option where possible. Both the municipality and national government have policies of trying to limit the Palestinian demographic presence with the municipality of Jerusalem following a policy implemented in the early 1970’s of attempting to keep a 72% Jewish majority.
The structural anti-Arab racism inside Israel’s recognized and unrecognized borders runs into a problem with the construction of the Segregation Barrier throughout the West Bank, which motivates Palestinian migration in the other direction. According to then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, “One does not have to be a genius to see that the route of the fence will have major implications for our future border.”
Thus the 763 kilometer monument to otherness is partially intended to enforce de facto national and demographic borders of Israel while, combined with the other aspects of the occupation, motivating further movement by Palestinians to the opposite effect.
It is in this way, the ethnocentric nationalism working at cross purposes to the occupation, the situation bears similarity to North American neoliberal economic policy, “free trade,” producing motivation for migration to the United States from Mexico (and elsewhere) while structural anti-latino racism attempts to police the borders with walls, drones, motion sensors and patrols.
The barrier and surveillance network the United States is constructing on the nation’s southern border, the centerpiece of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), is intended to be the North American Free Trade Agreement’s people filter by which goods and capital will flow freely but people will find an imposing physical obstruction.
Since Mexican and Central American immigrants are portrayed as a brown peril bringing in drugs and crime while “changing the character” of the nation, such border fortifications are of paramount importance for U.S. politicians (witness the populist rhetoric of Arizona politicians in defending the new Juan Crow law that not only legalizes but demands racial profiling).
The invocation of national security – equating economic refugees with 9/11 hijackers – is the final part of the political doctrine of the border wall. As much as the U.S.’s racism opposes immigration across the southern border, the country is a strong proponent of the neoliberal economic policies of privatization, deregulation and government austerity that are the leading cause of undocumented immigration.
For example, Mexico’s state-owned groceries in the past purchased corn from local farmers at high prices, turned it into tortillas, and sold them at low subsidized prices in the cities. Neoliberal economic policies, implemented under pressure from the U.S., IMF and World Bank, have gutted these expenditures used to support rural incomes.
The customs duties that formerly prevented the mass dumping of subsidized U.S. corn on the Mexican market were also removed, leading to lower sums paid to Mexican farmers, a higher-priced product, and competition from cheaper U.S. corn. The ensuing collapse of many rural agricultural economies triggered another wave of migration northwards.
These economic policies also called for the privatization of state-owned businesses, like the Cananea mines in the northern province of Sonora. The mines’ takeover by the giant Grupo México led to hundreds of jobs lost and a concerted effort to crush the miners union. The union’s efforts to resist the job cuts and wage reductions led to firings, physical attacks and confrontations with the police and army.
It’s a main reason why Mexico’s elites favor a porous northern border and emigration; if people face a deteriorating quality of life and are denied the right to contest it, the emigration option is a necessary pacification mechanism. This same policy of free movement northward has also led to a threat to the political and economic elite, the increasing power of drug cartels smuggling narcotics to and weapons from the U.S. market.
What Mexican officials call the “Iron River” – the continual flow of guns from the north side of the border – enables the the cartels to outgun the very police forces entrusted with reigning them in and the incredible profits from the drug trade helps them to recruit lower paid police and army personnel to “their side.” The U.S. Army War College in May, 2009 published a paper calling this conflict the “Mexican narcoinsurgency” and laid out in detail the threats it posed to the Mexican state.
And on April 27, the head of the US Southern Command told reporters, “The biggest concern I have within the region is not a … conventional military threat. It’s illicit trafficking. … Drugs, human trafficking, weapons, bulk cash.” The conflict’s thousands of deaths have triggered yet more northward migration but also an increasing deterioration of the image of the Mexican state amongst its peoples due to official state corruption and an inability to stem the violence.
To turn the tide the Mexican government had been procuring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel. These drones were developed for and carry out, depending on the model, surveillance, tracking and air-to-ground missile strikes. The same platforms to be used in surveilling and targeting the cartels – the Hermes, Skylark-I, Skystar 300 and Orbiter – are in regular use over the Gaza Strip and West Bank and were used in the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead for both surveillance and air-strikes.
The Mexican government is joined in the use of Israeli UAVs along the northern side of the border. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection pioneered the use of UAVs in border surveillance, deploying the Hermes in 2004 as part of the Arizona Border Control Initiative.
The maker of the Hermes & Skylark-I, Elbit Systems, is further connected to the Mexico-U.S. border through its participation in the SBI. Haifa-based Elbit is providing its Long Range Reconnaissance and Observation System, integrated with UAVs, towards the project while providing the same materials and technology along Israel’s Segregation Barrier.
The Mexico-U.S. border comes back to Israel and Palestine again with Egyptian engineers deploying to the U.S., during Operation Cast Lead, to train on the southern border in tunnel detection. Additionally, in August, 2009, Israel deployed staff to a geology lab in the U.S. to find a method of tunnel detection that would meet the needs of the Israeli military.
The Israeli army has deployed in the past a tactic imported from the United States, controlled random explosions below ground. (The need for tunnel detection training should raise questions about the security efficacy of walls as the peoples of both Palestine and Mexico are in possession of “the shovel,” technology used for digging into the ground, including beneath walls, with which the Israeli and American security apparatuses are apparently unfamiliar.) Skepticism about the permeability of “security walls” goes back much further as the story of the Trojan Horse exemplifies.
A more defined feedback loop for these relationships would be:

  1. The Egyptian government deploys the products of North American neoliberalism, drug policy and structural racism on the border with Palestine to shore up the Mubarak regime by hampering Hamas and perpetuating U.S. support.
  2. The United States government deploys the products of the occupation on the border with Mexico to enforce structural racism and for the interdiction of smuggled goods, including drugs and weapons.
  3. The Mexican government deploys the products of the occupation along the border with the U.S. to shore up its power by striking against the drug cartels that threaten it and to interdict arms smuggled from the United States.
  4. The Israeli government deploys the products of North American neoliberalism, drug policy and structural racism to enforce occupation and apartheid against the Palestinians.

This is, in effect, an uncoordinated and unorganized network that, in bits and pieces and often clumsily, produce stools that other actors deploy to preserve their status quo. It’s a pacification industry. The connections are clear and profound, that these individual structures of inequality are global in effect, no matter how localized their original intent.
This is true even though none of the structures described are reliant on or instigated by the others, they merely benefit from the existence of others structures of injustice. Texas governor Rick Perry has even made statements about how Israel’s experience would be useful. He told the Jerusalem Post that a Texas delegation visiting Israel last August was “trying to find ways to secure that border, because just like it’s important to Israelis to keep heavy security on their border with Gaza, it’s important to citizens of Texas to keep out the illegal activities that are going on with drugs [in Mexico].” These issues have become intertwined in their structures and agents for change cannot ignore this.
(If we think of these exchanges as products of the pacification industry then there is an interesting side note in that the Mexican Special Forcers as well as many tactical units from police forces have received U.S. or Israeli police, antiterrorism and counterinsurgency training, sometimes both. The cartel Los Zetas – until recently mere enforcers for a cartel – are made former special forces and tactical police who switched sides. The pacification industry too has externalities!)
The history of activists working across the Mexico-U.S. border is long and filled with some remarkable efforts. Mexican mine and railroad workers on both sides of the border, led by the Magón brothers, launched an insurrection against the “Copper King of Cananea” in what turned out to be a precursor of the Mexican Revolution. Later labor efforts in the U.S. southwest and the Mexican north, by mine workers and others, were strengthened by delegations sending aid in both direction.
Organizing across national borders these days is not uncommon, especially in the worlds of environmentalism and globalization, but organizing across the perceived borders of causes is unfortunately quite rare. Borders are ideally infrastructures of connectivity that create a transitional zone between peoples and cultures. Here we have a situation where military occupation, neoliberalism, drug policy, dictatorship and racism all intersect, overlap and reinforce. Activists should be willing to think about borders between causes as the zones of connectivity they are and a great place to do so is on the rich landscape of the Palestine-Mexico border.

Mustafa Barghouti can go on Jon Stewart but he’d be arrested if he set foot in Jerusalem
Posted: 03 May 2010 08:52 AM PDT

Mustafa Barghouti in conversation with Chris Lydon of Brown’s Watson Institute, April 29, 2010. (Remember that Barghouti was on The Daily Show last year).

There isn’t any place in the world where apartheid is so systematic as it is today in Palestine… You are talking about a situation where we the Palestinians are prevented from using all our main roads because they are exclusive for Israelis and Israeli Army and Israeli settlers. This did not happen even during the segregation time in the [United] States.
 People could not use the same bus or same restaurant. But here you can’t use the same road even. I am an elected Member of Parliament. I ran for president in Palestine; I was second in the presidential race. I was born in Jerusalem. I worked as medical doctor, as a cardiologist, in a very important hospital in Jerusalem for 15 years. And since five years I am prevented, like 98 percent of the Palestinians, from entering Jerusalem. If I am caught in Jerusalem, I could be sentenced to seven years in jail.
This is unbelievable. You have a situation where a husband and a wife cannot be together. If a husband is from Jerusalem and his wife is from the West Bank, or the opposite, they cannot live together. Because if the husband or the wife comes to the West Bank they lose their ID, they lose their residency.
And the wife or the husband from the other side cannot be granted citizenship in Jerusalem. We have never seen a situation where a country occupies a city like East Jerusalem and then declares the citizens of the city — who have lived there for hundreds, and some of the families for thousands of years — “temporary residents.” And if one of them goes out to study at Brown for five years for instance, they would lose their residency. This is what you see are acts of ethnic cleansing.
There isn’t a place in the world where officially the policy is, if I have a person with a heart attack and I need to get him to a hospital in Jerusalem or in Israel, I have to get a military permit from a coordinator in the military headquarters. And this can take hours or days, or it can not be granted at all.
I’ve had patients die in front of my eyes because I could not get them through the checkpoints. We had 80 women who had to give birth at checkpoints, and 30 of them lost their babies. And to me, the fact that a woman cannot give birth in a dignified manner, and having to give birth in front of foreign soldiers out in the street, is equal to the utmost injustice. Tell me, where does that happen anywhere in the world? And this is happening by a country that is claiming that it is a democracy and that it is civilized. And by people that have had suffering in the past. I mean, that’s what amazes me, you know. People who understand how terrible it is to be discriminated against…
So we ask ourselves: how do we make the Israelis change their minds? How do we convince them to stop the oppressive system which is hurting our future and their future?

Imagine Jimmy Carter doing this
Posted: 03 May 2010 08:04 AM PDT

Didi Remez picks up Ben Caspit from Maariv saying that Ron Lauder is serving as Netanyahu’s emissary to Jordan’s King Abdullah, who is angry about East Jerusalem’s annexation and worried that Israeli rejectionism will lead to another war. Bear in mind, Ron Lauder is an American businessman (my theme today is the title of Zionist Melvin Urofsky’s 1986 book about the Diaspora and Israel:
We Are One!). Remember that whenever Jimmy Carter goes near the region, people blast him for messing in foreign policy. Well at least he’s messing in U.S. foreign policy!

Only last week the king warned, referring to construction in East Jerusalem, that Israel was playing with fire and mentioned that according to Israel’s peace accord with Jordan, the latter had rights to Jerusalem’s holy sites. He said that all options were on the table when it came to protecting he holy sites as well as Jordan’s interests in the city.
…As one might recall, Lauder served as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s personal envoy to the late Syrian president Hafez Assad during Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister. Lauder shuttled between Jerusalem and Damascus and exchanged direct messages between the prime minister and the Syrian president.
…Relations between Israel and Jordan are presently at particularly low point, following the king’s profound concern that the continued political impasse could harm Jordan’s standing and lead the entire region to violence.

On Berman and projection
Posted: 03 May 2010 07:14 AM PDT

Re Paul Berman’s 300-page book about Tariq Ramadan. From Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics:

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry.
Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy.
The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.
(Via Wikipedia)                                                                                   

More sea change
Posted: 03 May 2010 06:12 AM PDT

I hear this is very good, I haven’t had time to listen: Bloggingheads has Robert Wright discussing Gaza blockade with Bassam Nasser of Catholic Relief Services. I see the one-state answer comes up. I’d note that Wright was raised Christian and Nasser works for a Christian org. About time that other faiths come to bear on this problem; this is key to getting the white knuckled hands of the Israel lobby off the steering wheel. H/t Alex Kane.

Define subterfuge
Posted: 03 May 2010 06:06 AM PDT

Neocon Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post continues the pattern of bashing Obama over his incredibly-restrained stance on illegal settlements in conjunction with other attacks on his foreign policy.

Silverstein knocks J Street
Posted: 03 May 2010 05:53 AM PDT

Richard Silverstein says that J Street might as well join AIPAC:

I’d never quite thought of the fact that J Street either intentionally or unintentionally may serve to co-opt the political energy of the American Jewish peace movement.  Progressives funnel their energy into the organization which transmutes it in turn into  faintly liberal pro-Israel substance that bears only a slight resemblance to the actual political values of many of those progressives.  In this way, J Street contributes to the dumbing down of progressive Jewish politics.

How about BPS? (boycott, pressure and sanctions)
Posted: 03 May 2010 05:04 AM PDT

From a widely-acknowledged classic, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Charles D. Smith of the University of Arizona (1996).

As debate over the UNSCOP [UN Special Committee on Palestine] recommendations continued through November [1947], it seemed clear to Zionists in the United States that extensive lobbying and pressure would have to be brought to bear on certain delegates.
Truman remained on the sidelines until the eve of the vote, but he declared in his memoirs that he had never “had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White house as I had in this instance.” Congressmen and senators along with Supreme Court justices were drafted to send telegrams to heads of states and their representatives either cajoling them, or in some cases, threatening suspension of American aid.
On the day the vote was scheduled, 27 November, the partition resolution appeared to be short of the needed two-thirds majority. Filibustering gained a postponement [to November 29], and Truman approved further pressure on the delegates. Under threat of a Jewish boycott of Firestone rubber and tire products, Harvey Firestone told Liberia that he would recommend suspension of plans for the expansion of development there if Liberia voted against partition.
Truman’s approval of added lobbying efforts may have saved the day, as until then he and the State Department seemed in accord: the United States would vote for partition but not threaten or lobby other members, leading the Arab officials to assume that they had won….Whatever the nature of the Zionist accomplishment in Palestine, the victory at the United Nations was essentially won in the United States where “the success of the Zionist effort in 1947 represented nearly five years of work, organization, publicity, education, and the careful cultivation of key people in different fields,… thus securing the help of influential men and women in the press, the church, the arts, and above all, the government.
In the process, the plight of the displaced persons in Europe played an ever-present role.” [quote from We Are One! American Jewry and Israel, by Melvin Urofsky] Amidst the wild celebrations in New York, Tel Aviv, and the Jewish sectors of Jerusalem, both Arabs and Jews prepared for war.

Let us now praise the grassroots (and Seeger on his birthday)
Posted: 03 May 2010 04:07 AM PDT

Here’s a moving post by Dana Goldstein on the protests of Israel’s destruction of olive trees– the story told in the documentary Budrus:

[T]he people of Budrus were joined by a ragtag-looking band of Israeli and international leftists, including the Israeli mathematician/anarchist Kobi Snitz. When these Jewish Israeli young people first appeared on the screen, I silently groaned. With their dreadlocks and stoned-seeming demeanor, I couldn’t imagine that they’d be credible representatives of the small but growing Jewish movement against the occupation, either to Palestinians, to Israelis, or on the international stage. They simply appear to be–and are–far outside the mainstream.
…Here’s how Snitz describes his role as an Israeli in solidarity with Palestinians:

“Even ten Israelis at a demonstration can make a real difference. We know from the army’s own declarations that their open fire regulations change as soon as they think there are Israelis around. For example, they are not to use live fire when there are Israelis around, and they are not to fire rubber bullets in a direction where they think there are Israelis.”

The ideology that instructs the IDF to shoot live ammunition at protesting Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, but not protesting Jewish Israelis, is deeply fucked up. But those are the facts on the ground.
The presence of Jews brings not only media attention to Palestinian pro-democracy efforts, but actually protects and empowers the nonviolent segments of the Palestinian nationalist movement–the people whose political empowerment is crucial for movement toward a two-state solution.

I admire the progress that Goldstein makes here in her feelings about the activists; it’s terrain I’m traveling myself. Though I would say that part of the irritation she expresses at the start touches on status issues. It reminds me of the cultural exasperation that George Packer felt with the anti-Iraq-war demonstrators in ’03, whom he caricatured unfairly as a bunch of hippies.
The grassroots really are funkier than power politics. People aren’t as well-dressed, they don’t make as much money (or for that matter care about money as much), and many of them live in humble houses. I remember having tea in Ezra Nawi’s little kitchen in Jerusalem before we set out in a battered caravan earlier this year for anti-occupation protests. It wasn’t World of Interiors.
I resisted this company myself out of fear of losing meritocratic status; but as Goldstein seems to recognize in this post, power politics have failed to produce any progress on this matter for decades, and it is out of frustration with the moral paralysis of governments that the civil-society movement has taken hold in Israel/Palestine. The grassroots are transforming this issue. (Had I stayed in MSM journalism I never would have been able to express a fraction of what I believe about the Middle East, and would have gone truly crazy.)
Today is Pete Seeger’s 91st birthday, a guy who really believes in the grassroots. Yesterday he was on the radio saying that his proudest achievement has been getting people to sing along, thereby increasing “participation,” because popular participation is all that will save us. Pete lives not far away from me and has the following painted on the side of a barn, a quote from William James that shows that the grassroots are in the American grain:

I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of mans pride, if you give them time.
The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top.

Berman doth project too much
Posted: 02 May 2010 07:14 PM PDT

Yesterday Paul Berman’s latest book was published, The Flight of the Intellectuals. It is a 300-page attack on Tariq Ramadan, with some Ian Buruma thrown in as a palate cleanser. I don’t think I’ll read the book, Berman’s style is oldfashioned and his judgment seems to be missing an engine-mount or two. But my eye did fall on this passage (pps. 240-241) and I found it strange.
Does Berman really think he can eviscerate Ramadan’s familial/religious investments as being anti-progressive without opening the door to an examination of the neocons’ Zionism? Is this whole book some kind of projection? Will any of Berman’s interviewers, in weeks to come, ask him about his own Zionism, or his family’s–or about neoconservative dynastic Zionism?

Ramadan obeys and reveres. He especially reveres the people who revere his grandfather. His method of obeying and revering is to call for what he describes as ‘reform.’ In Radical Reform he makes reform sound more radical than ever. And yet, reform, to him, means a continuation of his grandfather’s project from the 1930s and ’40s. It is the call to return to the purity of ancient times.
The long-ago, imagined past. The age of the supine. Anyway, it is a call to return, in a slightly softer verson, to the militant, sharp-elbowed atmosphere of his grandfather’s time–the atmosphere in which each new member of the Muslim Brotherhood swore personal allegiance to the Supreme Guide…
He cannot think his way out of this. He is imprisoned in a cage made of his own doctrine about his grandfather and his grandfather’s ideology. all of his intelligence, which is considerable, and his energy, which his vast, and his literary talent, which is modest, goes into devising ever more clever ways, book after book, to paint the iron bars of his ideological cage in cheerful colors that appear to be modern and progressive. He wants to make his cage look anything but a cage.
Sometimes he cannot think of new ways to disguise his old ideas. Then he pretends that one or another aspect of his own doctrine does not exist. He mutters about itjihad. And yet he cannot figure out how to unlock the cage. He cannot think for himself. He does not believe in thinking for himself.


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