Palestine and Arizona

by Chelli Stanley

Border wall divides Arizona, USA from Sonora, Mexico. Photo by Matt Clark.

Sometimes “the story” can seem so complicated, especially to the misinformed American public. Often colonial contexts are made to look like impenetrable conundrums too hard to fix. However, these so-called complications are actually cover-ups meant to hide vast networks of crimes and human rights abuses.

Writing about the similarities between Palestine and Arizona is like writing about two sides of the same coin – mirror reflections. Violence, economic thievery, “legal” excuses to commit depraved acts, hateful politicians spawning hateful societies, the testing of weapons on human populations, thefts protected by militarized borders to keep people impoverished, scapegoating and slandering: all these things are used in both Palestine and Arizona.

At the center of both struggles is a fight for the land, for human rights, for liberation. At the center of both struggles are indigenous communities whose tie to the land is much stronger and more deeply rooted than most politicians can imagine. At the center of both is a sense of time stretching back to an identity rooted in eternity. At the center is a commitment to history, community, health, and the Land. At the center is the continual awakening that our future lies in what we as people can accomplish for ourselves and each other and not in what we can beg off our so-called political “leaders.”

In these lands are rooted communities of strong conscious people who work for the health of their land and people. In them there are proud women who are stirring and beginning throw off this long patriarchal era – perhaps the most exciting and least talked about development in recent years: that women – the first colonized people – are going to be the first to get free…

When looking at both Palestine and Arizona we can see how the most deeply-rooted people of both lands are those who are the

Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI. Israeli separation wall divides Shuafat refugee camp outside of Jerusalem, on left, from Pisgat Zeev Israeli settlement.

most (forcefully) impoverished and who are kept – by many means – from enjoying the fruits of the Land. In Palestine, the people are struggling through what many Palestinians call the Ongoing Nakba. Nakba translates to Catastrophe in Arabic and refers to the violent dispossession in 1948 of half a million Palestinians from their Lands by the colonial State of Israel. The extensive and well-documented statistics and details of the blatant and ongoing colonial dispossession of Palestine are kept from the United States mass media audience, but let me assure that audience:

1. There is a Place called Palestine

2. Palestinians Love Their Land

3. They Even Bleed Their Blood Into Her and Bathe Her in Tears if Necessary

4. Sumoud: Steadfastness

When talking about Palestine in the United States, one is often expected to prove its existence, to scrub off all the tarnishing slander, to give statistics and facts. This is a way that colonialists keep us running on the wheel, constantly proving ourselves, stuck at surfaces rather than growing into depths. Palestinians don’t need to prove themselves to Americans, and it is long past time that we stopped looking to our governments for answers and approval, begging for legislation that honors us, and instead look to our own hearts and to each other for what the future will hold.

Palestine is a Land of gardens and orchards, four seas, rivers, lakes, terraced hillsides of fruits and nuts and olives, stone walkways, ancient pathways, stone cities, warm eyes, warm tea, Mediterranean sun and wind and light. Palestine is Land that created strong, self-sufficient Palestinians, known for their health and generosity, known for their pride, strength, courage, and love for their Land. The struggle in Palestine is an anti-colonial struggle, a struggle against imperialism and genocide, a struggle against racism, a struggle for Indigenous Rights, a struggle for self-determination, a struggle for Liberation. But most of all, the struggle for Palestine is about the Land of Palestine, of whom the Palestinian people are the protectors. The Israeli and U.S. governments work daily to keep Palestinians away from their land, employing billions of dollars annually at this task, as well as at the task of trying to break the people’s will in order to more easily control the land. A myriad of tactics are used to try to keep the people away from their land, including: borders, walls, minefields, checkpoints, roadblocks, permit rules, soldiers, laws, humiliation, arrests and torture, the ever-present threat of murder, the creation of false divisions, armed vigilante groups, imposed economic disasters that keep people busy trying not to starve, and high-level government authorization that these crimes occur in conjunction with media cover-ups.

Photo by Alessandra Sanguinetti.  Two girls walk beneath the wall in Palestine.

What from the above list is not present in the Sonoran borderlands of Arizona/Mexico? Minefields and roadblocks.

The Arizona borderlands also have something which Palestine does not have: a desert landscape filled with the bodies of thousands of people who died while trying to find sustenance to keep their families above a state of malnutrition. NAFTA starved out hundreds of thousands of farmers from Mexico, here “illegally” to work under duress and at cheap pay, under hate speech, threats, slander. Funneled into the Sonoran Desert by United States government policies, economic refugees from Mexico make a difficult journey, in a climate of extreme hate, under laws that repress and criminalize even those who assist these refugee families. It seems like the running joke in the United States and Mexico these days is, “They don’t pay Mexicans much.” It’s hard to write such a cynical sentence but something seen with ones own eyes can’t be denied: There is a caste system on the North American Continent. It’s funny though, because this Land was Mexico. It’s kind of typical of the United States relationship with Mexico: Steal from Mexico in War, make Treaties that turn into nothing but paper, abuse “American Mexicans” into speaking only English, etc.

In its current relationship with the People of Mexico, the United States government is in the “fortunate” position to be able to create chaos, violence, and economic devastation in Mexico and simultaneously benefit from it by creating a response to it in the United States. This puts the U.S. government in the position to create and spend their money on war-like militarization along the border, imprison migrants in for-profit prisons, spark fear through communities, and pump hate through society. The United States government has been continually implicated in the drug trade as well as in gun running to the violent Mexican drug cartels, state police, and state army. These three armed groups have been responsible for/not investigated/assisted in the 70,000+ murders of Mexican civilians these past few years. As the creator of NAFTA, the United States government plays that old colonial role of starving people out of their own lands which diminishes their health and self-sufficiency. Through media cover-ups the U.S. government continually trumpets itself as the victim of all these “complicated” problems.

There’s a thing about naming in colonization. It’s an interesting process made to make you forget. Like: in the United States it is currently politically incorrect to say that Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas were part of Mexico until the United States forcibly took it in an act of War. It’s preferred to just call them by their new names and forget. It is also politically shunned in the U.S. to say the word Aztlan – it’s even decried as racist to say the name Aztlan – just as it is frantically avowed that it is anti-Semitic to call Palestine by its name. Well, even if it’s not politically correct, there’s a thing called Pride, with People calling out their own names.

When most Americans hear the word Palestine, it brings to mind many slanderous associations that have been imposed on the American mind by the mass media in order to cover up the genocide in Palestine. The genocide in Palestine is funded primarily by U.S. taxpayers and fully supported by the U.S. government. Is deliberate misleading of the public consistent with democracy?

The purposeful creation of ignorant masses by both the government and mass media is also seen in Arizona, where scapegoating is constantly used in order to justify yet more crimes against people already dealing with disenfranchisement and traumatization. When our communities become targets, used without reserve by politicians for political and economic gain, and we watch as the masses’ eyes glaze over to our trauma, the trauma can be compounded exponentially. This strategy is used by the corrupted powerful to try to break peoples’ wills through the illusion of isolation. However, it is for us to realize that our isolation is from the powerful, not from each other. When we begin to make allies across these imposed borders we will understand how truly strong we are.

In the Arizonan borderlands, the people with the deepest roots to the land – the Tohono O’odham and Mexican-Indigenous people – are the primary targets of government militarization, repression, and economic war. All of the Tohono O’odham homeland is occupied and even within their colonially-imposed reservation, the occupation is of a direct kind: spy cameras dot the landscape; there are numerous border patrol stations and BP agents have free reign all throughout the Tohono O’odham reservation where they regularly harass, arrest, and commit abuse and violence against native people; chase, arrest, and abuse economic refugees; and remove and/or vandalize the donations that have been set out to saves the lives of migrants traveling on foot incognito through desert lands.

The Tohono O’odham homeland is forcibly split – with part in Mexico and part in the United States – and gatherings have become extremely difficult due to all the restrictions imposed on the community by the occupying United States government. Border walls go through the lands, “training” drones fly over the homes, and people are living under a Tribal government that has been imposed on the community through the long history of colonization, and which sides with the occupiers in order to control and disempower. This is very similar to what is happening in Palestine today, where the United States government continues to fund and prop up “President” Mahmoud Abbas who has now stayed in power six years past when his term expired, who refuses to hold elections, who smirks about financial corruption, works against the interests of his people, and who accepts money to create and maintain a new internal Palestinian police force trained and armed by the United States government. This internal Palestinian police force (so reminiscent of the Contras and Death Squads in Latin America) adds yet another layer to the repression against the Palestinian people, who continue to condemn their imposed government, the Israeli colonization of their Lands, and U.S. imperialism.

The United States History in relation to Indigenous People can be characterized by the fact that the United States voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples in 2007. It can be characterized by the fact that it is the stuff of nightmares, but Indigenous people are holding to their roots, surviving in humor, pride, space, remembrance. And in a country that as yet refuses to acknowledge their name or space or claim, Indigenous people continue to sustain, fight, grow, work, and create. When your name is distinct from colonialism and capitalism, is older, then just to say your name is to create a different world. That’s another of those things about naming and colonization.

There’s a place in the Sonoran borderlands called Baboquivari, a mountain range that looks long into Mexico and long into the United States. This mountain is the Creation Place of the Tohono O’odham (Desert People), and in this mountain lives a God who is still present on the earth. The Tohono O’odham people are the rooted caretakers of these ancient lands – so ancient that there are petroglyph spirals counting solstices and equinoxes and other spans of time throughout the desert.

Throughout the U.S. Indigenous People are demanding their rights and working to protect the Lands. Throughout North America Indigenous People are coming together, calling out truths colonialism tried to misname.

There’s so many things that are similar in these two lands, both in terms of colonial tactics and in the surviving of these tactics, as well as in the depth of communities who continue striving to liberate themselves and their lands.

Borders are an interesting notion, divested of a certain knowledge: that all is one…