This post was written on Friday September 23, 2011.
I have to admit, I basically didn’t work today. Somehow I kept getting distracted from typing up interviews by editorials, articles and videos about President Mahmoud Abbas officially calling for Palestine to be recognized by the UN as a state. To be honest, I had forgotten it was today. I was blithely getting a fresh-pressed orange juice from our friend Arcarde’s stand with Norma, waiting for the pool to open at 8am, when I heard the radio mention Palestine. As usual, my ears perked up and I had to keep myself from shushing Norma as I remembered what today was.
As most of you will know, I spent the last few years studying, visiting, and advocating for Palestine through groups such as Students for Morally Responsible Investment in Israel and Palestine at EMU, and summer internships with such moral giants as Sami Awad and the workers at the Israeli Committee against Home Demolition. I can’t help but somehow compare all liberation struggles and social movements against what I’ve known of this conflict.
In Bogota, several of our guest speakers called Colombia the “Israel of Latin America”. Certain parallels certainly do appear: both Israel and Colombia’s governments have adopted the USA’s rhetoric regarding terrorism as well as their assumed economic truths and preferences. Just as Netanyahu chose to speak mostly about Iran, 911, and Islamic fundamentalism in his speech at the UN today, rather than the 60 year old Occupation, settlements, the illegal Separation Wall or human rights violations- just so the Colombian general who spoke to us of the conflict here basically didn’t mention paramilitaries (responsible for the majority of murders nation-wide), mentioned multinationals as positive economic development, never their human rights abuses or role in worsening the conflict, and focused almost entirely on the struggle against the “terrorists” aka guerilla groups. In both countries multinational companies are making a killing (literally) while profiting off of the conflict—be it Coca Cola’s hiring paramilitaries to squash union-workers and setting up business in settlements/honoring war criminals in Israel, or Caterpillar making specially-armed bulldozers for demolishing Palestinian homes and being used by mining developments which also throw campesinos off their land here in Colombia. As with Israel in the Middle East, Colombia is the USA’s foothold in Latin America, where they have seven military bases, ruled illegal by Colombia’s Constitutional Court, yet nonetheless operational.
As the UN vote brings Israel/Palestine back to my attention, and being in here and talking to victims of the conflict keep Colombia on my mind, I can’t help but ponder my country’s influence in these contexts. In a very real way US foreign policy, both political and economic, is having devastating effects in both of these countries; to such a degree that when I read Isaiah, especially passages such as Isaiah 30, I shudder to think of my nation. “…who carry out plans that are not mine…heaping sin upon sin…who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection [or the Pentagon’s]…They say[…] to the prophets ‘ Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions [thank you, Hollywood]” It’s eerie.
It’s eerie that Netanyahu’s speech at the UN can so clearly be manipulative, deceitful, politically-brilliant bullshit and yet high-ranking world leaders clap. Obama undermines his own Cairo speech, Colombians drink as much Coca Cola as everyone else, especially in church (ditto Palestinians) and people who find any of this odd, let alone deeply unjust and crazy are considered far leftists, radicals, or idealists.
As far as the UN vote goes, people feel differently about Abbas’ latest move. Personally, I’m extremely nervous and excited to see how it plays out—I really think that what will define this as a moment that brought Palestine closer to liberation or farther away is going to be the reaction of various actors such as the Palestinian and Israeli peace movement, the international BDS and Human Rights movement, and the mainstream media. Obama could also be a game-changer, but I doubt he will be. Whichever way it goes, it’s an absolutely justified and long-delayed request which, by any (good) measure of justice, should be granted.
On a broader scale, though, I think this week’s news (not just Palestine’s bid, but NYC’s financial district protests as well) is a good reminder that movement is happening. Where do we stand in it? I don’t want my legacy to be that I voted for Obama, expected change, and was disappointed. I want to say that I lived wide awake, heard God’s word and Spirit and people crying for justice, and tried to speak and live and create and hope into a new reality based on that justice, and based on love. So far it seems like farmers markets, some boycotts, some speaking out, and some search for alliances is part of what that looks like. I’m sure I’m missing a lot, I still don’t really get it. But today I started imagining what it would feel like to walk down the streets of Ramallah in a parade celebrating Palestine’s liberation—and that kind of vision will keep me trying to figure it out.