Sometimes the most seemingly innocuous “local” news reports are the ones that contain the seeds of the most profound global understanding. Such is the case with a May 8 report in the Mexican newspaper Excélsior detailing a meeting between a Mexican security official in the southern province of Chiapas (site of the famous popular rebellion led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and a representative of the Israeli military.
Ask anyone you know: when you hear the phrase “segregated buses,” what comes to mind? Most people will respond by referring to the racist laws that prevailed in the southern United States during the infamous Jim Crow era that lasted (formally) until the mid-1960s. While these laws affected many different aspects of people’s everyday lives, the racial segregation of public buses remains one of the best-known aspects of the Jim Crow era thanks to the efforts of courageous civil rights activists like Rosa Parks, who was recently honored with a statue at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC. Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Parks’ birth, the unveiling of the statue appeared to mark a recognition that the days of segregated buses are now firmly part of “history.” Or are they?
I’m fond of quoting Gil Scott-Heron’s sarcastic observation that “America leads the world in shock!” It’s a concise way of expressing how easily people in a position of privilege can bury their heads in the sand for years…decades…generations…and then suddenly realize the obvious – and then expect everyone else to congratulate them for discovering it. So it’s no surprise to find CNN expressing shock – shock! – at the content of The Gatekeepers, the Oscar-nominated documentary that features the perspectives of six former heads of the Shin Bet (Israel’s "internal security service"). In a January 28 blog post, CNN’s Samuel Burke breathlessly tells us that the film contains “stunning revelations.” Money quote:
Against the backdrop of the currently frozen peace process, all six argue – to varying degrees – that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is bad for the state of Israel.
As I continue to reflect on what can be learned from a close look at the discourse surrounding Israel’s November 2012 “Operation Pillar of Cloud” in Gaza, I want to leave the media discourse aside for a moment and report on something more local. Back in December I participated in a UVA-style “Flash Seminar” at my university’s new Global Dialogue Center (a project co-sponsored by the Weave). The topic was Gaza, and the conversation unintentionally revealed yet another way in which our ways of talking about Israel/Palestine often serve to obfuscate as much as they explain. With that in mind:
Lesson #2: The dominant discourse on Israel/Palestine produces a tendency to defer endlessly any systematic attention to Palestinians themselves, as real human beings – their rights, their experiences, and the real conditions of their lives.
In my previous post I began the process of thinking about lessons we can learn from looking at the discourse surrounding Israel’s recent “Operation Pillar of Cloud” (also known as “Pillar of Defense” - the name itself has prompted criticism) in Gaza. Today, in the first of several posts addressing specific lessons, I want to want to highlight what is always the first lesson to be learned about how Palestine is represented in mainstream discourse, a lesson that remains as relevant today as it has been for decades.
Lesson #1: The vast majority of mainstream discourse on Israel/Palestine serves to hide the ongoing structural realities of colonization, specifically the settler colonization of Palestine by the Zionist movement and the state of Israel.
One of the core arguments of my Global Palestine book is that Palestine, because of its key location as a node in a global system, has much to teach us about a wide range of global issues. To learn these lessons, however, we have to be willing to let go of many of the categories, narratives, and frameworks provided to us by dominant groups. In presenting this argument, I refer to one of the German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin’s
Mama lives in Poland, a country that for 123 years did not exist – being partitioned and occupied by Germans, Russians, and Austrians. The country that lost the most during the second world war, and became a witness – to most horrible genocide and terror of Nazi Germany and Soviets’ Russia. But for some reason when Mama watched TV, and her favorite series of daily news; and when Radio and their continuing commentaries of what is local and global out there – Mama concluded: “They make us think that this is all fault of Palestinians!”
In chess, a gambit is a risky strategy in which a player offers a short-term advantage to his opponent in exchange for some other longer-term gain.
The demonstrations which took place outside the Israeli embassy last night in Cairo go to the heart of the ‘Egyptian gambit’ which has been played out on the Middle Eastern chess board for decades: political elites allow a frustrated Egyptian population to vent their anger against a recognizable ‘enemy’, and bear ensuing political heat because it allows them to exert leverage abroad and protects their legitimacy at home.