Though some may find it easy to use terms like “apartheid,” understanding the material relationships that ground the comparison between Palestine and South Africa is a more difficult endeavor. Similarly, the ease with which activists link the struggles of indigenous peoples in the Americas to the Palestinian cause often belies the everyday details that make this relationship so powerful. With that in mind, Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California Los Angeles organized a panel on 26 February 2013 as part of their Palestine Awareness Week. The panel was co-sponsored by the Afrikan Student Union, Muslim Students Association, Queer Alliance, Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project (IYTP), United Arab Society, Near Eastern Studies Graduate Students, Pakistani Student Association, MEChA de UCLA, Bruin Feminists for Equality, and Empowered Arab Sisterhood.
The aim of the panel was to explore the commonality of these struggles and thereby gain a more meaningful understanding of solidarity between oppressed groups. Each video below is from a presentation that was given as part of the panel. UCLA Professor of English and Comparative Literature Saree Makdisi explored the meaning of the term apartheid, as it existed for South Africans and as it applies to the experiences of Palestinians both in the Occupied Territory and within Israel itself. In another presentation, UCLA Professor of World Arts and Cultures David Shorter uses the experience of checkpoints as a universal expression of power across the geographies of the Americas and Palestine. Finally, UCLA Professor of History Robin DG Kelley stresses the importance of building African American solidarity with Palestine, and unpacks some of the historic complexities of that process inside the United States.
Video 1: Saree Makdissi on Apartheid and Its Parallels
Video 2: David Shorter on "The Corporeality of Checkpoints under Settler Colonization"
The following is the text/script of Professor David Shorter`s remarks (courtesy of himself) as delivered during the event:
Thank you organizers, panelists, campus leaders, and of course the indigenous people, whose land we are now occupying.
Why did I begin to include Palestinian topics in my Indigenous Studies courses? This was the question posed to me by one of the organizers of the event, asking me to speak on this topic. This question was similar to a question I was asked by a member of this University’s administration who did not understand why I would feel the need to include criticisms of Israeli colonization and apartheid within a course I teach that is critical of colonial engagements around the globe. I had one of those moments when, because you know your interlocutor is actually quite smart, you cannot say what you are actually thinking, something along the lines of “hmmm, well, there are these things, called books.” I mean, of course, that other scholars have expertly written about Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land and their apartheid policies.
Few books, if any, capture the concomitant justifications of Israeli and US colonial power as much as Steven Salaita’s The Holy Land in Transit: Colonialism and the Quest for Canaan. Salaita expertly traces the myriad of ways that Israel and the United States rely on a shared set of narrative tropes. For example, the chosenness implied in both Zionism and manifest destiny. This trope demands not that land be repatriated, but to counter the claim of belonging in the first place. I show my students how this plays out in the majority of progressivist and civilizational representations of indigenous people, whether in Hollywood, or in the History and Anthropology departments of our Universities. Salaita refers to the “pioneering ingenuity” that makes indigenous displacements not only palatable, but a moral certitude. And Salaita reminds us that in 1783, the Great Seal of the United States gets anointed with the motto “annuit coeptis,” God has smiled at our undertakings. Andrew Jackson later asked, “what good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms?” Clearly it is best for all of us that Indians were displaced since we were determined to be here, make this nation, and use the land wisely. Salaita shows how this rhetoric worked in both the formation of the United States and in the formation of the state of Israel.
In his history of both countries, Salaita shows us that Indigenous people in both lands are called, literally, beasts, savages, lice, and barbarians. Salaita shows how Native Americans were compared to Arabs and Muslims, needing to be civilized, and then how Palestinians were compared strategically to the “Indians” of North America and how they must, in the words of Vladimir Jabotinsky, “be terminated.” In page after page, Salaita shows that the dual attacks on Palestinians and indigenous people of our continent were not similar in some sort of accident of speech writing. Indeed, he shows, these dialectics were confederated and conscientious. During the 1948 War, the daily papers in Israel spoke of the Jewish cowboys and the Arab Indians. And the popular discourse, in both cases, became institutional policy. As Salaita writes, “Those with the power to influence a nation’s policy are able to incorporate their narratives into the pageantry of the nation.”
But it was an Israeli activist and former Knesset member, Uri Avnery, who gets to the heart of the shared experience. He wrote that the reason why people identity the Zionist enterprise with the foundations of America is that “Puritans who founded American society believed in the Bible, knew Hebrew, bore Biblical names, saw themselves as the New Israel,” called their country the “New Canaan,” justified the annihilation of the Natives with the Biblical injunction against Amalek. The Zionist ‘pioneers’ resemble the white settlers in America, the bad Palestinians are a new version of the ‘Bad Injuns.’”
Let’s face it, according to such tropes; Indians are pretty bad at “land use,” right? If they knew how to best use land, then it would not have looked so empty when the smart, civilized, humans showed up. But not just a historical claim, this continues to the present. Western Apache know that you do not use Dzil Nchaa Si An, or what outsiders call Mount Graham, you relate to him. But that did not stop the US Congress from approving his clear cutting for an observatory. That’s in my lifetime. The narrative continues.
In the cities in Mexico near the Yaqui homeland where I work with the Yoeme people, the racism takes the form over disagreements as old as “Indians are lazy” to its parent claim that Indians do not know how to use the land. The Mexican government is, through its banking and agricultural arms, currently attempting to take Yaqui lands.
And this is how I have come to this talk tonight. I did not want to talk about books and theory, exactly, though I will be testing out an approach outlined by my colleague Susan Foster in her work on Kinesthetic Empathies & the Politics of Compassion. Specifically, I want to answer why I understand and teach Palestinian rights as indigenous rights. It is because of my body. It is because of what I have seen and what I have heard from people who have lived in the Occupied Territories. It is because, also, Palestinians themselves understand their plight in terms of indigenous people facing on-going colonization and ethnocide.
But let me start where I must, with my body. I would not be here if it were not for the fact that in collaborating with indigenous peoples and living in their communities, I have come to know a type of daily struggle that can only be approached through an attention to the body. In other words, I can stand in classrooms all day long and talk about how ideologies affect, invisibly and visibly, almost all percepts of the world. I can rely on the theories of Louis Althusser and Edward Said until I am blue in the face, but I internalize them when I actually grow blue in the face.
When I walk the dirt streets in the main pueblo where I worked, I walk among mud-thatched houses where the water flows from garden hoses in the mornings for about an hour. I was warned that when I shower (by using a cup dipped in a pail), that I should not let the water run into my mouth unless I want to risk getting sick. This same village was once near a river of clean flowing water all year round. But in 1937, the Mexican government damned the river and redirected it to the Mexican city of Obregon.
The homeland of the Yoeme people used to be about half of what now called the state of Sonora. The Yaquis were hunted like animals in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. They were cornered on hilltops and massacred. They were taken on long walks to the middle of Mexican villages and the women were raped in front of their children. Many traveled barefoot across the Sonoran desert to get to Arizona. When they were finally offered a chance to have a slice of their homeland, some of the returned from their hiding places. It is amazing how little of your land you will accept when the other option is the death of your children.
Fear is a powerful feeling that we think of as an internal sensation. But actual physicality causes deep fear in us. Like these monsters in Yaqui Lenten ceremonies, colonizers have finely tuned their physicality to instill fear. And fear can become so strong, that it persuades people to curve their behavior. It also prevents people from helping. You might not stop a man from hitting his child in a store if you think that he might hit you next. You tattle on your siblings to stay in good graces with your parents. These do not have to be complex matters. In some ways, these are very basic conditions of being human. But they are particular physical exercises shaped by colonialism.
When I want to drive to the pueblos in Mexico to help my collaborators and visit with my friends in the fieldsite where I work as a collaborative researcher, I have to first cross the US/Mexico border. A panopticon of cameras surrounds my car as its plates, vehicle identification number, and its driver are read by unseen beings in towers around the border.
(Dr. Shorter walks into the audience, grabs the backpack from an audience member, and begins to go through her belongings).
Just a short drive and I am at what is called Kilometer 4. Here, men with machine guns wearing camouflage and dark sunglasses stop the car and ask me to get out. They ask to see my papers and ask me to open the trunk and all the doors. They unzip the luggage and ask the basic questions of where I am going and for how long. I tell them that I have a girlfriend in Obregon (a Mexican city) and that I’m going to ask her father if I can marry her. I figure that lie will ring just the right tones: a straight American in love with a Mexican girl, respecting the authority of her father, and bringing clothes and house wares as a type of dowry. I learned my lesson during the first years. If I said I was going to go to visit Indians, the bags of clothes and food were taken from the car and I was told that I could pass without gifts for the lazy Indians.
(Dr. Shorter moves to another audience member, picks up his backpack from the ground and starts pulling items out and throwing them in a pile on the ground).
Three hours later, I have to stop at Empalme. Although I have passed through the mountain range that marks traditional Yaqui territory, the Sonoran state police have a checkpoint on the highway; and they require all drivers to stop and have their papers checked again. I have learned that it is best not to be at this checkpoint at night. They will literally go through every single nook of your car. This is also the checkpoint that has been known to entrap people, bags of drugs found in cars that were not there before they were stopped.
(Dr. Shorter goes across the room and takes another bag from a student’s lap, taking out some items, and opening a Ziploc bag inside to smell the contents).
Two hours later, I have arrived to the entrance of Potam Pueblo. The traffic is backed up for about a mile usually. Not coincidentally the turn off to the pueblo is immediately, literally feet, from another checkpoint. These guards wear all black, demarcating them as “narco federales,” or working for the federal government. And although this territory is not know for either growing drugs or trafficking drugs, it is known as Indian territory. The Zona Yaqui is the largest federally recognized indigenous land. And this checkpoint is partially funded by the United States’ “War on Drugs.” US made Helicopters and armed troop carriers move around at will. If you say that you are going to go into the pueblo, which they can see you do or not, they will stop you and search your body and car. And it is best to leave or enter this particular pueblo in the daytime as well. The wait alone will lead you to either not want to leave, or dissuade you from visiting in the first place. Is that the point? I mean, what is the point? I still have no idea.
But that is really the point of checkpoints isn’t it? Not to need a why. Just to be; Just a physical reminder of control. And when you hear the complaints from some members of UC Berkeley’s community about the injustice and feelings of being assaulted at the mock checkpoints in their Palestinian Awareness Week last year, you can’t help but think, “Yeah, that’s the point.” The point is to be held up. The point is to delay. The point is to intimidate. The point is to survey and control movement. And the result on one’s pride, on one’s humanity, well, it takes a toll.
If I pay attention to my own body as a person going through checkpoints, I see how I start to look down, not wanting to make eye contact. (Dr. Shorter moves to the side of the podium to demonstrate a transformation in his body’s posture.) How your shoulders start to cave in so you do not look too broad or proud. If you are big like me, you put a little bend in your knees so that you look easily push able, not one to stand tall or seem offensive. You have to control your emotions, not to look too frustrated or incensed. You have to done a respect when what you feel is disgust. So the checkpoints cause you to start lying to your own body: You feel mad, but show submission. Look at yourself, they have turned you into the animal they called you to justify taking your land in the first place.
There are other checkpoints too. (Dr. Shorter picks someone from the front row to demonstrate this tactic.) Like when walking down the street with my Yaqui friends in Mexican cities and to see people not move out of their way when walking. When I see men literally shove a shoulder into my Yaqui friends as they pass by. These are check points to see keep my friends “in check.”
When I rushed one of my godchildren who had fallen to the state funded clinic and was told by the Mexican doctor that, “perhaps these Indians should stop having kids if they cannot take care of them.” This checkpoint is seeing if I will say anything back and risk the care of the baby now in his control.
When the waitresses at restaurants only take the orders from me, not from my indigenous friends who I want to treat to a meal. They Mexican waitresses do not look them in the eye, not wanting to lower themselves by taking orders from an Indian. These are checkpoints. If we want to be served and not caused a scene, we will comply.
But at the end of the day, when all you wanted was a day to live your life, you cannot help feeling, in your body, the sum total of all the times you were checked at some point. This is a big one: you just feel fatigue. You just wanted to go visit your friends. You wanted to say hello for their birthday, or take them a gift. You want to just go do your work. And this fatigue is unshakable, like the heat, or the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, or the lack of clean water. And this fatigue wears on your like the knowledge that life did not use to be this way. That someone came at a historical moment and did this; that others let it happen. This fatigue changes your body, changes how you want to love or be loved. And this fatigue, well, this fatigue is colonization. And it requires that we pay attention to all the checkpoints in our life.
When the chair of the academic senate, at his own decision last year, decided to review my teaching to determine if I am an anti-Semite for teaching about the boycott movement in my class. That’s a checkpoint. It serves to establish a type of control that others can see. And how I respond in committee after committee as I seek redress, these are checkpoints; check points of people’s conscious. Check points to see if I will recant, say I’m sorry for having a political opinion. How one responds in these circumstances could affect one’s tenure and promotion and so literally are a means to keep people from passing, or afraid along the way of their academic career.
When community and campus leaders decide if they want to verbally and publically voice their support for my teaching about Israeli colonization, they too are at check points, having to weigh the judgment of their donors, their friends and family’s disapproval. When the US Senate needs to confirm that Chuck Hagel will not continue to criticize Israel, this is a checkpoint. When the DNC has to reverse its position on economically supporting Israel, this is a checkpoint.
But what is being checked? As this broader framing of checkpoints helps us see, it is not really about the clothes, the supposed drugs, or the supposed bombs. It is about control and surveillance; and it is about living in a settler colony. It is about making sure no one disrupts or pulls the mythic rug out from under our justifications for our settler privilege. And it is not just native people being checked out, it is anyone who might show signs of supporting decolonization, both generally and in its specifics. Who supports giving back land? Ask your parents. Ask your church. Ask your rabbis. Why don’t we give back what we know is stolen? See how long before you get check pointed.
And frankly, it all causes a lot of fatigue. And I have to remember that my body knows when I am afraid, and my body knows how to be brave. I have to remind myself that I am not at a checkpoint, so I can pull my shoulders back just a little, raise the crown of my head a little more. (Dr. Shorter demonstrates the change of his body’s posture.) I can fill my being. I can decolonize my body’s posture because although I am not Yaqui, I have learned to be kinesthetically empathetic with them because my body has been subjected to their realities. It is this idea of how to understand colonizing choreographies that leads me to defend myself against the internalizations of all these checkpoints in life. And it is this empathy that has led me to be committed to the cause of indigenous rights; here in the native lands I have visited on this continent. I return to these lands when I am invited. And I have attempted to be present at events like this when invited.
So when asked to come and speak about how I understand Palestinian rights to be indigenous rights, I did not want to once again refer to the International Court of Justice or the United Nations, or Desmond Tutu, or Jimmy Carter, Judith Butler, Angela Davis, or Noam Chomsky. I did not want to quote too many books or lecture you about theories of indigeneity or settler colonialism. I wanted to show up, in my body, and tell you how indigenous struggles feel, how colonization feels, as I empathize with native people being a person privileged by both race and nationality colonized by my education system, and epistemologically harassed by my incessant media. I empathize; I embody the feelings of fear, and of hope, because I do not need Frantz Fanon, or Aime Cesaire, or Linda Tuhiwai Smith to know that those holding the whip and the machine guns, those dispossessing and colonizing, they are proving themselves to be, again and again, the actual savages.
Video 3: Robin DG Kelley on African-American Solidarity
[Both the introduction to this report and the panel video were produced by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCLA. Other events held during the 2013 Palestine Awarenss Week at UCLA include "Facts on the Ground: Who`s Afraid of the Apartheid Analogy" by Nada Elia, and "Do UC What I See? University Investments in Israeli Apartheid" by Sondra Hale, Rana Sharif, and Bakr Teebi. Videos will be posted shortly at www.sjpbruins.com. To learn more about SJP at UCLA, visit www.sjpbruins.com or contact them on Twitter @sjpatucla and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sjpatucla.]