Saturday, December 27, 2008

Post Scriptum: La Lucha Continua

Viva, viva Palestina y La Lucha Clandestina!
Viva, viva Palestina y La Lucha Popular!

Those who know me, know I love to chant. I am passionate about social justice and put my voice and body on the line whenever I can. Es por eso que yo canto... They also know, that after years of leading chants in the streets of NYC, these days I lose my voice pretty easily. It's easy to get raspy when there is so much to cry, scream, teach, and protest about.

This morning I woke up and read the news. Israel massacres over 200 Palestinians in Gaza, and I am disgusted. I remember the night I spent 2.5 years ago in Susiya in the Southern Hebron hills hoping my presence as an "International" would curb Israeli settler violence on a community of shepherds living in tents near an Israeli Settlement...

The shepherds invited me to join them for the evening prayers and I warmly declined as I am not Muslim and did not know the prayers. But as they prayed, I watched F-16 War Planes flying above our heads; they eventually shot rockets into the Gaza strip later that evening and killed 5 Palestinians. I watched in horror, impotent, unable to do anything except watch, but that incident pales in comparison to Israel's latest atrocity.

Over 200 Palestinians killed and over 700 injured in the Gaza strip - an area that has been called a "concentration camp" by many who are becoming aware of the inhumanity and injustice Israel is imposing on the residents of this tiny sliver of the Earth!

I am also reminded of the carnage I watched on television in Yusef Abu Maria's home in Beit Ummar as Israel and Hezbollah were at war, while I was there in the summer of 2006. I remember feeling like I didn't even have the right to cry because that kind of violence wasn't my daily bread; I was just a visitor - bueno visitante, no un residente. Yusef begged me to really look at the images on the screen and asked if people in the U.S. had access to these raw images of the conflict. The answer is no.

It has been a long 2.5 years since I broke bread with people in Palestine and I have always meant to write a final piece, a postscript, an afterword. I've wanted to share what I have done as a result of my trip - provide an "accountability report" and also give some suggestions for folks interested in solidarity with the people of Palestine - but Apuntes Palestine was much easier to write when I felt like I was transmitting a much needed perspective (to a particular audience) from within the site of the struggle against the occupation itself. There was a sense of urgency then, there.

Life in the empire can sometimes lull the urgency away and at other times present us with other personal and political struggles - like making ends meet in the capital of capitalism or taking to the streets when the cops kill New Yorkers such as Sean Bell and Jayson Tirado.

When I returned from Palestine I went back to work as a public school teacher and shared my experience in a few lessons with young men incarcerated on Rikers Island who were studying to pass the GED exam in order to get their high school equivalency diploma. I also continued to volunteer for a short time with DRUM - an immigrant justice organization working in the South Asian community in Queens - and we gave several presentations drawing links between the building of the Annexation wall in the West Bank, Occupied Palestinian Territory and the Border Wall being constructed to split the Americas along the U.S./Mexico border. Our presentations first to members, then to larger audiences in NYC and at the Border Social Forum in Ciudad Juarez added to mounting campaigns of solidarity with the Palestinian people and against the Israeli occupation.

Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, also asked me to give a presentation alongside Palestinian artist, intellectual, and activist Samia Halaby who had returned from a visit to Southern Lebanon to learn about Hezbollah's rebuilding efforts after the July 2006 War and I was honored to oblige. However, the presentation I gave which meant the most to me, personally, was the one I gave at the University of Puerto Rico - Rio Piedras during the First Puerto Rico Social Forum. A large number of Boricuas came to learn about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and drew some connections to the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico; there were also a few Palestinians who have made Puerto Rico their home in the audience who expressed warmth and gratitude for this effort to raise critical consciousness around the struggle of the Palestinian people in different communities. Eventually another Puerto Rican, Tito Kayak, made his indelible contribution to building solidarity between Boricuas and Palestina - he climbed an Israeli surveillance tower and planted a Palestinian flag.

Although I am a little skeptical of all of these "world social forums," and have not seen how they contribute concretely to building grassroots opposition to imperialism (or numerous other isms), I was glad to have participated with DRUM at the smaller Border one and having been involved in Puerto Rico's first. Unfortunately, I did all of that within a few months after returning from Palestine and then became removed from the work for a bit.

Israeli incursions into places where I had been and Settler and Occupation force attacks on families I had met increased. Eventually Musa Abu Maria - someone who became a brother to me - was arrested in his home in Beit Ummar by Shabak (Shin Bet), the Israeli intelligence agency, and put into "administrative detention" because his organizing was becoming so effective at mounting a strong, popular, non-violent resistance to the occupation in the southern region of the West Bank. Ahmad Sa'adat, General Secretary of the PFLP, is sentenced to 30 years in prison by the Israeli authorities. With news of the violence and arrests, it is difficult not to feel depressed. When the President-Elect of the empire, Barack Obama, who symbolizes in some ways for some reasons the people's hope for change, chooses a staunch Zionist Emmanuel Rahm for White House Chief of Staff, it is easy to feel powerless. However, I am reminded of Frederick Douglas' words in his West India Emancipation Speech, "This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will" (1857).

Tomorrow I will join the hundreds or hopefully thousands who will be on the streets near Rockefeller Center protesting the Massacre in Gaza, but for the long run I think there are a few of the things one can do to build solidarity for the people of Palestine and the struggle against the Israeli occupation, for the Palestinian refugee's right to return, and the liberation of Palestinian political prisoners.

On the most basic level, one should learn and teach others. Raising critical consciousness about the Israeli dehumanization of the Palestinian people is essential for Palestinian and our collective liberation. I could suggest the work of the great Edward Said but also find it important to highlight this simple to read text by the late Israeli scholar Tanya Reinhart as a good primer: Israel/Palestine. I am also always impressed by the reporting and editorials available at Electronic Intifada and I think folks should sign up for their newsletter or visit their site often. I also recommend the website of B'Tselem, The Israeli information center for human rights in the occupied territories, for solid information.

Raising critical consciousness can begin with sharing articles but I suggest moving away from forwarding relentless amounts of emails; I would recommend organizing social gatherings in people's homes to read an article, watch a film or a documentary, break bread and discuss ways to support families in Palestine. Perhaps people can pass a hat, organize fundraisers, and donate money to some of the organizations doing solid work on the ground in Palestine.

Those who want to get involved locally to build solidarity should seek out an organization that is doing work around justice for Palestinians. Here in NYC one can join groups such as Adalah-NY and Al-Awda.

If you are interested in traveling to Palestine and engaging in non-violent, direct action and civil disobedience actions in solidarity with Palestinian communities you may want to seek out the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and the Palestine Solidarity Project (PSP).

You might also want to consider joining the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions (ICAHD) in their Summer Rebuilding Camp and rebuild a home for a Palestinian family.

For those who are inclined to travel in order to learn about the occupation first-hand but are not interested or able to join in direct action, Global Exchange assists people in going on "reality tours" with the philosophy of "making people to people ties" or you might want to consider traveling with Birthright Unplugged which serves as a radical response to the Zionist Birthright Israel trips for Jewish young adults.

However, I think that our efforts should be put into building grassroots support among our communities, where we live, work, pray, and play for the people of Palestine. We need to dispel the racist stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media and build real solidarity among people engaged in the daily struggles for dignity and social justice. We need to put pressure on the media outlets to become decent and accountable in their reporting of the situation in the Middle East. We need to put pressure on elected officials and especially the incoming Obama administration to recognize the suffering, but more importantly the dignified resilience, of the Palestinian people in the face of an Israeli occupation that has displaced a people and developed an Apartheid system to repress those who remain. We should also heed the Palestinian call for building a Boycott - Divestment - Sanction (BDS) Movement and Campaign against Israel.

As for me, I'll keep teaching, writing, speaking, chanting, and sharing what I know with those who might be open to social justice. I will also carry the values I learned from Palestinians with me as I live and struggle in NYC. Family, community, and sumoud (steadfastness) stand beside social justice and solidarity for me ever since my experience in Palestine. And like I said to mis compaƱeros, the folks I broke bread with in Palestine, insha'allah I will return very soon.

Afterword: Reflections on Blogging

Apuntes Palestine is my first blog. Before it, I enjoyed writing articles and essays as a college activist and had even published a few pieces in places such as the old Blu magazine and Earth First! Journal but I had never been trained as a journalist or professional writer. While I was in Palestine the blog format facilitated publishing my notes and reflections almost instantly with friends and family back home and with the wide audience that emerged through word of mouth.

The blog format presented a set of contradictions or challenges that at times really bothered me. I wanted to transmit what I saw and experienced, which was simultaneously an entirely personal experience and a political one that pertained to an entire population of Palestinians of which I am not one. I love playing with words and am pleased with some of the poetry that permeated from my time in Palestine, however I recognize that blogging lends itself to a bit of self-indulgence and the contradiction between that and reporting on the realities of life under an occupation bothered me at times.

I must share I was particularly self-conscious of the fact that my last post before this postscript, "The Final Machsom," became the first entry one saw for over 2 years and it was entirely about my experience as an "International" making it through the gauntlet of searches and interviews the Israeli Occupation Apparatus has set up to deter solidarity with Palestinians. I think it was an important story to share but certainly not more than the many others I did or didn't get to write about which focused on Palestinians - the protagonists of this struggle.

For blogs by folks in Palestine, reporting from the ground, check out:

Palestine Blogs

The struggle to liberate Palestine will continue to be a tough but necessary one as is the struggle to decolonize Puerto Rico; I will continue contributing to both.

Viva, viva Puerto Rico y el Pueblo Palestino!
Viva Puerto Rico Libre! Free, Free Palestine!