Monday, December 29, 2008

Go Numb? Understanding Palestine, Israel, and Slingshots

It is the holiday season, and big baby Jesus is on our collective minds. What is also on our minds (and in the news) is the war currently happening in Israel and Gaza (Palestine). The peace associated with the season and the simultaneous violence happening in the birthplace of Jesus could not be more ironic.

I just downloaded a great album called "Free the P" by the LA-based hip hop group The Philistines (Palestinian and Filipino rap duo). You can download it for free here. The homey Cookie Jar, the Filipino emcee, is a down brutha who is also an extremely talented instrumentalist and singer. He volunteered for an interview a few years back (maybe I'll dig it up and post it). Cookie Jar and Ragtop connect the plight of folks in Palestine and the Philippines--which can basically be seen through the framework of European imperialism/land grab.

On the rills, the message of The Philistines could not be more appropriate right now. Their album came out in order to raise funds for a documentary on hip hop culture in Palestine. Did you know that there was hip hop in Palestine? Well, now you do. Where there is oppression, there is hip hop, I guess. Peep the trailer to "Slingshot Hip Hop" below:

Watching the news, it may be very hard to digest what is going on in Israel and Gaza, so much that we may feel numb to the story. Like you, I'm learning a lot myself. Let's try to break down the most fundamental aspects of the story by "placing into context" the violence occurring right now so that perhaps we can think more critically instead of "going numb" and detaching ourselves from this global crisis.

Context #1: Nation-building
It is important to understand that the nation of Israel is NOT an ancient country that has been existing for centuries. I mean, all nations are essentially "created" and "imagined," but what makes Israel so compelling here is that it is new, born in 1948 (here and here) after violent aggression by Israel nationalists against the existing people of Palestine (and British colonizers, which is another part of the bigger story of European imperialism). When Jewish settlers (anyone in the world claiming Jewish heritage can become a citizen of Israel) started to occupy Palestine, it resulted in at least three occurrences: 1) mass exodus of Palestinians, 2) the killing of Palestinians, 3) the segregation/apartheid of Palestinians into small portions of the newly created Israeli state.

The situation can be compared to the segregated American South after Reconstruction--the lawful separation of people, the state-sponsored terrorism (lynching) in order to keep people in their place, and programs of "attrition" inflicted on Blacks through the allocation of inferior resources.

Better yet, the genocide of Native people in the U.S. is a more cogent example: separation (Indian reservations), killing (Trail of Tears, etc.), and programs of "attrition" (reservations, alcohol, inferior schools, healthcare).

Context #2: Violence begets Violence
To be fair, it is up to you to research the issue and understand the other side of the story-- that of the Zionists. True, Jewish people have been persecuted throughout history, thus one of the main arguments for settling in Palestine is a space for Jewish freedom and fulfilling a narrative of "returning to Zion" as written in the Jewish holy book. So read up on that. But what can't be ignored is the wholesale, uneven violence against Palestinian people. Its truly David vs. Goliath--a nuclear-armed nation against slingshots and rockets (although in the hands of the elite few). Like Talib Kweli says, "Palestinians got rocks, Israelis got tanks." Israel's failed attempt to "tame" Lebanese Hezbollah in 2006 is an example of the extreme force Israel can wield. Today's war is seen as round 2. Remember, the war that Israel wages against Palestine is not only a war against Palestinian militants (who are not without blood on their hands), but also a war against women and children. This is the greatest tragedy...and Kiwi puts it best (in an early song on the "Stray Bullets" mixtape):

"I place my words on an altar and offer it to my ancestors
To all my family, every brother and sister
To every inch of the land, to every drop of the sea
To every ounce of oxygen that we breathe

Cause I feel the impact of them bombing the earth
Cause every bomb that they drop leaves a scar in the dirt
From the woman that it hit as she was walking to work
And a couple oil barrels was all it was worth..."

read more or Kiwi's ("For Palestine" post)

Context #3: Collective Punishment
I think one of the scariest part of the violence in Israel and Gaza is the "collateral damage" of war, in other words, the non-combatant residents such as the women and the children. Like any nation, Palestine is controlled politically by one elite party--Hamas. Hamas does not represent all Palestinians, but Israel's attack on Hamas has been deployed as an attack on the whole of Palestine. Jack Stephens (worth clicking to learn more) puts it best here:

"This line of attack is no different then the line of attack the apartheid South African government used against the ANC, no different than the southern states speaking of reacting against radical Blacks within the NAACP and the SCLC, and no different then dictator Marcos justifying his suspension of democracy and imposition of martial law because of the First Quarter Storm.

As mentioned above, the attack on Gaza by the Israeli army is likened to southern Whites punishing ALL southern Blacks because of the actions of the NAACP. How can an army collectively punish a people, when a small group is the one firing the rockets on Southern Israel? In this war, both sides are losing: the non-combatant residents in Gaza and in Israel. Not a safe place to be. No wonder there are so many Palestinian refugees. (But ironically, Jewish settlement still continues). To add to that, it can be argued that continued violence helps the power agenda of both leading groups in Palestine and Israel, meaning that violence might be welcomed in order to consolidate power/incite hatred on either side.

The next time you watch "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," understand that Zohan is not just some random soldier. His character comes out of a very specific moment in history: a super soldier built to fight Palestinian/Arab resistance against Zionist occupation. Zohan is the protector of an Israeli occupation. Israel, the "only Democracy in the Middle East" surely has a lot to protect...Can Democracy exist on the prerequisite of violence? Sure, ask the United States.

Read up! Understand the issues, make informed decisions, and get a sense of your position(s). Will the new U.S. administration hold the same politics as the old? Or will our policies on the Middle East remain the same? Will the policies intensify the situation?

At the risk of "going numb," we must always be aware of the world around us. Like The Philistines say in "Free the P":

"We race for truth
Now we spit it face to face
From Palestine, Syria, Philippines, to America
Culturally open minds
Keep the strength in character..."


Note: I write this not to insult yall's knowledge, but to help others become familiar with the issue. I've been having too many conversations about it with my folks, that I'm saddened that not many people are informed about it.


Morose said...

brilliant as always. i understood parts 2 and 3 but have been wanting more info on part 1.

i fear the obama administration won't change too dramatically from the bush admin on israel-palestine. there are too many interests at stake and i might be wrong but i believe biden has a strong investment in israel.

and i love the philistines. check out omar offendum too from the n.o.m.a.d.s

梅飛鴻 aka Max said...

dayum you always writing these long posts...

Check my latest posts for a piece of my two cents.

The Philistines look pretty ill - the name rings a bell iUnno why though.

I got in a fair amount of trouble with a lot of people for wearing a kuffiyah given to me by a good friend of mine from Bulacan, Phils. I hadn't really realized up until then that the Philippines had that large of a Muslim population in the South....

I grew up with the issue - however I still am always learning/re-learning bits/pieces of it all - it's so deep-rooted.

Didn't know that the Zohan movie was about that at all - that's real interesting... I missed that movie because it looked lame to me, now I'm mildly interested.

MV said...

Morose, what part of #1 could i expand on? I'm still trying to understand it myself. In fact, if you read Max's blog (click on his name), then he has this long list of what Zionism means. Interesting stuff, very informative.

I have the Philistines vs. the NOMADS CD somewhere. I like the song "Gods". GOod stuff!!

Morose said...

no what i meant was that i was needing that part 1 ish. i think you spelled out stuff well. so thanks :) i have some singles from cookie jar but i think they're old cuz they're real different from that philistines ish. did i tell you they came to claremont and i was dancing on stage w/ cookie jar. cuz you know i can't stay away from my filipinos in hip hop.

and i didn't know that stuff on zohan either. but then again i hardly watch any mainstream media.