Barriers to Justice – From Apartheid Walls to Security Fences

Barriers to Justice – From Apartheid Walls to Security Fences.

By Rahula Janowski

From Palestine to Mexico
Since 2002, Israel has been building what has become widely known as the "Apartheid Wall" in Palestine's West Bank.  While Israel claims that the wall is a security measure, it is being built deep inside the West Bank, and once completed, it will have de facto annexed almost 50% of the land of the West Bank, making it clear that the wall is being used to steal more Palestinian land.  In addition to separating Palestinians from their land, the wall also carves the West Bank up into discontinuous, isolated islands which residents are often unable to leave or travel freely between due to Israeli military control of the area.  In the process of the wall construction, thousands of olive trees have been uprooted, entire cities have been completely enclosed by the wall, and countless Palestinians have been separated from their land and deprived of a livelihood.  

Along the border between the United States and Mexico, the US has also been building a wall.  Initially built in urban and more heavily populated areas, the wall has forced migrants to attempt crossing into the US in more dangerous places, such as long stretches of desert, and this has lead to disturbing increases in the numbers of migrants who die in the attempt.  Nonetheless, rather than rethinking the strategy of using a wall to control migration, in September 2006, the US  Congress authorized and approved partial funding for the "possible" construction of 700 miles of fencing and barriers along the US/Mexico border.  
In October, 2006, it was reported that Elbit Systems, an Israeli firm which is building the `Apartheid Wall` in occupied Palestine, was been awarded a contract, along with Boeing, to build the wall on the Mexican border.  This obvious example of how these two walls, half a  world away from each other, are linked in many ways.  The Heads Up Collective decided to host an event to look at the similarities between these two walls.  The event, which took place on May 8, 2007, featured Reem Assil, a Palestinian Activist who is the Program and Training Coordinator at the Center for Third World Organizing, a racial-justice organization led by people of color whose mission is to achieve economic and social justice, speaking about the Apartheid wall  that Israel is building in Palestine, and José Palafox, who teaches in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and who spoke from his years of research on the U.S. – Mexico Border and participation in social movements against the border.  

Rahula Janowski of the Heads Up Collective also spoke, about Heads Up generally, and about how we see the connections between these two walls, and what the connections indicate for our movements.  Here is the text of Rahula's comments from the event, which was entitled,  

Barriers to Justice – From Apartheid Walls to Security Fences.

 My name is Rahula Janowski, and I came to San Francisco in the early 90's from a rural, overwhelmingly white poor and working class community in Vermont.  I spent most of the 90's involved in various anarchist and direct action efforts, notably Food Not Bombs and the Direct Action Network that coordinated the shut down of the WTO in Seattle.  The emergent analysis of the role of white supremacy in white dominated movements, along with the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, brought me to work with the Heads Up Collective, which I've been a member of for the past 5 years, and where for the past several years, one of my main roles has been to anchor Heads Up's Palestine solidarity work.  I'm also mother to a really fantastic kid who'll be starting kindergarten next year.  

Heads Up is a collective of white anti-racists doing anti-war and anti-imperialism work.  We are involved in and support struggles against international imperialism, such as the war on Iraq and the occupation of Palestine; and we  engage in and support struggles against the effects of the war here at home, by supporting and collaborating with organizations led by radical people of color, and working class people.

The Heads Up Collective formed shortly after the attacks of September 11, from a group of white folks who had been involved in anti-racist training work and wanted a space to apply those  anti-racist politics to activism and organizing.   Some of these folks were coming from years of work in the mostly white anarchist movement in the San Francisco Bay Area,.  Some of them had been members of Food Not Bombs and participated in the Mission Anti Displacement Coalition and the shut down of the WTO in Seattle.  They had come to the conclusion that building alliances between mostly white global justice and anti-war activists to grassroots economic and racial justice struggles, led by working class people and people of color could help our movements grow and be more effective.    All the founding members of Heads Up had gone through Challenging White Supremacy Workshops and some of the founding members also formed what is now the Catalyst Project.  A lot of the work that the Heads Up Collective took on was influenced by the previous political experience and analysis and the pre-existing relationships that members of the group brought with them.  From the beginning we've been an all volunteer collective, with a focus on developing collective leadership through rotating roles and responsibilities and collective development of our skills and capacity.  We have also always been a majority women and queer organization.  

A particular focus of Heads Up is the role of white people in the movement.  We believe there is a role for non -ruling class white people to play in this movement, and we believe that building a strong commitment to anti-racism and to justice among white people is crucial. According to the 2000 census, about 70% of the people in the US are white people.  That's a changing demographic, of course, and there are some issues with how the census determines whiteness, but that number highlights the need to organize more white people onto the side of racial and economic justice.   In Heads Up we have an understanding that white supremacy is at its heart a ruling class strategy of divide and rule.  Over history, white supremacy has been used to divide white workers from workers of color, white women from women of color, white queers form queers of color,  and those divisions destroyed movements.  White supremacy changes how white people understand and think about our own self interest, leading us to mistakenly think we have more to gain from aligning ourselves with the ruling class, when, in fact, non ruling class white people, such as poor and working class white people, women, queers, we are also oppressed by the dominant systems and we stand to make real gains when we build alliances across racial divides, and when we shift our allegiance from white supremacy to the struggle for collective liberation.

In addition to working to build the white anti-racist sectors of the movement, we have two areas where we focus our organizing work: Immigrant Justice and Palestine Solidarity. These are crucial and strategic areas of work that fit the mission and strategy of Heads Up really well.  However, we aren't saying that these are the two most important areas of work for everyone to be doing! – But that looking at how these two struggles intersect and reflect each other offers lessons applicable to the broader movement and to other struggles within it.

So, when Heads Up came together in the aftermath of 911, the political experiences and the relationships that people brought with them helped to shape the work Heads Up took on.  Members of Heads Up coming from a Food Not Bombs background had longstanding relationships with the Day Labor Program, and some had been active in INS Watch and CISPES; so right from the start, HUP always had a strong focus on immigrant justice, and in 2004 was a founding member of the Deporten a la Migra Coalition, along with St. Peter's Housing Committee, Day Labor Program, the Women's Collective, and others.  At the time HUP was formed, the second intifada was in full swing in Palestine, and we had members who were going on trips to Palestine with ISM, while other members were forming Jews For a Free Palestine, and members of Heads Up were involved in the founding of the now quiet Justice in Palestine Coalition.   In our  first year or two, the backlash from 911 was taking shape with things like special registration, where thousands of Arab and Muslim men were being forced to register with ICE (the new formation of the INS which placed it in the Department of Homeland Security), and many Muslim and Arab men disappeared into ICE detention, making a  really clear, unavoidable link between justice in Palestine and the broader context of US Imperialism in the middle east, to immigrant justice, which in the years before 911 had been more commonly focused on immigrants from Mexico and South and Central America.  Organizations  such as American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee- San Francisco, St. Peters Housing Committee,  Asian Law Caucus and Day Labor Program were right at the front of the protests and organizing against the special registrations and the disappearances, making these links and calling for solidarity among targeted communities.  As white anti-racists it made a lot of sense for us to emphasize the organizing these communities of color were coming together to do, and we saw the importance of supporting that and of organizing more white anti-racists to join that struggle. It is still that case that some of the most dynamic and inspiring organizing going on locally among targeted communities is coming from  the immigrant justice and Palestine solidarity movements.

Because a part of our work is to build anti-racist practice among other white people, we ask ourselves, what are movements in motion that we can organize white people into, what struggles are ways to forefront anti-racist politics? The struggle for justice in Palestine centers an anti-racist, anti imperialist perspective in the anti-war movement, and the struggle for immigrant justice in the US keeps racial justice centered in the global justice movement.
Heads Up's analysis of the struggle for justice in Palestine was heavily influenced by the radical, anti-Zionist Jews who were in the organization.  Largely because of their influence, our Palestine solidarity politics developed side by side with a commitment to Jewish liberation and an analysis of the role of the Christianity in our culture and politics, and we bring that to bear in our Palestine solidarity work.   The role of radical, anti-Zionist Jews in the U.S. especially is really important because of the way that their presence, their work and organizing, directly challenges the idea that the only way for Jews to be safe is to oppress Palestinians, and the idea that supporting Palestinian self determination is automatically anti-Jewish.  

So now I'd like to highlight a couple of the similarities between these struggles, similarities that are common not only to these struggles but to many of the struggles that exist within our broad movements.  
LAND THEFT.  The United States and Israel are both countries founded on stolen land, that have dispossessed the indigenous inhabitants of the land. Both of these massive land thefts were fueled by imperialist ideologies, and there is also a common thread of religious justification for the theft and dispossession. The foundational mythology of Israel is that it is a land that God has given to the Jews.  Not only that, but it was also asserted that this was a ‘land without a people for a people without a land’…that there are no Palestinians. The shaping of the U.S. involved the concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’…that it was the destiny of the U.S. to expand from 'sea to shining sea," and the idea that the indigenous inhabitants of the land were "uncivilized" was used to justify genocide.  Today in the USA we don't deny that Native Americans existed, but the mainstream idea is that they no longer exist, which leads to the majority of people in the U.S. being ignorant of the ongoing land struggle of Native Americans.   The U.S. not only stole land from the indigenous peoples, but also from Mexico.  California, Arizona, Texas, all of this is land stolen from Mexico, and that theft is not part of the mainstream narrative of the founding of the USA.  

One way to sum up this strategy of the ruling class is like this: It's the idea that YOUR land belongs to US, and you can leave, die, or be pushed aside, and our two steps are that we take the land and then we fence you out, and maybe let you in conditionally when we desire your labor.

WHITE SUPREMACY AS DIVIDE AND RULE STRATEGY.  Another similarity is the use of white supremacy as a divide and rule tactic.
In the U.S., white workers are told that the immigrant workers of color are stealing our jobs and driving down wages, in addition to eating up scarce social services.  When white workers ally with the white ruling class, based on white supremacy, they then become shock troops of white supremacy. The Minutemen are just an extreme example of the racist anti-immigrant hysteria, but there are many non immigrant  U.S. residents and citizens who engage in racist anti-immigrant rhetoric and activities, which provides political support for the policies.  If white workers were to ally instead with the immigrant workers, with workers of color, if all working class people regardless of race or status were to join together in making demands for living wages for all workers, they would have the power to win their demands.

White supremacy is also used to win support for the state of Israel and it's occupation of Palestine.  There's a lot of anti-Muslim, anti-Arab rhetoric out there right now and the racially based dehumanization of the people of Palestine, both in Israel and in the U.S., serves to legitimize the violence of the state of Israel.  Jewish citizens of Israel, and Jews around the world, are told that their safety depends upon stealing the land of the Palestinians and upon brutalizing the people of Palestine.  The majority currently accept that as true, and based on that are willing to allow all levels of violence.  However, if the non ruling class people of Israel were to make common cause with the people of Palestine, there is a vast potential there for liberation for both peoples, there is potential for self determination for both peoples, and there is potential for both Palestinians and for Jewish Israelis to live  in safety, which is something that everyone wants for themselves and especially for their children.

LESSONS. One concrete thing that looking at these walls shows us is that land theft and partition of peoples is a major strategy of the ruling class and that walls are a major tool for accomplishing this.  This is a physical manifestation of divide and rule for the purpose of consolidating power and the control of resources and illustrates for us how in many ways the ruling elites of the world have a unified strategy, a common approach to the rule of the world. The most successful struggles against this strategy have been rooted in real democracy, in the power of the grassroots, in self-determination, national liberation and in solidarity between movements.  

 Looking at the struggles against the "wall strategy" of the ruling class in these two places, helps to show us that we need to have both a systemic analysis of the ruling class strategy, and also have complementary strategies for resisting them.  When we have this larger view, when we know our struggles are linked, across the country and across the globe, it allows us to feel and be part of the global struggle, and to know that any victories in the people's struggles around the world are also our victories, and that winning in one space creates more political space for other struggles.   For example, to defeat the current upsurge in racist rhetoric and policy in the immigration debate in this country would weaken the racist consensus that allows the dehumanization of Palestinians and props up US support of Israel.

Our specific struggles are all going to be most effective if we can look at them in the larger context  of the bigger picture,  so that our work on each specific issue also is challenging the systems that underpin the type of brutal global exploitation and dominance that produces the need for all these struggles.  Having a global perspective, whether our place of struggle is domestic or international, helps us understand who the real enemy is, which highlights the need to build multi-racial, multi-class alliances that can directly challenge imperialism and white supremacy.  

I mentioned earlier the historical role of white supremacy for dividing movements .   Without a broad analysis of the strategies the ruling class is using against the people of the world, without seeing the common themes among our struggles and incorporating that into our work, we can win specific struggles without making real gains in the larger context. However, when we approach each struggle from a global perspective, and when we directly oppose the divide and rule strategy by building alliances across class, race, and nationality, we can begin to attack the foundations of the ruling class and build a world that prioritizes justice, solidarity, and self determination for all peoples.