20 October 2014

Ain't No Love in the Heart

Alright, so admittedly, at this point, Israeli Apartheid Week may be over, but you know what is not over? The occupation of Palestine. I will not front, when I came back to Columbus, I was hella on a despondency tip 'bout the radical consciousness of the equilibrium of settler colonial America, but as home to the one of the nation's largest universities, it really should be no surprise that the Palestinian justice movement is modestly on and poppin'. This shit give me hope y'all because Columbus is the social justice equivalent of Liza Minelli's New York, New York. If you can organize here, you can organize anywhere. If the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement can make traction here, it can make it anywhere.

At this point, if y'all been payin' attention, it should be redundant as to why the Palestinian justice movement deserves attention. Instead, I shall examine what it means to embrace this movement at the emotional and political center of the seat of imperial power. Too often it is fashionable to relegate this movement to the confines of academia and cable news segments. But the Israeli occupation is not an abstract phenomenon happening half a world away; it is aided and abetted by the state of Ohio.

Just last month, both the Ohio House and Senate passed resolutions commemorating the birthday of the State of Israel, calling it “a shining model of democratic values” that incorporates a “government by the consent of the governed” and that it also is a “world leader” in “humanitarianism.” At this point, I would say that the state legislature is just straight trolling Palestinians, except I'm not entirely convinced that many of them even know that Palestine still exists, but it goes further than hilariously tone-deaf resolutions.

In 2002, Senator George Voinovich helped found the Negev Foundation and the Ohio-Israel Agricultural Initiative. The stated goal of the foundation, which has received grants from the United States Department of Agriculture, is to promote cooperation between Ohio and Israeli agricultural professionals in order to help develop the Negev desert for agriculture. Conveniently left out in the foundation's literature is that the Negev is also home to approximately 100,000 Bedouins who face expulsion at the hands of the Israeli government, a la the Indian Removal Act, precisely to make room for Israeli development projects.

Oh, but the rabbit hole goes deeper. In 2009, the Dayton Region-Israel Trade Alliance was signed, prompting, per the Dayton Daily News, “cooperative efforts to develop new aerospace technology for military and commercial markets.” And true to form, a slideshow presented to a Montgomery County Commission meeting in 2011, the DRITA identified among technology areas within its focus: “Aerial systems & components, especially UAS.” UAS, of course, is one of the military acronyms for drones, so while Dayton was too late to the party to showcase Ohio ingenuity in Operation Cast Lead, it quite probably had a presence in Operation Pillar of Cloud, Israel's most recent 2012 operation that was designed, per Israel's Interior Minister at the time, “to send Gaza back to the middle ages.”

Less sexy, but equally vital in maintaining the occupation, areas of focus for the the DRITA include “Sensors, including image, proximity / intrusion / surveillance,” including the wonderfully named company “Persistent Surveillance systems.” Now, I don't know about you, but I believe in the greatness of Ohio manufacturing, and so I am bullish on the prospect that these companies have earned their place on the apartheid wall surrounding West Bank settlements right alongside Motorola. Indeed, you want Ohio on that wall. You need Ohio on that wall.

So what lessons can be drawn from this? Well, the first comes from our monthly theme, the intersection of trade agreements and colonialism. These trade agreements do real work to support the occupation. As pro-Zionist media outlets are proud to proclaim, Israel comprises 3 percent of the Middle East's population, but 25 percent of American exports to the region. Proponents of free trade dogma like to argue that trade prevents wars, but that really is getting it backwards. Even in today's era of globalization, geopolitics determines trade agreements, which is why you don't see any trade agreements between Ohio and the Palestinian territories.

But almost equally as important as the actual effects of these trade agreements on the ground, is their psychological effect. Perhaps one of the most surprising things, to me, is that I was able to find all of this information with about ten minutes on Google. And yet, in those searches, there were precious few news articles about them. On the real, one of the hallmarks of the Israeli occupation is its ability to hide in plain sight. It seeps into the background of our existence, but attracts relatively little attention.

And such as it is for the equilibrium of empire. Or such as it used to be. The Committee for Justice in Palestine is representative of shifting generational attitudes about America's closest ally. For the Boomer generation, mentions of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict still conjures up images of the 1972 Olympics and Sirhan Sirhan. Disaffected GenXers might toss off something about a Sbarro. Both of which leads at best to a “pox on both their houses” dismissal. But for the Millennial generation that aren't junior members of AIPAC, Israel primarily seems to be the entity that keeps trying to get us to bomb Iran.

Inasmuch as our nation's relationship with Israel is an “unshakable bond,” Inasmuch as we are ready to go to war to defend Israel at all costs, inasmuch as the Ohio state legislature passes resolutions affirming this “strategic partnership,” and inasmuch as Ohio has over $200 million in exports to the state of Israel in 2012 alone, it more than behooves the citizens of this state to critically analyze that relationship and decide if it is one they want to support.

But even this framework is problematic. For too long, Israel and the Israeli government has been at the center of the discourse. One of the reasons the BDS movement is so important is that, for once, it puts the interests of Palestine and the Palestinian people at the forefront. Rationalizations and historical quibbles abound over this issue. What is necessary to remember through all of it is the humanity of people who have been living under violent occupation for decades. And if we can remember that in the heartland, then hell, we might actually bend that arc of the universe just a little bit more toward justice.

Address all hate mail to petermgunn@gmail.com Follow on Twitter @petermgunn

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