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Resisting Collective Punishment

Is Gaza Our Mirror?

by MALINI JOHAR SCHUELLER

Listening to the stinging condemnation of Israel by both conservatives and Labor on the floor of the British parliament on July 14, viewers in the US might well have felt they were in a different planet. Israel was excoriated for its bombing of disabled shelters, for targeting water supplies, for damaging UN shelters, and the current invasion was characterized by as one of “illegal settlements and stolen land.” It would be unimaginable for such a conversation to be carried out in the House or Senate in the US today.  I am compelled to think this is so not simply because politicians fear political suicide in taking up the cause of Israel but also because in some uncanny way the violent and inhuman destruction of Palestinian life mirrors in exaggerated fashion the inequities of our own society.

If Gaza with its 1.82 million inhabitants is the largest open air prison in the world, the US with its 2.6 million incarcerated, with an additional 4.8 million on parole or probation has by far the largest prison population in the world—far exceeding that of the arch villain of capitalist totalitarianism, China.  With almost 3% of our own population in prison or parole/probation—disproportionately populated by people of color—and a society with infamous “stand your ground” laws that make it possible to legally kill anyone one fears, it is little wonder that most of our population, politicians
included, see Israel justified in its inhuman violence against a people who are simply demanding their rights.  Moreover our own apparatuses of security are in active alliance with those of Israel. Witness a subsidiary of the Israeli company Elbit Systems, the largest supplier of military surveillance technology and drones to the Israeli military, winning a $145 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security to install surveillance systems along the U.S.-Mexico border.

At a rally for Gaza in Gainesville, Florida last week, a student eloquently pointed out that what was missing in the statements of support for Gaza in the last two weeks was a recognition of the importance of Palestinian resistance. In the face of a brutal military offensive, carried out under the pretext of security, Palestinians continue to resist Israel’s draconian attempts to slowly exterminate the population by blockading Gaza and imprisoning hundreds—hence the refusal of the so-called “truce” proffered by Egypt.  They continue to press for their rights of movement, to fight against the expropriation of their lands, and to protest the wanton killings of their youth and the destruction of their homes.  They continue to remind the Israeli government of the inconvenient fact that Israel is a settler colonial State founded upon the expulsion of half of the native population and forced upon a people who have legitimate demands for liberation.  In continuing to demand their rights, Palestinians not only draw attention to their case but stand as exemplars of courage for all of us.  They teach us that injustices against people of color in our own carceral State must be resisted, as must the lack of refuge for minors seeking to cross the border and join their parents.

Over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations have called for the world community to support BDS (boycotts, divestments, and sanctions) as a means of putting pressure on the Israeli government.  As the collective punishment in Gaza continues unabated we need to work through our own organizations to support BDS. It worked in South Africa; it can work for Gaza.

Malini Johar Schueller is Professor of English at the University of Florida. She is the author most recently of Locating Race: Global Sites of Post-Colonial Citizenship and co-editor of Dangerous Professors: Academic Freedom and the National Security Campus.