#ShutdownStories: Americans Become Intimately Familiar with U.S. Government Form of Repression

As the #shutdownstories pour in, a different picture of America emerges than the one commonly seen in the TV news. This America lives paycheck to paycheck, worries about how to juggle debt and bills, and feels a deep insecurity about their well-being. Many of the #shutdownstories speak about “elitist” politicians who are out of touch with the reality of common people, of being “held hostage” to political games that they don’t even support, and of realizing that their well-being is not their government’s priority.

The tactics being used in this circumstance have been used by the American government against many common people in other countries. Whenever we hear the U.S. government “threatening to withhold aid” or threatening “to stop funding major agencies” abroad, now our antennas will be tuned into another frequency.

Just as the President and other officials make misleading statements about federal workers being “on strike,” or “supporting the shutdown,” or how they will “definitely be paid their back pay,” we can be assured that the statements they make while using these tactics on other countries’ people are likely just as misleading.

Perhaps some may feel that the government “giving money” to other countries and then withholding it is not a similar situation because they “shouldn’t give that money away” in the first place. However, a closer examination of one highly misunderstood situation will show the complexities of these related international events.

In January of 2006, the Palestinian people overwhelmingly supported Hamas candidates, who won 74 of 132 seats in parliamentary elections that were lauded by many as being fair. Former President Carter stated: “It seemed obvious to us and other observers that the election was orderly and peaceful and that there was a clear preference for Hamas candidates even in historically strong Fatah communities. Even so, we were all surprised at the enormity of the Hamas victory.” He also stated that the Palestinian people chose not to vote for Fatah “because of its political ineffectiveness and alleged corruption.”

Within Palestine at the time, many common people made clear that they were not necessarily voting for Hamas, but were voting for a major change and making Fatah unavoidably aware of their disgust. The U.S. government did not support the results of this election and were shown in the Washington Post to be interfering with the election beforehand. After the election, the U.S. and E.U. cut all funding to the Palestinian government, stating that Hamas had to make certain statements before the funding would be continued. An open letter from Hamas leader Haniyeh made their position on what peace actually means very clear, and stated:

We have been observing a unilateral truce for more than a year without reciprocity from the Israeli side. The message from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to the world powers is this: talk to us no more about recognising Israel’s “right to exist” or ending resistance until you obtain a commitment from the Israelis to withdraw from our land and recognise our rights.

Little will change for the Palestinians under Olmert’s plan. Our land will still be occupied and our people enslaved and oppressed by the occupying power. So we will remain committed to our struggle to get back our lands and our freedom. Peaceful means will do if the world is willing to engage in a constructive and fair process in which we and the Israelis are treated as equals. We are sick and tired of the west’s racist approach to the conflict, in which the Palestinians are regarded as inferior. Though we are the victims, we offer our hands in peace, but only a peace that is based on justice.

Funding was totally cut off. I had been working in Palestine during this time. A close friend, photographer and journalist Rich Wiles, sent many stories from the ground. In one dated May 5, 2006, called “Olive Oil and Zatar” he described:

There is no money or trade coming into the country. Unemployment levels were already very high, due in no small part to the ‘Apartheid Wall’ amongst other things, and of those lucky enough to have work an estimated 60-70% are employed by the Palestinian Authority in some capacity. These include teachers in state schools, doctors and nurses in state hospitals, civil servants, police and any of the security or emergency forces to name but a few. None of these people have been paid in over two months now.

Former President Carter described the aftermath of withdrawal of aid, saying:

Innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime. Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the United States government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life.

Overwhelmingly, these are school teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, farm families, shopkeepers, and their emp

loyees and families who are just hoping for a better life. Public opinion polls conducted after the January parliamentary election show that 80 percent of Palestinians still want a peace agreement with Israel.

These stories were overwhelmingly absent from the U.S. media, especially the voices of Palestinian people themselves and the reasons they actually voted for Hamas in the first place. What was present was an unending racist analysis of Palestinians as supporters of terrorism. This occurred while many Palestinians were already starting to get tired of Hamas, who had not even really taken their seats in the government. In “Olive Oil and Zatar,” Wiles describes this development with some humor:

[Hamas leader] Haniyeh made a robust and resilient speech saying that if necessary the Palestinian people would survive on just “olive oil and zatar”. I have heard several references to this speech since…

As I have mentioned before many that Palestinians have the ability to somehow make humour out of their own situation… A week or so ago a good friend of mine in Aida Camp told me a joke about a man who went to the bank to withdraw some money, but when he put his bank card into the machine and keyed in his number all that came out was olive oil and zatar. Today in Jenin I heard a similar story. This time a man went to visit his Doctor. He had Chicken Flu, blood pouring from a fresh bullet wound, a broken leg and diarrhea and what did the Doctor have to prescribe for him? You’ve guessed it, just olive oil and zatar!

On March 26, 2006, in an article called “Taking off the Wedding Rings, Giving up the Food,” Wiles wrote of witnessing a startling meeting of thousands of common Palestinians in Manger Square in Bethlehem, named for being the birthplace of Jesus:

As the proceedings drew to a close people began to form queues leading towards the stage at the front on the square. At the front of these queues were the children. One by one the children walked towards the stage and to a small table on which was placed a cardboard box. It looked almost like a small ballot box but this wasn’t for elections. In their little hands were not ballot papers but coins. Many had just a shekel, the shekel that would otherwise have bought them the much sought after chocolate. They were giving money to support their country, their own people, the money that the world refuses to give anymore. Then the mothers started to come. Again some had a shekel or two, but others were giving their gold. They were taking off their bracelets, necklaces and even wedding rings to give so that others may receive wages and so that the government may attempt to support is people, and the countries infrastructure, once more.

I’m sure that people hearing these stories of Palestine for the first time from sources outside of the mainstream media are hearing of a strikingly different Palestine. Isn’t this case in Palestine what it means to have “elitist” politicians out of touch with the reality of common people, and what it mean to be “held hostage” to political games that the people don’t even support? Isn’t it equivalent to living paycheck to paycheck, worrying about how to juggle debt and bills, and feeling a deep insecurity about one’s well-being? This is one example of the way the U.S. government has used economic sabotage against innocent people in a heedless and ignorant attempt to reach its own goals.

Of course, this example in Palestine was happening in the midst of brutal colonial occupation, funded and supported by the U.S. government, who has since propped up Fatah’s President Abbas in power 10 years past when his term expired in 2009. No other elections have ever been held. Many of the Hamas legislators were arrested and never got to serve. So, the idea the U.S. “withholding money it should never have given” in the first place has to be understood within this context of the U.S. government’s behavior in Palestine. The subsequent events in Palestine regarding Hamas, Fatah, and Israel are difficult for many who do not live there to follow. As with all such things, the voices of the common people are crucial, as we all know that the spin of those “at the top” seems to suspiciously align with their own interests.

More than any other recent President, Trump sets his sights domestically, stirring up conflict and then lying about it, making it clear to the people that something is deeply amiss. Trump does to Americans what many other American presidents did to the people of other countries – and then lied about to the American people. When the people of America now think of why “people don’t like American policies” or why they were so upset at the actions of America in the recent past, Trump makes these dynamics of American government bullying, deceit, and elitism clearer and clearer.

The people of American have long been out of touch with the true behavior of their government. Their government was lying to them about its many actions abroad because it knew they would not support its cruel and unjust actions against others. The people were busy trying to pay their bills and surviving their anxiety and depression, raising families and trying to keep them safe. But the common people now are realizing that they have a better moral sense than their political leaders. They have a deeper respect for life and truth. They have deeper kindness and consideration for people.

The question looms ever clearer on the horizon: Why are we letting incompetent people (in all their forms) lead us?