american in palestine

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

what does it mean to be a refugee

in new orleans last fall, people in the US got a taste of what millions of people around the world experience daily, mainly in areas where the US and allies are involved in resource wars: the experience of becoming a refugee.

now, in new orleans, the rich have come back, and are busy putting their houses on stilts, getting lucrative federal contracts and buying up properties once owned by black people. the black people, many of them middle-class, having owned homes for generations, and the poor people, most of them black, have felt the other side of the post-katrina government response. residents of public housing have been locked out of their homes, unable to return even as their apartments were looted - months after the hurricane - by out-of-state contractors who had free reign to roam into their homes and take whatever they wanted. residents of the ninth ward, one of several areas where water levels reached 20 feet in some places, have been kept out of their homes and neighborhoods by federal troops and police, who are working hand in hand with developers to create a 'new vision' of the ninth ward in which the historically black population is 'disappeared' and replaced by casinos and 'jazzworld'.

coming from new orleans straight to palestine, the parallels are so clear they are impossible to ignore. here, in the name of judaism, israeli settlers have moved into palestinian homes, cut down palestinian olive groves, destroyed whole villages, and taken over with their 'new vision' of who should be allowed to live on this land. so the people who have lived here for hundreds of generations, whose connection to this land and place is so palpable you can feel it in their handshakes, see it in their eyes, and sense the depth of their connection to the land by entering their homes or land......have been pushed aside, moved away, disenfranchised or killed, if they try in any way to order to make room for the new inhabitants: jewish immigrants from various places in the world.

when i used to live in new orleans, i knew the people of the ninth ward, eighth ward, seventh ward as true, solid people with unique traditions grounding them to new orleans like no other place in the US. new orleans is its own country, different from the rest of louisiana (but with plenty of cajuns), and totally different from the rest of the country. where else would you find mardi gras indians, the zulu krewe, and a completely irrationally zealous commitment to crawfish, voodoo and jazz? only new orleans. that is why the people of new orleans, in being displaced and dispersed, are never going to find a place that is 'home' like new orleans.

but now, many new orleanians are being kept out of their homes. deliberately, intentionally, being displaced to make room for a new 'corporate vision' of new orleans that does not include, but attempts to take credit for, a culture of resistance, beauty and celebration of life built of dozens of generations of black leadership, black resistance to slavery and jim crow, black music, black culture.

now, the white leadership (and some well-fed black lackeys) are trying to keep out the very people who made new orleans what it was. and worse, trying to CLAIM that culture and build a disney-ified version of it that is clean, tourist-friendly, and oh-so-very-white.

cultural cooptation is a staple of the israeli takeover of palestine as well. an ad often seen on israeli tv talks about 'falafel and humus - traditional israeli foods' ....falafel and humus are age-old staples of middle east cooking....and since most israelis moved into the middle east from eastern europe and other places in the latter half of the twentieth century, i'm not sure just how 'traditional' these foods could be....

the 'development' vs. 'preservation' models are also very much a part of the converging dichotomies of new orleans and palestine.

here's an analogy: once my parents had a problem neighbor: he moved into the middle of their historical neighborhood, built a huge modern house on a lot that was way too small to hold it, and then proceeded to call my parents' house, and the other houses in the neighborhood, 'an eyesore'. when i confronted him about it, he said, 'your parents are for preservation, i'm for progress'. well, if this guy is what 'progress' represents, i'd much rather not have it at all.

and this 'problem neighbor' is in many ways like the country of israel: the country that just sets itself down in 1948 in the middle of the arab world, and starts imposing a totally unsustainable western-style development in a very arid climate, taking up not only the land that was allotted to it by the united nations, but ever expanding outward, to pull in more and more land for its 'state'.

in israel, 'development' and 'progress' have been key concepts from the outset. draining the wetlands in the north, near lebanon, to put in massive agriculture and tree farms, have later proven to be massive the sea of galilee gets lower and lower, and the water consumption of the average israeli gets higher and higher -- well, it's an unsustainable model of 'development', to say the very least. not to mention that all the israeli tree farms, which jewish kids in america went door to door to raise money for, are completely out of place in the desert ecosystem, and have been burning up like tinderboxes in a series of brush fires this spring. now that northern israel is being hit by rockets from lebanon, lots more of these douglas fir plantations are going up in smoke.

while in the bayous of southern louisiana, 'wetlands restoration' is something only a few lonely voices are advocating for, when every bit of evidence points to the destruction of the wetlands by unsustainable development along the mississippi river corridor as the cause for the massive destruction of hurricane katrina: with the 'buffer zone' wiped out, and the water level steadily rising, along with utter neglect from the federal government when it came to maintaining the dykes that prevent new orleans from flooding with every storm that hits, the hurricane was able to rush in with no wetlands to slow its progress......and of course the dykes didn't hold, and of course new orleans flooded.....anyone could have seen it coming, and many people did, and voiced warnings......but the federal government proved, for the umpteenth time, that it truly DOES NOT CARE about the suffering and deaths of poor people, particularly poor people who are black.

and now, condoleeza rice has the AUDACITY to come here to the middle east and voice absolutely no concern about the deaths of over 500 civilians, the massive destruction of the entire infrastructure of southern lebanon, the carpet bombing of towns, villages and refugee camps by a massively well-armed israeli military....instead calling the bombings the 'birthing pangs of a new middle east'! how dare she come here and say that to people who are wading through the rubble of what used to be their homes, searching for the bodies of their mothers or babies or sisters or brothers, fleeing from the bombing only to be hit in their cars as they flee.....

"Everyone who is still in south Lebanon is linked to Hizbullah, and is thus a target", said Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon today, despite overwhelming evidence from human rights groups and the United Nations that at least 80,000 civilians remain trapped in their homes, unable to evacuate from southern Lebanon.

as i look at the pictures from lebanon, and from gaza as well.....the cars smashed under rubble, the homes collapsed, the stunned looks on the faces of people emerging from the scenes of utter destruction.....i can't help but think about new orleans....the massive, heartbreaking amount of destruction, the absolute pain in the peoples' eyes as they see what used to be their homes.....

please, look at these pictures, if you can bear it:

as i read more of the neo-conservatives' literature, i realize that when condoleeza rice says these are the 'birth pangs of a new middle east', she is actually serious - she, and those around her, who view human beings and whole populations as mere pieces on a chessboard of world power, are trying to implement a 'plan' for the middle east in which the united states attempts to build free-market capitalist economies on the ruins of what used to be islamic states. so when chaos becomes the norm, as it has in afghanistan and iraq (the first two targets of this neo-conservative 'plan'....but not the last), this means the plan is succeeding....that these countries' economies will collapse and then be subject to the implementation of free-market capitalism by the USA. so Bush, Cheney, their friends and colleagues will profit, and pretend that they have brought 'democracy' to the middle east.....patting themselves on the back while burnt children look for the ashes of their mothers in the rubble of what's left of the middle east.

see: (written in 2003)
and:,schanberg,47436,1.html (also from 2003)

i will write more on this later. there is, as always, much to say, but the israeli training camp just over the hill, with the constant 'bang-bang-bang' of their tests of latest weaponry, make it exceedingly hard to concentrate....especially knowing that the soldiers and reservists training there will tomorrow, or the next day, head off to lebanon to use this latest weaponry against civilian populations there. sigh.

but not all is lost! though things are looking and feeling quite grim right now in the middle east, i am reminded by friends that there is another campaign being waged, in another part of the world, where, despite brutal governmental repression, the popular movement of the zapatistas is steadily gaining ground in bringing about their vision of a better world in mexico and beyond.
(i know, i know, this entry is from february...but 'the other campaign' continues.....despite the crackdowns in atenco and the massively corrupt elections in mexico last lucha continua)


  • Pretty gloomy state of affairs. But we get so desensitized to it all that we just stop caring, except for the few who dare to ask the uncomfortable questions. All the ideals about freedom and justice are only candies to sweeten the bitter after taste of shameless pursuit of personal gain. The world goes back to its business every day my friend.

    By Blogger Dr. Harangue, at 9:46 PM  

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