Surveillance. It’s in the headlines and on the tips of tongues. As technology offers new possibilities for connection, it also offers new means to keep tabs on people. Surveillance has become seemingly ubiquitous, from the NSA reading emails to drones in the skies. As a nation that has for 66 years been ruling over an indigenous population by force, one of the main countries practicing surveillance is Israel. And it is the Israeli defense industry that has been reaping the profits off of the oppression and surveillance of the Palestinian people.
One of the top occupation profiteers in Israel is the defense firm Elbit Systems. The largest non-governmental defense company in the country, its revenue stood at $2.83 billion in 2010. Using knowledge and expertise gained from assisting in the occupation of Palestine, Elbit has made millions exporting surveillance and defense materiel worldwide – and increasingly so to Latin America. While Israel’s role in arming dictators and oppressive regimes in Latin America during the last century is well known, Elbit is at the forefront of a new wave of Israeli arms industry involvement in countries in the region. Elbit has a presence in at least five Latin American countries, as well as along the US-Mexico border. Far from being benign, the application of its technology should raise concern among those working for human rights in the area.
July 9 will mark ten years since the International Court of Justice declared Israel’s wall in the West Bank illegal under international law. The ICJ also ruled that the wall must be torn down, that Israel must pay reparations for the damage caused by its construction, and that the international community should work to ensure Israeli compliance.
None of the above has occurred. Instead, Israel has used the past ten years to complete 70 percent of the more than 700 kilometer long wall. More Palestinians have been boxed in, cut off from their land, work, families and friends, education, and healthcare. Israeli and multinational companies have made millions off of constructing the wall. And shirking its obligations, the international community has stood by the sidelines, letting impunity reign.
For more than a year, the indigenous Binnizá community of Álvaro Obregón, in the Isthmus of Oaxaca, have defended their lands against the imposition of a wind park by the multinational Spanish firm Mareña Renovables. As part of that struggle, “the community became aware that the parties and political leaders have only used them for political and personal ends.” In August of 2013, the community held an assembly and decided to return to the traditional indigenous usos y costumbres form of governance, where community leaders are selected via general assembly, without the participation of political parties.
With 1,236 people participating, the general assembly to select the community’s leaders was held on December 8, 2013. Yet on February 8, 2014, Saúl Vicente Vázquez, the Municipal President of Juchitán, which includes Álvaro Obregón, announced that new elections, involving political parties, would be held in Álvaro Obregón on March 2, ignoring the popular and expressed will of the people. Ironically, Vicente Vázquez until recently served as an expert on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Since mid-January, when armed self-defense groups launched an offensive against the Knights Templar cartel in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán, Mexico, much ink has been spilled evaluating the pros and cons of the self-defense movement. Critiques and speculations have been leveled from the left and right, yet what has largely been absent is an appreciation for the events in situ.
From the right (including the government and mass media), the self-defense groups have been labelled as vigilantes, taking the law into their own hands, armed by an opposing cartel, and threatening to turn into paramilitary death squads a la the AUC in Colombia. Such meritless talking points are not of concern here.
What is of concern is the predominant response from the left, where the self-defense groups have received a lukewarm reception at best. Held at arm’s length, the self-defense movement is chastened for not being like the autonomous municipality of Cherán in Michoacán or the CRAC community police in Guerrero. For not being indigenous, for not having a comprehensive platform, or for cooperating with the government. From behind computer screens, those who are dodging the bullets of the Knights Templar (and occasionally of the state) are patronizingly told what they are not and what they should be doing.
On December 1, 2012, while protests were being brutally repressed in the streets, Enrique Peña Nieto addressed Mexico for the first time as the country’s newly-anointed president. He outlined the five main goals of his administration and announced ten “presidential decisions” to achieve them. To reach his third goal of “quality education for all,” Peña Nieto stated he had decided to pursue a program of educational reform requiring the modification of the constitution and the establishment of a national evaluation system for teachers. And in doing so, Peña Nieto — the Butcher of Atenco and the signed, sealed and delivered choice of the ruling elite — made clear his intention to target education and take on Latin America’s largest union, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE).
He wasted no time in getting to work. The following day, the heads of the three main political parties signed the “Pact for Mexico,” a document committing them to Peña Nieto’s five goals. With such backing, Peña Nieto’s proposed changes to the constitution easily passed both houses of Congress and were quickly approved by a majority of state legislatures. On February 26, 2013, the constitutional reforms related to education went into effect.
It's an important reminder of all the anonymous and all the survivors we have, regardless of the place, who risked everything. No one knows the all names of the dead Panthers. No one knows all the names of Che's companions in Cuba, Congo, or Bolivia. No one knows all the names of Abu Ammar's comrades. Even the best educated don't know the names of them all. And here, in the present, they are being forgotten. Only those who lived it keep it alive. And it is a situation that brings disgrace on all of us who strive for freedom. Be it Jordan or Bolivia or the US. And by failing the memory, we fail the struggle. And by failing the past, we fail to learn from it. To romanticize it is not the answer. But to recognize and learn and fight for those who came and fought before us is an essential part of the struggle.
To forget is to lose.
To fail to adapt is to lose.
To compromise is to lose.
To disgrace our elders and our fallen through compromise or collusion, is to lose.
To honor those who falsely claim the mantel of our fallen revolutionaries, is to lose.
The future belongs to those who honor, recognize and reclaim the past; while at the same time adapting, transforming and inspiring our future. Without the past we cannot win. Without the destruction of the present we cannot win. Without the liberation of our future we cannot win. The only step is forward.
Sitting in solitary in Glenn Dyre jail after being arrested during the first raid on the Occupy Oakland camp at Oscar Grant Plaza, I had no idea what was playing out on the streets just blocks away. Not until getting out the following day did I see footage of the massive police violence that was unleashed on the evening of October 25.
As someone who has worked in solidarity with Palestinians for years, that footage reminded me of scenes that play out frequently in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Villages there whose land is being taken for the construction of Israel’s illegal separation wall hold weekly nonviolent protests against their continued dispossession. As happened on October 25 in Oakland, these peaceful rallies are met with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets from Israeli forces. Often live ammunition is deployed and since 2004, 22 Palestinians, almost half children, have been killed by Israeli forces while protesting against the usurpation of their lands and livelihoods.