by Mary Smith
“And then the police fired tear gas about a block and a half towards the protesters, yet they got their trajectory wrong, and the tear gas landed just about a hundred yards in front of them, and then a headwind blew the tear gas onto the tourists, sending 200 tourists scattering, who were cheering for the police just moments ago, scattering in utter panic. The tear gas blew on me, as well."1 -Dave Zirin
This was the first sentence that made my ears perk up as I cooked dinner in my apartment in Aida refugee camp (just outside Bethlehem) over Dave Zirin's World Cup section in the Democracy Now War and Peace report. “I feel you man,” I said out loud to my sautéing tomatoes.
Except my being tear gassed that morning wasn’t a direct response to protests in Brazil. It wasn’t captured in photos of fully decked out riot police, and it had most probably nothing to do with soccer (or football as the rest of the world goes). Though, in parallel, it did manage to catch up to 5 or so Bethlehem tourists taking pictures of the Separation Wall.
No, this was just another morning in a series of three or four that Israeli forces had thrown tear gas on the streets of Aida refugee camp. It wasn’t dramatic or anything. I never saw a soldier, or a gas cloud. I was walking to work, the same route I do every day. I just caught a little bit of the downwind, enough to make me cough and my sinuses sting. I rubbed my eyes, got to the checkpoint, traded my favorite taxi driver some cookies for a coffee, and headed for the bus. It wasn't the first time that week that tear gas has graced Aida's streets and overall it was probably just one more tick in a count of hundreds. It all just seemed so normal.
This incident, this personal anecdote, is but one in a series of similarities that can be drawn between the grievances of the FIFA/World Cup protesters and life here in the West Bank. The first of a collection of observations, analyses and stories that caught my ear and got me thinking. Thinking about just what kind of useful connections can be drawn in this increasingly globalized world between the yells on the streets of Sao Paolo and the clamors of occupation here in the holy land. It seems to be generally accepted by the global populace that problems are everywhere. So it can’t hurt to look at them closely and ask why.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused the local police of using excessive force against demonstrators. In a video taken by the Associated Press Sunday, a police officer can be seen firing what appears to be a live pistol round at anti-World Cup protesters near Rio de Janeiro’s Maracană soccer stadium. Police have reportedly also used tear gas, rubber bullets, noise bombs to disperse demonstrators. Protest organizers said Brazilians will continue fighting for their rights despite the dangers they face.” -Zirin
And, so the search for parallels began. Amnesty International condemnation? Check. “Trigger Happy IDF” was released only months ago, a report chronicling both larger data and individual stories of excessive force used by Israeli forces. Live fire? Confirmed in more than one of the multiple killings at the hands of IDF weaponry that have taken place in the West Bank just in the last month.
Whether under the jurisdiction of the IDF, the Palestinian Authority police, or both, everyday occupation means excessive force is no stranger to the streets of areas A, B and C of the West Bank. For decades here through the ebb and flow of intifadas and peace processes at least one thing has been constant: shows of force, whether it be with batons, bulldozers, or bullets, run rampant. Which makes it quite likely that despite the time change, tear gas, rubber bullets, and noise bombs have all been exploding in perfect geographic synchronization from Ramallah to Rio. At the very least I think know that I was lucky to be frying onions the afternoon that a stink bomb took over the Aida neighborhood.
Though not unique, the recent Israeli crackdown in the form of Operation Brother’s Keeper has left no shortage of materials from which to draw in this comparison. There is no question that the murder of the three young Israeli boys is an utterly condemnable tragedy. But the over 1000 houses that were raided, the some 320 arrests were made, and the at least 6 young Palestinian boys shot and killed as part of the operations - in addition to 16 year old Muhammad Abu Khudair burned to death in Jerusalem- constitute an utterly condemnable tragedy as well.
Collective punishment is a special brand of excessive force.
Surely no strong team in the World Cup should play down to a weaker opponent’s level. But they also shouldn’t hit from behind, or start using their hands, or bring tanks to the field. You play within the rules and you try to play with dignity. Because (apart from respect for your competitors as players) there is perhaps one of the few currently consistent, feared, and functional punitive international laws waiting for you if you don't; the red card. Plus, international shame and some ugly photos (as in the case of Uruguayan player Luis Suarez biting an opposing player). Two things that are missing at least in efficacy in these less metaphorical political examples.
We should not accept the image of a boys with stones being met with guns and bombs in Palestine, nor protestors with signs being dispersed with indiscriminate pepper spray in Sao Paolo. The famous image of the man facing the tank at Tiananmen Square is so powerful not only because it is unjust. But also because in essence, it's absurd to see such a blatant imbalance of power.
Ultimately, excessive shows of power do nothing but bring more violence to the streets. As the testimony above alludes, we also live in a world where certainly these dangers aren't enough to squelch the innate drive of people to feel as though they aren't being treated with dignity, to fight for their rights. Flashbang grenades do nothing to illuminate the roots of oppression. You can't hear the logic behind protest slogans over the noise of sound bombs. When the gas clears people will re-gather. Dispersal is not a solution but a reminder of why you were there in the first place.
"Favela do Metrô was the home of 700 families. Right now it is the home of no families. It has been—completely been knocked to the ground. All it is now is a couple of storefronts and lots of rubble, rats, waste. I mean, it’s an absolute calamity. And you see little pieces of what used to be people’s homes—broken dolls, furniture, all the rest of it. And the plan was to knock down the favela and build a parking lot. That parking lot has yet to be built. It’s just piles and piles, mountains of rubble." -Zirin
These words brought back a vivid memory of walking by a particular demolished house in Anata everyday for two weeks in the summer of 2012. It had been sitting there for years. The family gone, its rubble had still never been cleared to make room for anything. This house loomed just up the road from where a group of us were working to clear the rubble of another home, Beit Arabiya; unwrapping its 6th demolition in some 20 years cinder block by cinder block. And, in doing so, we too found item after item of destroyed livelihood. A frame, a photo, a plaque of what once was, made to be no more.
House demolitions are a common practice in the West Bank and Gaza. Between January 2000 and February 2012, 12,191 Palestinian structures have been demolished. Of these, 329 were demolished this year leaving 629 people displaced.2 Though, no Palestinian home that I know of has yet been cleared to make room for parking lots specifically but rather, as is often the case, settlements.
Demolition orders here generally range somewhere on a scale from administrative, to punitive, to security related. Often homes are casualties of zoning, as 18% percent of the West Bank is classified as firing zones and 10% as natural reserves making them off limits to building. This among other administrative techniques including near impossible permit requisition leaves many current homes with looming demolition orders and many future plans halted almost before the drawing board.3
“They were removed at gunpoint. Their things were thrown out into the street. They were just gone. The clear-out, what they call the cleansing, had begun.”
Recently, demolitions of Bedouin communities in the Negev ring particularly parallel to the demolitions of the favelas. These communities are of low socioeconomic class and often culturally side-swept as lazy, out of touch and backwards. The Prawer Plan, which made strides in the Knesset but was shelved in December, was an attempt to relocate and displace some 40,000 people in the Negev to clear out the local population for further development projects.4 Just as with 'squatter' type communities globally, displacement here too has a particularly potent emotional and historical narrative from the Nakba of the late 1940s to the unilateral settlement evacuations of Gaza in 2005. Clear-out, cleansing, are heated words in these stories, in these lives.
“Speaking to the workers themselves, is that they all lived in favelas, so they were favela favelados themselves, and they were the people who were hired to actually knock down the favelas and then clear the areas, which just—it’s a shame and a sin. And we asked them how it felt to be favelados knocking down the favelas of others, and they said—they used a word in Brazilian which does not have an English translation, but they said, "It made me feel strange in my heart to have to be in that position." - Zirin
Some 26,000 Palestinians currently receive conditional entrance permits that they must show everyday to go to work in construction in the illegal West Bank settlements. 11% of these workers are building on what was once their own families’ historical land.5 Palestinians too are the majority of the people operating the bulldozers that demolish homes.
Money is power, as they say, and in both of these cases it's the power to make someone say I'm just doing my job.
“There are also people in Brazil who have lived here for decades and have never set foot inside a favela, they look at the favelas with tremendous contempt and disrespect. And the government has attempted to use this as an opportunity to take the land. And that’s what’s so important for people to know." -Zirin
Average Israelis can’t go into the West Bank. Average Palestinians can’t come into Israel. They need permits, which take time and are not always obtainable. They are kept separate systematically, by law. Stories of the other are left to be narrated through media and anecdotes, mediums that all too often breed contempt and disrespect. For most young Palestinians I know, the only Israeli they've ever interacted with was one in uniform carrying a gun, and most likely checking their ID, stopping their car, patrolling their neighborhood, or something more invasive.
All too often this contempt has been leveraged politically and emotionally. Today, for example, with the increase of demolition orders and house raids/take overs this latest crackdown too has been an opportunity for Israel to make more land grabs. Families are grieving losses on both sides of the Green Line during the past few weeks. People are angry, they want justice, and beneath that they want peace. Instead of looking to courts and the law or community healing, rather than digging in to find and attack the causes of these acts of violence, too many are applauding punitive violence be it rockets from Gaza or beatings on the streets of Jerusalem.
And this mentality is not contained in the streets. Netanyahu has again announced the expansion of settlements. Just as he did after the Fatah-Hamas unity government announcement, and Abbas' bid at the UN, and after Palestine was admitted into UNESCO.6 The capacity to react this way derives itself from many things. But also, in some ways fundamentally, it rests upon an engrained inability to look over from atop the Separation Wall, to look beyond where the cranes continue to lay cement and see your fellow human.
So, why does this all matter? This article isn't meant to draw perfect parallels or tell full stories, by any means. It's not to say that FIFA is occupying Brazil or to equalize the narratives of one group to another. It isn't a commentary on this World Cup coverage but rather it is a supplement to it. To add depth, and perspective, and to open up a space from which to build solutions. Because truly injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Drawing attention to these parallels seems increasingly important today. All of these stories are nuanced. In their specific realities, they certainly challenge one another as mirror images. But, all of these stories share elements. Shocking elements even. To the point where a few proper nouns could be changed in many of these World Cup quotes to make them accurate to a situation thousands of miles, a language, a couple religions, and a political system away. And the same goes for many more places around the world. Like the Sukambase communities of Nepal, or the Mapuche struggle in southern Chile. And so, all are struggles, are lives, are tear gas canisters that deserve attention. That beg not to be shrugged off as normal. That should invite and inspire solidarity.
“They’re actually fighting for something bigger than their immediate interests. They’re fighting for the democracy which was so newly won.” – Zirin
As with so many other struggles around the world, both the struggles of Brazil and Israel/Palestine come down to a fight for justice and achieving something closer to democracy. A fight to demand and respect that we prioritize humanity (human rights, dignity, voice, freedoms) above questions of success or money or development or progress or nationalism. That demands a global shift of values.
But, until then, the protests chants will continue to fall into metronome with bullets around the world. And I'll keep walking back from work hearing the cheers of soccer fans all the way home each night. From the giant screen by the bus station in Jerusalem, to the play-by-play reverberating from the speakers where the games are projected onto the other side of the separation wall in Bethlehem, to the cheers and moans that lull me to sleep as they float from windows around Aida into mine. Because no matter what it's built on or what surrounds it, football, in hearts around the world including this one, remains the beautiful game.
4972mag.com "Prawer Plan"