Thursday, May 03, 2007

‘This Wall Must Fall’ - Palestinian Delegation at the US-Mexico Border Calls for Demilitarization

‘This Wall Must Fall’
Palestinian Delegation At the U.S. Mexico Border Joins in Call for Demilitarization of Communities

By Alexis Mazón

Palestinian community leaders of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli Apartheid Wall visited the U.S.-Mexico border March 2-3, 2007 as part of a “Wall-to-Wall Solidarity” delegation organized by NNIRR and the Coalición de Derechos Humanos (DH) with Middle East Justice Now in Tucson. Delegation members from Palestine, Mohammed Khatib and Feriyal Abu Haikal, both live in Occupied West Bank communities that are daily threatened with violent attacks by the Israeli military and the massive expansion of Israel’s 25-foot-tall Apartheid Wall, which cuts through their villages and prevents tens of thousands of Palestinians from reaching their places of work, school, health services, land for farming and family members.

On the first day of their visit, DH organizers took the delegation to Naco and Douglas, Arizona to see the 15-foot border walls, immigrant prisons and extensive presence of U.S. Border Patrol and National Guard troops which are intensifying the human rights crisis in border communities. When the van made its first stop in Naco, Abu Haikal jumped out first and ran to the wall to write, “This Wall Must Fall, here and in Palestine too,” and signed her name in Arabic.

Feriyal Abu Haikal is an educator and 60-year old mother of 11 children who recently retired after 11 years as the headmistress of the Qurtuba School, which serves 100 Palestinian children in grades 1-10. The school has served as a model of non-violent resistance by continuing to function despite almost constant Israeli attacks on students and staff.

Mohammed Khatib is a leading member of Bil’in’s Popular Committee Against the Wall and has been a principle organizer of Bil’in’s two-year-long creative, non-violent struggle to prevent the construction of the Apartheid Wall on Bil’in’s land and to block the expansion of neighboring illegal Israeli settlements.

Different Borders, Same Walls

The following day, a gathering of over 90 people gathered in Tucson to hear Khatib and Abu Haikal dialogue with DH members about the numerous connections between their respective struggles against the proliferation of walls, soldiers, policing, checkpoints, surveillance, prisons and vigilantism.

Khatib showed slides of Israel’s 600-km-long Apartheid Wall, who began building it in 2002. He pointed out that portions of the wall are electrified and inflict mortal injury upon contact. Every one kilometer of the concrete Wall costs an estimated $5 million to build, for a total of $3 billion. Cost estimates for the expansion of the Wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as stipulated by the “Secure Fence Act” passed by the U.S. Congress in 2006, range between $2 billion and $10 billion. Some of the same private military contractors are involved in the construction of both walls and the militarization of the Middle East region, including Boeing and Elbit Systems, Ltd, an Israeli private security corporation.

The panelists pointed out further parallels. Khatib discussed how the Israeli Army often falsely claims that unarmed Palestinians “threw rocks” before shooting and killing them. The U.S. Border Patrol makes similar claims when carrying out unjustified killings of migrants. While Palestinians face attacks by Israeli settlers, who are protected by the Israeli military, immigrants in the U.S. face attacks by armed white supremacists, who are protected by law enforcement.

“We are both living in communities that are literally under occupation. The growing number of military and border police has brought us nothing but dehumanization and grief,” said Isabel García of DH. “Whether we are Mexican or Palestinian, we see that we share the same vision for a different kind of border.”

Khatib then showed video footage of Israeli soldiers dressed as Palestinians militants infiltrating demonstrations to provoke violence and thereby justify Israeli military aggression. This especially resonated with the Tucson audience because of the routine presence of undercover police officers at immigrant rights and anti-war protests here and attempts by Tucson police last year to provoke violence at the largest march in Tucson’s history.

Breaking the Silence

Panelist Mohyeddin Abdulaziz, a Palestinian American, co-founder of Middle East Justice Now and president of the Tucson chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the audience that he was floored by his trip to Douglas. “Even though I have lived in Tucson for 25 years, I did not realize the extent to which the walls and policing apparatus had exploded. These grotesque border barriers here and in Palestine may look somewhat different, but the powers erecting them are practically the same.” Participants also concluded that both communities are essentially resisting the same government. Every year, the U.S. sends tens of billions of dollars to the Israeli military and billions to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We are, Israelis and Palestinians, all victims of the Occupation.” Abu Haikal added. García responded that the same holds true in this country where border militarization has made immigrants and citizens victims of human rights violations, both in border communities and in the interior U.S.

The Palestinian delegation to the U.S.-Mexico Border is part of the NNIRR’s “National Community Dialogue on Immigration Control and Border Militarization,” a national campaign with DH to break the national and international silence on militarization and impunity. The National Community Dialogue aims to develop and promote shared solutions to end the escalating humanitarian crisis on the U.S. Mexico border that has claimed more than 5,000 lives since 1994 when the current border control strategy was implemented, inflicting widespread human rights violations on border communities.

Alexis Mazón is a member of the Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.

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