Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Palestine and the struggle of Indigenous peoples around the world (or Why these memes are problematic)

Dear friends,
over the last month, hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been outraged at Israel's murderous assault on Gaza which has left 1800 people dead, 85% of whom have been civilians.  Hundreds of thousands around the world have taken to the streets and stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza. During this period, in order to get information out and to try and educate others on the Palestinian struggle, many memes, images and infographics have been produced and distributed by groups and individuals.  Most of these memes have been amazing, clever and very useful in explaining the Palestinian situation and struggle, as well as the unfolding horrors in Gaza.

Amongst the memes that have been produced have been a series of memes which have drawn inspiration from well-known four panel map of Palestine showing Palestinian land loss from 1947 until today.  These memes have sought to ask people how they would feel if a similar thing happen in the country in which they lived (see examples, below)

While clearly the intention behind these memes is well meaning, as an Aboriginal Australian woman who is actively involved in the Palestine solidarity campaign, I find this particular set of  memes very problematic.

While I understand what these memes are trying to convey - that they are trying to highlight the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their lands and get people to think about it in the context of their own lives or that they are trying to highlight government complicity in Israel's human rights abuses -
they unfortunately ignore the settler-colonial history of countries like Australia, Canada and the United States and the struggles of the Indigenous peoples in these countries for their land and other rights.

While there is unlikely any ill-intention meant by the creators of these memes, it does reveal a failure to understand that like the Palestinian people, there are other indigenous people around the world who have been dispossessed and ethnically cleansed from their homelands by setter-colonialism and that they too are continuing the struggle to win their rights.

What has been heartening, however, is that many in the Palestine solidarity movement have also identified the problem with these memes and have challenged them. Here in Australia, when myself and other Aboriginal activists pointed out the problem with these memes, the creator of one of the Australian versions of the meme, immediately recognised his mistake, offered a heartfelt apology and withdraw the meme.

Indigenous communities, whether in Australia, the US, Canada, New Zealand or  elsewhere are important allies in the struggle for a free Palestine. We need to recognise this and we need to treat their struggles with respect, rather than ignoring their history and their struggles as these have inadvertently done. 

In 2008, I interviewed Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and he made precisely this point, that Indigenous communities are important allies.  

At the time, he pointed out that BDS and the struggle for Palestine needed to be seen as not only part of the progressive social movements across the world but also a part of the struggle by indigenous people for freedom and justice saying: 

Indigenous activists should be our closest allies everywhere. As an indigenous population who suffered ethnic cleansings, we do see them as our natural allies, but also every progressive social movement should see the BDS movement as part of their agenda. We are part of the social movement across the world struggling for peace, democracy, justice, human rights and equality for all humans.

Here in Australia, over the last few weeks as we have organised rallies in support of Palestine opposing Israel's murderous assault on Gaza, it has been and is a priority for us to include Indigenous Australian speakers on our rally platforms and to make the links between the Palestinian and Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander struggle in Australia.

It has been and is a priority for us to highlight that Australia, like Israel, is a settler-colonial country which ethnically cleansed the Indigenous population. 

It has been and is a priority for us to acknowledge that our rallies take place on stolen Aboriginal land. 

It has been and is a priority for us to acknowledge and give respect to the traditional owners of the country and to acknowledge that sovereignty over the land has never been ceded by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities of Australia.

Indigenous communities around the world are natural allies of the Palestinian people and for the Palestine solidarity movement. So rather than ignoring their histories and struggles, as these memes have done, it is important that we acknowledge and respect their struggle and acknowledge their histories.

If you would like to read more about the Indigenous Australian struggle, I have written previously on this blog on the issue here (on Aboriginal resistance) and here (on how Aboriginal Australia view Australia Day).   

You can also read older articles which I wrote in 2000/2001 here (on racism in Australia) and here (on the Aboriginal struggle in Australia).

In solidarity, Kim

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