Dear White Friends: Can You Smell the Yellow Roses of Dier al-Balah?

by Priti Gulati Cox with Stan Cox

Abubaker Abed1

One of the first things that I heard from people when I immigrated to the United States from the Global South in early 2000 was, “Oh, you speak our language so well.” To which I would reply politely that it was one of the things that the British left behind, but would think to myself that well, actually, I learnt it from the same imperialists you did.

Then 9/11 happened. That day, for many in this country, was the beginning of history, just as October 7 is treated today. It’s as if the two events happened in ahistorical vacuums.

For a native of a once-colonized India whose country’s history cannot be separated from the exploits of empire, it can seem short-sightedly luxurious for people of the Global North, especially here in the U.S., to absorb October 7 in that vacuum, severed from its historical context.

There was no one event in India’s history that defined the country’s struggle for liberation. It was the cumulative effects of colonialism, similar to what’s going on in historic Palestine today. And perhaps that’s the difference between how many colonizer-country minds tend to approach current global events versus many colonized-country minds. The former shy away from approaching the events of today in its historical context, whereas the latter can’t help but do the opposite.


1947

I would argue that 1947 was the year that changed the course of history for Palestine, India and the U.S.

First, between 1947 and 1949, as the state of Israel was being born, Zionist forces expelled close to 800,000 Indigenous Palestinians from their homes and occupied their land and their bodies. Then, for the next 75 years, the apartheid state of Israel used collective-punishment tactics in the occupied territories, which has included blockading the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea since 2007, thereby creating the conditions that led to October 7.

Second, in 1947, India won its independence from the British after enduring 267 years of colonial rule. Between 1880 and 1920, during the throes of the Raj, British colonial policies had killed, at a minimum, 100 million Indians. That was the price India had to pay to free herself from colonialism. Furthermore, the effects of the colonizer’s divide-and-rule policies pitted Hindus against Muslims and divided the country along communal lines. Today, that divide is being used by the Hindu majority to turn India, by design, into a Hindu Rashtra (a land for Hindus with Muslims and Christians as second class citizens), just as Israel is trying to do in Palestine by ethnically cleansing the indigenous peoples of historic Palestine with the fantasy goal of creating Greater Israel (a land for Zionists only.) Meanwhile, in its own settler-colony of Kashmir, the Indian state, by design, is “seeking to rewrite history, claiming that a new era of peace has begun in the region, while working to erase any vestiges or memories of resistance,” according to Middle East Eye.

Third, and also in 1947, the U.S. made the initial move that kicked off our Cold War with the Soviet Union, by backing a royalist-fascist regime that grabbed control of the Greek government after World War II. This involved a savage counterinsurgency campaign aimed at destroying the leftist worker- and peasant-led nationalist movement that had led Greece’s fight against the Nazis. The war killed 160,000 Greeks and made refugees of 800,000. In Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, Noam Chomsky noted, with some understatement, “A major motivation for this counterinsurgency campaign was concern over Middle East oil.” The bloodbath in Greece was supposed to counter an imagined Soviet threat to the Middle East. But another U.S. motivation for backing repression in the Middle East—labeled by Chomsky “the Indigenous threat” —was Arab nationalism. And so it happened that in the 1950s, Washington came to adopt the position that “a powerful Israel is a ‘strategic asset’ for the United States.” And the rest, sadly, is history.   

2016

I would also argue, that for our white friends here on this colonized Turtle Island, it all started on November 8, 2016 when half the people of the country cried like never before. If all those tears could’ve been collected in a cloud — no, not that kinda cloud, the real thing — it would’ve been a hard-rain’s-gonna-fall moment. Jokes (but not trite metaphors) aside, when Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States, Americans got a good taste of the medicine our government has been handing out around the world for more than a century. That was the day when the chickens finally came home to roost after making the global south their killing field, displacement field, and regime-change field. Their targets were now closer to home, and the Indigenous people, Black people, immigrants, Muslims, women, children in schools, LGBTQ people … all became targets in the new roosting grounds.

And freedom for MAGA America never looked sweeter. Guns, supersized pickup trucks “rollin’ coal,” a women-hating Supreme Court majority, anti-abortion amendments, vigilantism targeting minorities, gerrymandering gone wild… yeeeeeeeeehaw! Life was good again in ‘merica.

Then Biden becomes president and the half of America that cried in 2016 heaves a sigh of relief. Until October 7, that is.

Family and neighbors and community and country come first, right? Right. But what happens when that country happens to be the most powerful in the world, spending its entire time since 1947 maintaining world hegemony, with catastrophic consequences for the people of the Global South? Then our communities occupy not only the land within US borders; they occupy Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and all of the other countries that have suffered under our imperialism. Maybe most of all, Palestine.

Especially Palestine. Because when it comes to the Biden-led genocide, the lid’s off the petri dish of U.S.-style democracy, and the priorities of far too many Americans — including Democratic party operatives and other liberal apologists for genocide — have been revealed for all to see. At the same time, all can see the genocide in Gaza documented every second of the day by journalists and on social media.

The Present

Now, close to six months before Election Day, the freaked-out anti-MAGA segment of American society further removes itself from that paramount historical context when they view world-changing events like October 7 through partisan eyes. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m as anti-MAGA and freaked out as anyone else with a thinking brain and a kind heart. But I’m more freaked out about the vacuum that has sucked in the liberal imagination of today’s Bidenistan than I am about a future Trumpistan—simply because the later scenario wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the failings of the former.

Things we fear Trump might do, Biden is already doing. It is imperative upon us to pay close attention not to the man or the party, but their policies and their perennial words.

It’s perennial U.S. government policies as a whole that will finally take us down, not this or that president. If we insist on viewing what’s in front of us (this video, celebratory music and all, was uploaded by an Israeli soldier) as a monoculture landscape, i.e., a dreaded Trumpistan, then we have a lot of catching up to do. And we’re way past the time for such political luxuries, just as we’re way past the time for climate luxuries. Our liberal friends need to apply the same measure of justice and urgency to the consequences of U.S. imperial policies as they do to climate justice policies, for instance. It’s not one or the other. It’s both.

Of course you’re afraid of a Trump presidency. I am too. But for heaven’s sake, let’s confine the consequences of that defeat to U.S. borders. If we lack the imagination to look at the countries that American empire has affected over the years as part of our own community, then we have no right to speak for them and say that this or that president will make it worse for them. They know better, and so should we.

In fact, if you look around, some of the same people liberals are wanting to spare a second Trumpistan are as anti-Biden and anti-genocide as can be: Muslim women who are being harassed on the streets of this country, professors, students, Indigenous people, climate justice activists, LGBTQ people. Not only are they on the right side of history; they’re making history. Right now.

Dreams

Abubaker Abed2

It’s imperative upon us not to take this history and our obligations lightly. Listen to the message conveyed to us in America by Gaza resident Abubaker Abed on April 27 in an interview with The Electronic Intifada: “This is our yellow rose. It is in fact the best thing we have at the moment. Because, we see hope through it. Despite the destruction, despite the truly unbearable circumstance we are living under at the moment, we still seek out hope [and] we see hope in you… I, Abubaker, am sending a message of love, a message of hope to everyone of you from Central Gaza, in Dier al-Balah.”

We can start by using our imagination to smell Abubaker Abed’s yellow roses that he grows so lovingly, more than 5500 miles away from us in Dier al-Balah, where exactly three months to the day before Abubaker’s interview, on January 27, 18-month-old Hoor Nusseir lost her parents, her brothers and her tiny hands in an Israeli bombing. If our tax dollars and government support continue being used to maim her and thousands other children, kill freed detainees like Farouk Al Khatib who died due to medical negligence during his detention, deliberately target schools and health centers, detain and torture children, starve Palestinians, dehumanize and humiliate them, and flatten their land till kingdom come, then we are responsible for the actions of our governments past, present and future. In Abubaker’s words, “The core difference between us and the world is that Palestinians are dreaming to live, while all the world are living to dream.”

Taking Abubaker’s words to heart, we all can immediately smell his yellow roses. At least that’s my hope.

Priti Gulati Cox, (@PritiGCox) is an artist and writer. Her work has appeared in CountercurrentsCounterPunchSalonTruthoutCommon Dreams, the NationAlterNet, and more. To see her art please visit occupiedplanet.com.

Stan Cox is the author of The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next PandemicThe Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can, and the current In Real Time climate series at City Lights Books. Find him on Twitter at @CoxStan.

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