I’ve been out of Aotearoa for a month now, and pretty much disconnected from the world. The other night I finally had a chance to read my emails. There was a cryptic one from my mum: ‘Just heard the news about dropping the 15 October charges! Tzedek Tzedek tirdof!’
I assumed my mother had somwhow got her wires crossed, or else I’d misunderstood her. No way that the charges against the Operation Eight defendants have really been dropped. That kind of justice just doesn’t happen in real life. I checked Indymedia. I checked Stuff. I checked October 15 Solidarity’s facebook page.
It’s true. Thirteen of the seventeen people who were facing charges relating to Operation Eight, the New Zealand police’s big scary ‘terrorism’ investigation, have had the charges against them dropped.
I have this ridiculously detailed memory of the day it all started. Monday the 15th of October 2007 was my first proper weekday of being unemployed and I was celebrating by keeping my phone turned off. I slept in til 11. I was standing in the kitchen cooking myself scrambled tofu for breakfast when the phone rang. It was my flatmate. He’d phoned to tell me that 128, Wellington’s radical social centre, had been raided by the cops and that its inhabitants were being held.
I ran to the Freedom Shop, the anarchist bookshop, which was already full of people compulsively checking the internet for updates and trying to work out what the fuck was going on. The capitalist media was reporting that the police had uncovered a terrorist plot. As well as 128, they’d raided and arrested four people in Wellington and more across the North Island. Back then the whole thing seemed so surreal. At some point I decided to go the police station to wait for the arrestees to be released. I walked up Cuba St, it was an incredibly sunny day, and I thought it was bizarre that everyone was walking around like it was a totally ordinary day.
For the next few weeks, 16 people were held on remand, and told that they were gonna be charged under the terrorism suppression act, that they would never get bail, that they would be in prison for the next fifteen years or longer. I’ve never felt as scared or powerless as I did during that time. My life at that point revolved around supporting my friends and comrades: raising money, organising political support,visiting prison. The same goes for so many other people: all of the arestees had whanau, friends and political supporters who’d put their life on hold after October 15.
November 8 was a very happy day for a lot of people. It was the day the attorney general announced the state wouldn’t charge them under the terrorism suppression act. It was the day everyone got out on bail.
Since then I’ve fantasised so much about the charges being dropped. I never thought it would actually happen. I don’t expect anything resembling logic or ethics from the courts. I thought the defendants were wasting their time.
That the charges were dropped for 13 of the defendants is a really huge victory. But I have to keep reminding myself not to mistake it for justice. During the last 47 months the state has done its damned best to punish the defendants before the case even went to trial. Val wrote about about how the justice process is punishment in itself in imminent rebellion 10. Maia has also written about the cost of the arrests and court case.
One of the defendants didn’t live to see the charges against him dropped. Tuhoe Lambert died earlier this year. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating that he spent the last years of his life worrying about going to prison. I can’t even imagine the impact that must have had on his health.
Four of the defendants are still facing charges. Emily Baily, Rangi Kemara, Tāme Iti and Urs Signer are accused of belonging to an organised criminal group. I have no doubt that they will be acquitted, unless their charges are also dropped before it goes to trial. But like I said, the process is punishment in itself. Laying ridiculous charges and dropping them at the last minute before they go to trial is a common tactic the police use to punish and harass political activists.
Regardless of what happens, when all of the defendants in the operation eight case are no longer facing charges, this still won’t be over.
We can’t forget what this whole case is about, which is that New Zealand is a colonial state. Operation eight is an attack on Tūhoe, and by extension an attack on all tangata whenua. It’s about tino rangatiratanga, it’s about sovereignty.
When my family first immigrated from Palestine/Israel to Aotearoa/New Zealand, my parents thought they were immigrating from a colonial state founded on racism, to a state founded on mutual agreement and cooperation between the indigenous population and migrants. The more I learn about New Zealand history, the more I think it’s not different from Israel at all. Everything the Israeli state is inflcting on Palestinians today, the New Zealand state did to Māori 200-100 years ago. The technology for colonisation has developed since then. The crown didn’t have helicopter gunships and caterpillar bulldozers in the 19th century. But the impact was similar.
The colonisation of Aotearoa is not just historical, it’s ongoing. Operation Eight exemplifies that. If we’re serious about pursuing justice then we need to fight colonialism everywhere. We need to fight racism and imperialism everywhere. In far away places, and also on the land we stand on.