May started off so promisingly. On the 9th, it was announced that Emily Bailey, Rangi Kemara, Tame Iti and Urs Signer would not be retried on the charge of belonging to an organised criminal group. It was a victory, albeit a tiny one. Four and a half years of court battles, economic hardship and uncertainty were finally coming to an end.
Then on May 15 Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoners Support Association, announced that the hunger striking Palestinian prisoners had reached an agreement with the Israel Prison Service. Among other things, prisoners in solitary confinement would be allowed to rejoin general population, family visits from Gaza would be resumed and all administrative detainees would be released at the end of their current sentence (as opposed to having their detention extended which is what often happens).
The prisoners’ hunger strike was supposed to be ending, before anyone died. That day I was so happy I was dancing around my kitchen singing Pet Shop Boys songs.
I’d convinced myself that May was a lucky month and that only good things could happen.
On May 24 I was looking forward to celebrating the Urewera Four not being sentenced to prison time. I figured that they’d get fines or suspended sentences. I’d interpreted the stay of proceedings as a sign that the crown was tired of the whole shenanigan and would try to resolve it as quickly as possible. Boy was I counting my anarchist chickens.
Justice Rodney Hansen sentenced Rangi and Tame to two and a half years in prison. Emily and Urs will most likely be sentenced to home detention, though we won’t know until June 21. Justice Hansen was very explicit about the reason for the harsh sentence, ‘in effect a private militia was being established. That is a frightening prospect in our society; undermining of our democratic institutions and anathema to our way of life’. He even added that ‘Some of the participants held extreme anarchist views’.
In other words, Rangi and Tame weren’t sentenced for the crimes of which a jury found them guilty. They were sentenced for other, imaginary crimes, which they hypothetically may have desired to commit. They were sentenced for their political opinions, for their opposition to the New Zealand state.
The next day Addameer reported that IPS had already violated the terms of the agreement with Palestinian prisoners. At least two prisoners are still on hunger strike. Mahmoud Sarsak, a soccer player incarcerated under the ‘unlawful combatant’ law, has been hunger striking for around 90 days. It’s almost impossible to get information on his current state. Akram Rikhawi, who has been held in the Ramleh prison medical center since 2004 because of his medical condition, has been hunger striking for around 65 days.
Basically the whole world is going to shit.
Last year I hear Tariq Ali speak at Auckland University. He presented an interesting thought experiment: what if the Ottoman Empire had allied itself with the Allies instead of with the Central Powers in World War One? What if the Middle East had never been carved up between France and Britain? What would the region look like today?
At the time I thought it was an interesting question, but it wasn’t until Jarvis pointed it out that I realised: This is our darkest timeline.
In the prime timeline, the Middle East was never controlled by Western colonial powers. It was never divided into arbitrary nation-states. In that timeline the people of the Middle East live freely and move freely.
In the prime timeline the Nazis never gained power in Germany. In that timeline there was no Third Reich, no World War Two, no Final Solution. In that timeline the idea of human beings being gassed in death factories is only found in obscure dystopian science fiction films.
In the prime timeline Jewish society continued to flourish in eastern and northern Europe. There is now a rich Yiddish culture, expressed in literature, film, television, comic books and even video games.
In the prime timeline the communist movements of the 20th century didn’t degenerate into authoritarian regimes. In that timeline the communist movements of Europe formed alliances with the decolonization movements of Asia, Africa, South America and the Pacific. In that timeline those movements grew and learned and evolved. They overthrew colonial regimes. They abolished capitalist economic relationships and created new economic systems based on collective control of resources. Alongside, they created new forms of political organization based on the free association of people. There are no states or borders in that timeline.
In the prime timeline the trans, queer and feminist movements were a welcome and integral part of revolutionary movements. In that timeline gender and sexual diversity are now taken for granted.
In the prime timeline Mahmoud Sarsak is outside playing soccer right now. There is no Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike in that timeline. There are no Palestinians in Israeli prisons. There are no Israeli prisons. There is no Israel. There is a significant Jewish community living in Palestine, made up of people who migrated there from other parts of the Middle East, from Europe, and from Africa. They live peacefully with the Palestinian majority.
In the prime timeline Rangi and Tame are not in a New Zealand prison. In that timeline there is no New Zealand. In that timeline all land stolen by the crown was returned to iwi and hapū in the twentieth century. Pākehā and other tauiwi have integrated into Māori society while retaining their own languages, traditions and cultures. In that timeline aotearoa is a real democracy.
Something went wrong in the prime timeline. Maybe somebdy traveled back in time and stepped on a bug, or maybe they inadvertently conjured a demon who cursed the world into an parallel reality. Somehow we ended up in this, our darkest timeline.
In the darkest timeline colonial powers build bigger and fancier bombs. In this timeline land and natural resources are continually stolen from indigenous people. In this timeline people are forced to sell their labour to avoid starvation. In this timeline people’s sexuality and gender identity are controlled and policed. In this timeline those who fight back are locked up in prisons. In this timeline people are forced to resort to violence to protect themsleves and their communities.
But never you fear, all is not lost. By the end of the story the heroes always find a way to reverse the spell. They’ll go back in time and stop themselves going back in time and then everything will be back the way it’s supposed to be. We will return to the prime timeline.
If they don’t, if we are doomed to remain in this timeline for all eternity, then I guess we better keep organizing and fighting like hell to make this the kind of world we want to live in. Even in the darkest timeline.