Tag Archives: colonisation

Nightmares and ghosts

When I was seven, my parents took me on a day trip to Ein Hod, an artists’ village near Haifa. I thought it was the coolest place I’d ever been. We walked through galleries, studios, and workshops, and I even got to make some prints of my own.

Years later, when I was an adult, my mother told me the true story of Ein Hod. It had been a Palestinian village – Ein Houd. In 1945 the village occupied 12,605 dunams (1,260.5 hectares) of land and had a population of around 700. In May 1948 Ein Houd was invaded by the newly-established Israeli Defense Force and its inhabitants were ethnically-cleansed. In the early 1950s the village’s buildings were settled by Israeli artists who renamed it Ein Hod. Most of Ein Houd’s Palestinian residents ended up refugees in the West Bank, but a group of 35 villagers stayed in the area and re-established Ein Houd near its original site. In 2005, after 57 years of struggle, the state of Israel finally recognized the village and allowed it to join the electricity grid.

Haifa-born Palestinian novelist Salman Natour, who died this week, wrote about Ein Houd in his book The Chronicle of the Wrinkled-Face Sheikh:

The village of Ayn Houd was transformed into a Jewish artists’ colony known as Ein Hod. In the old days, there was a grand mosque whose spire rose high above the ground. In the artists’ colony the mosque had been converted into a highbrow restaurant. At the entrance stood a female host who catered to the artists’ needs, and to those of their respectable guests.

A few years ago, an old Sheikh arrived at the artists’ colony from Siris, a village located in the Jenin district. He headed to a house, inhabited by an artist who had immigrated from Europe or America. The artist’s wife opened the door and was startled at first, seeing the strange keffiyeh-wearing man staring back at her. The man was silent as a stone, as he had never seen a half-naked woman opening the door of a house. The woman recovered quickly and gently invited the man inside. She summoned her husband, the artist, who was also apprehensive when he saw the keffiyeh and the thick mustache of the visitor. But the artist also recovered quickly, particularly after he saw the smile spreading across the visitor’s face.

‘What brings you here?’ he asked.

The Arab man answered without hesitation: ‘I was born here. This is my home.’

‘This is your home?’ The artist’s voice expressed great amazement. ‘What do you mean? Tell me. What happened?’

The guest seated himself on a comfortable armchair and told his story from beginning to end. The artist served him a cup of coffee. He even offered him a glass of whisky. He sat next to him and begged to hear the details. The artist believed every word.

The Arab man went back to his village in the West Bank. The artist, however, was seized by guilt, sadness and irritability. He decided to leave the house and moved to another. But the ghosts kept pursuing him to the new home. Every day he woke up expecting another Arab man to visit the house where he had been born. The nightmares and ghosts never vanished.

Ein Hod encapsulates my relationship with the country I was born to. There are so many things I love about Israeli culture. But all of them, every last one, are built on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. And none of them, no matter how brilliant, vibrant, and amazing, can ever, ever make up for the ethnic cleansing on which this culture and society is built.

The nightmares and ghosts will never vanish. Not until Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and live freely and without fear.

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In any war between the coloniser and the colonised, support the oppressed

San Francisco buses have recently started displaying these ads:

Ad on bus reads 'In any war between the civilised man and the savage, support the civilised man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad'.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At first I thought this was (brilliant) satire. I mean, American Freedom Defense Initiative sounds like something George Orwell would make up. Alas, it is a real thing.

I can’t help thinking these ads have a lot to teach us about Western White people’s support for Israel. The alternate text for them could have been ‘Indigenous sovereignty anywhere is a threat to colonisers everywhere’.

It seems that the aim of these ads is to get White American people to identify with Jewish-Israelis by equating Palestinians with Indigenous American people. Inadvertently these ads illustrate the connection between Western settler-colonialism (for instance in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), and Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine. In all these countries, Indigenous struggles for sovereignty threaten existing power structures. In all these countries there’s an ethnically privileged group who are terrified of having to stop their exploitation of Indigenous resources, and having to give back what was stolen.

One of the most frustrating ideas I’ve encountered while working with Western pro-Palestine activists is that Israel is somehow an exceptional state, that it is different from other colonial states. Once, at a Palestine teach-in, a Pākehā man spent half an hour explaining to me why I shouldn’t compare New Zealand colonialism to Israeli colonialism. (According to him, Māori were lucky that Europeans introduced them to universal human rights values.)

The idea that Israel is somehow special is a Zionist idea. Zionists argue that the Israeli state doesn’t have to meet basic minimum human rights standards, like legal equality for all its citizens, because it is special. That’s not an idea Palestine solidarity activists should be reinforcing.

I realise I’m not making any profound statement by pointing out that Israel is a colonial state. Many people have pointed this out in the past. For many Palestine solidarity activists in Western countries (both Indigenous people and those who are part of colonising groups), this activism is part of a wider struggle against colonialism and imperialism.

But I’ve also encountered people who use an inverted form of the rhetoric employed by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (I still can’t type that with a straight face). Where Zionists initiatives try to get White Western people to identify with Jewish-Israelis, pro-Palestine activists try to get White Western people to dis-identify with Jewish-Israelis by situating Israel as inherently incompatible with the principles for which the West stands—democracy, equality and freedom. I agree that Israel is not compatible with these principles. But I don’t think Western governments are either.

I’ve often heard Americans complain that support for Israel is inconsistent with the ethics on which the USA was founded. The USA was founded on the genocide of its Indigenous people and the slavery of African people. Those aren’t just historical atrocities that are disconnected from today’s American society—the USA continues to be a racist and colonial country. Support for Israel is utterly consistent with that.

Denying the colonial nature of Western states does real harm to Indigenous people who are suffering under colonisation. It also does harm to the struggle for Palestinian liberation. This is something that Mike Krebs articulates really well in this article:

If Israel is held accountable for its crimes against Indigenous people on the world stage, Canada has a greater risk of meeting the same fate. It can’t allow these precedents to be set, and thus it benefits from ensuring that the UN and its various bodies are kept weak and unable to uphold international law.

He’s talking specifically about Canada, the country that colonised his people’s lands, but what he says is equally relevant to other settler-colonial states. I recommend reading the entire article.

The San Francisco bus ads were quickly corrected:

Modified bus ad reads 'In any war between the colonizer and the colonized, support the oppressed. Support the Palestinian right of return. Defeat racism.'

 

 

 

 

This picture sums it up pretty succinctly.

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This is our darkest timeline

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.

Meanwhile the anti-African racism in Israel has reached new heights of fascist.

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.

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Where do I stand on Palestinian land?

May 15 is Nakba Day, the anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. An ethnic cleansing that was an integral part of establishing a Zionist state on Palestinian land.

It’s easy to live your whole life on colonised land and not think of the history that lead you to be there. Part of the colonial project is creating a culture where members of the colonizing group never have to think of how they are implicated in colonisation.

This is something I wrote about the colonial history of the village I grew up in—a history I never thought about when I lived there. It’s from issue #2 of Not Afraid of Ruins zine, which you can download here.

***

When I visited Al Walaja, the locals took us to see what they reckon is the oldest olive tree in all of Palestine. Olive trees live for centuries—there are olive trees in Palestine that are estimated to be 3000 years old.

I never really thought about the trees around me before—olive, citrus, pine and palm trees. I never thought about how old they were, and who planted them where they are, and who used to stand under them the same way I do.

When I was a kid I lived in Kfar Netter, a small moshav[1] (village) near Natanya, in the Hof HaSharon region of Israel. We had a six dunam[2] property full of citrus and other fruit trees, excellent for climbing. It was an awesome place to be a kid. Right in front of our house was a ginormous olive tree, as big as the one I saw in Walaja. In summer it was the centre of my family’s social life. My parents put a table and chairs under the tree and strung a lamp from the branches, and when they had guests round for dinner we’d eat under that olive tree.

I never thought about how long that tree had been there or who had planted it, and why there was one lone olive tree growing in the middle of a citrus grove. I never thought about what had been on that land before the village. I knew about the Nakba, and that Israel was built on Palestinian land. But somehow I assumed that the places I grew up in were always the way they are, that that land had been empty until the village was settled by Zionists. I thought, like most colonisers, that it was Terra Nullius.

Well here’s a history lesson for you and me:

Kfar Netter was founded on 26 June 1939, by students from the Mikveh Yisrael agricultural school. The moshav was named after the school’s founder, a French Jew named Karl Netter. It was part of the ‘Khoma U’migdal’ (tower and stockade) movement. Khoma U’migdal was a settlement tactic used by Zionists during the ‘Arab Revolt’ of 1936–9, when Palestinians revolted against mass Zionist settlement in Palestine (remember, this is before the state of Israel was founded, when Palestine was under British Mandate). The idea was to build lots of Zionist settlements that would be able to defend themselves in rural areas—hence the tower and the stockade. That way Zionist control of land was maximised.

That’s the history I learned from the village’s official website. Then I did some research on the Palestine Remembered database, which keeps a record of each Palestinian community ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and since. Here’s what I learned:

Back when Kfar Netter was established, the land it’s on was part of the Tulkarem district of Palestine. That land belonged to the village of Ghabat Kafr Sur, 16 kilometres southwest of the district centre. It wasn’t a very big village. In 1931 the combined population of Ghabat Kafr Sur and the neighbouring villages of Bayyarat Hannun and Arab al-Balawina was 559. By 1945 the population of Ghabat Kafr Sur was 740, and that includes the Zionist settlements of Kfar Netter, Beit Yehoshua and Tel Yitz’hak. Even before the state of Israel was established, most of the village’s land was owned by Jews. After the state was established in 1948, the Palestinian inhabitants were completely ethnically cleansed. Today they and their descendents are scattered around the world. All that’s left of the village are three houses.

It’s funny how colonisation becomes so much more personal when you start thinking about the history of the places you spent your life in. Suddenly it’s far less abstract. What if I met someone whose parents or grandparents were ethnically cleansed from Ghabat Kafr Sur? What would I say to them?


[1] Well, not exactly a village. A moshav is a particular kind of Zionist agricultural settlement.

[2] 1 dunam = 1,000 square metres, or 0.1 hectares

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No justice

I felt sick, so I went home in the afternoon and had a nap. When I woke up there were seven unread messages on my phone. The jury in the Urewera Four[i] trial had reached a verdict and it would be read out any minute now.

I sat in bed with my cellphone in one hand, the other hand hitting refresh on googlenews. The verdicts dripped in slowly.

First we heard that the jury was hung on count 1: the organised criminal gang charge.

Then we heard that Urs was found guilty on five of the arms act charges, and the other three were each found guilty of six of the arms charges.

Finally we got to read the full breakdown:

COUNT 1 – Participation in an organised criminal group – JURY HUNG ON ALL DEFENDANTS

COUNT 2 – Arms Act (Nov 2006) – All not guilty

COUNT 3 – Arms Act (Jan 2007) – All guilty

COUNT 4 – Arms Act (April 2007) – All not guilty

COUNT 5 – Arms Act (June 2007) – Urs NOT guilty, others guilty

COUNT 6 – Arms Act (August 2007) – All not guilty

COUNT 7 – Arms Act (Molotov cocktails, Aug 2007) – All not guilty

COUNT 8 – Arms Act (Sept 2007) – All guilty

COUNT 9 – Arms Act (Molotov cocktails, Sept 2007) – All guilty

COUNT 10 – Arms Act  (October 2007) – All guilty

COUNT 11 – Arms Act (Urs and Emily) – Guilty

COUNT 12 – Arms Act (Taame) – Guilty

COUNT 13 – Arms Act (Rangi) – Guilty

I guess this is a half victory. They’ve been acquitted of about half the arms charges. There’s a hung jury on the gang charges. There’s something kind of abstract about a criminal conviction on its own—we won’t know how horribly this will impact the lives of the defendants until the sentencing hearing on May 24. Then we’ll know just how furious to be.

Ever since the raids on October 15 2007, it’s been hard to talk about the case. While the accused were on remand I couldn’t shake the feeling that people I cared about were being held to ransom in exchange for my silence. Speaking out in support of anarchism, of tino rangatiratanga, of revolution, seemed dangerous. Like it would make the people in prison look guilty by association.

I think it’s important not to give in to the instinct to stay silent. The crown wants to scare us all into silence. When most of the population is too scared to articulate the desire for a better society—one free from the violence of colonisation and racism—the minority who do speak up look like terrorists. When criticism of the state is common, people are used to it. The first time you hear someone talk about tino rangatiratanga, they might sound dangerous and crazy. The tenth time you hear it, you might disagree with them, but the idea doesn’t sound so shocking anymore, you’re used to it. By the hundredth time you hear someone voice support for tino rangatiratanga, they’re expressing an idea so widely held that no one would think to argue with it. After all, democracy was once a radical and controversial idea. So was gender equality. So was the abolition of slavery. Pushing the boundaries of acceptable discourse is an important part of social activism.

During the trial it was clear that the four weren’t being tried for the things they were actually charged with doing. They were being tried for supporting te mana motuhake o Tūhoe. The crown’s entire case hinged on convincing the jury (and the New Zealand public) that anyone who supports sovereignty for Tūhoe must be a danger to society. Emily, Rangi, Tāme and Urs aren’t being punished for possessing illegal weapons or for organising a criminal group. They’re being punished for having political opinions that undermine the legitimacy of the New Zealand state.

During the summing up part of the trial, the judge instructed the jury that, ‘Maybe there are two worlds as [Tāme’s lawyer] Mr Fairbrother has suggested but there is one law—the law that binds us all and under which you must reach your verdict.’

That’s true. There is only one law in New Zealand and that is the coloniser’s law. There could never be a fair trial. The New Zealand courts aren’t an objective arbiter between the prosecution and the defendants. The courts are part of the same colonial system that the defendants are fighting against, the same system they were on trial for fighting against. I’ve heard people say that the charges are bullshit, but really it’s the justice system that’s bullshit.

There’s no justice under colonialism.


[i] Some have pointed out that the name ‘Urewera Four’ is inappropriate, since it implies an ancestral connection to Te Urewera that not all the defendants have. I’ve used ‘Urewera Four’ because that’s what the capitalist media have been calling them, so it seems like the most recognisable name, but I do want to acknowlege that it’s problematic.

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Is art a universal language?

The first time I saw the Roundabout exhibition was at the City Gallery in Wellington last year. I had mixed feelings about it then. The exhibition brings together work by a range of artists from different nationalities, ethnicities and religious, ideological and political stances, with an emphasis on artists from New Zealand, Australia and Asia. The premise is to create some kind of cross-cultural dialogue:

This exhibition celebrates common threads of human experience – belief, faith, challenge and hope. City Gallery Director Paula Savage says, “This exhibition provides rich and timely considerations of the current state of our world. roundabout acknowledges that the world rotates on a common axis, and many experiences are shared irrespective of geographical separation or differing traditions and languages. The exhibition provides an important platform for conversations to arise between Western and non-Western visual cultures, contemporary and customary practices.”

Promoting tolerance and understanding through the universal language of art?
I think it’s a really appealing concept on one level, but also contains all the usual problems of liberal discourse on multiculturalism and coexistence. It’s based on an assumption that the only difference between conflicting groups (the Western and the non-Western) is, well, difference. That they are two equal groups who just need to learn how to understand each other better.

But the kind of cross-cultural dialogue that is presented here, Western vs Eastern and Indigenous dialogue, isn’t just about separate groups that need to understand each others’ culture better. It’s a cultural confict that is a result of inequality, of Western colonisation and imperialism. One group holds power over the others and controls resources the others can’t access. Fluffy rhetoric about dialogue and understanding, if it doesn’t acknowlege inequality of power, is counter productive. It renders invisible that power inequality and therefore allows it to continue.

So even though I loved many of the individual pieces in Roundabout, I found the premise behind the exhibition frustrating.

Yesterday I went to see Roundabout again, this time at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

I think the piece that moved me the most was this installation by Tony Albert: a wall covered in kitchy Australian memorabilia items featuring stereotypical colonial representations of Aboriginal people. It’s a horrific display.

There were s a lot of artworks by other New Zealand and Australian artists too, like Vernon Ah Kee, Shane Cotton, Lyonel Grant, Rangi Kipa, Kelcy Taratoa and Roi Toia. Artworks which deal with issues of colonisation, racism and cultural appropriation. Neither Albert’s installation or any of the other artworks were given any context aside from the artist’s name and nationality. The audience wasn’t even told whether the artist is indigenous or not.

It made me wonder how these artworks are interpreted by an Israeli audience that isn’t familiar with New Zealand and Australian history, culture and politics.

My cousin Phoebe said that Lyonel Grant’s carving reminded her of the wooden masks my uncle has in his house. I don’t know where those masks are from — at a guess I’d say Africa or the Pacific Islands. But I don’t know enough about traditional artworks from either of those very general areas to be able to say. I don’t know anything about the people who created those masks, or why they made them, or what kind of meaning or purpose the masks have in their culture.

Probably my uncle doesn’t know either. I think he hung those masks on the wall in the way that Western people often hang objects from non-Western cultures on the wall — because they are exotic and interesting and pretty to look at and in a way they symbolise Western domination over the rest of the world, because we can take their stuff and look at it and not have to understand it or the culture that created it. Whereas people from colonised and marginalised cultures are forced to understand the dominant culture in order to survive.

Of course, the Tel Aviv museum isn’t displaying ‘traditional artefacts’ from non-Western cultures. It’s displaying contemporary art by contemporary non-Western artists who address these questions of colonisation and the Western gaze. At least, i think that’s what they’re trying to address. I can’t know for sure what each of the artists was thinking when they created each specific artwork.

But I do wonder — when these pieces are presented divorced of context – other than the ‘inter-cultural dialogue’ message of the exhibition – does the audience understand them as a political commentary on the impact of colonisation? I feel like there’s a good chance that the art ends up being interpreted the same way as my uncle’s mask collection. That it becomes an exotic artefact from an exotic far away people, Indigenous art to be collected and consumed by Western people. So that instead of challenging the colonial gaze it becomes its object.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not convinced that art is a universal language. I think sometimes it needs translating. Otherwise people will view it through the lense of their existing prejudices.

*

Of course there’s also the question of whether international artists should be working with Israeli institutions, when Palestinian organisations have called for a cultural boycott of Israel. I imagine the folks behind Roundabout would argue that boycotting art institutions means missing a chance to create dialogue.

Supporters of the boycott would probably respond that engaging with Israeli cultural institutions helps maintain Israel’s image as a tolerant, open minded cultured society, and whitewashes over the occupation.

I’m not sure where I sit on this question, but I do think it’s an important question that should be acknowleged and engaged with.

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Justice

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.

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