This weekend, Danya Mustafa, a national organizer with Students for Justice in Palestine will visit the University of California - San Diego for the 20th annual conference of Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlan (MEChA), the largest association of Latin@ youth in North America.
Last year MEChA overwhelmingly endorsed the global movement of Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. During the past twelve months, there have been numerous cross-movement initiatives by students across the country. I interviewed Mustafa last year on these issues, which are growing more in awareness among students organizing across both justice movements.
Gabriel Schivone: Why is it important for Palestine solidarity activists to work with campaigners focused on migrant justice and the rights of indigenous people in the US?
Danya Mustafa: It’s very important to support all struggles that have to do with human rights issues. Migrant justice and indigenous rights issues here in the US do have parallels with what is going on with the Palestinian cause. It’s important to keep a community of those who support all human rights globally and also work together in spreading awareness of the issue of oppression of people.
GS: In March 2011, it was reported that a Mexican teenager (with US citizenship) named Carlos LaMadrid was shot three times in the back by a US Border Patrol agent who was “under attack by a rock thrower.” La Madrid was climbing the US-Mexico barrier at the time. The FBI investigated the incident as an “assault on a federal officer.” This was one of numerous cases of people, many of them teenage boys or children, shot for throwing rocks, running from agents or trying to scale the border wall.
DM: First of all, I don’t understand how rock throwing could pose such a threat to authorities who are armed. You see this a lot in Palestine where young kids are often shot and jailed for throwing stones at completely armed IDF [Israel army] soldiers. This is tragic and should be condemned, but we put the authorities on such a pedestal that it seems okay for them to do such a violent action against these young kids who are just trying to defend themselves with these rocks. Also, the fact that Carlos LaMadrid was shot three times in the back, seems like he was trying to get away from the officer when he was shot in the back three times. So, technically the officer wasn’t “defending” himself, but he killed young Carlos in cold murder with no justification. This is the case for many of those who are shot and killed by armed forces, there is no clear justification for this violence.
GS: O’odham Voice Against the Wall, representing the second-largest Native American nation on US territory, asserts that large sections of the border wall, constructed in 2007, bisect their community and lands, spanning from an area of northern Mexico (Sonora) to southern US (Arizona).DM: What people don’t realize in America is that this wall isn’t just affecting immigration, but it’s affecting the Native Americans and their land. In my opinion, the American government shouldn’t be given the choice of building anything on native land, but especially a wall that separates their land in two. This is a clear violation of human rights and indigenous rights that needs to be addressed by the people more vigorously. Just like the Israeli apartheid wall that cuts through indigenous Palestinian land that has been constructed inside occupied Palestine, in America it cuts through the sacred native land of the native peoples here.
GS: A law known as AZ SB1070 allows for the arrest of anyone deemed by a “reasonable suspicion” to be “unlawfully present” on US territory. Similar legislation has cropped up across the country, notably in Alabama.
DM: This law is based strictly on racism. How can we give the authority of a law enforcement officer to judge and assume something without evidence? This law reminds me of the laws of Israel. Israeli policy allows police officers to stop cars with the assumption they are Palestinians in the car. Though the Palestinians inside “Israel proper” are Israeli citizens, they are continuously harassed and discriminated against because of who they are. This is what we see is happening in Arizona and Alabama. I have an anecdote about when I was in Arizona for the Concrete Connections conference in Tucson, and I was driving back with my brother and a couple of Palestinian-Americans. We were driving back to New Mexico, and all of a sudden we see these lights blind us from behind and this truck was tailgating us. A few seconds after, they flip on the police lights and they pull us over. It turns out to be US Border Patrol, and they come up the car and start looking inside, and my older brother and this other Palestinian-American is sitting in the front, and the first question they ask them is, “Are you an American citizen?” For people who don’t know, Arabs and Latino people look very similar, so to these Border Patrol officers they assumed that we were Latino, and that is the true definition of prejudice. I’m sure if we were all blue-eyed with blond hair, they wouldn’t have even asked us questions.
GS: What would you say to students and activists in the Palestinian justice movement who avoid addressing Mexican and indigenous rights or migrant justice — or even avoid talking about connections — because “it’s not a Palestinian issue” or for fear of “alienating allies” in Arab, Muslim, Christian or Jewish communities?
DM: The Palestinian justice movement is not an exclusive Arab or religious issue. This is a human issue and it’s a universal issue that speaks volumes for other movements across the world. It’s important that we stand in solidarity with those who work just as hard as us in the Mexican-indigenous, migrant justice movement because their story is our story, and that story is of oppression and discrimination. Of course, they aren’t identical issues and definitely have differences, but we need to look past those differences when supporting one another. We are all human, fighting for the same thing which includes civil liberties, freedoms and justice. Also, how would we be “alienating allies”? In my opinion, we shouldn’t be allying with people who have opposing views to the human rights violations that go against Mexican-indigenous, migrant justice issues. We should be standing in solidarity with each other, hand in hand, singing the song of liberty and justice for all people. These might be two different issues, but they are both one struggle.