Soyez Realistes (Be Realistic)

There are more similarities than one may first expect between the embattled Palestinians in Gaza and our Lumad brothers and sisters in Mindanao. In early May, Israeli Defense Forces killed more than sixty Palestinians and injured more than a thousand (including non-Palestinian journalists and medical personnel) people in the weeks that coincided with the Palestinian commemoration of the Nakba, or “The Catastrophe” – the forced and violent displacement of thousands of Palestinians to make way for the founding of the nation of Israel in 1948. Palestinians had organized a peaceful “March of Return” at the Gaza-Israel border in a symbolic act to right this historical wrong.

Seventy years since the Nakba the Palestinians remain stateless and Israel remains coddled by the very powerful United States. Only the naïve would believe that the US decisions to (1) transfer its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and (2) schedule the formal transfer on the eve of the Nakba itself and when the marches would be happening were faultless gestures. The height of the killings occurred precisely on the day of the transfer, and the whole world saw just exactly what the IDF is capable of with US arms and moral backing.

This also became an opportunity to resume the conversation about the causes and circumstances of the violence in Gaza. It is here that I began to see similarities with conflicts much closer to home. A common approach for some mainstream media outlets to offer some “balance” to their reporting betrays some rhetorical tactics that work in favor of the lopsidedly more powerful IDF and Israeli state.

Here is one such article that claims to speak in a more sober tone by reminding its readers that the Palestine conflict is one full of “inconvenient truths.” At first it seems to express sympathy for the Palestinians, but ends up reinforcing something that have long been used by the IDF to justify its use of force against the Palestinian population: that the Palestinians are being incited by Hamas into dangerous acts, “establish[ing] the reality of a threat” against Israel.

Like the Gazan population, in the past few years the assertive Lumad movement in Mindanao has also been denunciated as having been manipulated into conducting “disruptive” activities such as evacuations and protests. In both cases Palestinians and the Lumad are both portrayed as not having their own minds and easily incited into militant action. This denies them autonomous and independent thought. In the case of the Lumad, this plays into certain stereotypes that have time and again been subtly used to blunt their political impact in mainstream discussions, namely, the view that the :umad are child-like innocents who are “naturally” averse to forceful acts and who therefore must be “steered” by other parties towards that direction. Quite frankly the Lumad do not owe it to the dominant sectors of the Filipino population to act according to how the latter has (often unreflexively) regarded them. They owe it to their children to be open to considering a wide range of options when confronted with modern-day challenges.

I think it is easy to resort to these narratives because they take advantage of the geographic and social distance between these oppressed peoples and mainstream audiences who look at the conflict from the safety of their homes. This has resulted in the paradoxical situation wherein despite the abundance of information we have nowadays in the digital age, there seems to be a lack of firm decision-making. We can see this during the recent events in Gaza wherein the long and convoluted nature of the history of the occupation of Palestine has actually been weaponized against the Palestinian people. We have plenty of hand-wringing and laments about how “it’s a complicated situation” or “who is to know what is really true?”

We have a similar situation with the Armed Forces tarnishing the Lumad campaign by raising the red bogey, framing this as a rebel problem with a military solution and not as a social problem that should have less-costly and more-humane solutions. This obfuscation hopes to scare people off from getting involved. And this is partly why the Lumad launch political sojourns to urban centers, like the Lakbayan that have more or less been regularly conducted in Manila since 2012. These are efforts to close the literal geographic gap and the literal knowledge gap between the Lumad and those who are in more convenient locations and positions. This broad campaign shows that Lumad are aware that the battles must now be waged both in the lands they call home and in the areas where political power is concentrated – these moreover show how they grasp historical learnings and of their political astuteness, not of being unduly controlled.

Speaking of diverse battlegrounds, one such ground in the recent events in Gaza has been the United Nations. Palestinian representatives and their supporters have been lobbying to halt brazen US moves to instigate more violence in the area. Last December the UN censured the Trump regime’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital; prior to this, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had warned that the “US will be taking the names” of countries who will vote “Yes” to condemn the US decision, in a plain demonstration of the strong-arming of other independent nations. After the results, Haley tweeted the names of the nations that had voted “No” and those who abstained, as a de facto thank you for supporting the US side. One of those who abstained was the Philippines. More damning was the Philippines was among the nations that attended the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on the eve of Nakba. And even if Philippine representatives later voted to send UN investigators into Gaza, it’s seems quite Johnny-come-lately after all the carnage in the wake of previous shows of support for the US.

One of the disparaging remarks lobbed at the Lumads during one Manilakbayan was why one of their campaign calls was to end US imperialism. Again this brings up the stereotype of the Lumads as poor simpletons who cannot possibly have any idea what imperialism, at its core, is. This is also set against the backdrop of most Filipinos not seeing anything wrong with current Philippine-US neocolonial relations and being largely unaware of the history behind it – which includes the systematic dispossession of the lumad from their lands to make way for American plantations and corporations.

One last commonality in the cause of both the Palestinians and the Lumad is, what will happen to them now? Palestinians and the Lumad both live in an almost-permanent state of precariousness brought about by much more powerful State entities: the years-long siege and blockade of Palestinian territories in Israel and Martial Law in Mindanao. But if we know anything about the history of these two peoples it is that they remain determined to fight for their basic human rights and their way of life. And in this modern condition where everyday lives are affected and directed by interlocking global causes and actors, they cannot be left to fight alone. Through the Boycott, Divest, Sanction campaigns, and by supporting the Lakbayan sojourns and visiting lLumad schools and communities, they need our solidarity and participation more than ever. (davaotoday.com

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