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The occupied territories are 7000 miles from New Mexico but I felt like I never left home

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The occupied territories of Palestine sit almost 7000 miles away from my home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is literally half a world away. But in many ways it felt like I never left. I grew up in the occupied territories of the Rocky Mountain west of the North American continent, in the heart of Aztlan. Much like the occupied territories of Palestine, it is an intensely beautiful part of the world with an intensely brutal history. It is a history of colonization, of land grabs, and genocide; but also a history of struggle and resistance.

The Gorge, Taos, New Mexico (Photo: (Photo:  Rodrigo Rodriguez)

The Gorge, Taos, New Mexico (Photo: (Photo: Rodrigo Rodriguez)

In 1848 the US signed the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, ending its war with Mexico and ushering in an era of settler colonialism that epitomized the uniquely “American” ideal of Manifest Destiny.

The Indigenous and Spanish-speaking Mestizo peoples of what would become the western United States had already been colonized, mostly in the name of the Catholic Church for over two centuries. The conquistadors who moved north were famous for their banner cry of “God, Glory and Gold”. They were also famous for the cruelty they practiced in their subjugation of Indigenous peoples. In 1680 the Indigenous leader Popay helped organize The Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico, the first instance of indigenous peoples pushing the colonizers out.

The period of colonization that followed westward expansion of the US Empire would quickly find the communities, cultures, languages, and life ways of Indigenous and Chicano communities under attack once again. The US military expansion that accompanied the settlers would also quickly become famous for the brutality it practiced on these communities. The post civil war period known as the Indian Wars saw a rapid intensification of this brutality. One of its more subtle measures was the use of Black soldiers in these ‘Indian Wars’. The units that became famous as the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ would find their way to New Mexico in the hunt for Apache leaders like Geronimo, Victorio, and Nana among many others.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s my mother’s home community of Taos became a destination for the hippies. Decades before that it was a haven for artists from the East Coast, what eventually became known as the Taos Artists movement that helped introduce the world to “Southwest Style”. Nowadays it is a playground for the wealthy elite, for skiers and snowboarders, for backpackers and white water rafters; a haven for tourists who come to gawk at our quaint adobe homes and take pictures of our colonial period churches and Pueblos. The Chicano and Indigenous people are still there, but every year it gets harder to maintain the land base, the water resources, and the way of life. For every Dennis Hopper, Julia Roberts, and Donald Rumsfeld who decides to build a million dollar adobe mansion it gets harder for the poor and working people to keep up with skyrocketing tax bases. It gets more expensive to keep your water rights. It gets harder to stay. This is arguably the third force of colonization that our beautiful state has undergone.

If you take into account the fact that the military is our largest employer; thanks to the nuclear weapons research and proliferation industry, the military bases, weapons facilities, the massive military industrial complex (Raytheon, Northrop Gruman, and Lockheed Martin all have facilities in New Mexico) and now the nuclear dump (The Waste Isolation Pilot Project in Carlsbad), it becomes pretty evident New Mexico is still very much a military colony of the United States. One of the main reasons the states of Arizona, Utah, and Colorado were carved out of the New Mexico territory was to surround, isolate and subjugate the indigenous and Chicano communities who make up the majority of the population of New Mexico.

I say all of that to offer a little context to my thought process.

When we talk about the struggle for land, water, human rights, food sovereignty, and justice in the context of the Chicano and Indigenous communities of the US versus a free Palestine; it looks like the same struggle because it is the same struggle. The colonial policies of the US Empire have created a situation in Palestine that looks every bit like the history of the colonial United States.

Steal the land, admit that it’s wrong; but keep doing it anyways. The banners may not say, “God, Glory, Gold” anymore but the fundamental concepts are the same. They’ve changed the war cry now to read “Freedom, Democracy, and Security”, but nothing about its intent has changed.

Stop the Wall (Photo:  Rodrigo Rodriguez)

Ramallah, Palestine: Stop the Wall (Photo: Rodrigo Rodriguez)

On our last night in Ramallah I told Jamaal Juma from the organization “Stop the Wall’ that he needed to come visit us in New Mexico. We talked about how I could show him the wall that ‘protects’ my state from the now-foreign country that it used to be a part of. Jamaal offered that we should compare them, and see whose wall is bigger.

Abu Nidal's Gate (Photo: Ann Gary)

Abu Nidal’s Gate (Photo: Ann Gary)

This is the most amazing thing to me about this journey, the humor and graciousness that the Palestinian people hosted us with. We heard horrific stories from dozens of people about the brutality of the occupation. They told us stories of resilience and resistance and struggle that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Everywhere we went we were immediately offered coffee and tea and laughs. We heard from many of our hosts that you can’t take everything so serious, if you allow it to drag you down then the occupation had already won. This was a central theme from many of our hosts. You have to keep living, and you have to fight back.

Abu Nidal, a man whose house has been completely surrounded by the wall, told us that he is grateful to be the one to fight back. He forced them to build him a gate, when they wanted to control the gate he fought them. The Israeli occupation forces then offered him a gate but it would remain locked and they would keep the key; so he fought them again. He has the key to his gate in their wall now. But his home just like most homes, it seems like, has a demolition order on it.  His only interest is to create a life for his family that is worth living, “But if you throw a rock at me I will throw one back.”

Another man we met named Abu Saqr, his name means Father of the Eagle, in the Jordan Valley shared his story with us. The Israelis have demolished his village seven times after they built a settlement on his traditional lands. Every time they demolish his home he rebuilds it closer to the settlement. He says that the next time they come to demolish it, he will rebuild inside the settlement. Abu Saqr has 25 children, the Israeli settlement on his land has 35 settlers, he says this is his battle; they are 35 so he must be 40.

Sumud and Her Parents (Photo: Marie Kennedy)

Abu Saqr and his wife introduced us to their babygirl named Sumud, who was born during one of the demolitions. Sumud in Arabic means steadfast.

This is what she represents to her father and the people of Palestine. Steadfast perseverance.

Steadfast perseverance in the face of oppression.

Steadfast perseverance in the midst of brutality.

Steadfast perseverance in the struggle for liberation and self-determination for the people of Palestine and the people of New Mexico and people everywhere.

Painted on one of the tents in the village of Sussiya is a quote from the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “On this land is something worth living for.”

Darwish in Sussiya ((Photo: Rodrigo Rodriguez)

To me, this is everything. Sussiya is a farming village that lives everyday under the threat of demolition. They have a demolition order claiming the land as being a place of historical significance and that no one should live there. This obviously didn’t stop the Israelis from building a settlement just up the hill. The people live in tents and caves that are regularly demolished and rebuilt.

One of the village elders was very clear in his sumud, he said that he was born in Sussiya and he will die in Sussiya. Either god will take him or the army will, but either way he’s not leaving.

In Sussiya we also met a farmer and his family, a man named Mohammed Jboor. We helped plant olive tree saplings in his field. The settlers have destroyed over 100 of his olive trees over the years. Every time they destroy the trees he plants new ones. One of the things Mohammed said that sticks with me is that the struggle of Palestine is about much more than human rights,  “Rights without power only makes sheep”.


Mohammed Jboor's Olive trees in Sussiya (Photo:  Rodrigo Rodriguez)

Mohammed Jboor’s Olive trees in Sussiya (Photo: Rodrigo Rodriguez)

I feel like this is the most important point of this journey.

There are almost 2000 NGOs in the West Bank, working on everything from prisoner’s rights, home demolitions, women’s empowerment, and human rights issues, to farming and agriculture. A powerful young organizer named Mariam Barghouti was very clear that Palestine doesn’t need more saviors, Palestine needs solidarity. It’s not our place to romanticize their struggle, there’s nothing romantic about it. It is our job to stand alongside Palestine and her people; to uplift and amplify their struggle and their voices. It’s the Palestinian people who will determine her future, and it is our duty as her allies to stand and fight with them against the forces of colonialism, empire and oppression.

Mohammed Jboor and Rodrigo Rodriguez (Photo: Sara Mersha)

Mohammed Jboor and Rodrigo Rodriguez (Photo: Sara Mersha)

Rodrigo Rodriguez participated in a Grassroots International Delegation from October 27-November 6, 2014. as a member of Grassroots Global Justice AllianceDelegates participated in the olive harvest and learned about the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and food sovereignty.

This article was originally published on the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance blog

About Rodrigo Rodriguez

Rodrigo Rodriguez is an organizer and coordinator for the Southwest Organizing Project's community food justice initiative, “Project Feed the Hood”. His family has been sustainably farming in the communities of Northern New Mexico for many generations. Project Feed the Hood is based in traditional methods of farming and seed saving that are both sustainable and culturally relevant. Rodrigo and his fellow SWOP gardeners maintain a large seed library and host many workshops to assist community members, schools, and other community groups seeking to grow food and build healthy communities and lifestyles all over the state of NM

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15 Responses

  1. just
    just on November 23, 2014, 6:30 pm

    Thank you Rodrigo. This is such a quintessential narrative, and you write so eloquently and from the heart.

    “Palestine doesn’t need more saviors, Palestine needs solidarity. It’s not our place to romanticize their struggle, there’s nothing romantic about it. It is our job to stand alongside Palestine and her people; to uplift and amplify their struggle and their voices. It’s the Palestinian people who will determine her future, and it is our duty as her allies to stand and fight with them against the forces of colonialism, empire and oppression.”


    • annie
      annie on November 23, 2014, 6:48 pm

      thanks just, it’s awesome isn’t it. wow. just wow.

      rodrigo, thank you so much!

      • just
        just on November 23, 2014, 7:31 pm

        It is, Annie. I am in awe. Rodrigo nailed it every which way.

        Prof Salaita is applauding, as are countless other people tonight, tomorrow, and next week.

  2. gamal
    gamal on November 23, 2014, 7:45 pm

    A Lesson in Resistance from our Native American Brothers

    March 2, 2013. Wounded Knee. For those who’ve spent the last few decades fighting for freedom, liberty and civil rights, the centuries-old struggle for self-determination by American Indians has been one pillar of the current struggle. But the growing numbers of outraged Americans suddenly fighting back seem unaware that an entire segment of America has been fighting the same battle, successfully. It’s time to learn some lessons on organized resistance.

    Annie Mae Aquash (1945 – 1975)

    Protest, Resistance, and Dissent in Native Americans

    In 2007, a college student produced a four-minute video for his anthropology class. The movie-short is basically no more than a Power Point presentation to the sounds of modern Native American punk music. But the video hems together an armed struggle by an entire race of people against the United States federal government that has spanned 300 years. But it’s the past 30 years that the video concentrates on. And for those angry Americans who want to protest their government, they could take a lesson from those who’ve spent the last 40 years traveling that same road.

  3. bintbiba
    bintbiba on November 23, 2014, 7:49 pm

    ” In awe ” is the exact word. Rodrigo , thank you for your support and eloquence.

  4. gamal
    gamal on November 23, 2014, 7:51 pm

    and Bassem Masri ” We gonna do what we feel”

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr on November 24, 2014, 1:01 am

      bassm masri may have his heart in the right place but he comes off as an idiot by the end of tape. he is basically calling for mob rule because he “knows” what happened and the ‘official’ version be damned. okay, as he said, “it’s our community”.

      and @RR the article scribe…well, he obviously has a strong political agenda if he seriously sees the current US government as the ‘occupation government’. but considering that a good portion of readership at mw is politically deeply off to the hard left, its not that surprising. based on that the authors affinity for Palestinians and their struggle for power over the Israelis is understandable if not unrealistic.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on December 9, 2014, 11:44 pm

        “well, he obviously has a strong political agenda if he seriously sees the current US government as the ‘occupation government’. “

        He may very well, under the terms of treaties signed at the time and then broken, be right.

      • Mooser
        Mooser on December 9, 2014, 11:54 pm

        “Palestinians and their struggle for power over the Israelis”

        DaBakr, I’ve got a great idea! Why don’t the Israelis try staying in Israel?!?! If they did that, those awful Palestinians would have to come over the border and into Israel to get at them.
        If the Israelis insist on occupying and colonizing Palestinian land (and make no effort to purchase and annex it) they will be in significantly more danger, don’t you think?

        Oh, and DaBakr, I just looove that quick, instinctive empathetic reaction you display towards any who have a history of dispossession. In touch with your Jewish heritage, that’s cool, man. ‘As we were slaves and made to walk like Egyptians’, totally, dude.

  5. Pauline
    Pauline on November 24, 2014, 10:40 am

    Rodrigo, I was fascinated and inspired by your account of your delegation tour experience. I participated in the first US LGBTQ delegation to Palestine and we also me with Abu Nidal and other Palestinian farmers and villagers under siege by the Israeli military and illegal Israeli settlements. I’ve also visited New Mexico, and you’re right about it being a beautiful land with a brutal history “of colonization, of land grabs, and genocide; but also a history of struggle and resistance,” just like Palestine. I’d never thought of that parallel, but it is an apt one. I was born in Korea, which also has a history of colonization, brutal foreign military occupation and land grabs as well as struggle and resistance. Thank you for writing this account of your delegation tour, which is an important statement about how we as people of color in the US can support the Palestinian struggle against Israeli apartheid in occupied Palestine. Viva la resistencia~!

  6. pulaski
    pulaski on November 24, 2014, 8:36 pm


    I wonder, any chance we could get you out here to Lubbock for a talk?

  7. khyungbird1890
    khyungbird1890 on November 24, 2014, 9:35 pm

    “It’s not our place to romanticize their struggle, there’s nothing romantic about it.”

    Good article, but I don’t get this line, or rather this sentiment.

    I mean, I get that it’s useless to romanticize without *doing* anything, that it’s pointless for a bunch of Westerners to sigh “Oh, poor Palestinians” without actually putting in any time or money to help. (Although in my experience, Palestinians don’t even get the lip service that other minority & oppressed groups get from Western liberals.)

    But what does ‘don’t romanticize’ mean? Does Elias Khoury’s “Gate of the Sun” romanticize Palestine? :/ Does Ghassan Kanafani (despite being Palestinian) romanticize Palestine by writing stories about it with made-up or composite characters? Maybe I’m using language differently than the author, but to me the word ‘romanticize’ encompasses all fictionalized and ‘escapist’ grapplings with the topic, and yes, I think Westerners would do better to at least romantically sympathize with Palestinians, rather than the absolute disinterest and/or realpolitik anti-Palestinian justifications, if not unashamed racism, with which I usually see in the Western media and on my Facebook wall whenever Palestine is mentioned.

    Basiaclly, romanticism doesn’t exclude useful action. At the very least it can sometimes open a crack for light to shine through.

  8. Marnie
    Marnie on November 25, 2014, 1:56 am

    Thank you for this.

  9. Kay24
    Kay24 on November 25, 2014, 6:56 am

    Meanwhile the land grabbing scum, keep building more and asking more to keep colonizing areas not belonging to them.

    “PM orders $18m allocated to create more space for homes at settlement
    Finance minister balks at Netanyahu’s high demand for funds for the 2012 plan, which would relocate Border Police base to make room for housing at Beit El, wants issue to be brought before cabinet for vote.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Finance Ministry to allocate $18 million in funds to move a Border Police base in order to make room for additional housing in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, as well as to finance other projects there. However, Finance Minister Yair Lapid is refusing to transfer the funds, demanding instead that the issue be brought to the cabinet…

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