This year, like every year, I stayed home on the Fourth of July, to avoid the crowds and fireworks celebrating this country’s Nakba, the independence of its settlers. “The Fourth,” as most Americans know it, just like Columbus Day, and Thanksgiving, are three of the main occasions when Americans whitewash their history, glossing over the violence of the foundation of this nation as they peddle a narrative of harmony unmarred by racism, sexism, and imperialism. A report in Haaretz, the mainstream Israeli left newspaper, coincidentally also dated July 4th, shows how Israel has been “purging the Nakba” by deleting details of the massacres committed by Israelis during what they view as their “war of independence,” when they conquered Palestinian land. Americans purge their history every day, and some, like President Trump, concoct truly fantastic renditions of the battles that secured independence for the conquerors of this land, like the continental troops “taking over the airports” almost one century before planes were invented.
Browsing social media, I noticed many progressive Americans sharing Frederick Douglass’ sadly still relevant question, “What, to the American Slave, is the Fourth of July?” amid posts denouncing the horrors of refugee children in cages. This year, I felt an urgent need to consider a slightly larger perspective, one I will state as “What, to the oppressed, is the lesser evil?”
It is because so many millions of Americans have, for centuries, settled for the “lesser evil,” (even though a lesser evil is still evil), that we have ended up with, well, so much evil. Undisguised evil. Evil that has taken its mask off, because it no longer needs to pretend to be anything else. Because yes, it is true that the USA has always, always, from its very first days (and even before its “independence” as a settler-colonial state) been racist. It has always negated the humanity of non-Europeans. It has always hated women. Some of the horror stories that make the news today are no less horrific than reports of the horrors ISIS has committed: a pregnant woman is charged with manslaughter of her (unborn) child because she started the fight that led to someone else shooting her in the stomach. Under the recently passed Alabama anti-abortion law, a twelve-year old girl raped by her own grandfather would go to jail for life in Alabama, should she attempt an abortion. (The amendment to exempt rape resulting from incest and rape failed to pass). A man who boasted about sexually assaulting women, and who had taken out a full page ad in the New York Daily News criminalizing the Central Park Five (an ad which the newspaper accepted because, just like every mainstream institution at the time, it believed young African Americans were “animals”) is elected to the country’s highest office.
Undisguised evil: This country has always separated families, whether by selling off infants under the “peculiar institution” or kidnapping them and sending them off to residential school, where the goal was to “kill the Indian” in them. And rape was frequently the weapon of choice in these murders of the indigenous, the cultural genocide upon which “American independence” is founded. Just as rape was the weapon of choice so that white slave-owners could produce infants that would be ripped away from their mothers’ arms, to be sold off into slavery, in this country’s early version of profit before people. Many of the country’s police departments started out as slave patrols, that have morphed into today’s racist law enforcers—enforcers of racist laws.
The masks are off, and what we are seeing is not new–it is a pattern as old as the imperial American colonies now celebrating their “independence,” a pattern that no longer feels the need to present itself as “civilizing,” because Americans have always accepted the “lesser evil,” even knowing it was, well, evil. But also, tanks in the streets is something this country, which glorifies the military above any other institution, has always aspired to. Trump just doesn’t hide it. A display of murderous power in the skies is an occasion for tailgating and family picnics across this country, including in liberal Seattle, where I live, and which annually hosts the “Blue Angels” on an August weekend. Children in cages is a sight that soothes the sideways glances of light-skinned colonizers who do not appreciate earth shades, people whose skin color matches the land they come from, which those celebrating independence on the fourth of July have displaced them from, across colonial borders over two tortured continents.
This year, I hope I am not completely deluding myself as I feel that enough people are disturbed by the reality, because the mask is finally off.
That same dangerous acceptance of a lesser evil, which has led us to the humanitarian crisis we are witnessing in the US today, the open-faced fascism, is just as dangerous when it comes to accepting Democratic presidential candidates who tolerate Zionism.
In their customary acceptance of the lesser evil, Democrats and liberals in the US today are not calling for an anti-Zionist candidate, because they assume that it’s a given that every viable candidate will necessarily have to be pro-Israel, mouthing “lesser evil” platitudes like “Israel has a right to exist” (without so much as a mention of Palestine having a right to exist as a sovereign nation) and “Israel has the right to defend itself,” with even less of a mention of Palestinians having a right to defend themselves against a brutally violent oppressor. But it is only a given because they accept it. And these American Democrats accept a pro-Israel candidate because they do not themselves question Zionism, just its “greater evils:” the settlements and the siege on Gaza. So they support candidates who are somewhat critical of Israel’s most egregious recent abuses, as if that in itself were a great accomplishment, but they do not conceive of demanding that anyone come out and acknowledge that Israel is an apartheid country that has violated international law and the human rights of its indigenous people from the day it celebrated its “independence”– indeed, just like the US, from even before it became independent.
Americans must not consent to what is going on in Israel, just as they do not consent to what is going on here. If they criticize family separation in the US, they must criticize it in Israel. If they criticize the abuse of refugees in their country, they must criticize it in Israel. And they must acknowledge that, just as the US committed many wrongs long before Trump became president, so has Israel, long before Netanyahu. When Palestinians say our Nakba is ongoing, we date its beginning back to 1948, not to Netanyahu’s first election as Prime Minister. In the case of Israel, accepting the “lesser evil” is accepting the Nakba, but criticizing the Naksa, and just as that acceptance has failed to deliver justice in the US, it will fail in Palestine. Indeed, we now have The New York Times publishing an Opinion piece asking the Palestinians to embrace “national suicide” for the sake of peace, because they have always been perceived as expendable by that newspaper’s readership—yes, mostly Democrats and liberals. For what aspect of Zionism, what “lesser evil” version of that ideology, does not hinge on displacing, dispossessing, and disenfranchising Palestinians?
So, on this colonial independence day, I for one recommitted to remember that a lesser evil is still evil, and that consenting to evil, any evil, anywhere, is what results in Trump and Netanyahu ordering tanks in the streets and children in cages. I will translate that commitment into a persistent demand that candidates to any political office earn my vote, by supporting justice for Palestine, rather than merely assume they will have it, because they are “progressive enough” to denounce Israel’s more openly egregious crimes. As the situation on the ground in Palestine grows more dismal every day, we cannot settle for mere statements about “disproportionate Israeli responses,” we must support our politicians who seek to hold Israel accountable, and demand that more of them do so.