In April 1960, after the New York City Seafarers’ International Union and the International Longshoremen’s Association picketed an Egyptian vessel named Cleopatra for 22 days, an official US State Department memo documented a phone conversation between Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Raymond Hare and the AFL-CIO President George Meany.
“I told Mr Meany the trouble is being compounded by the Cleopatra affair and that soon the Arab retaliatory boycott will really hurt American seamen and ships in all the seaports of the Near East, and it may eventually be applied to US airlines,” stated Hare. “The interests of the United States will be damaged.”
President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt had rallied the Arab world in response to the delays imposed on the Cleopatra, and Arab dockworkers refused to unload US ships. The State Department was concerned about ongoing damage to US interests if the situation was not resolved.
As we witness recurring attacks on Gaza and the continued unconditional support of administrations in the US, England, France, Germany, Canada and Australia for Israel, one must ask the question as to why Arabs and Muslims should buy products from these countries. How can one stand for justice while purchasing products that provide economic power that is transformed into financial, political and military support for Israel?
Israel bombs hospitals and schools, murdering children in Gaza, and yet these countries continue to support the occupying power while blaming the Palestinians for resisting.
Power to the people
Arabs and Muslims make up between 20 and 25 percent of the world’s population and they have strong purchasing power. The rallying cry “Power to the people” is about the united capability of a group to overcome the highest mountains of oppression. We should take stock of our economic strength as consumers, and make a conscious decision against oppression and exploitation.
The countries favouring Israel over the Palestinians, and which extend economic, military and diplomatic protection at every juncture to Israel, should hear from you. It is up to you to make a decision choosing justice over comfort, dignity over brand names and freedom over economic neoliberalism.
The leadership of the “independent” Arab and Muslim states are not going to do anything to help the Palestinians after accepting the strategic parameters set in place at the end of World War I. They are incapable of imagining anything beyond their incapacity. Like a big elephant trained into a learned state of helplessness, they have lost confidence in the ability of their people. Collectively, they stopped dreaming and are unable to actualise more than a state of incapacity.
“Power to the people” is a call to bypass the dysfunctional Arab and Muslim state leaderships and forge a different destiny of our own. A person’s degree of liberty reflects the individual and the group state of mind. Occupation forces control the streets and cities; but what is the state of mind of the Palestinian people? Do they feel free or are they mentally occupied?
The Palestinians have demonstrated time and time again that the chains, checkpoints, and the overwhelming disparity of power is only an outward function and not a reflection of their state of mind. One can be occupied and act free while others are free but act occupied.
Empowering the occupation?
For sure the Arabs and Muslim men and women are able to emerge as free people and as masters of their own destiny – and the time is here and now. Consider what products you use and purchase. Do the products empower the occupation?
Ask the question concerning the relationship between the countries that produce these products and their unconditional support for Israel.
Make the decision to spend your halal wealth on products that don’t cast a shadow of injustice and oppression on the Palestinians. Make an informed decision on purchasing locally and helping your fellow citizens. Supporting Palestine is important, but so is ending the neoliberal economic stranglehold on economies in the Arab and Muslim world, as well as across the global south.
No one should think that products from western countries that bring ease and comfort to our lifestyles are more important than achieving freedom and dignity for the Palestinians. We are open to trade and commerce – but not at the expense of our collective freedom and dignity.
The people are sick and tired of western leaders’ double standards, hypocrisy and lack of respect for international law – as well as their complete disregard for the feelings and perspective of millions of people.
Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have been witness to 67 years’ of western lies, deception, death and destruction, which have only been made possible with the unconditional military, economic and political support extended to Israel.
The United States and Europe are committed to defending Israel – right or wrong – and providing economic, military and diplomatic protection at every turn.
We are declaring our economic independence from the products and brands that empower the occupation and favour unconditional support for Israel over well-established joint interests with the Arab and Muslim world. The choice for Arab and Muslim men and women is clear: take power into your own pockets and purchase products from countries that respect and honour Palestinian freedom and dignity.
I would also extend this to purchasing products from countries that respect and honour your own freedom and dignity against your own oppressive governments that are propped up by western weapons and training so you can be kept as slaves in your own land.
Freedom and dignity does not come from a product – a shoe or a car – no matter how fine or luxurious it is. Rather, it emerges once we declare our individual independence and own our sovereignty.
Hatem Bazian is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at Berkeley University.
Follow him on Twitter: @Hatembazian