Last month, Zach Ingber ’15 criticized the collaboration between two student groups on campus over an Immigration Week “fence” installation (“An unsavory alliance,” Oct. 31). Ingber argued that the alliance between Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition and Brown Students for Justice in Palestine was detrimental to the legitimacy of both groups, asserting that the only thing that the wall between the United States-Mexico border and the West Bank separation barrier have in common is their extreme effectiveness.
Ingber, a self-proclaimed believer in borders and international law, conveniently ignored the fact that Israel is the only country that has never declared its borders and that the separation barrier – which expropriates Palestinian land, steals water resources and separates families – is considered illegal under international law. Similarly, he propagates a historically incorrect view of borders as part of civilization. Finally, it is clear that Ingber did not so much as make eye contact with any BIRC or BSJP members, as his portrayal of the collaboration is deeply prejudiced and almost willfully misinformed.
But the intention of this article is not to refute Ingber’s many erroneous points – most of those rebuttals are self-evident. Rather, we would like to challenge and expose the worldview that serves as a basis for his argument and for many oppressive policies that have affected immigrants and indigenous peoples worldwide.
Indeed, borders are extremely effective – effective in dehumanizing people, rhetorically, imaginatively and physically. They are effective at massacring populations and justifying these massacres, effective at enforcing terror in the name of national security and effective at keeping out of the nation-state the very people whose exploited labor sustains it. Borders are an instrument of control used by societies that value some human lives more than others. In these societies, existence itself can be considered a crime, if one possesses the wrong skin color or religious affiliation.
It is the shared belief of BIRC and BSJP in a different society – a society in which no life is more important than another – that unites us. To be sure, the ideals we share are unsavory for those who wish to keep the world as it is. Ingber is right in fearing our alliance, for it represents a fundamental challenge to the carefully segregated universe he inhabits. Threatened by the possibilities of a different vision of society, he seeks to dismiss us as naive.
But we are far from naive. At the heart of our alliance lies the understanding that we are tied together not merely by abstract ideology, but by very material connections. In the 1970s and ’80s, a network of oppression developed between Israel, the United States and Latin American dictatorships. The network consisted of arms trade, exchange of military technologies and teams of Israeli advisers sent to assist Latin American dictators. General Efrain Rios Montt, a notorious Guatemalan despot, stated in an ABC news interview that the coup through which he came to power would not have been possible without the aid of Israeli advisers.
Under the human rights policy of President Jimmy Carter, a deep military relationship emerged with Israel stepping in as an alternative supplier of arms to Latin American dictators. The United States provided old weapons and capital Israel needed in order to develop its own arms industry, and Israel in turn served as a liaison. This gave the United States plausible deniability regarding its ties to the dictatorships. Israel supplied Guatemala with urban counterinsurgency technology that allowed the government to wipe out activists and organizers. They also helped design “model villages” to which populations were forced to migrate, often through massacres and genocide.
The United States and Israel supported civil wars in Central America that resulted in massive displacements, forcing millions of people to seek refuge in the United States itself. As they migrate north, they are met once more with Israeli technology: the wall between the United States and Mexico, built by the Israeli company Elbit. Interestingly, Elbit is the same company that constructed the West Bank separation barrier. Inside the United States, the immigrants encounter Israeli oppression a third time, in the form of Israeli weapons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation forces.
Thus the real unsavory alliance is the military relationship between Israel, the United States and Latin American dictatorships. This alliance has destroyed countless lives, enabled war and genocide and displaced millions. It unleashes unimaginable terror on entire populations, controlling movement, bodies and ultimately life itself for immigrants and indigenous peoples. Yet unlike two student groups tabling on the Main Green, this alliance is largely invisible.
Therefore, we’d like to say thank you to Ingber. Thank you for reminding us why it is that we work together and for demonstrating the power that this alliance gives us. Thank you for bringing us closer together and allowing us the opportunity to re-articulate the beliefs that joined us in the first place. We hope to provide you with many, many more unsavory collaborations in the months and years to come.
Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and Brown Immigrant Rights Coalition believe strongly that no human life is more valuable than another. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and BrownImmigrantRightsCoalition@gmail.com.