‘From the river to SEA’: Palestine’s struggle and parallels in the Philippines
November 6, 2023

Photo by Mark Saludes/Altermidya

Citizens around the world look are finding it hard to look away from Israel’s atrocities as deaths of thousands of Palestinians continue.

This is even if some of Filipinos seem to dismiss quickly the tragedy still unfolding in Gaza.

“Do not concern yourself with wars in lands not your own,” the standard rhetoric goes.

Although the topic might appear divisive to many Filipinos, there is actually a world of similarities that bridges the struggles of Palestine and the Philippines.

Here are some of the common threads to help readers look at the situation in Gaza with less apathy.

Illogical

Zionists (proponents of Palestinian occupation) are either knowingly or unwittingly using the banner of “Pro-Hamas” (Palestinian armed group) to dismiss aspirations of a free Palestine.

Any and all references calling for freedom, such as the popular slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” are used to demonize innocent civilians as pro-Hamas sympathizers.

The logical fallacy is clear, yet it continues to be parroted and propagated by thought leaders worldwide. Some analysts note this fallacy as a shield that defends ignorance and irresponsibility; a veil that hides accountability and false neutrality.

Sound familiar? In the Philippines, the practice of red-tagging has similarly been used across presidential administrations to vilify and endanger critical civilians.

“Pro-Hamas” and “Communist” seem to be easy excuses to eliminate the opposition by justifying open human rights violations.

Imperialist

The historic Balfour Declaration in 1917 saw Britain’s then-foreign secretary Arthur Balfour write a brief letter to a British-Jewish community figure committing on behalf of the European power’s government “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and “the achievement of this object.”

This is not that different from the Treaty of Paris between the Spain and the United States in 1898, which effectively handed over possession of the Philippines from one colonizer onto the next.

Coming from the Philippine revolution and three centuries under Spanish rule, the country would face the bloody Philippine–American War and the Moro Rebellion.

With mass immigration comes mass murder, which both Palestine and the Philippines know all too well as unwilling victims.

Historians note that people fight wars not because of a desire for vengeance, but because they are forced into them by foreign countries that want empires at the cost of lives.

Historian-sociologist Max Ajl describes the Israeli attacks as a “sustained counterinsurgency campaign in reaction to resistance operations of national liberation movement.”

“What you do is that you try to eradicate the civilian infrastructure in which the counterinsurgency off finds its social, political, moral, ethical, cultural support, and also in fact, its depth. And you what you do is you try to hammer that to pieces in a fantasy that this actually will break the will of the population to resist and you especially do this when you’re dealing with a hardened counterinsurgency in which you cannot target the military installations,” Ajl tells Altermidya.

He added that Israel’s ties with the United States exacerbates the conflict by serving as both an ally and tool of the West: “Israel has turned Palestine into a laboratory for high-tech experiments in population control, in the field testing of drones, of walls, of surveillance technology. These are all high-tech military ‘exports’ although the capital is transnational very often or directly from the United States.”

The consequence is an unpredecented assault in Gaza unlike anything in modern history’s scale. Half of the population is displaced, tens of thousands are injured, thousands have been killed, hospitals are targeted, and people are left without power or clean water. Moreover, a public health crisis is at hand due the missing health care and total Israeli blockade of necessary supplies in the occupied territory.

“If there’s diplomatic relationships with Israel, and you throw out the Israeli embassy from your country, I mean, then you cannot have diplomatic relations with a state that’s carrying out this level of atrocity… This is the first step towards liberating your country from actually complicity with the colonial Zionist project,” Ajl suggested.

Illusory

Former United Nations human rights official Craig Mokhiber has pointed out the failure of the Oslo paradigm, including the so-called “two-state solution” that posits how Israel and Palestine can coexist even as one subjugates the other.

He likewise dispelled the myth that the Israel-Palestine conflict is simply a dispute over land or religion between two warring parties when it is really a “disproportionately powerful state [that is] colonizing, persecuting, and dispossessing an indigenous population on the basis of their ethnicity.”

Calling for a free Palestine means establishing one democratic state in historic Palestine between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. One with equal regard for the rights of Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike as the solution to finally concluding the “deeply racist, settler-colonial project” and “apartheid across the land.”

There is no shortage of similar controversies in the Philippines, where indigenous peoples, ethnic groups, and farmers are perennial targets of land-grabbers who seek to dispossess them of their ancestral and agricultural lands, effectively their homes and livelihoods.

“Nakaka-relate tayo sa ganitong klaseng insidente kasi mahabang panahon din nating hinarap ‘yong matinding karahasan. Nakaka-relate ang mga kapatid natin as a displaced people– mga kapatid nating nawalan ng lupa dahil sa mga pangbobomba at pag-aagaw ng lupa sa kanila mga komunidad,” Amirah Lidasan of Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination tells Altermidya.

She cited the government’s brazen violations on Moros, indigenous peoples, and Lumad communities among others, including concentrated bombing and eventual neglect of Marawi.

“Kailangang ipakita sa mundo na ang stand ng mga Palestinian ay ang pagdepensa sa kanilang mga komunidad, stand ‘yan para sa kanilang mamamayan na sabi nga natin kumakaharap ng genocide mula sa kamay ng Zionist government ng Israel,” Lidasan adds.

Just as Filipinos have historically fought for the right to self-determination, the Sandugo representative said the will of Palestinians must be recognized.

“From one victim to another, ito ang ganitong klaseng solidarity na ipinapakita, ito ang responde ng mga taong nakakasimpatya sa kapwa niya– hindi lang mga Muslim, kundi kapwang mga biktima ng human rights violations, pambobomba, at pagkawalan ng boses at access doon sa larangan na kung saan ma-explain niya ang kaniyang sitwasyon kung bakit nila kailangang lumaban,” Lidasan concludes.

The Philippines should likewise not swallow the illusion of peace when it has never existed, she added.

Points of and on unity

For a people who have witnessed decades-long conflict, Filipinos know the injustice experienced by people facing war, famine, and conquest.

The Israel aggression on the Palestine people is a sign of the times — and disempowered citizens know that it is only right to express solidarity with them.

As historians note, the respective but shared struggles of Filipinos and Palestinians hit so close to home because of parallels that cannot be ignored. The most striking similarity is their struggle for liberation against US imperialism and their aspiration for genuine independence.

Thus, it becomes the humane duty for Filipinos to assert the call #FreePalestine, knowing that from the river to the SEA (Southeast Asia), the people will be free.

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