What the Gaza Slaughter and the U.S. Border Crisis Have in Common

'Borders for us but not for you' is the common denominator uniting the U.S. and Israel.

A U.S. Border Patrol Agent supervises Guatemalan police officers during training in 2013.
Photo Credit: Miguel Negron/Wikimedia Commons

When my friend and I used to hitchhike around Mexico some years ago, truck drivers would occasionally ask to see our passports to verify that we were not Latin Americans trying to smuggle ourselves into the United States. Aside from improvised passport control, obstacles to travel were quite minimal, and the worst thing that ever happened was that I was once trampled by a small bull after drinking too much tequila and deciding to participate in a village bullfight.

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Obviously, things aren’t so easy for a lot of folks transiting Mexico. Earlier this year, Amnesty International reported that as many as 20,000 Central American migrants are abducted in the country annually while en route to the U.S. border, often riding atop trains. As many as six out of 10 migrant women are raped.

Crossing the desert into the U.S. on foot, an untold number of migrants perish from dehydration and exposure to the elements. Additional hazards occur in the form of right-wing vigilante groups that have taken it upon themselves to augment the anti-immigrant services offered by the Homeland Security Department.

Nor is life a piece of cake once migrants actually reach the country, thanks especially to the xenophobic discourse of many in the political establishment. While encouraging the persecution of the “other,” this discourse helpfully distracts from the structural causes of individual and communal malaise in the U.S.—which have more to do with a noxious politico-economic system that favors corporate wellbeing over human wellbeing and not with the supposed exploitation of said system by immigrants.

To be sure, it’s a lot more comforting to blame one’s misery on brown people who pay taxes and do jobs Americans refuse to do than to ponder the implications of the fact that the U.S. government does things like spend over $700 million a day on wars and funnel billions of dollars to Israel so it can make its own wars.

Selective sanctity

Barack Obama’s maniacal track record as far as deportations go incidentally illustrates a key common denominator between the mentality of the U.S. and that of its Israeli partner in crime: the principle of “borders for us but not for you.”

Let’s consider the case of Immigrant X, a Mexican farmer whose livelihood was obliterated by NAFTA, or perhaps Immigrant Y, a Honduran attempting to flee a country whose conversion into the homicide capital of the world was in no small part abetted by the U.S. via decades of national militarization, support for death squads, and the general fostering of an environment of impunity.

X and Y head north only to discover that the penetration of borders is not a two-way street and that walls have been erected to contain the human fallout of the empire’s military and economic forays.

Or consider the case of Palestinian Z, a Gaza Strip resident whose existence is defined by the heavily fortified borders that are required to facilitate ethnic cleansing by Israel. As has been demonstrated once again by the latest protracted slaughter, the sanctity of borders applies to exactly one of the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of the right to self-defense, Z is granted the right to participate in the collective bullseye known as Gaza, an initiative that enables sectors of Israeli society to make a killing—both literally and figuratively.

Israeli political economist Shir Hever recently remarked to the Real News Network that “the Israeli arms industry is so dependent on these cycles of attacks every two years that Israel will never accept a 10-year ceasefire, because it would be a deadly blow to the… industry.”

Backyard laboratory

The International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and other observers have noted that one of the advantages to having trapped populations in one’s backyard is that the repressive experiments one is able to conduct on them translate into know-how that is marketable worldwide.

Just as the U.S. plays a fundamental role, as Israel’s benefactor, in the ongoing massacre of Palestinians, the Jewish state has also lent a hand to the empire’s ideological campaigns in the western hemisphere. For example, back when the communist menace was allegedly working to hasten the apocalypse, Israel charitably intervened in Latin America, arming various dictatorships and death squads and helping give birth to nefarious trends such as modern Colombian paramilitarism.

In his book Israel’s Global Role: Weapons for Repression, the late Hebrew University professor Israel Shahak notes that the Israelis supplied 98 percent of the weapons used by Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza during the final year of his reign, which ended in 1979. In that year alone, 50,000 people were killed.

In Guatemala, meanwhile, Gabriel Schivone reminds us that Israeli complicity in the genocide of the 1980s—a phase of the conflict that ultimately left an estimated 200,000 dead, many of them indigenous Mayans—was dependent upon methods test-driven in occupied Palestinian territories.

It’s difficult to argue that all of this history hasn’t in any way affected contemporary migration patterns toward the U.S. Fortuitously, however, Israel also has solutions for the migrant bulge!

Earlier this year, the Israeli corporation Elbit Systems—an old pro at the art of apartheid wall construction and maintenance—was awarded a $145 million contract from Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection agency to outfit a section of the U.S.-Mexico frontier with surveillance towers. According to Bloomberg, the sum “may eventually reach $1 billion.”

Of course, the extra workload hasn’t stopped Elbit from helping to kill civilians in Gaza.

The infinite frontier

The border security industrial complex, which increasingly overlaps with the military industrial complex, shows no sign of petering out anytime soon. This is thanks in part to an ever-expanding conception of borders, particularly in certain locations. In the case of Israel, border creep is fairly straightforward: the state usurps Palestinian land, and the edges of the usurped land become Israel’s new sacrosanct borders.

In the U.S., the evolution of the border is a bit more global in scope. According to journalist Todd Miller, author of the new book Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, the September 11 attacks effectively resulted in the proclamation of a “new world border”—the justification for which can be found in the official report by the 9/11 Commission:

“9/11 has taught us that terrorism against American interests ‘over there’ should be regarded just as we regard terrorism against America ‘over here.’ In this same sense, the American homeland is the planet.”

As Miller documents, however, the ubiquitous new border has been exploited for much more than terrorist-fighting purposes. The reason for the U.S. Border Patrol’s “presence of sorts” on the frontier between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Miller suggests, is essentially to contain the misery of the latter nation—to help thwart a mass migration of poor and hungry people that might disrupt the harmony of the universe.

Obviously, there is no harmony to be had in a universe predicated on the exacerbation of dividing lines and antagonisms between humans in the interest of profit.

In her book Hatreds: Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21st Century, political theorist Zillah Eisenstein writes: “The chaos of the psychic realm has some people fearing in others what they most fear in themselves. These fears can elicit the different mindsets of colonialism, nationalism, orientalism, and imperialism.”

If the U.S. and Israel ever decide to get introspective, they might realize that they do indeed have much to fear—primarily, their own lack of humanity.

Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine and Ricochet and a blogger for teleSUR English.