Stand in the Place Where You Live: Diane Nelson on the Boycott

[this essay originally appeared on Savage Minds]

Diane M. Nelson

I support the AAA boycott resolution because I have spent 30 years as a gringa (North American) working in Guatemala amid the detritus of US support for genocidal military governments.  Working with Guatemalans struggling for equitable conditions of life, justice, and redress I have learned that a large part of my role is to bring that struggle back to the US because “we” are such a potent player in blocking, materially and ideologically, the efforts to make other worlds possible.  Guatemalan lives matter. Mayan lives matter.  Once I acknowledge this basic claim, I have to ask, Who gets away with murder?  Who gets away with theft?  Who gets away with destroying the ability to live and continue to generate life?  In Guatemala it is national oppressors with transnational banks and geopolitics and respectability (and some folks with crazy visions of apocalypse) backing them up.  Academics tend to have rather weak weapons against such foes.  Yet the intensity of the negative reactions to the BDS movement suggest we’ve found a finger in the wound, a way to catch the beast’s attention.  A way to bring struggles back to one of the many sources of injustice.  Claude Levi-Strauss suggests there is a mutilation inherent in the vocation of anthropology, that we tend to be critics at home and conformists abroad.  The BDS movement is precisely about criticizing at home, attempting to level the playing field so Israelis and Palestinians can work out possibilities without the enormous weight of an imperial power backing only one side.

I am not Jewish, but anthropology would be in a sorry place indeed if it held that knowledge is only possible through identity.  I am also not an expert on the Middle East.  But I have studied enclosure and accumulation by dispossession as well as the colonial projects of installing a class/race of middle people to operate in the interests of the oppressor.  I know something about producing violence and hatred so that they come to seem the “natural” condition of the dispossessed, which in turn justifies on-going violence (and arms sales).  A boycott is a slender sword indeed against these structures but it is one we can deploy as part of a larger arsenal. Palestinian lives matter. Until this is globally recognized we have to take this stand.  Thank you to the brave organizers and everyone who accepts this responsibility.

In memory of Tanya Reinhart