By Mohannad El-Khairy
The smog over Los Angeles is thick. Having built a reputation for itself as one of the densest in the world, the masses live with its presence above them, as if having no choice but to surrender their health to pollution. But today, the LA skies are bright blue clear. It’s spring time and although it doesn’t snow here, there’s a clear transition in the weather. A warm change. A refreshing of the air.
We’re heading downtown to Skidrow, which can almost be described as an American souq. I’m told it’s shop after shop of all kinds of cheap goods, ranging from clothes to electronics and more. In this hard-working urban community, most shop owners originate from abroad: African American, Latino Mexican, Jewish Persian, Punjabi Hindu…an awesome mix of races, religions and ethnicities tirelessly working to reach the American dream. Or is it the American nightmare?
As we approach Santee Alley street, I look around. Suddenly I see one. Then two. Then 5. Then 10. Some are old. Most look physically older. As they carry their entire belongings on their backs or in their hands, their story can almost be entirely deciphered from the wrinkles shaping their faces, like the lines inside the trunks of ancient olive trees. With their lives lumped into shopping carts, they walk exhausted yet tirelessly, with a peculiar sense of purpose, as if their only goal is to survive today, to reach tomorrow. The word SHOCK is an understatement.
We receive a call and the person on the phone is giving us directions to where we can park the car. "There’s a homeless Black woman there. You can’t miss her. She’s always there, in the alley". A homeless Black woman. Let me repeat these three words. Homeless. Black. Woman. If freedom and prosperity are America’s core principles, then on what basis does a homeless, Black woman become a landmark for a parking lot. The very essence of the Black nation, indeed of any nation, is its women; the very givers and nurturers of life. And they’re being attacked, degraded and marginalized in the alley by a wicked structure that America has very much become, where a corrupt elite (example Wall Street bankers) is rewarded and the disenfranchised poor continue to pay the price. Yet when we park the car, we do not see her.
We speak with the Latino attendant who gives us directions on how to reach the shops. It’s about a 4-mile walk. We begin our journey and turn right on the first intersection. The incredible sight witnessed in the car a few moments ago becomes that much more real, that much more vivid, right there in front of you. Everywhere you look, the homeless wonder around or lay there on the street. A small park has been taken over and turned into a shelter, despite the community centers in the vicinity offering the same. There clearly wasn’t enough space to accommodate the shear number of disenfranchised people. I am told the number of homeless people in America has sky rocketed following the mortgage crisis that led to the global financial downturn. Here on the streets of downtown LA it’s evident. As we walk by them, it’s also evident that many have succumbed to the decade-long disastrous effects of drug, alcohol and substance abuse. One visibly thin woman looked paranoid and had a twitching eye, while one man kept talking to himself. One fellow stared us down while another sitting in a wheel chair took notice: "Hold up hold up where are yall from?" he asks "Palestine!" I tell him. "Well AsSalamu Alaikom ma Brotha", he says with a cheeky smile. Smiling back, I return the greeting "Wu Alaikom isSalaam Brother". For he needs Peace more than I do. They all need more peace, and more justice.
As we reach the second intersection and wait for the pedestrian light to turn green, a car from the Los Angeles Police Department crosses in front of us. That black and white cop car made famous the world over by Hollywood movies carried two LAPD officers. Spotting broad shoulders, blond hair and mustache and black shades, the cop in the passenger seat looked at us and the rest of the masses on the street with impunity. With his window rolled down and right arm resting on the door, he patrolled the streets with the arrogance of an oppressor, as if we were all beneath him. "The Black Panther Party for Self Defense is not anti-White. It’s anti-Oppression! You can’t fight racism with racism!" said one of its founders Bobby Seale. Yet this anti-oppressionism was no where to be felt on the streets of LA. Understandably so, especially when one recalls the US government’s intimate involvement with the drug industry to intoxicate, weaken and destroy the African American communities and any of their attempts to organize grass root movements demanding justice and equality.
"Didn’t that LAPD officer remind you of something?" I asked. Indeed right then and there, I felt I was back on the cross roads in a Palestinian refugee camp with an Israeli Occupation Forces army patrol unit driving by. It was exactly the same feeling, the same sensation, the same representation; of oppressor and oppressed. Only this time, there were no shots, there were no sirens, there was no resistance. The only thing there was, was the dying spirit of a People, forced to accept their fate by an evil system designed, created and sustained by the elite establishment.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Zionist establishment proudly claim that the Arabs — they never refer to them as Palestinians because to them there’s "no such thing as a Palestinian" — living inside Israel enjoy the greatest freedom anywhere in the Middle East. They may be citizens of the state, but what’s the use of citizenship when ghettoization, drug-abuse and self-destruction define their everyday lives. (Economic) Apartheid and (Corporatized) Democracy are not mutually exclusive. In fact in today’s world, they categorically compliment one another. Therefore it is not surprising why Netanyahu received 29 pompous standing ovations from the US Congress for his hate speech on May 24th 2011. In fact, I’d argue that Netanyahu’s speech exposed the very essence of the cemented relationship between Israel’s racist apartheid nature and America’s corporatized democracy: an elitist establishment (or North) designing and implementing an innately disenfranchising status-quo that maintains their absolute power, control and eventual destruction of the Masses (or South), whether they Black, Muslim, Jewish or Palestinian. It is nothing short than pure fascism.
How removed can a US President be? His entire campaign was based on "hope and change" yet no matter how one measures it, life on Skidrow is more of the "same despair". As he literally dines with royals (London, May 2011), can anyone imagine Obama back in his grass-roots community days? There’s a saying in Arabic that can loosely be translated as "When you lie, you will eventually run out of string". Indeed, as the insurrection against banker/corporate occupation spreads throughout the world, politicians are managing to consistently sucker the masses in with manufactured lies, Cinderella-like manipulations, and media-hyped excuses. And that’s exactly what Bibi’s speech at the Congress was all about. Soon enough however, as they hang on their string of lies, the elites will be exposed and the masses will wake up to this innately chronic duplicitous system, a global intifada from Palestine to Egypt, Greece to London and Wisconsin to Los Angeles.
Egypt may have risen from the darkness and defined the essence of Revolution. Yet how can the oppressed masses of downtown Los Angeles, with their beautiful, mighty ethnic backgrounds, even begin to organize when they are so heavily drugged, downed and defeated. This, I concluded, is the bottom line of apartheid. This is what Palestine would look in any two-state solution. A complete inability, an utter normalization of horrific realities, a fait-accomplit. A smog within, poisoning souls of innocents into submission.
– Mohannad El-Khairy is a Palestinian writer and commentator based in Dubai. He researches and writes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the wider socio-political situation in the Middle East, and their contextual significance on the international political stage on his blog Money & Mud Uncensored. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.