- Containing Bordered “Others” in La Frontera and Gaza: Comparative Lessons on Racializing Discourses and State Violence
In May of 2008, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak hinted that Israel would soon wage war on Gaza’s Hamas government by publicly stating the following analogy: “Think about what would happen if for seven years, rockets had been fired at San Diego, California, from Tijuana, Mexico.”1 Six months later, as Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, its loyal apologists repeated this comparison all across the U.S. media in their attempts to rationalize the IDF’s disproportionate use of force during the so-called Gaza War. Barak’s analogy was an astute public relations move because it prompted people in the United States to relate the current conflict between Gazans and the state of Israel to what they think goes on in the liminal zones between Anglo-North America and Latin America. It effectively harnessed the fear that many people in this country have of the dangerous criminals/terrorists that supposedly traverse our border areas to seek the U.S. electorate’s support for Israel’s belligerent occupation and/or siege of the Palestinian territories.2
In this essay, I explore some of the connections that exist between how US Americans and supporters of Israel have discursively constructed who the “good” national subject is vis-à-vis who each nation’s internal and external enemies are. Just as Israelis and their allies have cast Palestinians as an existential threat to Israel—one that needs to be contained within militarized border areas—many in the United States now believe that Latina/o immigration is gravely imperiling the American nation. The common denominator of these two distinct yet interrelated discursive formations is how both Palestinians and Latina/o border crossers are represented as significant threats to the well-being and integrity of both nation-states.
I argue that a comparative analysis of the ways racialized discourses legitimize state-led racial violence on the U.S.-Mexico and Israel-Gaza borders can offer American studies and ethnic studies scholars some valuable, often overlooked [End Page 811] insights about how race applies to the Middle East, and conversely, how the way Americans think of Arabs and/or Muslims partly shapes the way we see immigrants in the United States today. Such a comparative focus can add to our understanding of how in the wake of the War on Terror, Arab Americans and/or Muslim Americans have moved from being racialized as white to being regarded as a nonwhite, foreign threat. For example, this type of analysis can open up ways for thinking about how Arabs and/or Muslims are being discursively recast through a “racial triangulation” of sorts that activates long-standing white American fears of groups of color to “make sense” of who the United States’ new enemies are.
This comparative exercise can also illustrate how ideas of race used to legitimize the United States’ wars in the Middle East can travel back to the homeland to sanction state violence against people of color domestically. We have to remember that Palestinian militants are not just Israel’s enemies. They have also been enemies of the United States since the 1960s. Before al-Qaeda existed and prior to Iran’s Islamic revolution, the figure of the Palestinian nationalist militant gave people in the United States an archetype of who their “terrorist” enemies were.3 Much as the racialization of the United States’ enemies in Asia during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war influenced how white Americans thought of and treated Americans of color at home, the discursive construction of Palestinian and other Arab “terrorists” in the 1970s and 1980s has partly influenced how many in the United States came to regard undocumented Latina/o immigrants as security threats, particularly after 9/11.4
One of the underlying premises of my analysis here is that it is impossible to fully comprehend the history of the Middle East and the role that the United States has played in it without looking at how ideas of race played a part in the region’s conflicts. The Zionist project of settling Palestine by displacing...