Alice Walker: Palestine Conditions are “More ‘Brutal” than in U.S. South 50 Years Ago

Democracy Now!

September 28, 2012

 We continue our conversation with the legendary poet, author and activist, Alice Walker, who has also been a longtime advocate for the rights of Palestinians. Last summer, she was one of the activists on the U.S. ship that attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla aimed at challenging Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip. Alice Walker also serves on the jury of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an international people’s tribunal created in 2009 to bring attention to the responsibility other states bear for Israel’s violations of international law. Walker describes her upbringing in the segregated South, then goes on to discuss today’s segregation in the Occupied Territories. “The unfairness of it is so much like the South. It’s so much like the South of 50 years ago, really, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, shot, killed, imprisoned. You know, there are thousands of Palestinians in prison virtually for no reason,” Walker says. [includes rush transcript]

Alice Walker, award-winning author, poet and activist. Her book The Color Purple was published 30 years ago. It won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction, and was later adapted into a film directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey, and into a musical of the same name. Her latest book is The Chicken Chronicles, and before that, Overcoming Speechlessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel. She is set to participate next week in the fourth session of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: But you have refused, Alice, to have your book translated into Hebrew for an Israeli publisher. Can you talk about your decision and who the publisher was?

ALICE WALKER: Yes. Well, actually, it was already published there in 19—I don’t know, 80-something. And at that time, there was no cultural boycott of Israel for its apartheid practices and its persecution of the Palestinian people. But now there is a boycott, and so I respect that boycott in the same way that I respected the boycott when there was apartheid in South Africa. And we were contemplating sending the film there, and I lobbied against it.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the parallels you make.

ALICE WALKER: Mean apartheid ones? Well, first of all, in Israel and the Occupied Territories, there’s this gigantic wall, which is, I think, the most offensive symbol of the apartheid. It not only segregates the Palestinians from the Israelis, but they also, at the same time, have stolen so much Palestinian land. I mean, they’ve essentially stolen what was all of Palestine. And it’s just horrible to see the treatment of the people. I mean, the checkpoints are dreadful. We went through some of them. And the way the Palestinians are treated is so reminiscent of the way black people were treated in the South when I was growing up. And it’s an intolerable situation. And that our country backs this treatment by standing with Israel through thick and thin is just unbearable.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a clip of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu talking about apartheid, talking about South Africa and talking about Israel.

DESMOND TUTU: Coming from South Africa and going—I mean, and looking at the checkpoints and the arrogance of those young soldiers, probably scared, maybe covering up their apprehension, there’s no way in which I couldn’t say—of course, that is a truth. It reminds me—it reminds me of the kind of experiences that we underwent. I mean, I was bishop of Johannesburg and would be driving from town to Soweto, where we lived, and I would be driving with my wife, and we’d have a roadblock. And the fact of our having to have passes allowing us to move freely in the land of our birth, and now you have that extraordinary structure that—the wall. And I do not, myself, believe that it has improved security, breaking up families, breaking up—I mean, people who used to be able to walk from their homes to school, children, now have to take a detour that lasts several—I mean, it’s—when you humiliate a people to the extent that they are being—and, yes, one remembers the kind of experience we had when we were being humiliated—when you do that, you’re not contributing to your own security.

AMY GOODMAN: Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Alice Walker, your response?

ALICE WALKER: Well, I’m very happy that Desmond Tutu speaks out on this issue, because so many people are afraid to speak at all. And I think this is very dangerous. I think that wherever there is this kind of oppression, wherever you see people who are being humiliated, it’s our duty as human beings and as citizens of the planet to speak. You know, that’s all we can do: speak, at least.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in Gaza. Our producer Anjali Kamat in 2009 interviewed you while you were there. I want to play a clip of that.

ALICE WALKER: It’s shocking beyond anything I have ever experienced. And it’s actually so horrible that it’s basically unbelievable, even though I’m standing here and I’ve been walking here and I’ve been looking at things here. It still feels like, you know, you could never convince anyone that this is actually what is happening and what has happened to these people and what the Israeli government has done. It will be a very difficult thing for anyone to actually believe in, so it’s totally important that people come to visit and to see for themselves, because the world community, that cares about peace and cares about truth and cares about justice, will have to find a way to deal with this. We cannot let this go as if it’s just OK, especially those of us in the United States who pay for this. You know, I have come here, in part, to see what I’m buying with my tax money.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker in Gaza in 2009. Last summer, she was one of the activists on the U.S. ship that attempted to sail to Gaza as part of the Freedom Flotilla aimed at challenging Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip. Dubbed The Audacity of Hope after President Obama’s bestselling book, the U.S. ship was stopped by Greek authorities just as it set sail. Alice Walker spoke to Democracy Now! producer Aaron Maté from the ship as it was being turned back.

ALICE WALKER: It feels really good to know that the world is watching, that there are people on this earth who care about the people of Gaza so much that we all got out of our houses and into our various cars and planes, and we made it to this boat, and we actually tried to cross the water to get to the people of Gaza, especially to the children, who need to know that the world is here and the world cares and the world sees and a lot of us love them, and we do not agree that they should be brutalized and harmed.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alice Walker speaking on the Freedom Flotilla. She is now serving on the jury of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, an international people’s tribunal created in 2009 to bring attention to the responsibility other states bear for Israel’s violations of international law. The Russell Tribunal will be holding its fourth international session in New York October 6th. You’re going to be there, Alice Walker.

ALICE WALKER: I will be there. Yes, I will be there with some wonderful people, including Angela Davis, Cynthia McKinney, Mairead Maguire—

AMY GOODMAN: The Nobel Peace Prize winner.

ALICE WALKER: Stéphane Hessel—yes, lots of wonderful—Michael Mansfield, a lot of really good people.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky will also be—

ALICE WALKER: Noam Chomsky will be there, Dennis Banks.

AMY GOODMAN: And what will you do?

ALICE WALKER: Well, we will hear testimony about why it is that nothing seems to move. The U.N. makes resolutions, you know, and they’re ignored. And there are so many resolutions. The one that particularly pains my heart is Resolution 194—I think that’s the number—which says to Israel that you cannot keep the Palestinians, who were forced out of their homes—you cannot prevent them from returning to their homes. And I’m such a believer that people need to have a place to live that is theirs, that they should never be run out of their own place. And if they are run out, they should be able to return there. And this, with so many other resolutions, was ignored and has never been addressed. And the United States is complicit, because it backs Israel no matter what. And I think this is corrupting, I think for our young people especially, to see that, you know, justice in this case is just never even thought about.

AMY GOODMAN: You make comparisons to the South. Talk about your growing up and about your family.

ALICE WALKER: Well, my family was a poor farming family, and we lived under absolute segregation. Although, even though, you know, all of the hotels and the motels and the restaurants and the water fountains, all those things were segregated, we didn’t have segregated roads, which you do have in the Occupied Territories, roads that only Jewish settlers can use, and the Palestinians have these little tracks, you know, these little paths, often, you know, obstructed by boulders. And that is how they’re supposed to move around, for the most part. And the unfairness of it is so much like the South. It’s so much like the South of, you know, I don’t know, 50 years ago, really, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, killed, imprisoned. You know, there are thousands of Palestinians in prison virtually for no reason.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you feel like public opinion is changing in the United States?

ALICE WALKER: I feel that public opinion is changing, and I think it’s because people have decided that, you know, we’re all in such danger. We’re all in harm’s way now, and people are awakening to the fact that unless we take care of each other, nobody is safe, there will never be safety.

We’re joined for the hour here in Washington by Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. This year is the 30th anniversary of her momentous work, The Color Purple. And she was here in Arlington at George Mason University reading from the book, speaking to the audience.

But we are also in the nation’s capital. The president lives not far from here, Alice Walker. And, in fact, I remember sitting with you at the inauguration of President Obama in Washington, D.C., in 2008, the first African-American president. You have now written a poem in this election year, and I was wondering if you would share it with us.

ALICEWALKER: Yes, I’d like to. It’s dedicated to Wangari Maathai, who remembered the beautiful bountifulness of her land before the colonial invaders laid waste to it, and she resolved to bring it back to health by planting trees. And as you know, she died last year. Rest in Well Done; beloved sister of our clan.

“Democratic Womanism”

You ask me why I smile
when you tell me you intend
in the coming national elections
to hold your nose
and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there,
is one reason I smile.
Another is that our old buddy Nostradamus
comes to mind, with his fearful
400 year old prophecy: that our world
and theirs too
(our “enemies” – lots of kids included there)
will end (by nuclear nakba or holocaust)
in our lifetime. Which makes the idea of elections
and the billions of dollars wasted on them
somewhat fatuous.
A Southerner of Color,
my people held the vote
very dear
while others, for centuries,
merely appeared to play
with it.
One thing I can assure
you of is this:
I will never betray such pure hearts
by voting for evil
even if it were microscopic
which, as you can see in any newscast
no matter the slant,
it is not.
I want something else;
a different system
One not seen
on this earth
for thousands of years. If ever.
Democratic Womanism.
Notice how this word has “man” right in the middle of it?
That’s one reason I like it. He is right there, front and center. But he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life
that honors the feminine;
a way that acknowledges
the theft of the wisdom
female and dark Mother leadership
might have provided our spaceship
all along.
I am not thinking
of a talking head
kind of gal:
happy to be mixing
it up
with the baddest
bad boys
on the planet
her eyes a slit
her mouth a zipper.
No, I am speaking of true
regime change.
Where women rise
to take their place
en masse
at the helm
of earth’s frail and failing ship;
where each thousand years
of our silence
is examined
with regret,
and the cruel manner in which our values
of compassion and kindness
have been ridiculed
and suppressed
brought to bear on the disaster
of the present time.
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave
it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and, perhaps
Socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply
how to share but Mothers
and Grandmothers? Big sisters
and Aunts?
To love
and adore
both female and male?
Not to mention those in between.
To work at keeping
the entire community
fed, educated
and safe?
Democratic womanism,
Democratic Socialist
would have as its icons
such fierce warriors
for good as
Vandana Shiva
Aung San Suu Kyi,
Wangari Maathai
Harriet Tubman
Yoko Ono
Frida Kahlo
Angela Davis
& Barbara Lee:
With new ones always rising, wherever you look.

You are also on this list, but it is so long (Isis would appear midway) that I must stop or be unable to finish the poem! So just know I’ve stood you in a circle that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Mary McLeod Bethune. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, John Lennon and Howard Zinn are there. Happy to be surrounded!

There is no system
There is no system
now in place
that can change
the disastrous course
the Earth is on.
Who can doubt this?
The male leaders
of Earth
appear to have abandoned
their very senses
though most appear
to live now
in their heads.
They murder humans and other
forests and rivers and mountains
every day
they are in office
and never seem
to notice it.
They eat and drink devastation.
Women of the world,
Women of the world,
Is this devastation Us?
Would we kill whole continents for oil
(or anything else)
rather than limit
the number of consumer offspring we produce
and learn how to make our own fire?
Democratic Womanism.
Democratic Socialist Womanism.
A system of governance
we can dream and imagine and build together. One that recognizes
at least six thousand years
of brutally enforced complicity
in the assassination
of Mother Earth, but foresees six thousand years
ahead of us when we will not submit.
What will we need? A hundred years
at least to plan: (five hundred will be handed us
when the planet is scared enough)
in which circles of women meet,
organize ourselves, and,
allied with men
brave enough to stand with women,
men brave enough to stand with women,
nurture our planet to a degree of health.
And without apology —-
(impossible to make
a bigger mess than has been made already) -—
devote ourselves, heedless of opposition,
to tirelessly serving and resuscitating Our Mother ship
and with gratitude
for Her care of us
worshipfully commit
rehabilitating it.

AMYGOODMAN: Alice Walker, “Democratic Womanism,” in this election year. What are your thoughts on what should happen in November?

ALICEWALKER: Well, what should happen in November is that everyone should make the very best choice based on their own values. And that is, you know, recognizing that there is so much evil, you know, everywhere we look. Still, you know, choose what you think is best for our course of action. But have a thought about the long-term survivability of the planet and start to put the health of the planet before everything else and to then have leadership that reflects that.

AMYGOODMAN: What are your thoughts on President Obama today?

ALICEWALKER: Well, you know, I continue to care for President Obama and for his family. I think that in many ways they are very courageous people, and I honor that, because I know what it means to live as a black person in a racist America. But I cannot feel good about drone strikes. I cannot feel good about bombing people. I don’t—I just don’t believe in war. I think it’s stupid. And I think that he is so smart that it’s a waste of his intelligence to pursue peace by making more war. It does not make any sense.

AMYGOODMAN: And on this 30th anniversary of The Color Purple, your final thoughts today, to leave us with?

ALICEWALKER: Well, I think that, you know, life is abundant, and life is beautiful. And it’s a good place that we’re all in, you know, on this earth, if we take care of it. And if we can just turn to our inner guide rather than to the outer guides who seem to always end up fighting somebody, we’d be a lot better off.

AMYGOODMAN: And the books you’re working on now?

ALICEWALKER: Well, I have two new books that will be out in the spring. One is called The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way, and the other one is a book of poems called The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers.

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