Santa Fe’s Palestine Murals Remind Us This Is Stolen Land

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A depiction by the Navajo artist Remy of 16-year-old Fawzi al-Junaidi with a group of IDF soldiers in 2017

by Elena Ortiz

Santa Fe prides itself on the city’s reputation as an art mecca and home to vibrant Native cultures. Why then should a Native installed art exhibit on a stucco wall along the Santa Fe Trail cause such controversy? Because it illuminates a truth that many people do not want to face? It offends people? It is anti-Semitic? 

The truth is sometimes painful. One hundred years ago, in what is now known as the “Middle East,” Europeans drew lines on paper and called them borders. America has enforced those borders with military aid in the form of troops, weapons and obscene amounts of money. 

In 1916, the French and British signed the Sykes-Picot agreement that carved up the “Middle East” for their respective countries. This agreement was quickly superseded by another, which established a mandate system of French and British control and was sanctioned by the newly formed League of Nations.

The Balfour Declaration and the British mandate over Palestine were approved by the League of Nations in 1922. Most Arabs opposed the Balfour Declaration, over concerns that a Jewish homeland would mean the subjugation of Arab Palestinians. They were correct.

The British controlled Palestine until Israel, in the years following the end of World War II, was made an independent state in 1947. 

The Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs — about half of Palestine’s pre-WWII Arab population — were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 war with Israel. Now these 700,000 and their descendants live in refugee camps spread throughout the region, while their occupiers, the settler-colonists, live in shining cities funded by US tax dollars.

Today, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has given Israel $142.3 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although from 1971 to 2007 Israel also received significant economic assistance.

In 2016, the U.S. and Israeli governments signed a new ten-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) on military aid, covering FY2019 to FY2028. Under the terms of the MOU, the United States pledges to provide $38 billion in military aid ($33 billion in Foreign Military Financing grants plus $5 billion in missile defense appropriations) to Israel. This MOU replaced a previous $30 billion ten-year agreement, which ran through fiscal year 2018.

Each year approximately 500-700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years old, are detained and prosecuted in the Israeli military court system. The most common charge is stone throwing. It is unconscionable that “liberal” Americans can be so justifiably enraged that immigrant children are kept in cages at the US border, but stay silent at Palestinian children being prosecuted and imprisoned in their own homelands. 

Five centuries ago, in what is now known as the Americas, Europeans drew lines on paper and called them borders. America has enforced those borders — all the while forgetting their responsibilities to the original peoples of this land and the enslaved peoples who were brought here to build the infrastructure of this nation, a nation founded on genocide.

These are truths. The images on that stucco wall show the truth of settler colonialism and the effects it has on Indigenous people. They were put there to show solidarity with our Palestinian relatives in the face of brutal occupation; to illuminate injustice and shed light on this nation’s complicity in Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people.

This is a wake-up call. This is NATIVE LAND. 

To those who defaced those murals – You are settlers on stolen land — here and in Palestine. Remember that.