In October 2018, I traveled to Palestine on a seventeen day Environmental Justice and Olive Harvest delegation with a group called Eyewitness Palestine. Since I returned from Palestine, I have been pondering a meeting we had with Omar Barghouti, co-founder of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). In response to a question about building cohesive relationships with oppressed people across the world, Barghouti stated that the Black freedom movement in the United States “is uniquely positioned to play a key [and] leading role, in bringing [together] this coalition of the oppressed across the globe.” Barghouti’s words have remained with me over the past few months and I continue to ask myself how such a strong coalition can be actualized today–as it did in the past.
Indeed, Black support for Palestine has long existed. Key historical figures–such as Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and Amiri Baraka–and various Black organizations, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense supported Palestine.1 Their position and work on Palestine was fundamental. My intention here is not to expound on the history of Black and Palestinian solidarity; much has already been written on the topic by scholars. Rather, my interest is to understand this important history of Black support for Palestine as a tool to strengthen the contemporary Black freedom movement’s Palestinian solidarity work. As Marc Lamont Hill has argued, “our support for Palestine “has to be more than just words.” Hill further states, we need “a solidarity that is bound not just in ideology but in action.”
We have the potential to increase Black and Palestinian solidarity in new and profound ways and one way to do that is through examining similarities in our struggles. Black people in the United States and Palestinians are oppressed by the same capitalist, racist, and imperialist system. Therefore, the ways in which we resist oppression will correspond with each other. For the most part, the dominant understanding of similarities in Black and Palestinian struggles has been through the paradigm of militarization. This is important and deserves more attention, but our similarities in struggles go much deeper.
For example, as part of our delegation, we were given a tour of Jerusalem by Fayrouz Sharqawi, the advocacy coordinator at Grassroots Jerusalem. On the tour, Fayrouz informed us that Palestinian schools in Jerusalem are forced to teach an Israeli curriculum that excludes anything related to Palestinian history and culture. This reinforced historian Nancy Murray’s conclusion that “Israeli authorities have erased from school syllabuses any material referring to Palestine, love of the country, Palestinian nationalism and the Palestinian identity. Any references to the Arab contribution to human civilization and history are subject to censorship.”2 Palestinian children do not see the history of their people reflected in the curriculum. Sound familiar? In many public schools in the United States, Black children do not learn an accurate version of Black history or culture and they are forced to attend schools that portray Black people as inferior and a people with no history. Education is foundational for any freedom movement. Therefore, the United States and Israel use their control of the education system to prevent the resistance of oppressed people and to keep Blacks and Palestinians in a subordinate state.
Although the oppressive forces try to control the consciousness of Black and Palestinian people, oppressed people never acquiesce. They resist and build alternatives. For Black people, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) serve as institutions that engender Black political thought and student resistance. Many HBCUs are institutions where Black culture and history are thoroughly studied and the central part of the curriculum. The same type of institutions exist for Palestinians (such as schools like Dar al-Kalima University). The University has committed itself to “building a culture of democracy, critical thinking and free expression, thus contributing to the strengthening of the civil society in Palestine.” While visiting Dar al-Kalima, I had the opportunity to talk with Rana Khoury, the Universities Vice President for Development and Outreach. In our conversation she gave me an overview of some of the Universities initiatives and one of the major programs was civic engagement. For their civic engagement work, they do not just encourage students to resist, they show them how. HBCU’s and Universities like Dar al-Kalima, allow their students the opportunity to think about and imagine freedom in creative ways. These institutions are vital in terms of keeping Black and Palestinian culture alive. The existence of these institutions speaks to a much larger point, that despite inhumane conditions oppressed people face, they will always find ways to resist and part of this is the practice of critical thought.
Black people have an important and vital role in the struggle for a free Palestine. Barghouti’s point makes sense. We are in the belly of the beast. The United States gives close to $5 billion to the State of Israel, including $3 billion from Congress and the rest from military grants. The funding from the United States makes the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people possible. Angela Davis reminds us, similar to how the Black freedom movement in the United States organized to help end apartheid in South Africa, the same must be done for Palestine. Just like the United States supported the apartheid government in South Africa, they support Israel apartheid and occupation of Palestine. In the words of Marc Lamont Hill, Black people supporting Palestine “is what justice requires.”
It is important to note, as we move forward with strengthening Black and Palestinian solidarity, that Black people’s support for Palestine is not one-sided. Palestinians also support the Black freedom struggle. The sense of shared struggle exists in both communities. Angela Davis, while incarcerated, “received support from Palestinian political prisoners.” Moreover, while meeting with different Palestinian organizations and individuals on my delegation, they were all aware and supported the Black struggle in the United States. This support and solidarity is also symbolic. Hope Flowers School in Bethlehem, has a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the main entrance of their school. In addition, there are many Palestinian-Americans who are active in their local communities supporting and building solidarity with Black organizations. For example, Bassem Masri, a Palestinian-American, played a leading role in the resistance that emerged in Ferguson, Missouri after the murder of Michael Brown.
In the contemporary moment, many Black organizations support Palestine, including the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, The Movement for Black Lives, BYP100, and the Dream Defenders. However, there is still a wide range of people silent on Palestine in the Black community. As Donald Trump increases the United States support and aid to Israel, I believe that Black and Palestinian solidarity must also increase. Our freedom is interconnected.
- For more on Black and Palestinian Solidarity, see Michael R. Fischbach, Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019; Angela Davis, Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of A Movement (Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket, 2016); Alex Lubin, Geographies of Liberation: The Making of An Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (Chapel Hill : The University of North Carolina Press, 2014). ↩
- Nancy Murray, Palestinians: Life Under Occupation (Cambridge: The Middle East Justice Network, 1991), 74. ↩