US Black lives matter activists speak out for Palestine
US Black lives matter activists speak out for Palestine
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More than 1,100 Black activists, artists, scholars and students in the United States have signed the 2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine. Individual signatories include Angela Davis, Boots Riley, Cornel West, Emory Douglas and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Almost 50 organisations have also signed on. Red Flag’s Vashti Kenway spoke with Khury Petersen-Smith, who co-authored the statement (reprinted below).

What prompted you to be part of producing this statement?

The idea came last year, during Israel’s catastrophic bombing of Gaza. The Ferguson Uprising took place in the midst of it, and Palestinians produced two statements of solidarity with Ferguson and the Black struggle in the US.

In recent years, there have been growing numbers of prominent Black activists and intellectuals – like Alice Walker, Angela Davis, and Cornel West – speaking out very vocally for Palestine. There was also a brilliant piece in Ebony magazine, the most widely circulated Black publication in the US, on why “Black people must stand with Palestine”.

There was an opportunity to produce a statement that expressed the growing Black solidarity with Palestine and garnered more. Kristian Davis Bailey, the author of the Ebony piece, had the same idea and the two of us began working on the same project independently and unbeknownst to each other!

An activist who we both knew introduced us to each other and we decided to co-organise one statement together. We circulated it and published it on the first anniversary of the attack on Gaza. Since last summer, not only has there been a new wave of struggle against anti-Black racism in the US, but also very visible solidarity between the Black and Palestinian struggles.

There were Palestine contingents in Ferguson and at Black Lives Matter protests elsewhere, and delegations of Black activists to Palestine as well.

What was the process of collecting signatories? 

Kristian and I each knew some prominent Black activists and scholars who we reached out to. We have been involved in Palestine solidarity, Black Lives Matter, and left organising, so we sent the statement through our networks.

We approached key leaders, like Angela Davis, Cornel West, and others, and key organizations, like the Dream Defenders – all of whom signed on. With their signing, as well as Mumia Abu-Jamal, we reached a tipping point at which more people knew about it and signed on. We are excited to say that, ultimately, people from 25 different countries signed on, including Australia. 

Were there any debates within either the Palestinian solidarity or the Black Lives Matter campaign about the production of the statement? 

We have not directly encountered debates in producing the statement, though the question of whether oppressed groups of people should stand in solidarity with each others’ struggles is very much contested. We hope this is a contribution in favour of seeing solidarity as something that makes our movements stronger and is necessary if we are actually going to win liberation. 

Which political questions come to the fore in this convergence of movements? 

Taking an honest look at the plights of the Palestinians and of Black people in the United States raises fundamental questions about both US and Israeli society. You have two oppressed populations whose control was a central question for the founding of each state, and has been ever since.

So there are all kinds of relevant questions that come up when looking at the connections between Zionism and anti-Black racism, such as the fact that the same US police departments that terrorise Black people routinely train with Israeli police and occupation forces, who excitedly share their notes on terrorising Palestinians. But on a deeper level, both the Palestinian struggle and the Black freedom struggle in the US expose the fact that both the US and Israel are racist projects at their cores. 

Why is international solidarity so important for the Black Lives Matter campaign? 

Black struggle in the US has always been a source of embarrassment for the US elite on the world stage because it cannot get away with declaring the US to be “the land of the free”. That was true during the days of slavery, of Jim Crow segregation, and it remains true today. When the US loses its credibility among people around the world as “the world’s greatest democracy”, that can only help our struggle here.

But just as international solidarity has helped the Black struggle in the US historically, that struggle has inspired and contributed to resistance around the world. Black struggle in the US in solidarity with struggles of oppressed people internationally is of mutual benefit to all of the struggles involved. When we fight alongside each other, we all win.

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Black Solidarity Statement on Palestine

The past year has been one of high-profile growth for Black-Palestinian solidarity. Out of the terror directed against us – from numerous attacks on Black life to Israel’s brutal war on Gaza and chokehold on the West Bank – strengthened resilience and joint struggle have emerged between our movements.

Palestinians on Twitter were among the first to provide international support for protesters in Ferguson, where St Louis-based Palestinians gave support on the ground. Last November, a delegation of Palestinian students visited Black organisers in St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit and more, just months before the Dream Defenders took representatives of Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, and other racial justice groups to Palestine.

Throughout the year, Palestinians sent multiple letters of solidarity to us throughout protests in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore. We offer this statement to continue the conversation between our movements:

On the anniversary of last summer’s Gaza massacre, in the 48th year of Israeli occupation, the 67th year of Palestinians’ ongoing Nakba (the Arabic word for Israel’s ethnic cleansing) – and in the fourth century of Black oppression in the present-day United States – we, the undersigned Black activists, artists, scholars, writers, and political prisoners offer this letter of reaffirmed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and commitment to the liberation of Palestine’s land and people.

We can neither forgive nor forget last summer’s violence. We remain outraged at the brutality Israel unleashed on Gaza through its siege by land, sea and air, and three military offensives in six years. We remain sickened by Israel’s targeting of homes, schools, UN shelters, mosques, ambulances, and hospitals. We remain heartbroken and repulsed by the number of children Israel killed in an operation it called “defensive”.

We reject Israel’s framing of itself as a victim. Anyone who takes an honest look at the destruction to life and property in Gaza can see Israel committed a one-sided slaughter. With 100,000 people still homeless in Gaza, the massacre’s effects continue to devastate Gaza today and will for years to come.

Israel’s injustice and cruelty toward Palestinians is not limited to Gaza and its problem is not with any particular Palestinian party. The oppression of Palestinians extends throughout the occupied territories, within Israel’s 1948 borders, and into neighbouring countries.

The Israeli Occupation Forces continue to kill protesters – including children – conduct night raids on civilians, hold hundreds of people under indefinite detention, and demolish homes while expanding illegal Jewish-only settlements. Israeli politicians, including Benjamin Netanyahu, incite against Palestinian citizens within Israel’s recognised borders, where over 50 laws discriminate against non-Jewish people.

Our support extends to those living under occupation and siege, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the 7 million Palestinian refugees exiled in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. The refugees’ right to return to their homeland in present-day Israel is the most important aspect of justice for Palestinians.

Palestinian liberation represents an inherent threat to Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid, an apparatus built and sustained on ethnic cleansing, land theft, and the denial of Palestinian humanity and sovereignty. While we acknowledge that the apartheid configuration in Israel/Palestine is unique from the United States (and South Africa), we continue to see connections between the situation of Palestinians and Black people.

Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of Black people in the US, including the political imprisonment of our own revolutionaries. Soldiers, police, and courts justify lethal force against us and our children who pose no imminent threat. And while the US and Israel would continue to oppress us without collaborating with each other, we have witnessed police and soldiers from the two countries train side-by-side.

US and Israeli officials and media criminalise our existence, portray violence against us as “isolated incidents”, and call our resistance “illegitimate” or “terrorism”. These narratives ignore decades and centuries of anti-Palestinian and anti-Black violence that have always been at the core of Israel and the US.

We recognise the racism that characterises Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is also directed against others in the region, including intolerance, police brutality, and violence against Israel’s African population. Israeli officials call asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea “infiltrators” and detain them in the desert, while the state has sterilised Ethiopian Israelis without their knowledge or consent. These issues call for unified action against anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and Zionism.

We know Israel’s violence toward Palestinians would be impossible without the US defending Israel on the world stage and funding its violence with over $3 billion annually. We call on the US government to end economic and diplomatic aid to Israel. We wholeheartedly endorse Palestinian civil society’s 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and call on Black and US institutions and organisations to do the same. We urge people of conscience to recognise the struggle for Palestinian liberation as a key matter of our time.

As the BDS movement grows, we offer G4S, the world’s largest private security company, as a target for further joint struggle. G4S harms thousands of Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in Israel and hundreds of Black and brown youth held in its privatised juvenile prisons in the US. The corporation profits from incarceration and deportation, from the US and Palestine to the UK, South Africa, and Australia. We reject notions of “security” that make any of our groups unsafe and insist no one is free until all of us are.

We offer this statement first and foremost to Palestinians, whose suffering does not go unnoticed and whose resistance and resilience under racism and colonialism inspires us. It is to Palestinians, as well as the Israeli and US governments, that we declare our commitment to working through cultural, economic, and political means to ensure Palestinian liberation at the same time as we work towards our own.

We encourage activists to use this statement to advance solidarity with Palestine and we also pressure our own Black political figures to finally take action on this issue. As we continue these transnational conversations and interactions, we aim to sharpen our practice of joint struggle against capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, and the various racisms embedded in and around our societies.

[Co-authored by Kristian Bailey and Khury Petersen-Smith. Visit blackforpalestine.com for the full list of signatories and more information.]

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