What do Palestinians share with America’s Blacks? The question of civil rights

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 17, 2015

BlackLivesMatterPalestineVideoOnly the most stony-hearted (or those who believe Benjamin Netanyahu is a man of peace) could fail to be moved by this video that shows us why Black Americans might feel as dehumanized and despairing as the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Watch it if you can, here’s the link.

“When I see them, I see us,” the voices in the video say over multiple frames from Ferguson (USA), the Gaza Strip and other places. “Harassed, beaten, tortured, dehumanized, stopped and frisked, searched at checkpoints,” they go on.

Is this just tear-jerker stuff?

Not at all, says Noura Erakat, an academic who was one of the organisers of the project that twins Palestinian and Black America’s problems. It is intellectually robust, she says, even though both experiences seem very different.

“Here were two groups of people dealing with completely different historical trajectories, but both which resulted in a process of dehumanization that criminalized them and that subject their bodies as expendable,” Ms Erakat went on TV to say, “Not only were their lives more vulnerable and disposable, but that even in their death, they were blamed for their own death.”

That’s an incredibly sad but true statement – even in their death they were blamed for their own death – especially in the context of the latest shooting to death on the West Bank of a Palestinian man who pretended to be a news photographer and stabbed and moderately wounded an Israeli soldier.

But what’s fascinating is the coming together of this community of woe, separated by the oceans, and colour, and history.

Apparently, it all started because of the Ferguson protests in the US against police brutality towards black people. This was in the aftermath of that summer’s Gaza war and Palestinians were probably feeling raw and bloodied. They are said to have offered advice to the American protestors on dealing with tear gas down in Missouri.(Interestingly, both US and Israeli police use American-made tear gas cannisters.) Earlier this year, Ethiopian Israelis protested against police brutality in Jerusalem by reportedly chanting “Baltimore is here!”

This has made for increasing solidarity against state oppression between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and Palestinian activists. In January, #BlackLivesMatter activists went to the Palestinian territories to see how their lives compared, especially because both of their struggles hinge on questions of civil rights.

The implications of this could be pretty significant. Consider the progress of the BDS movement – boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. BDS is starting to gain momentum in parts of Europe. If Black American activists popularize it in the States, it could start to gain ground there as well.

The point about the way Palestinians are behaving right now – randomly stabbing Israelis – is that they are in a dark tunnel with no light or prospect of it. There is no peace process, no hope of one, or any expectation of any concrete results if there were to be any peace talks. Add to that this terrible fact: Jewish violence toward Arabs is at record levels and the world is focused on other big problems – Syria, ISIL, Yemen, refugees.

What future can there be in a present that is only shaped by a cruel past? This is not to justify Palestinian violence but an attempt to understand its root cause.