Black-Palestinian Solidarity: Acknowledging the Past, Understanding the Present, and Imagining a Productive Future
By Salma Khamis
It is worth noting that Black-Palestinian solidarity and the gradual establishment of transnational ties between the two separate movements are not recent phenomena, the product of social media hashtags, and online campaigns. Rather, Anna Isaacs traces the development of this sentiment of transnational solidarity to as early as 1967. Historically enjoying a robust base of progressive Jewish support, activists behind the American Civil Rights Movement tended to recognize the validity of the Israeli state and thus sanction its right to protect itself against so-called Arab aggressors. With the atrocities brought about by the 1967 War, however, this image of Israel as a struggling state fighting for its right to survive began to waver and civil rights activists began recognizing parallels between the injustices committed against Palestinians and those that they face here in the United States.
Within the present context, drawing parallels between the two movements has certainly moved far more into mainstream discourse than it ever was before. Aided by increased access to information from both regions about one another, and thus increased avenues for communication between them, the establishment of transnational solidarity has definitely benefited as a result. As early as 2009, Jimmy Johnson was warning of Israel’s global exportation of law enforcement strategies. In a comparable 2011 study, Max Blumenthal called attention to the disturbing pattern of cooperation between Israeli and American police forces. Dating back to post-9/11 era of counterterrorism in the U.S., this legacy of Israeli-American cooperation in law enforcement is presented by Blumenthal as one of the root causes behind the brutal violence endured by protestors involved with the Occupy movement, from Oakland to New York City.
More recently, when 18-year-old Michael Brown was murdered by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, images of brutal police suppression of the resultant protests prompted observers to point to similarities to the Israeli state’s treatment of (and habitual violence against) Palestinians in Gaza. Further strengthening the validity of these transnational parallels, barely a week after the events in Ferguson, evidence emerged revealing that both the St. Louis County Police Department and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department received training from Israeli security forces. Soon thereafter, both the Black Lives Matter movement and a number of Palestinian activists issued official statements of solidarity for one another’s demands for justice.
In response to these emergent narratives of Black-Palestinian solidarity, Stanford professor David Palumbo-Liu has presented a series of intersections between Ferguson and Gaza, both in terms of their respective historical and contemporary features. From similar tactics of historical land dispossession, to the present-day perpetuation of (decidedly unquestioned) state violence; Palumbo-Liu demonstrates a stark congruence between the experiences of Black communities in the United States and those of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Wary of asserting absolute equivalence between the two systems of oppression, however, Palumbo-Liu closes with a sobering piece of advice for those working to reinforce transnational links of solidarity: “Certainly the two situations are different, and demand different strategies and tactics in response. And yet one should not discount the moral and indeed inspirational value of gestures that reach across those differences to claim solidarity.”
It is precisely this sentiment with which I approach the question of Black-Palestinian solidarity among student activists. As demonstrated above, both movements have traditionally enjoyed a vibrant and often productive legacy on college campuses across the United States. This legacy encompasses a variety of important achievements: successfully enacting tangible reform in university policies, making their demands for justice unavoidably visible among their communities, and resisting the hegemony of oppressive narratives about their respective experiences simply by virtue of maintaining a sustained presence on college campuses, despite mounting opposition.
With that said, as college activists’ aspirations for justice continue to thrive beyond the limits of their individual campus communities, they are often met with the increasingly difficult task of bringing about justice on a larger, more impactful, scale. Whether it is students organizing for the divestment from oppressive systems of mass incarceration in the United States that disproportionately target racial minorities, or their peers making similar calls for the divestment from corporations whose activities directly facilitate and profit off of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the ruthless violation of Palestinian human rights; both groups are united under two core motivations.
Primarily, these students are not prepared to sit idly by as numerous industries thrive off of the oppression of the communities they respectively represent. Secondly, and more importantly, they recognize the efficacy of reallocating university endowments as a strategy for dismantling the oppressive systems of state violence of which these industries are a part. Consequently, one can only imagine how productive an alliance between these two groups could be in their unanimous call for ethical university endowments that do not facilitate the perpetuation of global state violence in its various manifestations, but instead contribute to the realization of justice for oppressed communities the world over. By grounding themselves in a narrative that acknowledges the countless parallels between systems of racial injustice in the United States and Israel’s colonization of the occupied Palestinian territories, student activists associated with either movement will be better positioned to achieve each of their respective objectives. Working within a holistic framework of transnational justice that acknowledges the fundamental similarity between all oppressive systems, whilst still accounting for the contextual nuances defining each of their different manifestations all over the world; a movement of Black-Palestinian student solidarity could pave the way for a whole new era of transnational college activism that is as revolutionary as it is entirely realistic.