Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Black-Palestinian Solidarity: Acknowledging the Past, Understanding the Present, and Imagining a Productive Future
By Salma Khamis

Columbia University students in favor of prison divestment, April 2015. Source: http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/23/us/columbia-university-prison-divest/

This post is part three of a three-part series. To read part one, click here. To read part two, click here.

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.

On-Campus Activism for Palestinian Liberation and Building on Transnational Ties
By Salma Khamis

Loyola SJP chapter leading an on-campus solidarity protest. Source: SJP Loyola (Facebook)

This post is part two of a three-part series. To read part one, click here. To read part three, click here.

Having endured a longer legacy on college campuses than the Black Lives Matter movement, students organizing for Palestinian liberation have had quite a turbulent history of activism in the American context. Most commonly housed under different chapters of the national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organization, students organizing for Palestinian liberation tend to be primarily concerned with the recognition of Israel as a colonial force that perpetually violates Palestinian human rights and breaks international law in its occupation of the Palestinian territories and denial of Palestinians’ right of return. Furthermore, activists point to Zionism’s racist implications on the Palestinian population and how it contributes towards the ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories; the disproportionate access to resources and social services afforded to Jewish Israelis over Palestinians; as well as the institutionalized use of excessive force against Palestinians by Israeli police and military apparatus.

Given the funding, institutional support, and strength of pro-Israel groups and organizations all over the country, however, activism for the Palestinian cause is often met with virulent opposition, the likes of which is rarely if ever launched against any other student political campaign of a comparable nature. Nevertheless, students have been able to achieve limited gains with respect to raising social awareness of the Israeli occupation on college campuses. Moreover, despite the extent of the opposition met by pro-Palestine student organizers, the most important of their functions has been their sustained facilitation of spaces for dialogue and activism on Palestinian human rights, politics, and culture on university campuses. Speaker events and annual campaigns such as Israeli Apartheid Week, for example, challenge the predominant narrative in American political discourse regarding the Palestinian population and their right to self-determination. However, as with the Black Lives Matter movement, students’ activism often has little bearing on the impactful reform of institutional and national policies vis-à-vis the Israeli occupation and the merciless violation of Palestinian human rights.

In response to this ‘impact gap,’ recent activism for Palestinian liberation tends to coalesce around the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement. As a means of non-violent protest to the ongoing occupation, BDS seeks to impart pressure on the Israeli state by boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning corporations and institutions that facilitate, legitimize, or profit from the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories and violation of Palestinian human rights. In turn, this has prompted students to petition their respective university administrations to divest from these corporations that, either through their direct activity or that of their subsidiaries, contribute to or profit from the Israeli occupation.

Increasingly, a similar tactic is gaining ground among activists working for racial justice on university campuses. These activists are attempting to bridge their aforementioned ‘impact gap’ by calling for their institutions to divest from corporations that benefit off of the widely-documented Prison Industrial Complex. Drawing on evidence that categorically proves the racial prejudices underpinning the United States’ ever-increasing prison industry, activists decry the unjust policing of racial minorities, and the vast amounts of profit associated with, and thus incentivizing the continuation of, this system of mass incarceration. By organizing to pressure university administrations into reorienting their investment policies away from private companies that accrue substantial profit from either managing, supplying, or securing prisons; activists associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and other groups concerned with racial justice have begun pursuing similar tactics of non-violent protest to those once led by SJP groups.

Herein lies the central issue: how can on-campus activists make the most out of this convergence of protest tactics among students working for Palestinian liberation and American racial justice? What thematic parallels can be highlighted in the narrative surrounding both movements that would contribute towards the widening of each of their respective bases? Can we work backwards from these two movements’ shared employment of institutional divestment as a protest tactic to trace further commonalities between their initial causes for protest?

Black Lives Matter and On-Campus Activism for Racial Justice
By Salma Khamis

Angela Davis, as featured in the “When I See Them I See Us” video produced by the Black-Palestinian Solidarity campaign. Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xsdpg-9cmSw

This post is part one of a three-part series. To read part two, click here. To read part three, click here.

The US-Middle East Youth Network was designed to provide students across both the United States and the Middle East with the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue on issues pertinent, not only to their respective regions, but also to the interaction that occurs between them. In doing so, USMEYN seeks to recognize the powerful potential that arises out of the intersection of three key factors: politically and socially conscious students from the Middle East and North Africa, their American counterparts, and the space and skills provided by university campuses across both regions to both sharpen and express this consciousness. I pride myself in being affiliated with a platform that creates a space for the intersection of all three of these factors and that yields impactful, transnational dialogue in return.

As important as the facilitation of this dialogue has been, however, it has prompted me to reflect on what the intersection of these three factors would look like on the ground. If there really is much to be gained from university students’ cooperation across both regions, why have we yet to see this take shape in a tangible way? What would this cooperation even look like? What possible results can we expect to see from its fruition? Is there really much to “cooperate” on in the first place? By narrowing my focus onto two specific student movements, I argue that there is much to be gained from the cooperation of both U.S. and Middle East oriented student activists. Not only is my contention supported by the historical precedence of transnational activism between the two regions, but also by the commonality between their respective goals and tactics for bringing about sociopolitical reform.

Black Lives Matter and On-Campus Activism for Racial Justice:

One of the main issues defining the nature of contemporary student activism on university campuses has been the Black Lives Matter movement. Founded in 2012 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman for his murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, the Black Lives Matter movement was assembled to combat the dehumanization of Black lives throughout American society. Be that through the deliberate mass incarceration of Black bodies, the racial discrimination rampant throughout American political and social discourse, or the discriminatory provision of social services across racially segregated communities in the U.S.; the Black Lives Matter movement assembled to call attention to the persisting legacy of slavery, how it continues to affect Black individuals and communities throughout the United States, and the myth that is a post-racial American society.

On-campus activism has been central to the movement. Just as colleges formed the bulwark of progressive activism in the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, and the South African Apartheid Movement, so too have they returned with a vengeance as outlets of sociopolitical activism. Particularly following the incidents at the University of Missouri in October of 2015, student groups across the United States have been mobilizing in an effort to protest an array of racially discriminatory practices on their respective campuses. Especially given the fate of former University of Missouri President Tom Wolfe, students have been emboldened by the possibility of enacting tangible reform at their own institutions. Open, unapologetic dialogue about issues of racial justice has surfaced and, yes, despite the occasional superficiality of university administrations’ responses to this new environment of dialogue and action, the value of even breaching these issues in lecture halls and on-campus events, protests, and publications cannot be overstated.

With that said, however, not all student groups working for racial justice on campus are limiting their purview to the systematic racism prevalent throughout their own universities. Student activists are also mobilizing to address the system of endemic racial oppression as it functions on the national stage, taking up issues like prison reform and police brutality and thus situating themselves, and their activism, within the larger national debate on racial justice in America. As impactful and symbolic as the inclusion of college students is in this national conversation, however, it goes without saying that little can be done to address issues of racial justice that play out in the larger and more complex national context through on-campus protests alone. The question thus emerges: what can politically and socially conscious university students do to bridge the ‘impact gap’ that exists between university campuses and national policy reform? That is, how can the impact of these students’ activism be directed towards the dismantlement of nationwide systems of racial oppression and injustice?

By Kate West

https://www.flickr.com/photos/imsbildarkiv/11086351844/
Source: INDIVIDUELL MÄNNISKOHJÄLP/Flickr.

More often than not, disability rights and issues of accessibility for persons with disabilities (PWDs) are excluded from conversations on peacebuilding and peacekeeping in the Middle East. Perhaps this is because it is a less conventional “frame” through which to view the concept of peacebuilding; nevertheless, these are critical issues to consider if we are to facilitate lasting, sustainable models of peace and development. Efforts to mainstream issues pertaining to people with disability are relatively recent (World Institute on Disability 2014).

Israel’s 1.6 million Arab citizens comprise 20.7% of the total population of the country; of this number, nearly a quarter (25%) lives with a moderate to severe disability (Jerusalem Post 2013). That’s 425,000 individuals who often lack the knowledge, resources, and legal recourse to advocate for themselves.

Although PWDs in every country face challenges, disability in the Arab world is particularly problematic. This is because for the most part, these societies have not yet moved beyond the medical definition of disability to embrace a social one. Whereas the medical definition perceives disability as a problem to be fixed, the social model understands disability as a neutral condition. In this model, disabled individuals are designated by their physical and or mental difference, but this difference is neither a positive nor negative; it is simply distinct. While the medical model designates “normalization” of the disabled as a remedy, the social model advocates changes in the interaction between the individual and society.

Despite nominal improvements in Middle Eastern governments’ policies toward disabled individuals, social and institutional barriers still largely deny them fair and compassionate treatment. This is where grassroots civil society organizations (CSOs) have come to play a critical role for the Arab society in Israel. Exclusion for one is exclusion for all, and perhaps it is persons with disabilities living in Israel’s Arab communities that understand this best. This is why Arab CSOs lobby at the local and national levels to ensure that Israel, a signatory on the UN’s Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is enforcing the Convention to the fullest extent in employment, education, and the social sphere.

While it is not a common approach, framing disability rights as human rights, particularly in the context of Israel/Palestine, has succeeded in building a broad coalition of stakeholders, invested in civil society sustainability, peacebuilding, and cross-cultural community collaboration.

According to the Center for Disability Studies (2010), approximately 16% of all disabilities are war and conflict related. In Israel and the Palestinian Territories, such disabilities can be made more difficult by increasingly complicated and rapidly changing political circumstances. In the West Bank, road closures, the subsequent restriction of movement of people and goods, tensions with Jewish settlements, and the continued presence of the separation wall along the Israeli/Palestinian are all cited by CSO Diakonia as contributors to a decline in the quality of daily life for residents (2013). When used as leverage for facilitating dialogue between actors on both sides of the Green Line, however, disability advocacy can be used to increase peacebuilding efficacy and authenticity.

The benefit of using disability advocacy in such a way is that disability itself is universal; regardless of how narrowly or widely an individual chooses to define the term, disability touches every community and country in the world. When disability rights are promoted and respected, these conversations can facilitate space for broader dialogue about human rights in general. Social inclusion and accessibility are issues that all sides—Israeli, Palestinian, and international bodies mediating the Conflict—can get behind.

If peacebuilding is defined as a process that facilitates the establishment of durable peace and tries to prevent the recurrence of violence by addressing root causes and effects of conflict through reconciliation, institution building, and political as well as economic transformation (Alliance for Peacebuilding 2013), then disability advocacy is a more effective, inclusive model for peacebuilding.

A principal reason for the continued conflict in Israel/Palestine is social inequity. Usually, however, social inequity is defined in strict terms: Jewish and Arab. Organizations and governments, by overlooking disability rights as a building block for peace negotiations, are missing out on a golden opportunity to facilitate dialogue and increase cooperation. Social equity must mean equity for all—Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, persons with disabilities and those without. In the currency of peacebuilding, disability advocacy has buying power.

Historically, disability is an issue that has been relegated to the margins, not just in the Middle East, but globally. However, it is this very marginalization in peacebuilding spheres that creates an opportunity for robust human rights work to be undertaken with minimal threat of the issue becoming politically charged. It is this marginalization that can pave the way to a durable peace by introducing social inclusion and addressing social exclusion.

While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will by no means be solved through disability advocacy alone, it can nevertheless serve as an important and innovative tool to promote cross-border communication and collaboration, and to facilitate meaningful relationships with a broad spectrum of government and non-government actors in pursuit of equity and access for all.

By Annabelle Timsit

Militants in Gaza. Source: proisrael/Flickr

The sound of sirens and the rush to bomb shelters will once again disrupt the peace of Israelis and Palestinians alike this summer in the Negev and in Gaza. This time, however, the blame is less easily placed. Though Israeli citizens have been told to direct their judgment towards Hamas, the past year has seen a diversification of actors and agendas within the Palestinian territories, which makes understanding the renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence even more complicated. The root of the problem? The rise in power of Daesh-affiliated Salafis in Gaza.

When I was in Israel two weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with a former IDF soldier, who told me in hushed tones that the situation in Gaza was one that Israel had never faced before, and was ill-equipped to face now. The situation he is referring to is not only happening in the Palestinian territories. In the Arab world there has been a steady increase in the number of violent extremist groups claiming an affiliation with Daesh and perpetrating attacks in its name. In Gaza, it is clear that these groups believe they are acting in accordance with Daesh’s mission. The most prominent one in the Palestinian territories, the Mujahedeen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, issued a statement as early as February 2014, asserting that it was “committed to helping ISIS and bolstering its ranks.” The relationship between these groups and Hamas, however, seems to be full of surprises.

Contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim, Hamas is not ISIS and ISIS is not Hamas. As evidenced by the recent round of Hamas-led strikes against Salafis operating in Gaza, the two groups are far from bosom bows. Though Hamas began by giving its tacit approval to the spread of Salafi propaganda in the Gaza Strip, relations have been getting worse since the infamous Ibn Taymiyyah mosque siege of 2009, during which an armed Islamist organization declared the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the Palestinian territories. Twenty-four people were killed and, since then, many Salafis have been locked up in Palestinian cells. The spread of Daesh in Gaza, however, is a whole other ball game, one that Hamas militants are not willing to risk playing around with. Whereas Hamas’s interests lie in the immediate vicinity of the Strip (reclaiming Palestine and eradicating the Jewish state from the maps), Daesh’s worldview is regional. It seeks to unite the borders of most of the territories we know today as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Jordan, and parts of Turkey. Clearly, the two groups are in very different leagues.

There is no reason to believe that Daesh has established an official branch in the Gaza Strip, and certainly no reason to believe that they will in the near future. However, with tensions at a breaking point, much of the infrastructure destroyed since last summer, and unemployment high amongst Palestinian youth, there is cause for concern that recruitment amongst these Salafi factions – which have financial and political connections in the Sinai Peninsula, adjacent to Gaza – will be met with an unreasonably high rate of success, further complicating the chance for stability in the region and delaying the rebuilding of the Strip.

Out of the ashes, a phoenix rises – and in the fight against this more violent and intransigent force, the Israeli government and Hamas seem to have struck an uneasy truce. According to Haaretz sources, the two have reached a point where Israeli attacks against Hamas forces are forms of “symbolic retaliation” and where the government actually seeks to strengthen Hamas control in the Strip (as long as it maintains the ceasefire) while trying to operate new channels of mediation with Hamas negotiators. There is no reason to believe that this will mean a long-term truce between the two parties, but opening channels of communication (even to fight a common enemy) can only lead to better chances of mediation in any future peace deal.

The old adage says, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” When one looks at the current situation in the Gaza Strip, however, the opposite seems to hold true; to defeat an enemy far more dangerous than Hamas, the Israeli government seems to be ready to form an “odd partnership” with its long term foe. It remains to be seen whether this tenuous partnership will be enough to fight the all-powerful tidal wave that is the Islamic State.

By Kate Moran

A woman in Madrid, Spain protests the Syrian Civil War and Western military intervention in the country. Source: Adolfo Lujan/DISO Press.

Any pundit worth their salt is familiar with the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. Signed between the British and French governments in the aftermath of World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, this secret treaty aimed to demarcate their respective spheres of neo-colonial influence in the Middle East. It was this agreement that led to the establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine and, in the views of many, was a critical component of Israel’s ultimate declaration of state in 1948.

Historians, politicians, and laypeople alike all invoke the language of Sykes-Picot to either voice their justification for, or opposition to, the legality of Britain’s decision to allow for the existence of a Jewish homeland in historical Palestine. Yet, few consider the implications of this agreement for the rest of the region. Indeed, Sykes-Picot remains relevant today and, in light of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, can provide an historical context for understanding how broader political and economic trends in the post-War period have shaped current social realities.

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, Britain and France rejected Arab leaders’ bid for Syrian independence. Not soon after, the Sykes-Picot Agreement officially partitioned the Middle East into roughly what we know it as today. Territories ceded to French control included Syria, which would remain under European mandate until 1944.

Though the vestiges of colonialism are by no means the only forces at play in the Syrian Civil War, the legacy of meddlesome European—and later, American—intervention cannot be ignored. Sectarian violence is a feature of the conflict often talked about, but rarely with acknowledgement of the ways in which Syria’s colonial past influences this dynamic.

Part of the reason the Middle East seems so endlessly mired in conflict is because its history is likewise enmeshed in it. The geographical boundaries of the region are almost entirely arbitrary; the interested parties of the Sykes-Picot agreement carved up the Middle East with little to no regard for indigenous social structures like ethnic and tribal affiliations. How can a country and its people—much less an entire region—be expected to identify with, and adhere to, boundaries that they themselves did not determine? Perhaps if the Arab world had been given even minimal say in what their newly-formed, independent republics and states would look like, we would see far less sectarian division today.

The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has once again pushed Syria’s colonial past to the fore. Now more than ever, sectarian violence increasingly characterizes a country with one of the region’s richest and most extensive histories of religious and cultural heterogeneity. The Islamic State’s Sunni fighters, in capturing cities, occupying territories, and cleansing these areas of “unorthodox” (read: non-Islamic State sanctioned) elements; seem to be attempting to rewrite the history (and map) of the modern Arab world. Their defiant and brutal acts of violence are undertaken with complete disregard for the arbitrary boundaries first established in the 20th century.

Yet, the Islamic State is equally colonialist in its division of, and dominion over, the Middle East. It too is an imported government structure, and therefore is just as unsustainable as the French and British mandates were in the post-war years of the 20th century. It too displays blatant disregard for historically and culturally significant social constructs. It too is seeking to “whitewash” the Arab world, only under the guise of religion, rather than capitalism or imperial ambition.

Make no mistake: the Islamic State’s legacy is one that will leave its mark, just not the one that it intends. Its brutal campaign to “retake” the Arab world in the name of a perverted interpretation of Islam will fail. In 20, 30, or perhaps 50 years, the Middle East of today will no longer exist. The region’s colonial legacies—those of Europe, the United States, and even the Arab world itself—will eventually run their course. And when all is said and done, the best form of governance for the Arab world—one cultivated in consideration for, not in exception of, social divisions—will emerge. This form will be the most lasting legacy of the Middle East. Although, at first glance, maintaining these divisions may appear counterproductive to achieving regional stability, in fact, they are the only way that such stability can be achieved.

Rather than conceptualizing ethnic and cultural diversity in the Middle East as a prerequisite for government dysfunction, it would behoove the West, and those who care at all about the Middle East beyond its geopolitical strategic value, to understand this diversity as an impetus for inspiring effective governance. Most importantly, these divisions will inspire social unity when extricated from a colonial framework of suppression and homogenization.

The Syrian conflict is a complicated muddle of individual, national, and international interests. The Islamic State will not be defeated overnight, and solely blaming the European occupation and colonization of the Arab world for its current woes is both shortsighted and unproductive. Rather, understanding this history might help those in positions of influence to make better-informed decisions about how and when to intervene in the region, and how the current sociopolitical realities have been shaped. In this way, we might begin to understand how we might best help—even if it means staying out of it.

By Sumer Shaikh

 

RANDOM POSTS

0 182
On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State...