Two years ago, a viral video emerged of a Palestinian alumnus named Fadi Quran being pepper sprayed and arrested while nonviolently protesting in the West Bank. As a journalist for The Stanford Daily, I had the opportunity to cover his arrest and detainment. And in the process, my eyes were opened to a whole conflict I was shocked I hadn’t heard about before. I learned that he had been protesting the closure of Shuhada Street—the main road in the West Bank’s largest city—because the Israeli military forbids Palestinians using it, only allowing Israeli settlers and foreigners to pass. I had learned that the pepper spray soldiers shot in Fadi’s face was made in the U.S. and that our government sends the Israeli military $3 billion a year in aid that helps fund this violent occupation. When I interviewed Fadi upon his release from jail, he remarked that the Israeli military court would have likely detained him indefinitely on the madeup charge that he had attacked ten soldiers were it not for the video and international solidarity.
Last summer I found myself standing on the exact street where Fadi was protesting. Thousands of miles away from the US, I was visiting a place that has come to symbolize the worst aspects of military occupation and colonization in Palestine. My group’s tour guide, Issa attempted to walk us down Shuhada Street—but a pair of Israeli soldiers not more than 21-years-old stopped him and told him he could not pass. Issa, who was born and raised in the house right next to the checkpoint, would be subject to arrest for continuing down the street. Between the video I took of this encounter and the many examples of separate and unequal treatment between Israelis and Palestinians I saw, I felt like I was watching some dystopic mashup of the pass laws Blacks faced in apartheid South Africa and the cruel humiliation of the Jim Crow South.
Fadi’s 2012 arrest occurred two days before Trayvon Martin’s murder, and both of these events pushed me to become active in the Black movement for freedom at home and justice for Palestinians abroad. In educating myself about what Palestinians experience, I began to see the interconnectedness of our struggles.
I learned how the police brutality African Americans and other minorities face in the US is directly tied to violence in Palestine. Since 2001, thousands of top police officials from cities across the US have gone to Israel for training alongside its military or have participated in joint exercises here. Just weeks before Oakland police violently broke up an Occupy rally, they had trained with repressive forces from Israel and Bahrain. In Georgia in 2006, a 92-year-old black woman was shot and killed by Atlanta police who had participated in an exchange program with Israeli soldiers on counterterrorism and drug enforcement. Our governments literally share resources and tactics with each other that directly harm our respective communities.
The experiences of African Americans and Palestinians with systemic mass incarceration are also strikingly similar. Forty percent of Palestinian men have been arrested and detained by Israel at some point in their lives. (To put this in perspective, the 2008 figure for Blacks was 1 in 11.) Israel maintains policies of detaining and interrogating Palestinian children that bear resemblance to the stop and frisk policy and disproportionate raids and arrests many of our youth face.
My five-week visit to Palestine last summer occurred less than a month after George Zimmerman’s verdict was released. Outside of Bethlehem, I was shocked to find a memorial to Trayvon Martin painted on the 24-foot separation wall Israel builds on Palestinian land. I was even more shocked at how viscerally I noticed similarities between Stand Your Ground laws at home and Israel’s justification for its treatment of Palestinians. I had heard story after story about how the Israeli military had used the “security threat” argument to justify the closing of Shuhada Street, shooting tear gas into a house full of women and children, barring my Palestinian-American friend from re-entering the country to continue her study abroad. Palestinians, Blacks and other groups in colonialist countries are “security threats” by our very existence of surviving under systems that seek to destroy us.
What is “safety” when the thing people are safe from is us? Who is looking out to protect the lives of Fadi or Trayvon? Why do our societies dismiss our narratives? And when our tax dollars fund the police and military systems that kill our communities here and abroad, what can we do to claim safety and protection for ourselves?
To me, our hope for this century may come from joint solidarity with marginalized people all over the world. Palestinians appeal not to the government that occupies and oppresses them, but to international bodies and universal principles of human rights for freedom. Similar to the Palestinians’ call for people of conscience to boycott and divest from companies that support their oppression, we might call on people abroad to pressure an end to “the New Jim Crow”—mass incarceration. Black movements have a rich history of alliances with those fighting racism and imperialism across the world, from Algeria to South Africa, El Salvador to Cuba.
After decades of strong resistance to discrimination and oppression at home and abroad, it seems more than coincidental that the progress of our past has been weakened by imprisonment drugs and isolation from the rest of the world. Most of us know very little about the Palestinian struggle and mainstream Palestinian society seemed to think everything is okay in terms of race in the United States today. In our separation, both of our relative struggles as Blacks and Palestinians remain ignored by the larger society. The time is ripe to rebuild those connections. Strong Black solidarity with the Palestinian struggle seems necessary and urgent. We must work together to address the effects of money, policing and militarism here and in Israel/Palestine.