Thinking of Gaza and Detroit
Photos from a joint protest for Detroit and Gaza in 2014.
by Kwasi A.
When i think of Palestine, Gaza is among the first things that come to mind. The reason is, it shares several similarities with my city, Detroit.
Both Gaza and Detroit are approximately 140 square miles. There are 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza. Known as the world's largest open air prison, residents suffer a unique oppression as they are blocked in by Egypt on the south, the Mediterranean Sea on the west, and Israeli-occupied Palestine on its northern and eastern borders. There is only one commercial road into Gaza, where essential goods are allowed to enter, and which is guarded by heavily armed Israeli military forces. It is the discretion of the Israelis whether or not goods are allowed to reach a desperate Palestinian population.
Although Detroit's population of less than 700,000 residents is less than half of Gaza's, i often imagine what life would be like if Detroiters — 85% of whom are New Afrikan (black) — were blocked in: unable to leave by feet, car, boat or plane. Trapped in an urban space, with little resources, and an unemployment rate of a whopping 50% — the World Bank declared Gaza to have the highest in the world.
Like Detroit, Gaza suffers major issues with basic services, such as access to water. In Detroit, nearly 50,000 of the poorest households have had municipal water service cut off for an inability to pay water bill. When the United Nations visited Detroit in 2014, they recommended that the water services be restored if city didn’t want to be in violation of basic human rights.
Even still, Gaza faces far more severe issues with water. An estimated 90 percent of Gaza residents lack access to clean and safe drinking water. Add to this, Gaza's extremely limited access to electricity which is available for a limited number of hours per day. i imagine the impact on hospitals, which need both clean water and electricity to service the health concerns of a population suffering staggering levels of distress.
There is much more that links Detroit to Palestine. While it is rarely spoken of in these terms, but Detroit is a city of black refugees. Euphemisms are used often to sanitize the history and stunt the resistance of New Afrikan people. Detroit's New Afrikan population arrived in waves from the southern states in America. The southern states are where millions of Afrikans, victims of a pernicious state-sanctioned system of international human trafficking, were brutally subjected for 246 continuous years to chattel slavery.
When freed in 1865, New Afrikans — who developed a new identity and culture in the course of our long struggle against white supremacist domination, distinct from both the continental Afrikans from whom We descend and the Americans who oppressed them — ventured to create a new life for themselves in the southern states. Land grants were issued and then reneged upon, and white supremacy reascended with great force and intensity. In turn, New Afrikans were subjected to a neo-slavery existence via publicly-sanctioned lynchings, Black Codes (racist laws), tenant farming, false imprisonment and forced to work on chain gangs, and a form of humiliating and life-threatening subservience to white authority. White supremacist organizations sprouted up across the southern states, determined to restore as much of the lifestyle that Americans (whites) enjoyed under slavery.
In response, many New Afrikans fled the south, the land where their blood, sweat and tears fertilized the soil, where for 246 years they buried their loved ones. Millions left the land known as the Black Belt due to the majority black population across the former slave states, and headed north and west as refugees.
Similarly, some 7.2 million Palestinians are scattered around the globe as refugees from their homeland. i had the pleasure to meet some of these refugees during a visit to Lebanon in March 2018. The enduring courage and steadfastness of the refugees at camps in Tripoli and Beirut speaks volumes to the humanity and righteousness of the Palestinian cause as they face mounting hardships, especially as the United States contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which allocates dedicated and desperately needed services and resources to more than five million Palestinians, has been abruptly cut.
Since 1948 — known as the Nakba, the "Catastrophe" — many Palestinians fled their homeland due to life-threatening risks and hardships caused by the war of Israeli occupation, and are unable to return to their homeland. In Gaza, an estimated 70 percent of the population are refugees from other areas of occupied Palestine. Hence, the Great March of Return, which i have followed intensely since it was launched in Gaza in March 2018.
i deeply empathize and draw inspiration from the Palestinian people who courageously protest dire living conditions through nonviolent but determined protest at the border fence to Israeli-occupied Palestine. In the past year, thousands of grassroots Palestinians of all ages and genders have participated in the weekly Friday protest. And to be clear, though the Palestinians have exercised nonviolence, they have suffered continued casualties from Israeli military, who have used drones to drop tear gas on the protesters, and live gunfire resulting in over 250 Palestinians killed and over 28,000, including women and children.
Detroit and Gaza has many similarities, but the fact is that my city isn't an open air prison, and black Detroiters with a desire to return to the black belt south are presently free to do so (many New Afrikans refer to this as our national territory, and i plan to return here very soon).
Palestinians do not enjoy this privilege, and ultimately, that is all the Great March of Return is about: the freedom to return to their homeland without conflict.