by Kristian Davis Bailey
The following is the text version of remarks given at the 2016 Socialism Conference in Chicago on a panel titled "Toward Justice: The Case for Black/Palestine Solidarity." Audio of the full session will be available soon at wearemany.org.
I’d like to start by naming and thanking just a few of the countless people who have nurtured Black-Palestinian solidarity in the decade preceding the current resurgence of this relationship: Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Barbara Ransby, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Damu Smith, dream hampton, Felicia Eaves, Gina Dent, Gloria Aneb House, Kali Akuno, Nadine Naber, Rabab Abdulhadi, Rasmea Odeh, Robyn Spencer, Robin DG Kelley, Black Voices for Peace, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, African Americans for Justice in the Middle East & North Africa, and the Arab American Action Network.
I’m incredibly indebted to these and others as a relatively recent newcomer to Palestine solidarity and Black liberation work. I’d like to note that so much of this solidarity work has been led and carried by women whose labor must always be acknowledged, supported, and remembered as we write the history of this era.
There are many struggles around the world against systems of racism, colonialism, and militarism, but few captivate the universal attention of the world in the ways that both the Black and Palestinian struggles have. The descendants of enslaved Africans constitute one of the first and largest oppressed national groups on colonized territory on Turtle Island and Palestinians are the largest target of the world’s most recent colonial entity, which serves as an arm for US imperialism in the Middle East. Collectively, we are struggling internally and externally against the world’s biggest and most racist capitalist, colonial, and imperial powers. Collectively, we are the thorns that exist and resist from different ends of the US colonial and imperial project.
The two years since the Ferguson-Gaza summer have brought a number of developments in Black-Palestinian solidarity - including physical visits between Black and Palestinian activists to the sites of the other’s struggles, powerful coalitional work of Black and Palestinian students in support of divestment efforts and against anti-Black state violence, the Black4Palestine solidarity statement that galvanized support from a range of Black activists, artists, and scholars last summer, and more recent work to connect cases of political imprisonment and foreground the need for abolishing the carceral state in the US and in Palestine.
Over the past year, I have traveled abroad twice to represent the work of our Black4Palestine statement--to Lebanon and Palestine in December (notably being racially and politically profiled and arrested by Israel while entering the West Bank), and to France in March for a two-week speaking tour during Israeli Apartheid Week, sharing events with Palestinian comrades from Nazareth, Jerusalem, Dheisheh refugee camp, and Lebanon alongside French activists fighting Islamophobia, racism, and state violence. The resurgence of Black engagement with Palestine and more frequent communication between the two struggles has been a site of inspiration and generative conversations everywhere I’ve been.
I’d like to spend most of my time presenting some of the themes and insights of my experiences abroad, as well as some areas in which we might deepen our work on this topic during the years to come.
Rebuilding the global Left
Last December in Lebanon I attended a conference with the Global Campaign to Return to Palestine. Over 250 delegates from 50 different countries were present, with Africans and African-descendent people as the largest bloc of representatives after people from the Middle East and Europe. We came from the Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Africa, Senegal, Tanzania, and the US.
In the absence of the mass revolutionary and anti-colonial movements that frequently brought together people under struggle from around the world, conferences like this one in Beirut and the near-universal recognition and support for Palestine across nationalities indicates that the fight for Palestine is not just a fight for a physical territory--but also a fight for the survival of humanity against systems of dehumanization--against capitalism, colonialism, militarism, and racism, everywhere. Consequently, Palestine serves as a potential site for the reunification of global struggles and the rebuilding of internationalist politics and practice within our local movements.
Young comrades from the refugee camps in Lebanon and across historic Palestine have described many of the same conditions Black youth face in the US--a sense of hopelessness, an inability to see the global nature of their struggle, and frustration at the political situation (where resistance is scattered and has been dominated by the overwhelming presence of NGOs).
Much of this is due in both cases to the intentional destruction of our liberation movements between the 1960s and 80s and rise of neoliberalism and neocolonialism, and so as we seek to rebuild the Black Left we have to ask what are our connections with the Palestinian Left--with progressive and revolutionary forces in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Syria or Jordan? What is the state of their organizing? Where and how can we support them and where and how can they support us?
Delegations, Exchanges, and Speaking Tours
We also might rethink how delegations and speaking tours operate: what does it look like for us to raise the resources for Palestinian youth to visit and strategize with us in Detroit, in Chicago, in Baltimore, in St. Louis rather than sending delegations to Palestine?
Can we organize an exchange or speaking tour specifically for African Palestinians? What relationships or projects can we build with African communities in Palestine? How can we support spreading awareness of their struggles?
For both speaking tours and exchanges, what shifts if we rely on translation and open up these opportunities to activists and youth who only speak Arabic?
In an overwhelming landscape of white delegations, what does it look like to organize Black delegations to the entire geography of Palestinians in the Middle East - a Black attempt to break the blockade in Gaza, a Black delegation to the camps in Lebanon and Jordan or to Yarmouk Camp in Syria--in addition to pre-existing trips to the West Bank? How can delegations to these places lead to an expansion of politics and solidarity beyond the Palestinian struggle to the other peoples and struggles of the region?
And in the case of any delegation, how do we find activists and youth who will create key linkages between our struggles? (Only so many people can travel on a delegation and both in the absence of mass parties or liberation movements and proliferation of non-profits, building sustainable linkages between our movements before and after exchanges is difficult).
Communication and Education
How can we do popular education about the struggles of the other in our own communities? (Especially for the vast majority of people who can’t travel or gain exposure in person.) If we were to pick two or three films to translate and screen across the camps about our struggle, what would they be? What other forms of popular education would be useful both to us and to Palestinians to educate the other about our struggle? What does it look like to send dispatches between Detroit and Dheisheh? Chicago and Sabra and Shatila? New Orleans and Gaza?
What is our relationship with people in Gaza? What are we willing to do to prevent yet another massacre from occurring? What work can we be doing to pressure an end to the blockade--where do BDS efforts assist us in this goal and where can we organize outside of the framework of BDS?
Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria
Similar to the question above, what is our relationship to Palestinians living as refugees outside of Palestine? What resources can ensure another generation of exiles recieves the political and cultural knowledge they need to carry on the struggle? How do we ensure that they are connected to our solidarity efforts and how do we ensure that discursive and political attention is given to refugees, right of return, and the fact that current negotiations and the two-state framework do nothing for the 60-to-67 percent of the global Palestinian population who are refugees from what is currently called Israel?
One State/Right of Return
Our comrades in the Palestinian left advocate the creation of single, democratic state in historic Palestine. A comrade from Dheisheh Camp outside of Bethlehem described the stakes very simply in a joint talk we gave during IAW in France. Pointing to a map of Palestine’s 1946 borders and one of the 1967 Green Line, this comrade said "This is peace, and that is justice." He pointed to a spot in the south of the ‘48 territories and said “I am from here and now I live in a small refugee camp in the West Bank—so for me the peace process or the two state solution is not representing anything. I am not taking my right of movement, I'm not taking my right to live in my original village or to see the Mediterranean Sea.”
Many in the US solidarity movement will say that it is not our place to advocate a political solution for Palestine. While it is true that we should not advocate something for Palestinians, it is our responsibility to create political support for Palestinians - specifically for our comrades - should they decide that one democratic state is indeed their desired outcome. We’ve expended immense political energy working to challenge the occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza alone, but there is even more work to be done to ensure justice for Palestine if and when the occupation ends. We have a responsibility to challenge the hegemony of the two-state narrative.
Building Black internationalism
I have never seen Black solidarity with Palestine as a single-focused issue, but rather a gateway for us to both expand our own sense of the global nature of our struggle, and to connect with Africans, Arabs, Latin@s, Asians, and indigenous peoples globally. Palestine can be a starting point for future engagement and cross-pollination with other global struggles.
My experience in France for IAW showed this very deeply. There, in many ways similar to the US pre-Ferguson, local work for Palestine was largely separate from work against racism, state violence, and police. People who had never met or organized with each other before, from groups and struggles as various as The Indigenous of the Republic (Le PIR), the United Front of Immigrants and Popular Neighborhoods (FUIQP, who advances their own version of the Black Panther Party’s 10 Point Platform), Ferguson in Paris, anti-fascist groups, white LGBT groups, the squatting movement, and the New Caledonian Independence movement all came together to hear from me about cross-movement solidarity work in the US. And I learned a host of information about the nature of French state repression under the current “state of emergency.”
So our work along the lines of Black-Palestinian solidarity doesn’t just impact us and our struggles, it creates the space for other people and struggles to engage and link with ours. It helps us see who our comrades are across borders and creates an even stronger imperative for figuring out how to consistently and meaningfully communicate across borders and languages.
One comment that Black comrades in France raised was the ways in which the Black struggle in the US monopolizes attention away from the struggles of Black Africans across the West. I would add to this a concern about the ways in which efforts like Black4Palestine or terms like Black-Palestinian solidarity monopolize Black solidarity with Palestine in a US-centric way. So what does it look like for us to connect with comrades on the continent who are fighting for Palestine--specifically in South Africa, but expanding to any of the places that Africans came from for the conference in Beirut? This would immediately create connections between our respective local struggles that are currently lacking by and large.
As Black people in the US, we are the largest oppressed national population within the belly of the beast. And even though we have a boot on our neck, we have a responsibility to fight and a commitment to our comrades around the world who feel the same imperial boot on their necks and lack the positionality to remove it. We have always fought alongside comrades willing to engage in these struggles in their own communities and I look forward to forging a path ahead with the comrades in this room.
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