It’s a hot summer day and thousands of people across all ages, races, and gender spectrum are gathered in the Boston Common listening to a group of Black activists speak at a microphone. The crowd is silent and observant, occasionally erupting with enthusiastic engagement.
Around the Common, organizers pay tribute to the Native Americans, while dozens of signs call for justice and better treatment for the transgender community. Even as seemingly every social justice movement found a home under the BLM wing, one stands out as an outlier. Scattered among the throng protesting white supremacy, are young activists holding signs reading, “Palestinians stand with Black lives.”
Most of the minority groups at the rally saw themselves as allies facing the same oppressor, but the Palestinian cause was different from the others; it wasn’t an explicitly American issue.
But though worlds apart, Black and Palestinian liberation became intertwined decades before the BLM movement even came to existence. Since the 1960’s Black leaders have expressed their support for Palestine, and at times despite a personal cost.
From former U.N. ambassador Andrew Young to the more recent example of Marc Lamont Hill, it's not uncommon for Black leaders to face serious repercussions for speaking up about the Palestinian cause.
Over the past decade the two movements saw a resurgence in their alliance. When Michael Brown was murdered by Ferguson police, riots began to erupt around the city followed by an intense police retaliation. Palestinian West Bankers then began tweeting messages of support to Ferguson protestors, offering both solidarity and advice on how to deal with tear gas. After the protests were over some of the organizers ended up taking a trip to the West Bank.
Always make sure to run against the wind /to keep calm when you're teargassed, the pain will pass, don't rub your eyes! #Ferguson Solidarity— مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) August 14, 2014
“The goals were primarily to allow for the group members to experience and see firsthand the occupation, ethnic cleansing and brutality Israel has levied against Palestinians, but also to build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation,” Dream Defenders’ legal and policy director Ahmad Abuznaid told Ebony.
“I believe the Black Lives Matter movement can benefit greatly by learning about struggles outside of the U.S., but particularly the Palestinian struggle,” BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors told Ebony. “I want this trip to be an example for how Black folks and Arab communities can be in better solidarity with one another.”
Black Americans have been some of the loudest pro-Palestine voices in the west, often relating the Palestinian struggle to their own, and incorporating flagship Palestinian causes such as the highly controversial Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to their platform.
A key date in the origin of the two movement’s relationship is 1967, when the Arab-Israeli war began. While Black leaders like Malcom X have spoken out about the issue prior to the war, it was that date that was a pivotal turning point in developing this historic alliance.
The Palestinian cause began sending shock waves across Black liberation organizations. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came out in support of Palestine, a move that was highly controversial at the time, forcing prominent Black leaders to acknowledge the issue, many siding with the Palestinians
Black activists saw the Palestinian struggle as analagous to their own, and a necessary fight to partake in. “Just because it's not happening to you at a particular time, it does not mean that you shouldn't pay attention to it,” said Courtland Cox, a former SNCC organizer. “We have to now say that in order for us to really be free, then all the people that we know and that we see, including the Palestinians, also have to be free.”
While analogies are a great tool to form an alliance, the Black-Palestinian connection doesn’t exist just because of their commonalities. The similarities exist, but the differences are stark, and both sides recognize that. A major feature of their alliance is the willingness to fight for a better world that exists outside of their parameters. The liberation of Blacks and Palestinians is not just about them exclusively, but also about the freedom of any oppressed demographic.
“Solidarity between Black movements and Palestine has never, ever been about just those places. It's always been about rethinking the world,” said University of California Los Angeles professor Robin Kelley. “The most vibrant solidarity is the one that both acknowledges and respects self-determination, but still says, you know what, there's some things that we are just not going to tolerate.”
As Angela Davis had put it “Black solidarity with Palestine allows us to understand the nature of contemporary racism more deeply.” And there is a lot to be learned from the two aforementioned populations, and the generational plight they have had to endure.
In 2020 history was made in the US. Never before has the country seen mass protests as it did in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, an unarmed Black man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
Five days after George Floyd’s death, Eyad Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian man, was killed by Israeli police. The two tragic events happening within a short period of time of one another made it easy to draw parallels between the two occurrences, not only by identifying the struggles of the oppressed, but by also pointing out the connections of their oppressors.
While there is no lack of symbolism in the shared struggle between the two movements, their connection exists materially too. The same systemic structure that has been designed to hold Black Americans back is the very one that funds the Israeli military, and by extension Palestinian oppression; making this an American problem just as much as it is a middle eastern one.
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) regularly holds training programs with the American Police force. Additionally the U.S. sends Israel 10 million dollars in military aid, a day. While Blacks and Palestinians share a symbolic struggle in their fight for liberation, their oppressors utilize the same repressive apparatus.
“The narrative that has been built around black people by law enforcement and by people in power is this is a very similar narrative that has been built against Palestinians living under occupation,” says Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian organizer based in New York, and author of “We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love and Resistance.” “In America, you will hear the media say derogatory things about black people. They call them poor. They need to be civilized. They call young black men thugs. They call them savages always, you know, just criminalizing entire communities similarly to what happens to Palestinians. We're savages. We're uncivilized people. We need to be occupied because we do not know how to govern ourselves.”
History professor at Randolph-Macon College and author of “Black Power and Palestine: Transnational Countries of Color,” Michael Fischbach, believes that the media focuses disproportionately on the more violent aspects of the two movements. Though Fischbach believes that the mainstream media is more accepting of Black social movements now than in previous decades “I think that you still do have an abundance of focusing on the more violent nature of certain expressions of Black Lives Matter.”
Fischbach views the media’s coverage of Palestine to be analogous, in the sense that it too often conflates radical groups such as Hamas as an overarching facet of the Palestinian cause while portraying Israel in a positive light.
Supporting all marginalized people is a critical characteristic of the BLM ethos. The movement has been a great uniter in the field of social justice, recruiting a wide array of demographics in the fight for a better world. Black and Palestinian liberation, is not just about these two demographics, but about creating a more just world.
“We both see each other, but we're also together fighting this larger global cause. Palestinian struggle has always been about something bigger than Palestine, and that's the beauty of it.” Said Robin Kelley.