How Palestine Advocates Can Support Black Struggle
Above photo: One of the best ways for Americans to display solidarity with Palestinians is to support the Black revolution in their own country. Tess Scheflan/ActiveStills.
The recent Black Lives Matter protests have sparked conversations about how to act in better solidarity with the Black struggle.
There are two especially prominent questions: how to move beyond rhetorical statements and how to address anti-Blackness among non-Black Arab communities.
The following are a few suggestions for addressing these issues:
1. Understand that the Black struggle at its core is a 500-year anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle for self-determination.
Black people are one of the first and largest victims of Western colonialism and racial capitalism. We have never received justice for 500 years of racist violence and exploitation.
The US and most Western countries built their empires through profits from the Atlantic slave trade.
As an illegitimate settler colony that was built on the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population and enslavement of Africans, the US requires the continuous subjugation of Black and Indigenous people to maintain its imperial domination abroad.
Accordingly, the greatest internal threat to the US empire is that of a Black revolution. This is why the last real moment of Black revolution was so viciously attacked and destroyed between the late 1960s and early 1980s.
Solidarity means prioritizing, investing in, and relating to the Black struggle as having the greatest revolutionary potential in the US.
2. Understand that if you live in the US and are not Indigenous or Black, you yourself are a settler and must contribute to decolonizing this territory.
While all other ethnic groups may experience discrimination, they are generally granted citizenship privileges as long as they do not challenge US colonialism or support Black and Indigenous revolution.
This is similar to the position of Arab and Ethiopian Jews in Israel: subjugated by European Jews but allowed the privileges of citizenship in exchange for oppressing Palestinians instead of aligning with them.
In each case, anyone living on occupied territory has an obligation to work in solidarity with the Indigenous and oppressed populations. In the US, this requires active, day-to-day support and not simply an internalized stance of “standing with Black people.”
3. Divest from anti-Black racism and invest in Black self-determination.
Focus on shifting power and redistributing resources from communities that benefit from anti-Black racism instead of circular and largely rhetorical conversations about addressing anti-Blackness within Arab (and other non-Black) communities.
Anti-Blackness is not unique to Arab Americans but is a condition present across non-Black communities due to the divide and conquer structure of settler-colonialism and capitalism.
With that in mind, we can examine two primary manifestations of anti-Blackness between Dearborn (the US city with the highest percentage of Arabs) and its neighbor Detroit (the city with the highest percentage of Black people).
The first is the predatory role the Arab merchant class plays in operating gas stations and liquor stores across Detroit that extract wealth from the Black community while providing little of value and engaging in racist practices against the community.
The second manifestation of anti-Black racism is passive acceptance of unacceptable conditions of Black death – which include water shutoffs, home foreclosures, evictions, gentrification, food apartheid, inadequate public health, and decades of disinvestment.
While it is important to challenge racist family members, focusing on confronting prejudice does little to transform these material conditions of Black death.
An investment campaign for Detroit gas and liquor stores to donate their profits to Black revolutionary organizations or even to transfer ownership of shops to Black food co-ops will do far more for the Black community than convincing a cousin not to refer to Black people as abeed, the Arabic for slaves.
This work requires long-term community building and political education around structural racism, moving beyond individual racism.
4. Support Black organizing beyond the well-known and national organizations.
Black activists who support Palestine should not be the only Black people in your political circles. Build alliances with Black groups that reflect your political commitment to Palestinian liberation and analysis of this country.
In every part of this country there are Black people actively building towards our liberation.
There are Black farmers working to secure land and resources so that their communities can be food secure and self-sufficient. There are meeting spaces for Black radical organizations facing displacement due to gentrification and there are many groups that have no offices at all.
In every city there are former Black Panthers and elder Black revolutionaries seeking to transfer knowledge to future generations.
Find and support these initiatives regularly and generously, host fundraisers for them, offer them free office space, invite them to speak to your community and pay them the large fee that you would offer a high-profile speaker.
Showing up to support Black revolution – through money, time, and most importantly through building and maintaining consistent relationships – will tangibly combat cultural and material racism.
5. Visit and spend time in our communities.
If you’ve paid thousands of dollars to travel to Palestine and learn from people under struggle, you can travel to Detroit, Chicago or Jackson, Mississippi to do the same (and pay Black organizations).
If you’ve volunteered to harvest olives in the occupied West Bank to defend a farmer’s land from settlers, you can volunteer to plant vegetables here and defend a Black urban farmer’s land from gentrifiers (who are also settlers).
If you’ve defended a Palestinian home from being demolished, you can defend a Black family from being evicted.
If you’ve devoted the better part of your free time to being in solidarity with a liberation struggle 6,000 miles away, you need to devote the better part of your life to supporting liberation struggles in your backyard.
Some Palestinian American comrades have insisted that the best way to support Palestine is to support the Black struggle here, but we need more forces to operate from this understanding.
6. Understand that Israel’s violence is not unique.
Israel is not unique or exceptional in its violence against Palestinians; Israel is the most recent example of colonial violence that Western Europe and its descendants have perpetrated for hundreds of years.
My first trip to Palestine was with a group of primarily older white people who were aghast at Israel’s apartheid treatment of Palestinians, but who seemed to have no concept of the apartheid conditions facing Black people in the US.
In a cross-movement space in the US, a Palestinian American declared that no other country has committed as horrible crimes as Israel has against Palestinians – to the audible shock of Black and Indigenous comrades in the room.
Some activists, when commenting on the oppression of Black people in the US, will say things like “if you think it’s bad here, look at what’s happening in Palestine.”
While comparisons are sometimes useful for consciousness raising, learn to offer loud and unequivocal support for the Black struggle without diluting that solidarity through Palestine, even if the analogy is relevant. And avoid hijacking conversations about the Black struggle to focus solely on Palestine.
7. Recognize that justice for the Black struggle is also about justice for the African diaspora for slavery and colonialism.
Build relationships with Africans in other parts of the diaspora. Learn about our struggles, martyrs, triumphs and failures in addressing the colonial issue.
Haiti (Toussaint Louverture), the Congo (Patrice Lumumba), Ghana (Kwame Nkrumah), Cape Verde (Amilcar Cabral), Burkina Faso (Thomas Sankara), and Mozambique (Samora Machel) have all experienced great revolutionary struggles and had great leaders.
If you already have relationships with Black/African organizations abroad, connect them with Black organizers in the US.
8. Decolonize how you seek and practice solidarity.
A few years ago, a close comrade from Detroit who is a Black woman went on a (mostly white) delegation to Palestine. At site after site, Palestinians would flock to the white/Jewish participants, but would often ignore her.
She went into the trip expecting mutual camaraderie and came back disillusioned.
Her experience mirrors a tendency among Palestinians to seek solidarity from colonizers (whether the US Congress, the European Union, the UN, or white/Jewish activists) while deprioritizing colonized people who are struggling for similar aims. This tendency produced the Oslo accords and the focus on a two-state “solution” instead of one democratic, decolonized state with the right of return for Palestine’s refugees.
Uniting with African struggles in a transnational push for decolonization is what brings justice for the African and Arab diasporas, whose colonial borders and refugee crises were fomented by the very European forces the Palestinian movement currently appeals to.
Understanding that Black people are colonized by the US and have the revolutionary potential to disrupt the US empire, we need Palestinians abroad to engage with Black visitors in a more serious way. Take the Black comrades you encounter aside, ask them about their own experiences trying to liberate their communities, and share your own insights.
Many of us have lost the cultural understanding of being part of a collective struggle that Palestinians still possess and remind the world of. Help us raise our own level of consciousness.
9. Engage in politics of abolition.
It should not be hard for someone who understands that the Israeli occupation, its prisons, settlements, military and system of ethnic supremacy must be abolished for Palestinian liberation, the occupying armies (military and police), concentration camps (prisons), and ethno-supremacist institutions of the settler-colonial United States must also be abolished for Black and Indigenous liberation.
With the same energy that the Palestine solidarity movement has pushed campaigns for boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel’s occupation, we must push campaigns to boycott and divest from US police and prisons.
Because even if we are successful in ending US military aid to Israel, that annual $3.8 billion would likely go to the US military or police over education, health care or social services.
Justice for Palestine must fit into a political program of abolishing US imperialism abroad and at home.
10. Seek the guidance of Palestinians who have engaged in principled solidarity with the Black struggle.
There are people in the Palestinian community who have supported the Black community in the US long before Black-Palestinian solidarity became a popularized topic. These people are largely left out of movement spaces because they are not in contemporary organizations, because they are still busy being embedded in their communities, and because they are working class and can’t take time for multi-day organizing retreats.
Find out how you can support them and spread their work. Make your own spaces accessible to their participation.
Finding new strength
The Black community is a complex ecosystem that needs to be nourished in order to thrive.
We have been weakened and on the defensive since the state’s defeat of the Black revolution of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – which was also the last moment of the Palestinian revolution’s strength.
Think of the Black Panthers operating survival programs in Black communities, meeting with the Palestine Liberation Organization in Algiers, visiting Palestinian guerillas in Lebanon and exchanging statements with Palestinians in revolutionary newsletters: These are the conditions under which we can truly fight for our liberation as Black people and as Palestinians.
We, therefore, must do everything at our disposal to cultivate the conditions for the next iteration of Black revolution.
Our lives as Black people depend on it. And your lives do too.
Kristian Davis Bailey is a writer, activist and co-founder of Black for Palestine.