I was very excited when I learned that we had tickets to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) – even though we had to wait three months to use those tickets. The five of us who received the tickets are all retired educators. Three of us started our careers teaching seventh grade United States History. We all anticipated that this field trip would be meaningful and enlightening.
Personally, I was looking forward to this trip because I have been involved with issues of justice in Palestine for many years and am now following the Black Lives Matter movement. I have been reading about what people are calling “intersectionality” between Palestinians and African Americans (and other communities in the Untied States) and their maltreatment at the hands of the power structures that oppress them. I was sure this field trip would shed more light on the plight of African Americans in the United States and help me to identify the parallels between these two histories.
In addition, during the summer of 2009, my wife and I spent two weeks at the University of Rhode Island at the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. We were taught Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent responses to injustices. We learned about the history, philosophic foundation and processes of the Civil Rights Movement. We also learned about the lives, passions, and persistence of the leaders in the movement. We went through this intensive training as we were getting ready to go to Palestine to work with Palestinians who had already completed this nonviolence training in Palestine. Our follow-up two-week workshop was designed to develop leadership skills and teach community organizing strategies while applying Kingian nonviolent tactics. We were fortunate to have Dr. Bernard Lafayette as our teacher and guide. He was in Dr. King’s inner circle during the movement.
Finally, I have a strong personal interest in examining these common experiences between African Americans and Palestinians. I am a Palestinian American with deep roots in Palestine. My family can trace its history in Gaza, Palestine to the early 1700s. Members of the Tarazi Family have been actively involved in St. Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church for as long as records have been kept. This small and faithful community of Christians has withstood the destruction of their church at the hands of the Roman Christian Crusaders, the siege and repeated violent military attacks on civilians by the Israeli government, and the deafening silence and apathy of global Christianity.
As a follower of Jesus, the commandment to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) is paramount to me. This is what it means to follow Jesus – to usher in God’s sovereignty on earth as it is in heaven. My nationality, ethnicity and religious tradition are woven together in my work for peace with justice in Palestine.
Foundation of racism
Two glaring parallels between the experiences of Palestinians and African Americans are the condescending attitude of exceptionalism among the oppressors and their blatant and subtle dehumanization of the oppressed. This is the toxic and malignant foundation on which the “legal” oppression takes place – in both the United States and Palestine/Israel.
Walking through the subterranean floors of the museum was depressing, with stark displays of the realities of slavery. Those floors are dark, dingy, and the messages at each display depicted the long history of racism and slavery, its deplorable byproduct. During this shameful time, many political, economic and religious elite thought of themselves as superior and masters of their world and everything within their world. They defined African Americans as less than human. Politicians enacted laws, which defined the Negro as three-fifth human. To the economic leaders of the time, African Americans were just property to be used as the owners/masters wanted. Slaves were critical cogs in their agrarian economy and the self-serving society they built around it. The religious leaders did all they could to justify these misguided beliefs and inhuman actions with misinterpretations and cherry picking of biblical scriptures. They used the Bible as a weapon to force their control and self-centered vision of society.
As time went on and legal slavery was brought to an end, these blatant aspects of racism became more subtle but no less controlling and vicious.
In Israel the European, white Ashkenazi Jewish Zionists call themselves the “chosen people.” They claim that they are “exceptional” because their Yahweh has chosen them to be the role models for the rest of the world, as reported in their Hebrew Scriptures. Even though the Ashkenazi Jews have no historic, archeological, or lineage claims to the land they have named Israel, they nonetheless control all aspects of governing in Israel and in apartheid West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. They have complete control, backed by the Untied States’ unconditional military, economic, and political support. Naming Israel’s control as apartheid rather than occupation is much more accurate and descriptive, correcting the whitewashing and normalizing of the treatment of Palestinians under their control. The existence of two separate laws for two different peoples is the very definition of apartheid. As a matter of fact, the March 2017 United Nations’ report calls Israel an “apartheid state” for the first time. Unfortunately, this comprehensive report has been pulled from UN files under intense United States intimidation.
Compounding this ethnocentric, supremacist attitude is a very meticulous and malicious dehumanization of Palestinians. Zionist politicians have publically called Palestinians “snakes,” and worse. They consider Palestinians to be less than human. Zionist politicians have been ridding Palestine of the indigenous Palestinians, since before the creation of Israel in 1948. They have created laws specifically designed for Palestinians living in Israel, very reminiscent of the Jim Crow Laws in the United States. These laws limit where Palestinian citizens of Israel can live, and what government resources they can have, even though they pay the same taxes Israeli Jews pay.
In the apartheid areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians live under strict and harsh Israeli military laws that control all aspects of their daily lives – including access to water, electricity, limited movement within their own areas, and even where cell phone service works. Palestinians’ ancestral land is being stolen and illegal Jewish-only colonies and highways connecting those colonies are being built on that land. Palestinians are being forced to live in ever shrinking areas within their own land. Today Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank control 42 percent of the occupied Palestinian territory, and Israel controls a total of 60 percent of the West Bank. Palestinians are being confined to live in isolated and non-contiguous areas, reminiscent of South Africa’s Bantustans during their apartheid.
Zionist educators have made every effort to erase Palestinians from Palestine. They have avoided using the words Palestine and Palestinians in their K-12 history books. They use the word Arab to describe indigenous Palestinians. In addition, they have wiped from their history books and even outlawed the use of the word “Nakba” (which means “catastrophe” in Arabic and is how Palestinians describe their experience during the creation of Israel). Israeli historians, using released documents, have proven that during the creation of Israel, the terrorist Zionist militias destroyed more than 601 Palestinian villages and drove more than 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. Compounding these indefensible assaults on their identity, history, and narrative, Israeli laws prevent Palestinians from returning to their ancestral homes to this day.
The abuse of children
The destructive tentacles of racism run deep in American history. All racism is abhorrent. For me, however, the abuse of children breaks my heart and makes me most angry. One example in American history is the murder of Emmett Louis Till in August of 1955, one month after his fourteenth birthday. His story is a stark example of how African American children have been the victims of racism throughout our history.
Emmett was born outside of Chicago. While visiting family in Mississippi, he was kidnapped, beaten, shot in the head and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. His deformed body was found three days later. His “crime” was making eye contact with a white woman who was offended by this behavior. She was the cashier at a store from where he was making a purchase. A jury of all white men acquitted the two white men, who later confessed to killing Emmett.
The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. Till posthumously became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement. His original casket is on display at the NMAAHC.
In recent years, the Black Lives Matter movement has shed light on the maltreatment of young black men at the hands of police. In 2016 alone, 222 black men were killed at the hands of police.
The destructive tentacles of racism also run deep in Israeli history. Palestinian children and youth living in apartheid West Bank and Gaza are experiencing brutal treatment by police and occupation soldiers. They are subjected to very strict and repressive laws. One such law is the stone throwing law. And a Palestinian child in Israel or Jerusalem can be sentenced to a minimum of three years for throwing a stone at tanks, armored jeeps, armored police and soldiers. This law in practice only applies to Palestinians and is not applied to illegal Jewish settler youth throwing stones at Palestinian children going to school in the West Bank. This law is mindboggling since, in Israel, there are no minimum sentences for such crimes as manslaughter or rape.
In addition, detained Palestinian children and youth from the West Bank age 16 and up are subject to adult military law. Moreover, children as young as 12 years old have been taken during pre-dawn raids on their homes, traumatizing the entire family. Children are jailed without parental or legal representation and spend weeks and months without going to trial or even being accused of a crime. Many children who go through this inhumane process, which is defined as illegal under international law, also report mental and physical torture. Many describe the same torture techniques used by the Israeli police and soldiers – including beatings, being tied to a wooden chair for long periods of time, deprived of food, sleep, and light.
In 2016 alone, 32 Palestinian minors from the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been killed at the hands of Israeli occupying forces. In addition, it is estimated that 500 to 700 Palestinian children and youth have are detained each year in military jails. A majority of them are prosecuted for throwing stones.
For me, there is no doubt that these parallels are not coincidental. The vicious racism, which is rooted in exceptionalism and dehumanization, can only bear the poisoned fruits described above. Unfortunately, the Israelis are actively cross-pollinating. The current and misguided militarization of police forces in the Untied States is intentional and a part of this cross-pollination process. The Israeli apartheid forces have created weapons and developed racist techniques for controlling Palestinians. They have formalized and systemized these efforts. They are piloting them and experimenting with them on the captive Palestinians. And, they are now selling them to American police forces. For a large sum of money U.S. police forces travel to Israel to learn how to use these weapons and strategies. Militarizing policing is very scary and many consider it to be the new face of racism. Unfortunately, it’s happening right before our eyes. The violent incidences in Ferguson, Baltimore, St. Louis, New York City, and other places are results of this training. All those police forces have been trained in Israel.
The words of Gloria Jean Watkins (pen name bell hooks), a prolific African American author and poet, a professor, feminist, and activist are prominently displayed at the NMAAHC. These simple yet powerful words are inspiring:
People resist by telling their story.
Oppressed people resist by defining their reality.
It is time to resist! We have to build better, more just countries for our children and grandchildren. If not now, when?