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Palestine comes to Atlanta: Linking the US and Palestinian civil rights movements

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DAM performing in atlanta, 11/9/11 (Photo: Justin Hadley Photography)

As the Civil Rights Mecca, Atlanta played a huge role in the global divestment campaign to bring down South African apartheid in the Seventies and Eighties. Now Atlanta is becoming a major site in the growing struggle for justice in Palestine.

This week is just one showcase for Atlanta’s growing role in the global fight for human rights and justice in Palestine. On Wednesday, November 9th, DAM, the founders of Hip-Hop in Palestine, played their 2nd powerful gig in Atlanta, at an historic “Hip-Hop for Palestine” Summit at the Loft, featuring Detroit-based-Israeli rapper Invincible, North Carolina-based Palestinian MC Khaki Mustafa, and numerous local artists and community leaders including: Ras Kofi, J-Live, Rasheeda Ali, Sa-Roc/Sol Messiah, Methuzulah, Khalila Ali, and Stahhr.

From November 10th to the 12th, Atlanta hosts Friends of Sabeel’s latest conference, rooted in the Christian Holy Land’s liberation-theology non-violence movement. Their “From Birmingham to Bethlehem” framing signals the growing U.S. awareness of the related Civil Rights basis of Palestine’s cause, as well as the growing realization in the Black community that Palestine is an anti-racist struggle very much related to their own. It’s an interesting parallel that this Tuesday, Nov. 15th, marks the beginning of the Freedom Rides in Palestine, modeled on those here in Birmingham, and shows that the non-violent movement in Palestine is gaining strength and visibility.

This summer, a delegation of notable feminists-of-color [including two Spelman professors] toured Palestine and issued a powerful statement in solidarity with the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) campaign called for by Palestinian civil society. In September, several participants shared their experiences for the first time, in an Atlanta conference on the Future of Minority Studies. On November 12th, six members of this historic delegation [including Angela Davis] will share their experiences at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. Finally, as the Occupy Atlanta movement confronts local law enforcement trained in and by Israelis in crowd control tactics, local citizens fighting for equity and justice got a taste of what Palestinians face everyday. This is in part the result of ongoing grassroots work in the communities of Atlanta. All this, as Occupy Atlanta and the Occupy Wall Street movement nationally has been making overt reference to the Palestinian quest for justice, and the parallels faced by marginal and oppressed people globally.

Like other cities, Atlanta will face questions over whether Israel is really an apartheid state needing to be boycotted. The apartheid comparison will not come easily or comfortably for all, but facts are emerging through the Western media fog: assaults on civilians, extrajudicial executions, use of white phosphorous, segregated license plates and pass cards, a wall that can be seen from space, an air-tight naval blockade on Gaza. It is well worth noting that iconic figures of South Africa’s own struggle, such as the honorable Archbishop Desmond Tutu have made the comparison without any hesitation. And if any one knows apartheid when they see it, it is black South Africans. Even mainstream Israeli leaders such as Ehud Barak have described Israel’s control over the Palestinians as apartheid.

As the capital of the Civil Rights Movement, Atlanta has over the years risen to become a global capital of Hip Hop, and a major center for human rights advocacy, with a new Center for Civil and Human Rights being launched, The Carter Center, the African American Human Rights Foundation, and Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, just to name a few.  Atlantans also know a thing or two about apartheid from experience with slavery, Jim Crow and segregation. For this reason, Atlantans of conscience must push their Civil Rights icons and community organizations to join us in this cause, to push past the troubled Black/Jewish alliance to a new Black/Jewish/Palestinian Alliance for global human rights and social justice. South Africans have long made the apartheid connection, and again we must follow their lead. As Dr. King reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Are Atlantans again prepared to back up these beautiful words with courageous action?

Jesse Benjamin is associate professor of sociology, and coordinator of African and African Diaspora Studies at Kennesaw State University, in Atlanta.

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It is SO time for this!

Every time I see “black leaders” like Jesse Jr sucking up to today’s equivalent of Bull Conner, I want to puke.

You are so right! We need to turn Tel Aviv/Israel into the new Sun City – “not gonna play at Sun City!”…

Gotta make them accountable to their Civil Rights credentials… gotta make Palestine a global Civil Rights Issue!

rap represents a huge opportunity for palestine here in the US. it has massive influence among the youth in america. i met some new friends last week thru another friend and was having dinner at their home when their teenage kid came in. he’d just recently been learning about palestine.… Read more »

Annie rocks… completely agree, hip-hop is one of most explosive access points for the youth. along with BDS, there is some hope on the horizon, for once in a long while… And Potsherd’s Bull Conner analogy is so right on… Some mornings, and this is one of them, it feels… Read more »