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Widening the Frame: SJP national conference highlights Palestine in global context

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This year’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) national conference brought together the largest contingent of SJP members in the movement’s history. Over 500 student activists and SJP alumni came to Tufts under the theme “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the US to Palestine,” which sought to embody our student movement’s continued commitment to joint struggle. 

Ahmad Abunzaid, the legal and policy director of the Dream Defenders, summarized the core message of the weekend during a conference workshop on Black liberation. 

“Our struggles are bound together and our liberation will be bound together,” he said.

This year’s conference centered the issues and resistance of numerous struggles against racism and colonialism alongside the movement for justice in Palestine, including Ferguson, Detroit, and Hawaii, as well as national youth-led movements and groups including MEChA, Black Youth Project, Anakbayan, and United Students Against Sweatshops

The contributions and responses of these parallel struggles help provide direction as SJP and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement continue to grow.

Connecting without conflating

Reverend Osagyefo Sekou, the Boston-based pastor who has worked for years on Black-Palestinian solidarity opened up the conference on a similar theme as he spoke on the topic “From Ferguson to Palestine: Resisting State Violence and Racism.” 

“We have to be clear in our critique to look at the ways in which our existence and our situatedness is very similar. Not the same, but similar,” Sekou said, skyping in from Ferguson where he’s been supporting young black activists on the ground since August. 

He noted the material and immaterial connections between the black and Palestinian struggles. 

“It is connected through the prison systems in Israel that are used to imprison Palestinian folk and that same company is running prisons in Florida. So it’s not abstract solidarity, it’s just not the fact that y’all catching hell and we’re catching hell, but it’s very material.” 

‘Seeing through the eyes of others’

This tension of navigating the common threads and specific histories of various struggles ran throughout the weekend. In the workshop “Environmental Justice: Water Rights from Hawaii to Detroit to Palestine,” organizers representing all three locations shared the histories of how racist and colonial policies impact their communities. Kaiulani Mahuka and Donovan Cabebe spoke of the United States’ 121-year illegal occupation of Hawaii. Tawana Petty spoke to Detroit’s own occupation by the city’s emergency manager and forces seeking to privatize common goods like water. 

“It was like we were kindred spirits in our struggles to maintain our dignity and humanity,” Petty wrote in The Michigan Citizen, representing the People’s Water Board Coalition of Detroit commented on hearing from activists in the Hawaiian and Palestinian struggles. 

“When you are constantly on the front lines of a particular battle, it can be difficult to see your battle through the eyes of others. It can be difficult to erase the lines that divide you,” she continued. 

Among the more moving moments for me during the conference was witnessing one of Petty’s colleagues from Detroit and an SJP activist meet each other and realize they were students at the same university. It was precisely these moments and connections that this year’s conference intentionally sought to create. 

Critical conversations

The conference also gave space for critical conversations about confronting tensions and challenges between various communities. 

“We have to challenge ourselves to keep ourselves from reinforcing oppression,”said Alaa Mukahhal during her opening keynote on “Migrant Justice Across Borders.” 

“What does this mean? It means we cannot talk about Ferguson and go home and quietly listen to our family refer to Blacks as ‘slaves.’  It means we cannot talk about feminism in our conferences and crack rape jokes with our friends. And it means we can’t talk about immigration without addressing our own undocumented communities.” 

Mukahhal commented that resisting ‘divide and conquer’ and moving beyond solidarity depends on manifesting intersectionality and addressing systems of oppression within our organizations and communities. 

“Our struggles are not one-dimensional, our stores are not one-dimensional and neither should be our struggles or our movements,” she continued. 

Contextualizing Palestine with transnational struggles

At this year’s conference, I  discussed the need to view Palestine and Israel not as exceptional cases of racism and colonialism, but as part of these broader global histories. We should look at the United States as the end result of normalizing racism and colonialism and must work to denormalize these events in our own country as we simultaneously resist them in Palestine and Israel. 

Indeed in the past few months we have witnessed not just an increase in transnational awareness and solidarity, but have been moving closer towards connecting resistance work on a transnational level. Participants in the conference drew connections between the tear gas canisters used against people in Ferguson and Palestine,and  between G4S which holds migrants and political prisoners in Israel, the US and South Africa (among other places). 

The transnational nature of these companies and policies mandates a transnational response. In order to get to the point of co-resistance, we have to start coming together to learn about each other’s struggles first–something this year’s conference sought to facilitate. 

“It’s bittersweet how we can all relate to each no matter where we come from or who and what we fight for,” said Larry Fellows III, a St. Louis-based organizer who has been active in Ferguson. “It’s sad it took oppression for us to link in such an incredible yet powerful way that we are here to fight for our people.” 

Where do we go from here?

A number of questions become prominent as the work of SJP chapters and the larger Palestine solidarity movement gains support from increasing sectors of American society: 

What does it mean for us as students and a larger solidarity movement to continue responding to the Palestinian call for BDS, while also working with other movements and issues affected by governmental and corporate policies of racism and exploitation? How can we utilize the relationships and networks we build through SJP and BDS to recenter liberation struggles whose movements have been relegated to the past? 

These questions and more await us. Our national steering committee faces the challenge of determining a structure that allows us to continue serving as a resource network for the growing number of autonomous Palestine solidarity groups around US campuses. 

The elders and allies from our movement and others remain confident in our ability to complete these tasks. 

“You are the generation that we have been waiting on,” Reverend Sekou closed his address saying. 

“I look forward to continuing a meaningful build with the millennials who have chosen to take on the difficult task of humanizing this country,” Tawana Petty wrote. 

Like Reverend Sekou and Tawana, I remain confident in our ability to go beyond solidarity into cementing our participation in an intersectional and transnational struggle for the liberation of all peoples from the US to Palestine and beyond. 

2014 SJP National Conference (Photo: Christopher Hazou)

2014 SJP National Conference (Photo: Christopher Hazou)

Kristian Davis Bailey
About Kristian Davis Bailey

Kristian Davis Bailey is a member of the steering committee of National Students for Justice in Palestine. He is a San Francisco-based journalist and activist, whose interest in learning from social movements has taken him to Cape Town, Detroit, and Palestine. Kristian's reporting has been featured on Ebony.com and Truthout. Follow him on Twitter @kristianbailey.

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27 Responses

  1. ivri
    ivri
    November 1, 2014, 7:54 am

    Mr. Bailey
    I am sure you know that M.L. King could have not succeeded had he not have a massive support of many Jewish organizations and individuals,- they filled his colored people committee and gave the organizational and financial support for the big marches that were decisive in winning the day for him. Do you see Hamas as deserving this attitude and support? Can`t you see the critical difference between the harmony-seeking approach of MLK, or Gandhi, and the 70 years (indeed a full century) of continual blood-soaked assault on the Jews in Israel (even before the 1967 war) in just about all conceivable violent forms. To get the pattern look also at what goes on in Syria, Iraq, Libya etc., before you rush to place blame on Israel and compare the fate of the Christians minority in the surrounding countries and in Israel.
    Think again if this is then case that deserves your support and energy.

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick
      November 1, 2014, 8:53 am

      “I am sure you know that M.L. King could have not succeeded had he not have a massive support of many Jewish organizations and individuals” Translation: the Jews set the Black folks free!

      “Do you see Hamas as deserving this attitude and support?” Hamas won a free and fair ELECTION, get over it.

      “Can`t you see the critical difference between the harmony-seeking approach of MLK, or Gandhi,” Yes, I do. Dr. King was trying to assert his rights as an American citizen, Gandhi was opposing a colonial state that had taken his country away from him.

      “70 years (indeed a full century) of continual blood-soaked assault on the Jews…in just about all conceivable violent forms.” Lexi, Irgun, Palmach, Haganah, look them up, they were far more violent than their Arab counterparts. Also I’ve never heard of the Palestinians castrating a guy because he attacked a Jewish woman.

    • bryan
      bryan
      November 1, 2014, 9:05 am

      You have a very valid point there, Ivri. Israel enjoys “a massive support of many Jewish organizations and individuals” very well-organized with numerous committees that provide “the organizational and financial support” that have – so far – won the day for the state of Israel. Thus SJP indeed have an up-hill struggle. So too did African Americans whose struggle is not yet over. Jews played a role in the civil rights movement but it was probably a smaller role than non-Zionist Jews are playing in the struggle for Palestinian rights, which too is a long struggle that will require years of effort. The civil rights movement succeeded because a new generation arrived and dramatic changes took place in social attitudes – a phenomena we are also witnessing on Palestine-Israel. Soon Israel will have its own Rosa Parks challenging segregation on buses. The civil rights movement was of benefit not just to African-Americans but to white America as well, and soon the realisation will come that Israel is the main beneficiary of justice for Palestinians.

      The tired arguments you put forward are well-past their sell-by-date. Hamas is merely a reaction to occupation, not the cause of the conflict, and was initially deemed worthy of Israeli support in an attempt to counter-balance the secular Fatah. The “blood-soaked assault on Jews” in 1967 was of course a war of choice by Israel, just like similar colonial enterprises in 1956 and repeatedly against Lebanon. Even the 1973 war could have been avoided had Israel been ready to return conquered land. One only has to read the contributions of pro-Israel lobbyists like yourself to realise that your battle is far from lost, but that you are losing ground rapidly and suffering a crisis of self-confidence.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 3, 2014, 11:58 am

        “Jews played a role in the civil rights movement”

        Yes, moving out or urban centers and out to the suburbs (where anti-Jewish covenants weren’t holding) left more urban housing for minorities. A great sacrifice!

      • seafoid
        seafoid
        November 3, 2014, 12:14 pm

        Jews played a role in the civil rights movement
        and stood behind Israel this summer while it blew up families

        there seems to be a 50 year hiatus in the CV. Could you explain what happened during that period, Mooser , especially how the thinking developed ?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 3, 2014, 1:23 pm

        “Could you explain what happened during that period, Mooser , especially how the thinking developed ?”

        Absolutely not.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      November 2, 2014, 4:09 pm

      ” they filled his colored people committee”

      Nice of them, wasn’t it?

      • tree
        tree
        November 2, 2014, 5:34 pm

        Nice of them, wasn’t it?

        Ivri’d probably even go so far as to say it was “mighty white” of them.

        His whole screed is one long denigration of MLK and the brave black Americans who fought for their civil rights. We all know how expensive it was to actually march in a demonstration, right? Or commit an act of civil disobedience? Or stand up for one’s rights. According to ivri, none of that was possible without Jewish money and influence, which I’m sure in other instances he would deny exists. Why is it that ZIonists make the most anti-semitic statements and never get called on them?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 3, 2014, 12:13 pm

        “His whole screed is one long denigration of MLK and the brave black Americans who fought for their civil rights”

        And what else, exactly, were you expecting from good ol’ “ivri”? And I bet, to top it off, he thought he was saying something nice. So true to form, that’s “ivri”

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      November 2, 2014, 4:20 pm

      “I am sure you know that M.L. King could have not succeeded had he not have a massive support of many Jewish organizations and individuals,”

      Too bad, that was then this is today: “Take your Ebola ass and get out”

      And, gee BTW, “ivri” why are you brining up MLK in connection with this article. Is MIK referenced, or his words appealed to anywhere in the post?

      Think again if this is then case that deserves your support and energy.”

      Oh, I get it “ivri”! Good line to take! ‘We made you, and don’t forget, we can break you, too’ ! Does that sort of capture the gist of it?

      • annie
        annie
        November 2, 2014, 6:06 pm

        gee BTW, “ivri” why are you brining up MLK in connection with this article. Is MIK referenced, or his words appealed to anywhere in the post?

        probably because bailey is black. so he’s appealing to him mano to mano ; shorter ivr, putting him in his place:’ “I am sure you know” that without my people you’d be scrubbing floors somewhere.’

        i can’t stand it when this garbage lands on top of the thread. what a highjacking.

        and this: and the 70 years .. of continual blood-soaked assault on the Jews in Israel (even before the 1967 war) in just about all conceivable violent forms

        considering at least 10 times more palestinians have been slaughtered by “the Jews” in the last 70 years, than vice versa and hundreds upon hundreds of thousands ethnically cleansed and hundreds of villages pillaged and wiped out by those very same “the Jews” ivr is referencing, no different than the “liberal” zionist avi shalit justifying it to this day, how it was all worth it. this is so disgusting i want to vomit.

        hey ivri, no, i don’t know. i really don’t know at all. in fact i completely disagree that without jews MLK would have amounted to diddly squat which is what your messaging screams. take your privileged racist BS and go shove it.

      • just
        just
        November 2, 2014, 6:12 pm

        “they filled his colored people committee”

        ivri– your comment is thoroughly reprehensible and patronizing in its entirety, but this portion is completely out of line.

      • ivri
        ivri
        November 3, 2014, 2:13 am

        @ just
        The phrase was not meant to denigrate -just a shorthand reference to his main organizational body. The full name is of course NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 3, 2014, 12:00 pm

        “probably because bailey is black.”

        I didn’t know, so I couldn’t say.

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      November 2, 2014, 4:23 pm

      “I am sure you know that M.L. King could have not succeeded had he not have a massive support of many Jewish organizations and individuals,- they filled his colored people committee and gave the organizational and financial support for the big marches that were decisive in winning the day for him.”

      Are you ten years old?

    • annie
      annie
      November 2, 2014, 6:29 pm

      hey iv, you should get on your knees and use your tongue to lick the dirt off the cement pavement JVP walks on, because the zionist lobby have surely SQUANDERED the goodwill of american jewish contributions to the civil rights movement in this country. however, american jews carrying on in that tradition are JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE and jewish students in STUDENTS FOR JUSTICE IN PALESTINE. you can’t pander yourself off (collectively) as jewish human rights activist or jewish social justice activists during one generation and then expect to be respected supporting colonialism, apartheid and genocide in another. life doesn’t work like that.

      WAKE UP!

      • ivri
        ivri
        November 3, 2014, 2:32 am

        I think that the comments here missed the main point of what I was trying to say, namely that the Israel-Palestinian context is fundamentally different than the usual analogies used. This is not another colonial case, neither the liberation of a subjugated majority. It is also not a liberation movement in an occupied country, neither a race-based discrimination doctrine. And it is not the case of a harmony seeking group (as in the case of Gandhi, King) – it is much too violent for that and its aim has ever been to undo Israel. So all these often cited analogies don`t apply.

      • bryan
        bryan
        November 3, 2014, 3:01 am

        Ivri. This most definitely is “another colonial case”, “the liberation of a subjugated majority”, “a liberation movement in an occupied country” and “a race-based discrimination doctrine”. You quote two non-violent leaders (Gandhi and MLK) but most similar resistance movements (e.g. Vietnam, Algeria, Kenya, South Africa and the United States of America) have used violence, or sometimes a combination of violence and non-violence to remove oppressive occupation. No matter how much you think you are special, the Israeli occupation is not a special case.

      • annie
        annie
        November 3, 2014, 6:13 am

        its aim has ever been to undo Israel

        whereas when zionists thieve and dismantle palestine bit by bit, (‘undoing it’ to use your phrasing) on the world stage no less, for all to witness the uprooting of acre after acre of olive orchards, demolitions of entire neighborhoods, imprisonments (including hauling children out of their beds and night, dragging them away, legislation to justify years of incarcerations for stone throwing!), the slaughtering of innocents, it’s merely for your own security, liberation and self determination.

        I think that the comments here missed the main point of what I was trying to say

        au contraire, i think we understand you quite well.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 3, 2014, 12:04 pm

        “I think that the comments here missed the main point…/…. cited analogies don`t apply.”

        Cause God? Cause of Bible? Please, Ivri, you’re so positive about what Zionism is not, please, my friend, tell us what it is! (Oh, this is gonna be good!)

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 3, 2014, 12:21 pm

        “its aim has ever been to undo Israel”

        Or maybe just to drive it back to it’s own declared borders? That kind of ‘undoing’?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        November 3, 2014, 1:39 pm

        “because the zionist lobby have surely SQUANDERED the goodwill of american jewish contributions to the civil rights movement in this country”

        As can be very easily seen, simply by Googling “Jewish NAACP ” .

    • lysias
      lysias
      November 3, 2014, 10:27 am

      Indian independence was won because of the combinationn of Gandhian nonviolence and violent resistance in the 1940’s. After the Congress leaders were arrested in 1942, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow reported to London that the level of violence in India was the greatest since the Great Mutiny. Bengali Congress leader Subhas Chandra Bose escaped the roundup and ended up in Japan, where he organized the Indian National Army (made up largely of Indian POW’s captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell) to fight on the Japanese side against the British on the Burmese front. When the war ended with Japanese defeat, Bose died in a plane crash and the INA officers and soldiers were captured by the British, who proceeded to try some of the leading INA officers for treason (!) at the Red Fort trials in Delhi. Virtually all Indians regarded the trial as a travesty of justice, even the Royal Indian Navy and the (British-led) Indian Army, which proceeded to mutiny. When it became clear that the British could no longer rely even on the armed forces in India, that was the final straw, and the Attlee government decided to give India independence as soon as possible.

  2. Kolin Thumbadoo
    Kolin Thumbadoo
    November 1, 2014, 6:58 pm

    Both the ANC and South African Communist Party as well as the PAC recognised the essential unity of the struggle with oppressed people especially colonised nations additionally shackled by a “transnational” imperialism. That this “unity” did not operationalize itself universally is a reflection of the “cold war” environment that prevailed thus splitting liberation forces on “false”, but real ideological grounds blurring the real forces behind racist and colonial oppression- transnational capital. With the old cold war confined to history and a “new” world order unfolding the naked brutality and vulgar, rapacious nature of this nascent force is being seen in stark detail. It is not at all surprising that the liberation of Palestine is the one singular issue around which the “unity of struggle” coalesces as it symbolises all that is wrong about the imperialism/transnational capital. Alutta continua.

    • just
      just
      November 2, 2014, 6:07 pm

      Thanks for that comment, Kolin.

      a luta continua, indeed.

  3. annie
    annie
    November 2, 2014, 6:56 pm

    You are the generation that we have been waiting on,” Reverend Sekou closed his address saying.

    i feel like this too. it really feels different, like this will be the generation that changes the world.

    and i love that photo. i had to drag it into my iphoto and blow it up to see it closer and see everyones faces. what a beautiful photo.

    thank you christian, and thanks to SJP, huge thanks.

  4. just
    just
    November 2, 2014, 10:49 pm

    Thank you Kristian, and thank you SJP.

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