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Shaking the campus from the US to Palestine

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Last week, I was one of four members of National Students for Justice in Palestine on the ground in Ferguson. We participated in Ferguson October as members of the Palestine Contingent for four days of resistance to police brutality. Local organizers in the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) specifically made a call for Palestinians and solidarity activists to join the weekend, as a result of years of local cooperation between OBS and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, in addition to the more recent support people in Palestine gave to demonstrators in Ferguson as they faced tear gas, rubber bullets and a militarized occupation.

This coming weekend, I will be one of hundreds of SJP organizers in Boston for our 2014 national conference. Our theme this year is “Beyond Solidarity: Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the US to Palestine.” The theme reflects our understanding that the struggles of people under these systems are deeply connected, and that our everyday work to support Palestinian self-determination and full human rights should bolster local communities facing similar issues of dispossession, discrimination, and occupation. The urgency of Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza, high-profile police killings of black people, and child refugees along our southern border formed the impetus for this year’s conference.

Those who argue that there is no connection between Ferguson and Palestine have missed the point entirely. “Palestinians were the first to reach out in support while we were getting tear gassed. We stand with y’all,” Millennial Activists United member Ashley Yates said while leading the main rally at Ferguson October. Solidarity is for those under struggle to decide.

So in addition to programming to advance the political education and skill set of our conference attendees, this year’s agenda devotes a significant amount of time to learning from grassroots movements across the US. Organizers from Detroit to Hawaii will come to discuss the intersections of racism, colonialism and environmental justice for Black and Hawaiian populations whose access to water and agriculture is under attack.

Members of the Dream Defenders and Black Youth Project, which both launched in response to Trayvon Martin’s killing, will join with prison abolition activists and organizers from Ferguson to discuss the contemporary fight against mass incarceration and police brutality. Activists advancing work on trans*, queer and gender liberation will show how these movements must be at the center of our work. Student organizers from MEChAAnakbayan, and United Students Against Sweatshops will share their own stories of seeking justice for migrant people and the working class.

We view our work as being at a critical juncture and value the opportunity to be able to host the conference at Tufts University and in the Boston area. Northeastern University’s SJP is co-hosting the conference after enduring attempts by pro-Israel forces to remove the group from campus last year. And Harvard’s Palestine Solidarity Committee, which participated in the Open Hillel conference less than two weeks ago to widen the scope of discussion on Israel and Palestine, is also a participant in organizing the conference. Our conference continues to advance the notion that American institutions of higher learning have a role to play in the struggle for justice in Palestine and in the US.

While local SJP chapters are autonomous from our national steering committee, the primary objective of all SJP groups is to respond to the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The call requests that all citizens of conscience enact various forms of boycott and divestment against Israel or companies that profit from its violation of Palestinian human rights until three criteria are satisfied: 1) the end of the Israeli occupation and colonization of 1967 lands; 2) the right of return and compensation of more than five million Palestinian refugees; and 3) the realization of full legal equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

As the BDS movement grows to include an ever-expanding list of religious and labor groups, financial institutions, university student associations, and national governments, we pause to reflect on the local and global context of our work. Leaders of the BDS movement from the US, South Africa, and Palestine itself will close the conference discussing the transnational nature of the BDS movement.

Our dynamic struggle alongside people and movements who fight similar or parallel battles against racism and colonialism is growing and, as BDS leader Omar Barghouti says, “We need to stand together and one way to do that is through BDS targeting companies that oppress all of us – targeting companies that are involved in human rights violations against black Americans in Chicago as well as Palestinians in Gaza.”

No company illustrates more clearly the connections in repression across borders than the private security behemoth G4S. The company profits from Israeli prisons that violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and from private prisons that incarcerate youth, migrants, and people of color in the USUKAustralia and South Africa. It supports companies that exploit indigenous land, people and resources in the Niger Delta and Philippines. Elbit SystemsHewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and Motorola also link communities under struggle not just across borders, but in some cases across time, having been targeted for divestment during the struggle against apartheid South Africa. This, in addition to the rise in joint training between American police and the Israeli military, indicates that our oppression is connected on a transnational scale.

Racism and colonialism have always operated on an intersectional and global level. In the spirit of strengthening the global movement to liberate all peoples, we dedicate this year’s conference not only to expressing solidarity with other movements, but to moving from expressing it with words to expressing it by committing to self-education and concrete joint action. We invite local Boston academics to join us for the open sessions of the conference and we invite students, staff and faculty across the nation to consider their role in these struggles towards justice.

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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12 Responses

  1. Blaine Coleman on October 24, 2014, 9:47 pm

    Excellent words, Kristian. Just the kind of solidarity that’s needed – if it really happens on the campuses.

    Before Thanksgiving, I hope to see student government meetings filled with “Boycott Israel” banners, or at least a crowd chanting “Divest, Divest, Divest” as we saw at Michigan in March 2014.

    That would make this column true – a door flung open to liberation, much more than just words.

  2. Mayhem on October 25, 2014, 2:04 am

    So the campaign is all about

    Resisting Racism and Colonialism from the US to Palestine

    OK, please explain why the sole focus is on Palestine. The Zionists who first began arriving in numbers during the 19th century could hardly be classified as colonialists as they paid legitimately for barren land, usually owned by absentee landlords, who did not nothing except luxuriate in Istanbul, Cairo or Damascus.

    Why are these people not insisting that white Australians return Australia to their rightful owners the aborigines and white Americans return the land they stole from the the Red Indians? Surely the crime of white racists coming to these countries and raping, murdering, pillaging and plundering the local inhabitants and then relegating them to a subservient existence is far, far worse than what allegedly happened in Palestine.

    In Palestine the native inhabitants were never willing to entertain a significant Jewish presence and they had their Arab brethren in the neighboring countries to come and bat for them to ensure the conflict would never get resolved other than in their favour. They have never been prepared to accept anything less.

    • annie on October 25, 2014, 4:23 am

      The Zionists who first began arriving in numbers during the 19th century could hardly be classified as colonialists
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestine_Jewish_Colonization_Association

      The Palestine Jewish Colonization Association, commonly known by its Yiddish acronym PICA (Hebrew: פיק”א‎), was established in 1924 and played a major role in supporting the Yishuv in Palestine until its disbandment in 1957.
      The Jewish Colonization Association (JCA or ICA) was founded by Bavarian philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch in 1891 to help Jews from Russia and Romania to settle in Argentina.[1][2] Baron de Hirsch died in 1896 and thereafter the JCA began to also assist the Palestinian colonies.[2] At the end of 1899 Edmond James de Rothschild transferred title to his colonies in Palestine plus fifteen million francs to the JCA. In 1924 the JCA branch dealing with colonies in Palestine was reorganised by Baron de Rothschild as the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association,[1][3] under the direction of his son James Armand de Rothschild.[4]

      Why are these people not insisting that white Australians return Australia to their rightful owners the aborigines and white Americans return the land they stole from the the Red Indians?

      hmm, maybe because the indigenous peoples of australia and the US are now full citizens in their respective countries. did you read the article? sjp are not asking israel to “return the land they stole” they are asking for end of the Israeli occupation and colonization of 1967 lands (israel is still colonizing/thieving palestinian land, they need to STOP), the right of return and equality.

      pay attention!

      • Shmuel on October 25, 2014, 5:21 am

        Annie,

        I wouldn’t necessarily take the word “colonisation” in its modern sense. It was used at the time, for the agricultural settlement of impoverished Eastern European Jews in Palestine, South America and even Europe (e.g. in Crimea) — not always characterised by the types of relationships with the indigenous population we would associate with colonialism.

        A certain kind of settlement in Palestine (and elsewhere) was also supported by those who opposed Herzlian Zionism and Jewish nationalism in general, such as the Protestrabbiner and other religious leaders (see e.g. the Orthodox anti-Zionist anthology Or layeshorim).

        Part of our confusion stems from the fact that Zionist historiography has “Zionised” each and every attempt by Jews to settle in the Holy Land, from Judah Halevi (12th century) to the students of the Gaon of Vilna (early 19th century), to the philanthrophy of Moses Montefiore.

        Modern definitions of settler colonialism would certainly apply to some of the 19th century Jewish settlements in Palestine (as described e.g. by Ahad Ha’am, following his visit to Palestine in 1881), if not in original intention, then in the attitudes and behaviour they eventually adopted. As the nationalist, “self-emancipatory” approach came to dominate such settlement and immigration, a settler-colonialist project clearly emerged — due to its nature, rather than the use of words such as “colonies” and “colonisation”.

    • RoHa on October 25, 2014, 6:01 am

      “In Palestine the native inhabitants were never willing to entertain a significant Jewish presence”

      Because the Jews who arrived declared themselves the enemies of the natives. They refused to become part of the local society. They drove native tenant farmers off the land. They declared loudly that they intended to take over the land, make themselves top dogs, and impose a language they had just made up.

      • ivri on October 25, 2014, 9:49 am

        ROHA: “the Jews who arrived declared themselves the enemies of the natives”
        This is fact-wise absolute nonsense. Just spend a bit of time looking into history books rather than re-inventing it to conveniently fit present-day (hostile) perspectives. In reality the greater part of the Jewish settlers wished for harmony with the locals and some even romanticized aspect of the Arab way of life and tried to emulate it – with that showing their keen interest for peaceful cooperation. The problem is that such revisionist presentations all along and limitless suspicion of “the other” have kept pushing Arabs into the wrong historical alleys with disastrous results – always blaming those “others” for that. Someday the Arabs will have to mature out of it.

      • RoHa on October 25, 2014, 10:44 pm

        If the Jewish immigrants were so keen on making common cause with the local Arabs, how did the Zionists get a foothold?

        The Zionists were uninvited foreigners. They entered the country with the avowed (loud and often) intent of taking over the country and setting up a state in which they would be top dogs, run for their benefit.

        They did set up an alternative society, with institutions for the promotion of Jewish interests and from which locals were excluded.

        And Zionists did buy up some land and drive off the tenant farmers.

        If that isn’t declaring themselves the enemies of the locals, it comes damned close.

    • Horizontal on October 25, 2014, 12:13 pm

      In Palestine the native inhabitants were never willing to entertain a significant Jewish presence and they had their Arab brethren in the neighboring countries to come and bat for them to ensure the conflict would never get resolved other than in their favour. They have never been prepared to accept anything less.

      Your comment describes perfectly the attitude of many prominent Zionists regarding Palestinian Arabs. In fact, Arabs were more than willing to accept a number of Jews in their midst and always have, but didn’t want British-enabled immigration to artificially swell those numbers to where the native Palestinian Arab population would be in the minority — an understandable position, don’t you think, for a people who had been living more or less peacefully with the Jews for a thousand years?

      Instead of working with the Palestinian Arabs, Ben-Gurion walked away from a British-brokered proposal in 1939 that would have created a binational state in Palestine in 10 years with political representation based on population, meaning an Arab majority but with Jewish representation as well, and along with it, peace. But of course, the Zionists didn’t want that, and the heck with those Arabs who dare not go along with Zionist designs. We’ve all been living with those bloody results ever since.

      This is part of the Zionist revisionist history that I hear repeated over and over: Arabs are unreasonable and have never wanted peace or would accept Jews among them and that poor little Israel only wants to be left alone and would sue for peace at the drop of a hat, if only . . .

      It’s all lies & distortions.

      But as you say, Israeli Zionists “have never been prepared to accept anything less.”

      • Mayhem on October 26, 2014, 12:29 am

        Horizontal seems very keen to disseminate myths.
        Myth no 1:

        for a people who had been living more or less peacefully with the Jews for a thousand years

        Horizontal claims this is “an understandable position” and I would agree for people who don’t have the true welfare of the country at heart and are only acting on the basis of fear and xenophobia, hence it is not a justifiable one. It is predicated on the anti-democratic dhimmi principle that has operated in Arab society for centuries. This statement by Horizontal 

        didn’t want British-enabled immigration to artificially swell those numbers to where the native Palestinian Arab population would be in the minority

        reinforces what I am saying about the narrow-minded Arab mentality that is saying it is alright for some Jews to be living amongst us but we have to dominate them.

        Myth no 2:

        The Peel Commission advocated a binational state and consequently it was very logical that

        Ben-Gurion walked away from a British-brokered proposal in 1939

        This was a dreadful proposition for the Jews who at that time were facing very severe restrictions on immigration – a death sentence potentially for European Jewry.

      • RoHa on October 26, 2014, 8:43 pm

        “the narrow-minded Arab mentality that is saying it is alright for some Jews to be living amongst us but we have to dominate them.”

        Since it was the clear intention of the Zionists to dominate and/or expel the Arabs, it seems reasonable that the Arabs would want restrictions on immigration of Jews.

        “This was a dreadful proposition for the Jews who at that time were facing very severe restrictions on immigration – a death sentence potentially for European Jewry.”

        It was a just proposition for the Jews in Palestine, but they did not want justice. They wanted the land.

        And the Arabs had no greater obligation to European Jews than people in any other country. They were certainly not morally required to give up their country for the sake of European Jews.

      • Mayhem on October 27, 2014, 9:31 am

        Roha, the Jewish people never gave up hope that they would one day return to their home in Israel. For a long time, this desire for a homeland was merely a vague hope without any concrete plans to achieve it. In the late 1800s Zionism was born, a political movement dedicated to the creation of a Jewish state. A state of Israel was seen as a necessary refuge for Jewish victims of oppression, especially in Russia, where pogroms were decimating the Jewish population.  This has nothing to do with colonialism.

        Zionism was primarily a political movement. The early Zionists sought to establish a secular state of Israel, recognized by the world, through purely legal means. The Arabs living in Palestine vigorously opposed Jewish immigration into the territory and the idea of a Jewish homeland. There were many riots in the territory, and the British came to believe that the conflicting claims were irreconcilable. In 1937, the British recommended partition of the territory.

        To suggest that the Zionists clearly intended from the start to dominate and/or expel the Arabs is absolute baloney – the Zionist were only responding to the way in which the Palestinian Arabs reacted to their growing presence.

        The British were unable to come up with a solution that would satisfy either Arabs or Jews, so in 1947, they handed the problem to the United Nations, which developed a partition plan dividing Palestine into Jewish and Arab portions. The plan was ratified in November 1947. The mandate expired on May 14, 1948 and British troops pulled out of Palestine. The Jews of Palestine promptly declared the creation of the State of Israel, which was recognized by several Western countries immediately.

        However, the surrounding Arab nations did not recognize the validity of Israel and invaded, claiming that they were filling a vacuum created by the termination of the mandate and the absence of any legal authority to replace it. The Arabs fought a year-long war to drive the Jews out. Miraculously, the new state of Israel won this war, as well as every subsequent Arab-Israeli war, gaining territory every time the Arabs attacked them, territory required to secure the country from repeat attacks.

      • RoHa on October 28, 2014, 1:57 am

        “the Jewish people never gave up hope … this desire for a homeland … a political movement dedicated to the creation of a Jewish state.”

        Morally irrelevant. Hopes and desires do not give any group a right to take over a country from the natives. They do not give any rights at all.

        “A state of Israel was seen as a necessary refuge for Jewish victims of oppression, especially in Russia, where pogroms were decimating the Jewish population.”

        Necessity does not give rights. (At best it acts as a mitigation for blame when wrongs are committed.) The interests of the East European Jews were not more important than the interests of the Palestinian Arabs.

        (Nor am I convinced that the state was a necessity. East European Jews could – and did – migrate to countries like Britain, Canada, and Australia, where they were more likely to become Governor-General than be victims of pogroms.)

        “This has nothing to do with colonialism.”

        I don’t care whether you say Zionism is colonialism or not. It is wrong regardless of what it is called.

        “The early Zionists sought to establish a secular state of Israel, recognized by the world, through purely legal means.”

        Yet they had no legal or moral right to set up a state in Palestine. In setting it up despite the opposition of the Palestinian Arabs they committed moral wrong.

        “The Arabs living in Palestine vigorously opposed Jewish immigration into the territory and the idea of a Jewish homeland.”

        Of course they opposed the idea of a bunch of foreigners coming into their country and setting up a state for the benefit of the foreigners and not for the benefit of the natives.

        “To suggest that the Zionists clearly intended from the start to dominate and/or expel the Arabs is absolute baloney”

        The intention to set up a Jewish state clearly implies that the Muslim and Christian Arabs would be – at best – second class citizens. (The local Jewish Arabs were not too happy about the idea, either.) And the words and actions of the Zionists supported the idea of Jewish domination.

        “The plan was ratified in November 1947.”

        And the Zionists started expelling Palestinian Arabs, exactly as they had declared they would.

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