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From Brooklyn to Palestine: A thank you note to Palestinian and Middle Eastern sisters who re-educated me on my world view

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Photo of Kamau Franklin in the Georgia State Capitol. He writes: "Yesterday at the Georgia State Capital, republican right wing State Senators honored Israel in the “normal” uncritical self-righteous way. So today I wore a Palestinian Keffiyeh at the Georgia State Capital, particularly in the State Senate session. I got some great double takes, angry looks and some interesting questions. A small act of resistance but one I could offer."

Photo of Kamau Franklin in the Georgia State Capitol. He writes: “Yesterday at the Georgia State Capital, republican right wing State Senators honored Israel in the “normal” uncritical self-righteous way. So today I wore a Palestinian Keffiyeh at the Georgia State Capital, particularly in the State Senate session. I got some great double takes, angry looks and some interesting questions. A small act of resistance but one I could offer.”

I was inspired by a group of mostly young black organizers from Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere who recently traveled to Palestine. Seeing organizers continue in the tradition of bridging the intertwined yet nuanced differences of western-based dominance on black and brown peoples across the globe, brought me back to my own journey to Palestine a decade ago and the wonderful and thoughtful friends and allies that educated me of those connections.

I started off pretty backwards in my understanding of people in what is referred to as the Middle East. Growing up in Albany-houses in Brooklyn my beginning reference point was only knowing the “A-rabs,” as my “moms” and many others pronounced it, as the correct ethnic name for the owners of several corner stores in the neighborhood. In my early twenties, when I thought I was political, I could not not tell you the difference between a Palestinian and an Egyptian, or a Dominican. That changed because I met some pretty remarkable people who created opportunities for my re-education.

Suheir Hammad– A Poet and She Knows It

Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad

I met Suheir in Harlem. A vibrant person alive with character, intelligence, humor and beauty, she became my first teacher on Palestine. Her worldly connection to New York, hip-hop and black culture plus her poetic writing ability made her a must see in the New York poetry scene in the early 1990’s. Her first book of poems Born Palestinian, Born Black was one of the few poetry books that I admittedly got through from cover to cover. Whether tasting cuisine or talking politics, Suheir helped guide me through the inter-relatedness of Palestinian and Black struggle. Hearing about the Nakba for the first time could only bring me back to two events that shaped America — the taking of the indigenous peoples’ land and the taking of a people from a land. Suheir introduced me to the writings of Edward Said and post-colonial thought. Thank you Suheir for making me conscious of a world I did not know and for being a better friend to me than I have ever been to you.

Suzanne Adely – A Guiding Presence

Suzanne Adely

Suzanne Adely

I have not gotten to know Suzanne well, but she helped me see Palestine with my own eyes.  In 2001, along with Jordan Flaherty, Suzanne made a delegation of mostly activists of color from New York City possible by tapping into connections on the ground who could guide our group through our self-titled “New York Solidarity Movement for a Free Palestine” mission to the West Bank. We came to Palestine shortly after the Israeli destruction of the Palestinian Authority’s Headquarters in Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat refused to leave. We met African-Palestinian ex-political prisoners, were stopped by IDF soldiers telling us that Palestinians were all terrorists, conducted civil disobedience where Israeli forces shot live rounds in the ground to deter some in our group. We crossed checkpoints that would not allow Palestinians to go to work, seek healthcare or visit family. I was awoken at night by the sound of moving tanks in Palestinian neighborhoods and slept in homes as protection to deter the Israeli military from blowing them up. All throughout seeing a culture of resistance I wish was my own, not because of a forced romanticism with conflict but because both survival and restoration were at stake. I witnessed families surviving and loving and thought of how there were stark differences but eerie similarities with life in the United States. The continual police violence through stops, arrest and imprisonment and destroyed institutions felt familiar, as well as the semblance of the resistance which kept my people in America surviving and attempting to create and restore our collective lives. Thank you Suzanne for providing on the ground education.

Rama Ali Kasad and Lamis Deek – Teaching Praxis

Many a time I would take a break from my law practice and hang outside my 26 Court Street office in downtown Brooklyn, with a cup of coffee and cigarettes (they did the smoking) as well as movement stories and gossip (I did the gossiping). From Rama and Lamis I learned praxis. These women shared stories of their work for their people and connecting US-based activists to issues in Palestine. They fully included me as an ally in a mutual struggle and offered guidance and material so that I could understand and move ideas into action. I became particularly close to Lamis, who was also an attorney starting a law practice. She did not suffer fools gladly and wore her emotions for her people for all to see. If it was a hard week for Palestine, it was a hard week for Lamis. As a friend not only did she encourage my intellectual development but she more than anyone encouraged my hapless campaign to win over my future wife. Her friendship has been a source of inspiration because her life is built around fortitude and I have never known a more complete human being.

Lawyer Lamis Deek, flanked by Nerdeen Kiswani to her right, says that Kiswani was the victim of a hate crime at the Barclays Center. (Photo: ELI ROSENBERG/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Lawyer Lamis Deek, flanked by Nerdeen Kiswani to her right, says that Kiswani was the victim of a hate crime at the Barclays Center. (Photo: ELI ROSENBERG/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

I have probably never said thank you to Lamis and others who guided me through my understanding of U.S. foreign policy in Palestine and Western interest in maintaining an outpost of military dominance in the Middle East along with Arab dictators. It was not hard for me to pick up on these insights because the evidence is there for anyone interested in moving away from the mythical tale of Israel’s “birth”. After my trip, I and others spoke about the inter-connectedness of struggle here in the U.S. and Palestine, and of U.S. taxpayer money funding the military of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to maintain dominance over resources, while promoting the same violence it claims to oppose.

Hopefully I will continue to see and speak about the connected struggle of Black people in the United States and Palestine. My delegation to Palestine later sponsored a trip to the U.S. for Palestinian groups and sponsored a second delegation to Palestine of young activists primarily from Hunter College in New York City.  Hopefully we began in some small way what other activists today in this moment in Black Struggle have crystallized through connecting what has happened in Ferguson with what is happening in Palestine. They have reached an audience through social media and black media that can’t be ignored and brought the needed attention to the ways Black, Palestinian and Muslim lives matter.

Kamau Franklin
About Kamau Franklin

Activist attorney Kamau K. Franklin was based in New York City for over eighteen years and represented activist, police misconduct victims and others. He has been a leading member of several grassroots groups and worked on various issues including youth development, police misconduct, and creating sustainable urban communities. Kamau has helped develop community cop-watch programs, freedom school programs for youth and electoral work. He traveled to Palestine as part of a delegation monitoring Israeli human rights abuses. He is now based in the south. He also blogs at and can be followed on twitter @kamaufranklin.

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7 Responses

  1. Krauss
    Krauss on February 27, 2015, 12:17 pm

    Very beautiful and moving, Franklin. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. seafoid
    seafoid on February 27, 2015, 3:11 pm

    How Ferguson became Ferguson

    “In the early 1950s, St. Louis began construction of the Pruitt-Igoe towers and other high-rises to house the African American poor. Pruitt had been intended for blacks and Igoe for whites, but by the time the projects opened in 1955–56, few whites were still interested in urban public housing; there were so many inexpensive options for them in south St. Louis and in the suburbs. Igoe then filled with black families as well.26
    By the 1960s, Pruitt-Igoe became a national symbol of dysfunctional public housing, high-rise towers packed with welfare-dependent families, frequently headed by single mothers. Youth gang activity was pervasive. The Housing Authority’s neglect of maintenance and facilities exacerbated matters. The Pruitt-Igoe vertical ghettos discredited the entire national public housing program, giving the lie to Senator Douglas’s promise that it would be in the “best interests of the Negro race that we carry through” with a segregated housing program. The combination of deteriorating social conditions and public disinvestment made life in the projects so untenable that the federal government evicted all residents and dynamited the 33 towers, beginning in 1972.27”

  3. maggiesager
    maggiesager on February 27, 2015, 3:22 pm

    This is so awesome.

  4. seafoid
    seafoid on February 27, 2015, 3:30 pm

    Suheir Hammad vs Scarlett Johansen
    in the world championship of cool

    It’s a walkover for Palestine.

  5. Helena Cobban
    Helena Cobban on February 28, 2015, 10:07 pm

    There is clearly an important *book* to be written about the relationship between African-American struggles/movement and the Palestinian ditto. Back in the late 1970s, when I was in Beirut covering the PLO there (among other things), they were super-energized to have visits from Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Joseph Lowery of the SCLC… But then, clearly, something got lost. Why?

    In part, I think, it was because the PLO leadership as such became pumped with the idea of dealing with those in *power* inside the US, thinking they could move and jive with the best (or worst) of them as equals, and therefore, with their simplistic– and as it happens completely erroneous– way of thinking came, in effect, to disdain those still struggling for equality and rights within the US system. (There was also Arafat’s terrible Nahnu la al-hunud al-humr— “We are not Red Indians!– statement of disdain for Native Americans… ) But also, the various Zionist organizations in the USA redoubled their efforts to try to regain/retain an alliance with African-American leaders– and in far too many cases, they succeeded…

    Who wants to write this book, I wonder?

    • Walid
      Walid on March 1, 2015, 3:20 am

      “Who wants to write this book, I wonder?” (Helena)

      Would that be about the loss of affinity between those in the Palestinian struggle and the SCLC or about those created between the Zionists and African-Americans?

      About the ““We are not Red Indians” remark by Arafat, it was not made in disdain for the Amerindians but in reference to having been pushed aside by world leaders for “90 years after Sykes-Picot.” It was an apt comparison.

      There was a somewhat likewise dramatic comparison made 40 years earlier in the title of a book written by Pierre Vallières, a Québécois journalist and intellectual of the terrorist organization FLQ struggling for independence from Canada and its English dominance. He called it “Nègres blancs d’Amérique” or “white niggers of America” and he too had not used the term in disdain but to compare the plight of the French-Canadians to that of the African-Americans. The book was not a success, but the tag “Nègres blancs d’Amérique” stuck and became the theme of the separatists.

      • MHughes976
        MHughes976 on March 1, 2015, 9:22 am

        The impact of the uncompromising Zionism of Martin Luther King, at least in his later days, needs to be considered. King’s best-known follower in the years after his death, Stokely Carmichael, moved very strongly the other way: but the Western world has generally settled on the judgement ‘King good, Carmichael bad’, Carmichael’s increasingly explicit Marxism helping this judgement to settle. Maybe Jesse Jackson could contest the position of ‘best-know follower’ now but I think he has always found it difficult to give a clear lead on the ME – he’s tarnished with the reputation of ‘Hymietown’ anti-Semitism. Joseph Lowery was never really able to make an impression comparable to Jackson’s, Carmichael’s or King’s.

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