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
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
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.
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.