How long will I have to convince liberals that Palestinians matter?

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For several weeks now, I have been trying to write an article on the necessity of boycotting G4S, an act relevant to both the Palestinian liberation movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. Sitting at an intersection of oppressive infrastructure by Zionism and white supremacy, G4S owns hundreds of the private prisons where a disproportionate number of Black Americans are incarcerated and alarming numbers of Palestinian children are tortured and held in solitary confinement by Israel.

Drafts of this essay have seen the hot and now faded headlines of: the McKinney pool party, Sheldon Andelson’s anti-BDS summit, Israel’s exemption from the United Nations child rights’ abusers list, Caitlyn Jenner’s gender reassignment surgery, Rachel Dolezal “coming out as white,” Dylann Roof murdering 9 at the historic Emanuel AME Church, arson of the Church of Multiplication at Tabgha and the parallel incineration of black churches in the US, legalization of marriage equality, and Bree Newsome’s removal of  the Confederate flag at the South Carolina state capitol.

Each event called me to relate the unheard, tragic news from Palestine to these current events in North America. I wanted to show how G4S, which profits from incarceration and deportation in the name of security for particular classes and races, is harmful to everyone! ..and Palestinians too! I was searching for a way to make us Palestinians relevant to the stream of popular liberal discourse.

Even after 67 years of Palestinian struggle under Zionism, and centuries of Palestinian resistance to occupation by various empires, it seems that the only way to create concern for Palestine is to tap into others’ concern for themselves.

I feel that asking you to boycott companies like G4S solely for their crimes against Palestinian lives will not convince you. I must talk about other lives too. I must hold Palestine in parallel to seemingly more immediate/relevant ethical concerns.

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G4S is not the only profiteer that sits at the intersection of various systems of power. It is becoming widely understood that my liberation paves the way for yours, and vice versa. I believe in the necessity of ally relationships, connecting struggles, and coalition building. Still, a Palestinian might find herself in a lonely place, surrounded by parallels without intersection, allies without action.

As we continue to build this coalition against colonialism and supremacist structures we must be wary not to homogenize our causes. After all, the foundation of our tragedies is that we have all indeed been made into the “Other.” Out of this “Othered”ness our suffering has been legitimized and our deaths normalized. We have been forced into one-dimensionality. We are thought to be backwards.

As much as building coalitions is imperative to liberation, so too is the preservation of distinct stories, histories, identities. As a Palestinian, I must take ownership of my lost – claim each of them, wholly, as important – and give this same ownership to my allies over theirs. Mohammed Abu Khdeir was my brother. Eric Garner was my best friend. I say Black Lives Matter not because Eric is like Mohammed, but because Eric is important. Period.

And I ask that the same singular relevance apply to us, too. We Palestinians matter in our own right.

Our uncles in Gaza, for survival, learn the patterns by which they are attacked and methods by which war unfolds upon them. Like them, we have learned every facet of our history and geopolitics in order to defend ourselves. We scrutinize social movements and current affairs, both within and outside of our own context. We stand in fierce solidarity with others. We have become doctors, scholars, and made history despite the clenches of occupation.

Yet I still find myself asking: how can I make Palestinians relevant, even to my closest activist friends? Because instead of being taken as part of an intersection of so many historical forces and oppressive institutions, I feel Palestinian resistance is often reduced to a “far off” parallel that is pushed to the margin as we organize for “more pressing” cases of oppression.

We value creating safe spaces for marginalized voices, but I wonder within these spaces how often the stories and experiences of a Palestinian are really heard, and further, if they are really acted on. In my experience, the murder of another Palestinian child, or another crashing down of a home, if mentioned, receives a sad nod before moving on to the next order of business. I speak of our longing to return, our heroes, our feats, and they drift into the air as empty words that no one capitalizes on. These words are received only if I package them with a stamp of relevance to another struggle.

From our grandparents’ English vocabulary recycled from the British Mandate, to our refugees’ assimilation into Jordanian and Lebanese dialects, to our cousins’ mastery of Hebrew, I wonder how many times we must be forced to change our language. Our story is the only thing we have ever had, and what great lengths we must go so that it might be heard.

I am tired. My people, after their resistance through centuries of empire, should not have to continue chasing relevance in this way. I acknowledge the complexity and importance of connecting the dots, but I fear that these connections may call upon Palestinians to once again to assimilate into homogenized struggle that is not our own. This is a call for heterogeneity in coalition building, for embracing complexity and contradiction as we step into intersectional resistance. This is a call to remember that the Palestinian people are important. This is a call for boycott of G4S, because Palestine alone is reason enough.

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Amira, I am part of that probably not inconsiderable part of the American populace which understands that the Palestinians really are an oppressed people, but believes that the police/ black community issue is much more complicated than “Black Lives Matter” would concede. For whatever reason, crime rates in the black community are quite high, and policing is a difficult job. (Obviously it can and should be done much better). I wonder whether presenting the Palestinian… Read more »

May I suggest using as a slogan “Palestinian lives matter”?

Amira makes some cogent observations about the American left. It’s not just tone deaf on Palestine. It’s got a serious political multiple personality disorder and has been suffering with it for decades. Who hasn’t seen a “progressive” turn into a lunatic racist at the mention of the P word? Creating linkages with American political issues may be helpful in that few Americans have any correlative in experience with what they are complicit in inflicting on… Read more »

amira, when i read over the weekend about the horror of what happened to Sandra Bland , i immediately thought of Yusuf Hasan al-Ramouni . they call it suicide. no way.

RE: “Yet I still find myself asking: how can I make Palestinians relevant, even to my closest activist friends? Because instead of being taken as part of an intersection of so many historical forces and oppressive institutions, I feel Palestinian resistance is often reduced to a ‘far off’ parallel that is pushed to the margin as we organize for ‘more pressing’ cases of oppression.” ~ Amira Sakalla TRY THE GREAT AMERICAN PALLIATIVE: Now, you listen… Read more »