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A letter from Gaza to black America

Israel/Palestine
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Dear African-American brothers and sisters,

I am not black. But like you, I am not white.

I do not have the history of slavery you carry like a weight on your back from the day you are born. My ancestors weren’t shipped in chains from Africa to the Americas through the Atlantic to work under slave owners. But in 1948, Zionist militias did drive them out of their homes to refugee camps in an infamous event called the Nakba, obliterating many of our villages and towns.

My parents didn’t have to protest in the streets to end segregation and institutional discrimination by their own government to win the right to enjoy their most basic civil rights, a remarkable series of events that I teach to my own students here in Gaza. However, they have been labelled “stateless” by the international community, driving them to protest through boycotts, demonstrations and even hunger strikes, introducing the word intifada (shake-off) into our political dictionary.

Police officers from my own government neither pull me over for “driving-while-black,” nor stop and frisk me. They do not shoot at me, kill me while unarmed and get away with it. However, I was born under the boot of an oppressor that has controlled almost every minute of my life: the Israeli occupation forces.

They took our land from us, claimed it as their own, and now they tell us to get over it, just like you are expected to “get over” slavery. Israel did not stop there. They’ve blockaded the tiny strip of land where I live, Gaza—controlling who goes in and out, and keeping it to a bare trickle. And the West Bank? They sliced it into small pieces with their military checkpoints, carved it up like Swiss cheese with their illegal settlements.

When we fight back, they beat us to a pulp and then have the audacity to point the finger at us—calling us barbaric. I’ve read that one in three black males born in America today can expect to spend some time in prison during his lifetime. In Palestine, it’s nearly the same. (Forty percent of Palestinian men can expect to serve time in an Israeli prison.)

Ismail Abu Aitah, a writer with "We Are Not Numbers", who lost five family members in the 2014 war, including both his parents and his two older brothers.

Ismail Abu Aitah, a writer with “We Are Not Numbers”, who lost five family members in the 2014 war, including both his parents and his two older brothers.

“How dare you resist? How dare you revolt?” we’re asked. We scream, “Here, look! This is the injustice we are talking about!” But although the United Nations talks about the need for Israel to stop the settlements and its mistreatment of Palestinians, no one moves a muscle. The moment we go into action, the moment we fight back, whether it be by responding to weapons with weapons or by calling for boycotts and sanctions, the world starts screaming at us.

The American outrage over U.S. football quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem as a peaceful protest against his country’s systemic racism is a case in point. It reminds me of Israeli outrage against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, in which activists around the world from colleges, churches, and political organizations are nonviolently resisting Israeli practices, trying to force it to comply with international law and common principles of humanity. Yet despite its commitment to nonviolence, Israelis and their allies are denouncing the movement, seeking to discredit it.

When I see this outrage against BDS and Kaepernick, a question arises in my consciousness: If they do not want us to protest nonviolently, if they do not want our fight to be based on international law and basic human rights, then what do they want us to do? If they denounce violence, then condemn our nonviolent protest, how do they want us to resist? The only answer I could find is this: Our oppressors do not really condemn our methods of resistance, but our resistance as a whole. If they criticize nonviolent methods as well as violent ones, then what they deplore isn’t the methods, but the message itself. They hate the fact that the oppressed are forming a collective consciousness, that we are organizing in opposition. Their anger means we are being effective. We must all keep agitating for our rights, knowing that it will be a long haul but we can win in the end.

I do not have to be black to understand the words of Marin Luther King Jr. when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I am a Palestinian who is extending his arms in brotherhood to another people who know and live my legacy of oppression.

I do not know if my words will reach you, but I want you to know that I hear you, I see you and I feel your pain. When the night is darkest and you cannot seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel, know that there are people out there, on the other side of the planet, who are raising their fists in solidarity.

Yours in solidarity, with fist held high,

Mohammed Alhammami, WeAreNotNumbers.org

About Mohammed Alhammami

Mohammed Alhammami is Gaza project manager for the youth storytelling initiative We Are Not Numbers.

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