Where should Palestinians stand on the protests by Ethiopian Jews inside Israel?

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In theory, any nation that fights to dismantle a colonial system should stand for all other movements against oppression, racism and injustice around the globe. Otherwise, their call for freedom would be nonsense and arbitrary.

However, in Palestine/Israel political positions can sometimes be very tricky due to the accumulated layers of oppression and hierarchies caused mainly by the settler colonial system which dominates the country.

Palestinians realize that the recent wave of protests by Ethiopian Jews over the killing of a 19 year-old Ethiopian-Israeli man by an off-duty police officer is a natural consequence of racism committed against them by the Ashkenazi majority on the formal and societal level.

But the hard question here is: how should a colonized people think about the oppression of a segment of their colonizers?

Racism is racism, Palestinians agree. But racism should also be approached by considering the surrounding political, social, and economic context.  In the case of Palestine/Israel, the relationship between an Arab Palestinian and an Ethiopian Jew is a one of colonized and colonizer. Therefore, such a perspective prevents Palestinians from taking a position of solidarity on what they see as an internal issue inside the colonizer society itself. To do otherwise the would be to take a shameful post-colonial approach to a society where they are still living a colonized reality.

This endless complexity, and layers of oppression, started – at least – in 1948 and always pushes Palestinians to put more politics into politics.

Most of Ethiopian Jews, or Beta Israel, have emigrated since the late 20th century to be part of the Jewish state established in the Palestine region in 1948; which is perceived by Palestinians as “the Zionist colonial project”. Since then, they have been full Israeli citizens who are living on the land of Palestinian refugees. These refugees are based temporarily to this day in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and other countries, are waiting to return through the UN-recognized right of return. Many Ethiopian Jews have been also taking a very active part in different Israeli forces: the army, border police, and others, carrying out tasks in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I, the writer, was detained 60 days ago by an order from a black policeman (most likely Ethiopian) in the South Hebron Hills while taking photographs of an anti-occupation action in the southern West Bank (while reporting for this article). Black soldiers are always part of my photographs that I take of demolitions, arrest campaigns, night raids, and other military operations in the West Bank.

On social media, most Palestinians that I follow either didn’t care, or felt good about the chaos surrounding the protest and the oppression of the Ethiopean Jews inside what they perceive as the colonial entity of Israel. I don’t think this stems from racism but a natural reaction under the hierarchy caused by the setter-colonial system they live under.

During tensions in Egypt, Syria, Algeria or even in the Apartheid South Africa prior to decolonization, Palestinians used to watch television footage of the Palestinian flag being raised during struggles for basic rights, and understood that those movements were adopting the same concept of freedom that Palestinians are fighting for.

However, such a scene was never expected during the Ethiopian Jewish wave of protest. It was expected that after the protests the protesters would go back to their active roles as colonizers, and continue their military service in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I personally always follow and feel sympathy with various struggles around the world for women’s rights, LGTBQI rights, animal rights, migrants and asylum-seekers, and other struggles for freedom and equality. But in the case of Palestine/Israel, I must be aware that some of the political agents taking part in these struggles within Israeli society also take an active part in the colonization of the Palestinian people.

This complexity creates and sustains endless divisions between different ethnic and religious groups on all levels of existence: political, social, economic, gender and so forth.

Palestinians will be able to stand in full solidarity with Ethiopian Jews only after the decolonization of the country, and only when full and equal rights for all human beings in the region between the river and the sea are fulfilled.

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“Palestinians will be able to stand in full solidarity with Ethiopian Jews only after the decolonization of the country, and only when full and equal rights for all human beings in the region between the river and the sea are fulfilled.”

What need will Ethiopian Jews have for solidarity once all human beings in the region enjoy full and equal rights?

In occupied Palestine, Æthiopian Jews collectively are not allies but enemies. They are indeed oppressed and marginalised by the dominant Ashkenazim, but they are settler-colonial oppressors just the same.

Palestinians – with Ethopian Jews alongside them – should:
– oppose and denounce all manner of injustice and immorality; and
– advocate and uphold the universal and consistent application of justice, accountability and equality.

I think solidarity ought to go both ways. If Ethiopian Jews are taking an active part in oppressing Palestinians – and it looks like they are – then you can’t expect Palestinians to get upset when they in turn are mistreated. In fact, they might well say that what you do to others, eventually you will do to your own.

While I like in theory the idea of palestinians joining forces so to speak with ethiopian jews, I feel much more strongly that reps of the ethiopian community should extend the olive branch first and they need to show their hand. It’ll take more than having experienced abuse at the same hands that have murdered, raped and stolen the land from palestinians, a lot more. Ethiopian jews have fought for the side of the zionist… Read more »