Violence and Resistance in Palestine: An African American Perspective on Israel/Palestine

For the many thousands of tourists who fly into Israel/Palestine every year, landing in the modern Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv marks the beginning of a great adventure in the “holy land.” But for members of the “African Heritage” delegation, flying into Ben-Gurion was fraught with tension and foreboding. Before departing the U.S. on October 27, our delegation rehearsed how we would move and act, role-playing what to say and what to avoid when we would face Israel’s first line of defense – its custom officials at the airport.

The normally simple act of landing, showing that prized blue book that is the U.S. passport and passing effortlessly through customs and into the country, was something that we understood might not be automatic for us. And indeed it wasn’t – within an hour of our landing our delegation’s co-leader, a young Palestinian woman, was detained. We later found out that she was interrogated, held overnight, and deported the next day.
As our delegation slowly made its way through Israel’s entry process those first couple of hours at the airport, we did not quite grasped that our experience at the airport would not be the first of the strange dualities that we would experience and witness of life in Israel/Palestine. The gaggle of wide-eyed excited tourists that were happy to be in the country greatly contrasted with our already lived experience of Israel as a police state on guard against all threats, real and imagined.

The delegation and program:

The African Heritage delegation was made up of activists, educators, journalists, clergy, students and folks representing the full spectrum of African American life in all of its diversity. Sponsored by the Interfaith Peace Builders, an organization of dedicated young activists experienced in organizing delegations to Israel/Palestine, the individual members of our delegation had various positions and motivations for being a part of the delegation. But a genuine feeling of solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people and a desire to better understand the situation in order to share what we observed with our constituencies where we lived and worked emerged as the common denominator that united most of us.

Our ambitious agenda included meetings and visits that took us across the country. From East Jerusalem to “Israel proper” through to the West Bank and down to the Negev desert, we met with peace activists, political activists, clergy, the settler community of Hebron, Palestinian-Arab Bedouin women, and lived with Palestinian families in Bil’in and the Deheisheh refugee camp. It was an exhilarating and emotionally exhausting experience that touched us all in very personal ways.

The never ending conflict?

The deeply troubling impression that I came away with was that a negotiated, relatively “peaceful” resolution of the conflict is impossible and that those individuals who believe that the Israeli state would grant sovereignty and respect the human rights of Palestinians within the context of either a one or two state solution are either naive regarding the nature of Israel’s settler project or fundamentally dishonest.

The obscene level of investment in the infrastructure of repression in the occupied territories along with the most aggressive settlement policies since the 67 war clearly demonstrates that the Israeli state has no interest in a negotiated settlement with Palestinians.

Indeed the “facts on the ground” all point toward policies of permanent control of Palestinian life and land. Those facts include the over six hundred thousand Israeli settlers in the West Bank and settlement expansion into Palestinian East Jerusalem, the so-called security wall that is more an enclosure wall to expropriate Palestinian land, and the emergence over the last 15 years of a right- wing, militarized Israeli civil society symbolized by the popular support given to the governing coalition anchored by the right-wing Lukid party. These facts coupled with the complete collapse of what is referred to as liberalism within Israel, suggest that the current political alignments and power relations shatter any illusions that a domestic constituency strong enough to counter the hegemony of the Zionist positions exist anywhere in Israel.

On the Palestinian side, there are deep divisions among the leadership of Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian organizations, despite the so-called unity government that was established in June of this year. I was struck by the number of people who have lost all faith in the Palestinian authority created out of the Oslo process. Yet at the level of the “people,” Palestinians living in the occupied territories are still united in their steadfast commitment to resist the occupation.

Unity on the issue of Palestinian resistance stems primarily from the daily indignities of life under military occupation and the repressive brutality that is a permanent feature of Palestinian life. Our delegation observed and experienced, if only briefly, life under military occupation as we moved through military checkpoints throughout the country but especially in the West Bank.

In the village of Bil’in, a community in resistance that was documented in the Academy Award nominated film “Five Broken Cameras,” our delegation was hosted by the village’s popular resistance committee. As part of our visit we were taken down to the separation wall or what many of us call the apartheid wall. Without provocation or warnings of any kind, the delegation suddenly found itself on the receiving end of a barrage of Israeli gas grenades. After having to run back to our cars through gas, we were informed by our hosts that since the authorities were aware that internationals were in the town for the night we should be aware that there was a possibility that soldiers might raid houses that night to arrest us, something that has happened before.

Two days later, we once again experienced the duality of experiences reflected in the lives and positions of Palestinians. In the morning we met with the Holy Land Trust, an organization that is committed to developing what it calls a spiritual, pragmatic and strategic approach to the ongoing conflict. It sees its work of reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews as a viable model for realizing a joint community that respected each other and was committed to justice, political equality and peaceful coexistence. That evening, however, we stayed in the Deheisheh refugee camp, a camp located near Bethlehem that was established after the expulsion of the more than 750,000 Palestinians in the war of 1948 that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel. Our hosts at Deheisheh were clear that for them, peaceful coexistence was impossible in a settler-colonial context that did not allow them to recoup all of the land that they argue was stolen by the Israeli state.

A week after returning from the super-charged, repressive environment that is Israel/Palestine, it is not surprising that Jerusalem is now being consumed by an intensification of violence. From what I observed, the allegations that Israeli settlers lynched Yousuf al-Ramouni, a Palestinian bus driver in Jerusalem that then sparked the retaliatory killing of four Israeli’s, is not surprising nor beyond the realm of possibility. Settler and state violence are central components of the colonial project. And violence as part of Israel’s colonial project has always been strategically deployed. It is used as a means of social control but by manipulating issues to evoke Palestinian resistance it is used to support Israel’s narrative as victim.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon adroitly used this device to provide the pretext for destroying the last vestiges of the Oslo process and the functionality of the Palestinian Authority. In the aftermath of the disastrous assault on Gaza that resulted in a public relations defeat for Israel and has even led to some European governments to recognize a Palestinian state, it appears that the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has gone back to the Sharon playbook. The closure of the A-Aqsa Mosque a few weeks ago had the predictable results of Palestinian Muslim resistance that Israel is attempting to use to its advantage.

The consciously provoked violence in Jerusalem also has another effect. It diverts attention away from political and material basis of the “conflict” – Israel’s brutal occupation and illegal theft of Palestinian land.

As one activist framed the political conundrum: “if a two state solution in which Palestinians were offered the 28% land mass of historic Palestine with borders between this state and Israel that approximated the 67 green line and a just solution to Palestinian refugees as part of the Oslo process in the 90s, it would have been hard to accept but it might have been viable.” But for this activist and many others in Palestine, it is now clear that the Israeli state never intended to seriously consider establishing a viable Palestinian state or resolving the issue of Palestinian refugees in a just manner.

Difficult as it was, traveling to Palestine and seeing first hand the realities on the ground was a political necessity and an eye opener. One can read about the repression, the growing expressions of racism, and see images from time to time of Israeli brutality, but nothing really prepares you for being thrust into that oppressive reality. And for those of us who reside in oppressive communities where our lives and dignity are also under constant attack, we can feel the humiliation and degradation experienced by Palestinians which after a few days becomes emotionally overwhelming.

During my activist life I have traveled to many of the counties that Western colonial/capitalist leaders characterized as despotic totalitarian states – the old Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba before 1989 – but in none of those states did I witness the systematic mechanism of population control and scientific repression that I witness in “democratic” Israel. The security walls, towers, checkpoints, and armed settlers created an aura of insecurity and impending assault on one’s dignity at any time. I left that space wondering how anyone with a modicum of humanity and any sense of morality could reconcile living in that environment from the spoils of Palestinian dispossession and degradation and how any nation could support the Israeli political project.

Race and Militarism from Ferguson to Syria: A letter to African Americans

“A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give. When the white man who is always the aggressor knows he runs as great risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he will have greater respect for Afro-American life.” Ida B. Wells

The Black radical tradition has always understood the inextricable link between racism and militarism: racism as a manifestation of white supremacist ideology, and militarism as the mechanism to enforce that ideology.

That fundamental link grounds our analysis of the Obama administration’s policies in Iraq and Syria. But the link between race ( white supremacy) and the deployment of violence to enforce the interests of white supremacy also explains the repressive mission and role of the police in the colonized barrios and segregated African American communities within the U.S.

Achelle Mbembe explains in “Necropolitics” that “…in modern philosophical thought and European political practice …, the colony represents the site where sovereignty consists fundamentally in the exercise of a power outside the law … where “peace” is more likely to take on the face of a “war without end.” In the non-white world of the internal and global colonies, the rules are different. In those zones where the consent of the oppressed is not expected, colonial/capitalist domination is reinforced with force and violence.

In those colonized spaces it is clear that the people are not the ones to be “protected and served,” and even gestures such as throwing one’s hands up to surrender only means that the police have a better shot. Even the time-honored idea of national sovereignty is different in the non-European world than what is taught in political science and international relations classes, according to Mbembe. As we have witnessed in Iraq, Libya and Syria, sovereignty “relies, to a large degree, in the power and capacity to dictate who may live and who must die.”

That is why the Obama administration has not bothered to give its actions in Syria any legal justification. As Samantha Powers, Obama’s lunatic representative to the United Nations claimed, the U.S. has all of the authority it needs to bomb in Syria.

The African Americans who are supporting the latest war plans in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously calling for something called justice in Ferguson have forgotten, or never completely understood, that the war being waged by the U.S. to maintain global Western hegemony also includes them as a target. If Congress can give unanimous consent to the murder of more than 2,000 people in Gaza, the majority of them women and children, why would anyone think that those same people would really care about a few hundred African Americans who are being murdered annually by police forces charged with containing a population that has been rendered economically superfluous?

The value put on black life by the occupation force in Ferguson and in our communities across the country is no different than the value put on the lives of the “natives” in Afghanistan and Iraq by the U.S. occupation forces. The cavalier way in which white policymakers decide issues of war in the non-white nations of the global South and place tens of thousands of innocents at risk mirrors the value they put on non-white life in the U.S., especially when those non-white bodies are involved in activities that they define as threatening – like resisting, or at this point simply existing.

We must always remind ourselves that in the colonies of the world as well as the racialized, segregated communities in the capitalist metropolis, the non-white is seen as the living negation of everything deemed important to the European mind – the underclass, the violent, the welfare queens, gangbangers, the terrorists – the quintessence of evil. And in reminding ourselves of this reality we can remain clear about what forces and interests we should oppose and with whom to be in solidarity.

What this means is that we cannot afford the comforting myths of U.S. benevolence that attempt to conceal the naked deployment of U.S. state power in the service of Western capitalist/colonialist interests. And we must view with suspicion, if not treat with disdain, our comrades, white and black, who support U.S. interventions, even if they frame that support in leftist justifications.

For oppressed nations and peoples’ of the world, the U.S. white supremacist colonial/capitalist patriarchy is and remains the principle contradiction. There must not be any nationalist sentimentality or equivocation on that position.

The current phase of naked aggression in Syria is not a reflection of U.S. strength but rather its weakness. Nonetheless, we cannot underestimate the threat that the continued reliance on militarism and repression poses for African Americans and the peoples of the world. In the U.S., the national security apparatus has been moving systematically to strengthen its ability to target, contain, disrupt and repress when necessary all domestic oppositional movements.

The threat of domestic terrorism provided the convenient cover for intensifying those efforts in the post-9/11 period, the result being graphically demonstrated by the militarized police in Boston and their police-state tactics in the aftermath of the Boston bombing, and in Ferguson, Missouri in response to a few hundred demonstrators protesting another killing of an unarmed black person.

The white supremacist, colonial/capitalist, patriarchal ruling classes of the U.S. and Europe are clear, even if we are not, that war and repression will be used with brutal efficiency to maintain their hegemony. Their brief turn toward utilizing “soft power” to shore up “legitimacy” in response to popular opposition to the Bush administration with the “selection” of Barack Obama ( the smiling brown face of imperialist domination), was only a short-term tactical innovation of that strategy.

Scholars, pundits and commentators from across the political spectrum in the U.S. have already started to speculate on the legacy of Obama’s presidency. And even though his record of “accomplishments” is thin, very few will identify the most significant but insidious legacy of his presidency – concealing the reality of racialized violence in the service of Western global white supremacy.

Sanctions for Russia and a Green Light for Israel to Continue War Crimes

The moral duplicity in the U.S. political class is breathtaking. Squeezed in between news stories of the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, U.S.  President Barak Obama announced expanded economic sanctions against Russia for its’ alleged support for what the media calls “pro-Russian separatist forces” in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. action could not have been a more dramatic illustration of the cognitive dissonance and ethical double standards of the Obama  administration and the U.S political class.

This action comes on the heels of unanimous resolutions from the U.S. Congress that placed the blame for the Israeli attack on Gaza on Hamas and defended Israel’s actions as legitimate acts of defense. The U.S. Congress resolutions stand in stark contrast to the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee vote to conduct an investigation into  war crimes in Gaza, as well as positions by Amnesty International and international law and human rights scholars and activists from around the world who determined that the Israeli military assault on Gaza violated most of the norms of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Members of the U.S. Congress and most of the corporate media missed what is obvious to many around the world—charges of Russian support for anti-government forces in Eastern Ukraine are still at the level of allegations, while the military support for the state of Israel is a matter of public record. And since it is undeniable that war crimes are being committed in Gaza, applying the same logic that the U.S. applied to the Russians, a logic that asserts that the Russians are morally and politically culpable in Eastern Ukraine, also condemns the U.S. as morally culpable for the war crimes being carried out by Israel. However, being morally and politically culpable becomes irrelevant when imperialist power translates into impunity for crimes against humanity.

By consigning Palestinian humanity to a lesser category, Democrats, Republicans and still too large a sector of the U.S. population, have once again demonstrated contempt for international law, human rights and a basic tenant of humanitarian principles – the equal value of all human life.

While people throughout the world are reacting with justifiable revulsion to the inhumane brutality of the Israeli military machine, U.S. politicians, including the new liberal darlings Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren give moral and political support to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, positions that further solidify the status of the U.S. as a rogue state.  A status of illegality that is embraced as a badge of honor for most U.S. politicians when it comes to Israel. As Harry Reid, the top democrat in the U.S. Senate asserts – defending Israel is not an partisan issue but an “American principle.”

Therefore, a permanent solution to the conflict will not come from the U.S. or political forces internal to the Israeli colonial state, and with over 80% of Israeli civil society in support of the current military assault on Gaza, nothing of any value toward justice will come from that sector either. This means that a process that can lead to a just solution of the Israel/Palestine issue can only be facilitated by the international community (international meaning beyond the U.S. and Europe).

However, in the short-term ending the carnage in Gaza should be the immediate priority. The Joint declaration by international Law experts on Israeli’s Gaza offensive represents a framework for that. In that statement they call for the international community:

“…to take action in the spirit of the utmost urgency to put an end to the escalation of violence against the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, and to activate procedures to hold accountable all those responsible for violations of international law, including political leaders and military commanders. In particular:

All regional and international actors should support the immediate conclusion of a durable, comprehensive, and mutually agreed ceasefire agreement, which must secure the rapid facilitation and access of humanitarian aid and the opening of borders to and from Gaza.”

Yet, tragically for Palestinians, as long as Israel and the U.S. are not forced to recognize Palestinian humanity and can violate their rights and dignity with impunity there appears to be no end in sight to Palestinian suffering.  After three weeks of air strikes, naval and land bombing, and a barbarous infantry assault, the request from Israel to the U.S. to replenish its depleted munitions, a request granted by the Obama administration, is a grotesque reminder of the criminality that conjoins both counties and condemns more Palestinians to death and destruction.