Monday, October 27, 2014

The oppressor deflecting attention

Our guide helped us settle in the back of the large, black cab. Not any black cab, of course. These were special cabs brought to Belfast, Northern Ireland by the Catholic minority during the late 1960’s, when Protestant drivers routinely discriminated against them. Over 15 Catholic cab drivers were killed during the “Troubles” for trying to provide transportation for members of their embattled minority. 

The police force (Royal Ulster Constabulary) was no help at all, being almost 100% Protestant and predisposed to look the other way when Catholics were beaten or shot. 

“I am going to give you a special tour,” our guide said as we headed off. When I asked why, he told me it was my Palestinian bracelet. “If you know about Palestine, you will understand the Troubles in Northern Ireland.”

The first of the huge murals he drove us to was of Frederick Douglass, with depictions of slave ships, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, and Bob Marley. 

The Catholics of Northern Ireland had studied many African American writers in charting their own nonviolent resistance to racism and oppression. Our guide, a Catholic who had lived through the decades of often violent, state sponsored discrimination, even know what was in MLK’s Riverside Church speech. 

We also stopped at murals depicting South Africa’s fight against apartheid, and several representing solidarity with the Palestinian people. The Catholic leaders had decided early on that their fight against violent racism in Northern Ireland was part of something much bigger, the campaign for universal human rights. 

The End the New Jim Crow Action Network (ENJAN) began with a similar point of view. One of our first events was the movie, “Hip Hop Is Bigger Than the Occupation,” a documentary of young, black musicians touring the West Bank. Afterwards, several Hip Hop artists talked about how visiting Palestine helped them understand racism in America. Another event, a two day workshop on discrimination and the criminal justice system, featured Taha, a Palestinian who had been tortured as a teenager in an Israeli prison. Later, ENJAN decided to support the Two Row Wampum Campaign, a Native American canoe and horseback journey down the Hudson River to the United Nations. I remember Modele Clarke kingston speaking about slavery at their encampment in Saugerties. Tribal leaders, in turn, expressed solidarity with black Americans’ quest for social justice, drawing parallels to their own history of racial oppression. 

I was surprised and saddened to hear that some people in ENJAN now believe that the group should follow a much narrower path, rejecting even the mention of other events in the Mid Hudson area that promote human rights. Josh Ruebner, Outreach Coordinator of US Campaign to End the Occupation, spoke in Woodstock about the oppression of Palestinians and American’s history of racism. Of course, End the Occupation’s significant involvement in the Ferguson rallies for African American rights came up often in his talk. Are allies like this to be silenced or pushed away? End the Occupation has 400 member groups all across this country. These groups all see their connection to ENJAN’s fight against racism. Why can’t we see it?

In truth, anyone promoting justice for some, but denying it for others, doesn’t really believe in human rights. Often, they are just protecting the oppressor by deflecting attention from gross human rights violations committed somewhere else in the world. Like Israel’s recent slaughter of 500 Palestinian children in Gaza. 

So read about End the Occupation’s work in Ferguson this fall. Then tell the group that we don’t need allies like this because they are only a distraction. 

Fred Nagel


Deeply Humbling and Inspiring...

This month, the US Campaign was honored to help bring together a strong Palestine Contingent to the Ferguson October Weekend of Resistance to join a movement moment challenging the national epidemic of racial profiling and police militarization, brutality, and impunity. We know that we cannot advocate an end to Israeli state violence while ignoring state violence against communities of color here at home, as part of our commitment to confronting racism and bigotry in all its forms.

The weekend was a phenomenal success with countless unforgettable moments including: Contingent members joined more than a dozen acts of civil disobedience, shutting down St. Louis City Hall, blocking the doors to a fundraiser for local complicit politicians, taking part in a shopping mall flash mob and the people's occupation of St. Louis University, shutting down three Walmarts (in solidarity with recent police victim John Crawford), and much more.

A diverse group of more than 100 joined a national march of thousands holding signs saying, "From Palestine to Ferguson": "Resistance Is Not a Crime," "End Racism Now," and "Justice for All." The march culminated in a rally where St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) member Suhad Khatib and Palestinian-American Dream Defenders organizer Ahmed Abuznaid spoke eloquently of the importance of joint struggle, bringing tears to many eyes.

Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi performed at the Hip Hop and Resistance concert along with Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Tef Poe, and others.

PSC members Suhad Khatib, Hedy Epstein, and US Campaign Steering Committee member Sandra Tamari joined Kanazi on stage with Civil Rights leader Dr. Cornel West for a dynamic panel. When local Ferguson youth took to the stage asking to be heard, Khatib and Tamari immediately ceded their spots in solidarity.

Contingent members stood with courageous St. Louis and Ferguson community members to challenge the local militarized police presence in the streets night after night. USPCN member Zena Ozeir and PSC member Bassem Masri were arrested along with more than a hundred others. Ozeir and Masri are both safely home.

Day after day, Palestinians sent photos from across the globe to show their solidarity with Ferguson.

Even more moving than the presence of the Palestine contingent, however, was the breathtaking, spontaneous outpouring of solidarity shown to the contingent by the people of St. Louis, Ferguson, and the broader movement for justice for Mike Brown. Ferguson youth took to the rally stage and thanked the people of Palestine for being the first to send their support through tweets after Mike's killing. Dr. Cornel West decried the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which was met by deafening cheers from the crowd of thousands. These and countless other moments of connectedness and solidarity throughout the weekend were deeply humbling and spoke to our collective power when we work together for justice for all.

The US Campaign was proud to organize the contingent with an extraordinary coalition of member organizations and allies made up of the PSC, Organization for Black Struggle, USPCN, Muslims for Ferguson, Council on American Islamic Relations - St. Louis, Palestinian BDS National Committee, National Students for Justice in Palestine, Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), American Muslims for Palestine, and African Americans for Justice in the Middle East and North Africa.

Be sure to check out these amazing recordings, images, and resources from the contingent:

The struggle continues - in Ferguson, St. Louis, across the nation, and across the globe. In the words of Ferguson youth: "United we stand, divided we fall." Let's stand together when it counts to build a better world for all.


Anna Baltzer

National Organizer
St. Louis, Missouri