In August 2014, a young black man named Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri and the city exploded in grief. Almost immediately after Brown was killed, scores of protesters took to the streets to demand accountability and an end to police murders of black men in the United States. Outfitted in full military gear, the police responded to the growing community protest with clouds of tear gas launched from armored vehicles, assault rifles pointed at unarmed citizens, and mass arrests of anyone on the streets past curfew. Activists remarked that the police resembled an occupying army.
At the same time, across the globe in the Middle East, the Israeli military was engaged in a massive military operation in Gaza, one of two Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces, (IDF) Israel’s army, launched an invasion of the tiny territory when Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers, after which a number of Israeli youths beat and burned a young Palestinian boy to death in response. Israel’s stated goal in the conflict was to seek out and kill or capture the leaders of Hamas, yet the bullets and bombs mostly fell onto Palestinian civilian victims.
Blocks of apartment buildings were leveled by targeted missiles, instantly killing entire families. People were trapped with nowhere safe to seek shelter while drones hovered overhead, watching and waiting to launch their next missiles. Over 2,300 people were killed in the invasion, while over 17,000 were injured, almost all of the deaths and injuries were on the Palestinian side. The Israeli military, like U.S. police who see every young black male as a suspect, did not consider any dead Palestinian male between the ages of 16 and 50 a civilian casualty. Every male in this age range was considered a suspected Hamas militant.
As bombs fell on Palestine and tear gas fell on Ferguson, activists in both besieged places began to reach out to one another: tweets from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza expressed messages of support for the protesters in Ferguson. They also shared practical advice such as the best ways to treat and prevent tear gas inhalation. Black activists in Ferguson, pleasantly surprised to receive such kind support from people undergoing their own brutal military assault, immediately started responding with images and messages. Some even started waving Palestinian flags in demonstrations across the U.S.
Palestinians and black people in the U.S. have found common cause in their resistance to racist institutions that control, oppress, and kill their people. The trend of human rights struggles linking across boundaries and continents reflects activists’ realization that their struggles are all connected.
Americans who support struggles against racism and militarized police in their communities, (‘woke allies’) should also care about the struggles of people whose oppression is directly funded and backed by the U.S. government. Americans have the power to demand that the Israeli military and government stop the abuses of the Palestinian people, just as they have the power to demand that local police and institutions stop killing and imprisoning black and brown people. The only thing holding these transformations back is a lack of larger collections of people becoming vocal, taking to the streets, and demanding these changes be made. The lack of political engagement on these issues from many people in this country is holding us all back.
The 1.85 million people of Gaza are living without hope, confined to what has been described by some as an open-air prison camp, 25 miles long and 4 to 7 miles wide. Every border surrounding Gaza is highly militarized and monitored by the Israeli army. Most residents will never leave. Resources that come in and out of Gaza are tightly controlled, and the Israeli government has in the past made calculations to restrict the amount of food allowed in to be the bare minimum needed to avoid malnutrition. Poverty is rampant, 46 percent of the population is unemployed, access to drugs and medicine is scarce, and the Israeli government has limited power and water in the territory, causing large-scale blackouts and dehydration.
In the last few days, since its start on March 30, protesters in Gaza have been shot by Israeli snipers en masse while marching close to Gaza’s militarized border with Israel as part of The Great March of Return. (The demonstrators are demanding the right to return to their families’ homes within the borders of Israel, from which they were displaced in past Israeli wars.) In total, at least 30 protesters have been killed, while thousands have been injured.
These civilians, practicing what in the U.S. are the protected rights of free speech and assembly, are being shot by military equipment made in the U.S. and paid for by the American government. Videos of the protesters being shot are horrifying and heart-wrenching, just like each of the videos of black men being shot by police. Among the dead was Yasser Murtaja, a young Palestinian journalist who was wearing a press jacket with the word “PRESS” written in large white letters on both front and back. Israeli military snipers committed this and other war crimes while crouched comfortably on small sandy hills overlooking the Gazan side of the border.
The Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of over 50 black activist groups that has become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter network, released in 2016 a powerful platform that lays out the specific demands and political goals of the coalition. It is an incredible document that every American of conscience should read. In the Invest-Divest section of the platform, the group calls for a reduction in U.S. military spending in general and military aid to Israel in particular. They called for that money to instead be used on domestic infrastructure, social programs, and reparations. This statement came after a number of delegations of black activists and palestinian students visited each other’s communities to create more connections between the two movements. The platform’s critique of the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people is succinct and cogent.
“Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as 4 years old without due process. Everyday, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall.”
The statement also points out the connection between American taxpayers and the oppression suffered by Palestinians.
“The US requires Israel to use 75 percent of all the military aid it receives to buy US-made arms. Consequently, every year billions of dollars are funneled from US taxpayers to hundreds of arms corporations, who then wage lobbying campaigns pushing for even more foreign military aid. The results of this policy are twofold: it not only diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government.”
All of the suffering imposed on the Palestinian people is made possible by Americans’ tax funds: the U.S. has supplied about $127 billion worth of military aid to Israel over the years, at a rate of about $2-3 billion per year. As the Trump administration speaks about reducing foreign aid, it recently passed an increased package of $38 billion of military aid to Israel over the next ten years. As the above statement from the platform explained, these funds go straight back to American arms corporations which sell Israel most of its weapons of war. Between 1998-2005, American companies accounted for $9.1 billion out of $9.5 billion of Israel’s arms transfer agreements. Not only does Israel use these weapons to terrorize a largely defenseless population, but the U.S. pays for all of it.
What that means is that Americans have the power to stop or at least drastically lessen the suffering of the Palestinian people. If the U.S. government ended military aid and arms sales to Israel, Israel would be pressured to come to the table of negotiations with serious offers and considerations of Palestinian demands for statehood and/or a solution to the ongoing occupation. We should have a say in deciding whether our taxes are used to fund war crimes and human rights violations around the world.
Racism, oppression, and militarism should be challenged on all fronts. This is why we should be speaking out about Palestine in conjunction with support for domestic struggles for equality and justice. Horrible things are happening in our communities and around the globe in our names. We need to start putting immense pressure on the people that uphold these dehumanizing, violent institutions.
Once again, black activists have taken the lead on something that the rest of this country has yet to catch up on. People of color in this country know that their struggle is intimately linked with the struggles of other people of color around the world.