Since 1948, Palestinians have suffered under the Israeli military occupation and struggled to obtain basic human rights. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as within Israeli proper where they account for 20 percent of the population, face severe inequality and injustice. Israeli’s mistreatment of those that don’t fit the mold of who should be included in a Jewish state extends to African workers, refugees and immigrants.
Reminiscent of the Jim Crow South or apartheid South Africa, the state’s policies enforce separate and sub-standard conditions for Palestinians and Africans that attempt to strip people of their rights, dignity and culture. Discrimination even trickles down to the way Sephardic Jews are viewed.
In Donald Sterling’s recently released conversations with V. Stiviano, he discusses the treatment of Sephardic Jews in Israel, in an attempt to normalize his racism against African-Americans:
DS: It’s the world! You go to Israel, the blacks are just treated like dogs.
V: So do you have to treat them like that too?
DS: The white Jews, there’s white Jews and black Jews, do you understand?
V: And are the black Jews less than the white Jews?
DS: A hundred percent, fifty, a hundred percent.
V: And is that right?
DS: It isn’t a question—we don’t evaluate what’s right and wrong, we live in a society. We live in a culture. We have to live within that culture.
Dream Defenders is starting to connect the dots and address oppression in the United States and Israel-Palestine. Dream Defenders is an organization that uses non-violent civil disobedience to protect the rights of black and brown youth in the United States- their right to education and to be free from racial-profiling, and mass-incarceration. Dream Defenders emerged as leaders surrounding Trayvon Martin’s murder. Youth in Florida joined the Dream Defenders and turned their frustration and pain into fuel for social action. Dream Defenders continues to illuminate crimes against minority youth and hold lawmakers and corporations accountable through their efforts to repeal Stand Your Ground laws in Florida, as well as a divestment campaign that will challenge corporations tied to prisons.
Ahmad Abuznaid, Dream Defenders’ Legal and Policy Director, recently led Dream Defenders in its first step toward solidarity with the Palestinian people by hosting a lecture about injustices in Palestine at his alma mater Florida State University. The flyer for the event, co-sponsored by Alpha Si Alpha, featured a picture of Martin next to the Palestinian flag to illustrate how different struggles are tied together. The Dream Defenders follow a legacy of American activists that stand with international social justice movements, especially the Palestinian people.
While Palestinians and minorities in the United States have unique histories and struggles, similarities exist in the realm of racial profiling, and economic and political suppression. Palestinian movement from personal travel to trade is controlled by the Israeli occupation. Both within and outside of Palestine, internally displaced people and refugees live in densely populated areas with a lack of resources, including access to water. While residents in American low-income minority neighborhoods aren’t forbidden to move, limited access to resources and opportunities often confine people to overcrowded, underserved and unsafe areas. There are also gentrification parallels since NGO workers have raised the cost of living in some areas of Palestine, not to mention the Israeli occupation’s ongoing destruction of Palestinian villages that are then replaced with Israeli settlements.
Harassment from authorities and/or imprisonment is practically a rite of passage for male Palestinian and American minority youth. Under Israeli military law, Palestinian children as young as 12-years-old can be arrested and detained, without charge for renewable six-month periods. Police brutality, policies like stop and frisk and the prevalence of minority youth receiving adult sentences have made brown bodies fair game to authorities, criminalizing young men of color before they can develop into adulthood and pursue their dreams. Systemic criminalization also disenfranchises people from obtaining employment, crippling families and communities financially and in countless other ways. While Israeli citizens have cases processed in civil court with the reassurance that they will be judged fairly, Palestinians report directly to Israeli military court where it’s nearly impossible for them to obtain justice. While both the United States and Israel take pride in being democratic states, systemic inequality in the administration of justice make it difficult for many to respect authority, receive protection, and find pathways to justice. How can people within such systems thrive when their rights are abused without anyone held accountable, whether citizens, police or military?
Ciara Taylor serves as Dream Defenders’ Political Director. Taylor was introduced to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a college student. Before that she didn’t have an idea about what was happening to the Palestinian people. Her professor at Florida A&M University informed students about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict through a mini-play.
“I just remember reading the script and thinking ‘Wait, how is this even possible?’ It’s not something that you hear about, that took place long ago when people were nomadic or something like that. It was something pretty modern day so I couldn’t believe it,” Taylor said.
As a student leader, Taylor was also invited to attend the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) Conference in D.C. While unfamiliar with AIPAC, Ciara was eager to visit D.C. and attend a conference that she expected to focus on international affairs.
“One of the reasons I really wanted to go was that President Obama was speaking. I remember the morning of the conference going down and getting into the meeting space and the first person who spoke at the conference was basically bashing Obama for “not protecting Israel” and she starting talking about going to war with Iran. I just remember it was interesting because it was so hateful the way she was talking about it. I was with a group of friends and I just remember getting up like I can’t do this…I started to cry and was really upset and I walked out and there were Occupy people outside and they were basically telling me about AIPAC and the state of Israel and all sorts of stuff,” Ciara said.
After that experience, she was encouraged to learn more about AIPAC and human rights issues in Israel.
“As a person standing for social justice, I wouldn’t feel comfortable not opposing the apartheid in Israel,” Taylor said.
Ahmad explains why Dream Defenders is an appropriate organization to support Palestinians.
“We believe in the intersectionality of justice and fighting injustice, commonalities in our struggles. From the Dream Defenders’ perspective I’d say it’s really about the ideals, our ideals lend us to be extremely pro-Palestinian,” he said. “Some members come in not knowing anything about this subject but from just conversational, relationship building they end up pretty passionate about the subject. I think Dream Defenders can be a vehicle for people of color here in the U.S. to really start getting educated and getting involved with international struggles. The Palestinian one is obviously very personal to me, I’m from East Jerusalem, you know. I’m not allowed to enter unless I have an Israeli permit or visa. The lecture went well the other day. People left a bit more educated, there’s only so much you fit in an hour, but it was great I’m hopeful it will be a spark for future things.”
When Ahmad learned about Martin’s murder, it automatically resonated with him as a Palestinian, who often witnessed the Israeli occupation’s brutality against Palestinians without repercussion.
“I heard about Trayvon Martin through Facebook actually, and social media. I automatically felt it, I felt like I was a part of his family, a part of his community. It struck a nerve with me,” Ahmad said. Had I lived my entire life in the occupied territory or even within Israel proper, it could have been the flip of a coin or the drop of a hat to the end of my life. Every single day whether there’s non-violent protests or violent protests, Palestinians will get killed. Kids walking through their land get shot and killed. I’m extremely privileged because I’m over her and I’m able to speak out and organize and empower people. I have to take advantage of that by taking action and building something for all people fighting injustice. I feel like even if I’m fighting for black and brown kids here, I’m fighting for Palestinian kids. Our people are continually being marginalized, criminalized and blamed. The Trayvon Martin tragedy couldn’t have struck closer to the home. All the similar tragedies happening to my black and brown sisters in the US strike me the same.”
Ahmad also discussed his future plans to use his platform with Dream Defenders to educate more people about Palestine.
“I definitely plan to do more lectures going forward. I think education is the beginning. People don’t really understand the magnitude of what goes on the ground there and how similar it is to the historic struggle of Africans Americans- to past struggles and struggles today. We talk about Jim Crow and these types of systemic issues that have been oppressing people of color for some time. It’s important to rekindle that partnership between the African American communities here and the black and brown communities in Palestine.”
After hearing Ahmad’s fist-hand accounts of what it’s like to live under occupation, Taylor has become increasingly dedicated to standing for Palestinians’ rights.
“I think young people should be involved in this issue because MLK said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. As a person of color in the United States, especially knowing Ahmad and hearing how apartheid Israel actually plays out on the ground- not the media, but someone I trust, someone I work beside everyday, I saw a lot of similarities in how people are treated over here and of course over there. Especially the situation of apartheid, as a black person, it definitely related to the movement in South Africa. I even traveled to South Africa about three years ago, so I saw the parallel to apartheid in South Africa and apartheid in Palestine. I related to it on such a close and personal level. It just feels like my struggle. I feel, because of how much support we give to Israel, we’re funding more oppression to happen to people. I just think it’s an extension of our fight. Dream Defenders fights the criminalization of our youth of color and the prison industrial complex.”
All the Dream Defenders chapters vote to decide what issues they want to collectively address. Taylor said the group decided to fight proposed legislation Senate Bill 894 by Broward Senator Eleanor Sobel that would suppress resistance against the Israeli occupation. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement or BDS, follows in the footsteps of other movements that used economic pressure to hold governments accountable. Non-violent tactics like the Montgomery bus boycott and sanctions against apartheid South Africa were successful strategies in challenging and changing systems of oppression.
“An organization like Dream Defenders supports direct action and civil disobedience, so shaming a movement like the BDS movement, you’re talking about how far does that go if you can’t speak out against the state of Israel, where is that line crossed?,” Taylor said.
“What does it mean to have a resolution that students can’t or shouldn’t speak out against the state of Florida or the United States?”
Dream Defenders are not alone. In addition to seasoned activists like Alice Walker and Angela Davis that have encouraged the American public to support the Palestinian people for decades, a new generation of activists are rising to reawaken the public.
The Detroit-based filmmaker Dream Hampton also attended a delegation and was taken aback by the racism that Palestinians faced. Hampton also offered insight into ways Palestinians can in turn show support for African movements.
For more information about the origins of Israel and the Palestinian struggle, check out a new app: iNakba.
Michelle Zei is a freelance multimedia journalist. Her interests include HIV/AIDS, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, millennial activism and immigration. She believes in the power of the pen and the web to educate and unify communities. Connect with her on Twitter @michellezei
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