At the start of the year, a delegation of freedom fighters for black liberation representing Black Lives Matter, The Dream Defenders, the Black Youth Project 100, New York Justice League, and more traveled to Palestine to stand in solidarity with those living under Israeli occupation.
The 10-day trip — co-organized by Dream Defenders’ legal and policy director, Palestinian American Ahmad Abuznaid — was a historic and unprecedented action to connect the oppression of black and brown people globally to the U.S. A number of representatives on the trip, including St. Louis rapper and poet Tef Poe, stood tirelessly on the front lines of demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. just months before to dismantle state violence, specifically the death of black bodies at the hands of a militarized police force.
That visceral but tangible connection was not lost. During his travels, Poe posted this picture on Instagram with the caption: When I get home I get off the plane and go back to the north side of St. Louis, a place where most of us are in just as much bondage as these people but the difference is we don’t know it or acknowledge it ….Power concedes to righteousness eventually…
That’s a connection that cannot be ignored. It’s a connection those in Palestine recognized during Ferguson’s own occupation — summer and fall months painted with tear gas, rubber bullets, and unlawful arrests — oppression they could relate to and in turn, reach out to offer their support. Late last year, students from Palestine journeyed to Ferguson to meet with activists organizing demonstrations in response to the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr.
The delegation returned that support during the first weeks of January. Outlining the purpose of the trip to Palestinian Territories, Abuznaid told Ebony Magazine:
“The goals were primarily to allow for the group members to experience and see first hand the occupation, ethnic cleansing and brutality Israel has levied against Palestinians, but also to build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation. In the spirit of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and many others, we thought the connections between the African American leadership of the movement in the US and those on the ground in Palestine needed to be reestablished and fortified.”
And in a beautiful and emotional show of solidarity, the group conducted a demonstration in Nazareth calling for the liberation of the Palestinian people — a flashmob that denounced the occupation while drawing the necessary lines between black struggle in America and the global community.
Cleansed by burning sage, the group gathered in an open square, linked by hands to chant “Free Palestine, End the Occupation” in Arabic. Dream Defenders Ciara Taylor, Steven Pargett, Sherika Shaw, Abuznaid, St. Louis activist Tara Thompson, journalist Marc Lamont Hill, New York Justice League organizers Cherrell Brown and Carmen Perez, and Doctoral Candidate and journalist Maytha Alhassen (who assisted with organizing the delegation) can be seen performing the dabke, a traditional Palestinian folk dance.
“I helped organize this flashmob because the offering of visible solidarity is both healing and courageous and allows for our work as organizers, artists, militants and healers to signal to both the state of Israel and America that the current movement for Black liberation is on the frontlines of fighting against the occupation of Palestine,” said Patrisse Cullors, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter.
Hill faces the camera, determined, and delivers a sermon-like introduction that outlines the group’s purpose and goals.
“We came here to Palestine to stand in love and revolutionary struggle with our brothers and sisters. We come to a land that has been stolen by greed and destroyed by hate. We come here and we learn laws that have been cosigned in ink but written the blood of the innocent. And we stand next to people who continue to courageously struggle and resist the occupation. People who continue to dream and fight for freedom. From Ferguson to Palestine, the struggle for freedom continues.”
Charlene Carruthers, National Director of the BYP 100 and Phillip Agnew, the Dream Defenders’ Executive Director, can be heard, voices strong and steady, singing “Ella’s Song” by Sweet Honey in the Rock — the line, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it’s won,” indicating a purposeful selection that drives home the message that black and brown struggle does not begin or end in the West. Poet and activist Aja Monet, also a representative from the New York Justice League, delivers a piercing poem in solidarity with the Palestinian people, ending with an Arabic phrase that roughly translates to “a land without a people and a people without a land.”
In addition to standing as a united front with Palestine, Monet also credits the group’s personal connection with those they met along the way for making their journey unforgettable.
“Najwan Berekdar was a light that guided our footsteps in this journey,” Monet said about the tour guide and activist that accompanied them throughout much of their trip and also played an integral role in the flash mob. “Our journey in Palestine would not be anywhere as enlightening as it was were it not for the Palestinian people who shared their stories with us,” Monet added.
Thompson said she was struck by the parallels of the struggle between Palestinians and her own community.
“The parallels that can be drawn between the occupation in Palestine and the occupation of predominantly Black neighborhoods in the United States cannot be ignored. Palestinians were the first to reach out sharing ways to protect Ferguson protesters from tear gas. We were honored to stand in solidarity by performing the flash mob in Nazareth. It was a small token of our appreciation. Our struggles are aligned which makes it imperative that our people be aligned.”
The flashmob is just one aspect of an ongoing effort to “forge deeper connections and solidarity between Black and Brown communities in the U.S. and Palestinians,” according to the delegation. The group “decided to do the action as a call for support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign that Palestinian civil society has called for,” Abuznaid added.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Hazou | VIDEO SOURCE: Vimeo/DreamDefenders