This article originally appeared in LA Progressive.
At her last class on her last day of 11th grade in Newton, Massachusetts, my Palestinian-American daughter received a shock. Just before the zoom call ended, one student mentioned he’d be taking a gap year in Israel after graduation. Another student smirked, ‘I hear there’s a lot of land opening up over there.” The screen quickly went blank, and my daughter burst into angry tears.
I realize that many people reading this article won’t understand why. The fact that Israel may annex an additional 30% of the Palestinian West Bank is not widely known or understood. In the US and elsewhere, the discourse about Palestinian rights has been distorted and silenced, by fear of being called anti-semitic, by US foreign policy interests, by Christian zionism, and by Islamophobia. Perhaps worst is the common misbelief that Israelis and Palestinians constitute “two equal sides” and that being “neutral” does no harm.
In the US and elsewhere, the discourse about Palestinian rights has been distorted and silenced, by fear of being called anti-semitic, by US foreign policy interests, by Christian zionism, and by Islamophobia.
As a white anti-zionist Jew from the US who married a Palestinian Muslim and lived in Palestine for 13 years, I see things differently. I see a “side” that wants equality and peace for everyone, and a “side” that believes that Israel should be a state for Jews maintained by institutional racism and military control over non-Jews.
The US has long supported Israel with money and political support that gives cover to Israel’s land grabbing. As a result, Israel, despite its ideology of Jewish supremacy, has been “normalized.” It is common for people I know to take family trips to Israel to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah or just to hang out on the beach in Tel Aviv. Despite being liberals, they are willing to ignore Israel’s ongoing human rights violations against Palestinians. This explains why my daughter, and so many other Palestinians, feel invisible, dehumanized, and unsupported—even in self-proclaimed “liberal” spaces.
But there may soon be a historic development in the Palestinian struggle.
It is August 2020 and we’re in the midst of arguably the most important escalation of the movement for racial justice in US history. The movement for Black lives calls not merely for Black liberation, but for sustainable transformation of our communities. The movement is black-led, intersectional, multiracial and has mobilized people all over the world. On the local, state and national levels, actors as diverse as corporations, schools and even restaurants are making public statements against institutional racism, a topic that was taboo in mainstream media just months ago.
And the protests are making a difference. Not only is there pressure for national police reform legislation, there are surprising and visible changes happening in local communities. In the city where I live, the police chief has resigned, possibly influenced by pressure for systemic change from our local Defund Newton Police Department group. Changes like support for Black businesses, the removal of statues glorifying confederate racists, and improvements to school curricula are real. Embedded in these changes is a dislodging of normalized inequality and the mainstreaming of ideas previously considered radical—like social transformation.
More and more white people seem to “get” that inequality isn’t accidental, but rather the natural outcome of a system that has institutionalized white supremacy.
This is a new chapter for Black Americans, one that will surely see both great gains and violent pushback. It also appears to be a new chapter for white people. More and more white people seem to “get” that inequality isn’t accidental, but rather the natural outcome of a system that has institutionalized white supremacy.
As for Palestinian rights, while there have been gains in recent years in US discourse, including by progressive Jewish groups, and while Black-Palestinian solidarity remains a strong pillar of both liberation movements, white people in the US are far from understanding Israel’s institutionalized racism against Palestinians, this despite strong parallels with the US.
White colonists took North America by committing genocide against Indigenous peoples; Israel’s colonization project is ongoing. Palestinian demands for self-determination remain a threat—not to Jews as people, but to the position Jews hold at the top of a highly racialized hierarchy in Israel. That explains, I think, the continued portrayal of all Palestinians as terrorists and Israeli violence against Palestinians being justified by “security” concerns.
So, while the image of unarmed Black men being murdered by US police (finally!) sparks outrage, the persistent murders of Palestinians by the US-funded state of Israel are met merely with muted criticism. And Israel’s historic decision to illegally expand its territory becomes a casual aside in a conversation among US teenagers.
I argue that Black Lives Matter may be the best thing that’s happened to Palestinians in a very long time. Because BLM targets the power structure of the United States—the very heart of global capitalism, the movement for Black lives is positioned to make real changes in the colonial, neocolonial, militaristic, capitalist and racist DNA of the United States that is wreaking havoc around the world.
I am hoping that the new-found popularity of Black struggles will lead white US people to listen more, act more, and make reparations. I also hope they will consider BLM’s internationalist analysis and realize that the US original sins of genocide and slavery are being recreated against peoples of the global south right now—with US funding and political support. I am hoping that white people, including white people who identify as Jewish, will be able to expand their commitment to racial equality to include their engagement with the Palestinian struggle, for the sake of my daughter and all our daughters and sons.
Racism (like all the other isms) is a global industry in the service of profit, and therefore, struggles against racism must be simultaneously local, national and transnational. Today’s Black liberation movement will help challenge the root causes of inequality in the United States, in Palestine, and around the world—if we support it fully and work to make those connections.