In a momentous statement released on the anniversary of last summer’s attack on Gaza, over 1,000 black activists, artists, scholars and political prisoners signed a thoughtfully written document of “solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and commitment to the liberation of Palestine’s land and people”.
The signatories drew historical connections between the plight of the black and Palestinian movements, described years of joint struggle, and highlighted the urgency of their continuing, contemporary struggles against racism and oppression. But to those of us aware of generations of mutual bonds, this statement comes as no surprise. It is time to revisit and, indeed, implement a visionary statement made four and a half decades ago by the black movement.
In 1970, the Committee of Black Americans for Truth About the Middle East issued an extraordinary, powerful appeal published at the time in The New York Times. It condemned the bloodbath in Jordan and America’s support for King Hussein’s slaughter of Palestinian refugees and freedom fighters. It sharply criticised American imperialism aided by Zionists and Arab dictatorships.
Through language and terminology that may, at times, seem anachronistic, this visionary statement clarified the links between forms of oppression and the connections among oppressed nations worldwide. It offered a sharp and accurate political analysis of events unfolding in the Middle East. Almost five decades later the spot-on analysis still explains current imperialist strategies and identifies the ongoing attempt to enlist anyone “in the service of imperialism … to hold back the Middle East revolution”.
Today such means still serve the US to circumvent revolutionary sentiments in the region, as it ignores the heavy toll in lives, the destruction of communities and of ancient civilisations.
US role in Black September
The Black September bloodbath in Jordan leading up to the 1970 statement of the black movement resulted in thousands of dead and wounded Palestinians and was enabled, as the statement observes by “the encouragement, armaments and financial aid of the United States government”. Similarly, Israel’s decades of brutality were and are enabled by the intervention, armaments, and financial aid of Western governments and first and foremost the United States, to the tune of $3 billion a year in military and other aid.
The US-led invasion of Iraq on false pretences has left the cradle of civilisation shattered into three weak states, with a death toll of over 750,000. Syria, where a covert CIA mission to arm Syrian rebels went awry, is fast imploding onto its people. All sides are now in agreement that the American effort to topple the Assad regime by aiding so-called moderate fighters has gone badly wrong and pushed the country into a civil war that has already left millions dead or displaced.
Thoughtful study of today’s bloodbaths shows much in common with those cited by the 1970 statement: US involvement in the Korean War; US aid to France and to the terrorist Secret Army in Algeria, designed to put down the Algerian Revolution; the opposition to anti-colonial, independence movements in Morocco, Tunisia, Indonesia and elsewhere. All followed from an aggressive American drive to ensure free exploitation, supported by allies such as Israel, identified by the black movement as “the outpost of American imperialism in the Middle East”.
“The Palestinian Revolution,” the 1970 statement says, “is the vanguard of the Arab Revolution and is part of the anti-colonial revolution.” Due to its “alliance with imperialism, Israel opposes that anti-colonial revolution and especially revolutionary change in the Middle East”. Accordingly, both Israel and the US, as well as mainstream world media, criminalise Palestinian resistance as terrorism, ignoring decades and centuries of anti-Palestinian and anti-black violence which underpin the respective regimes of Israel and the US.
Both Israel and other USA allies – the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia – welcomed and even aided the military coup in Egypt, averting the threat posed by the will of the people to military dictatorships and to imperialist interests. To safeguard these interests, the imperialist US-backed project underwrites and overlooks practices of severe oppression and racism in Israel, Egypt or Saudi Arabia.
The 1970 statement also divined some of the specifics of the money-power connection, quoting Gottlieb Hammer – chief Zionist fundraiser in the US – who said, “when the blood flows, the money flows”.
Today, the US (and its allies), while allegedly battling the Islamic State group (IS), is indirectly financing them and perpetuating the war. Senior political sources in the region have stated that key allies in the US-led war on IS – the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and the Turkish military intelligence organisation – are covertly financing IS. Nafeez Ahmed reported that “US and British oil companies are heavily invested in the murky geopolitical triangle sustaining IS’ black-market oil sales” raking in as much as “$3 million a day in cash by re-selling oil obtained from IS at well below market prices”.
These oil profits provide IS with funding for its operations, generate giant gains for American oil corporations, enable the US continued exploitation of Middle East resources on the pretext of a “war on terror” and secure markets for its multi-billion arms deals. Such forms of interconnected profiteering are all too familiar to African-Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Latin Americans and others.
The expanding imperialist project has also expanded the trail of blood throughout the Middle East, in the midst of a transformative revolution. As profits pile up in the bank accounts of Western governments, corporations and their allies, millions of refugees are abandoning their homes to search for safety and livelihoods.
Real democracy and prosperity in the Middle East requires a US exit. US foreign policy must undergo fundamental transformation, ending US entitlement to and virtual ownership of the region’s resources and removing US power over the region’s peoples.
2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine
The past year has been one of high-profile growth for Black-Palestinian solidarity. Out of the terror directed against us—from numerous attacks on Black life to Israel’s brutal war on Gaza and chokehold on the West Bank—strengthened resilience and joint-struggle have emerged between our movements. Palestinians on Twitter were among the first to provide international support for protesters in Ferguson, where St. Louis-based Palestinians gave support on the ground. Last November, a delegation of Palestinian students visited Black organizers in St. Louis, Atlanta, Detroit and more, just months before the Dream Defenders took representatives of Black Lives Matter, Ferguson, and other racial justice groups to Palestine. Throughout the year, Palestinians sent multiple letters of solidarity to us throughout protests in Ferguson, New York, and Baltimore. We offer this statement to continue the conversation between our movements:
On the anniversary of last summer’s Gaza massacre, in the 48th year of Israeli occupation, the 67th year of Palestinians’ ongoing Nakba (the Arabic word for Israel’s ethnic cleansing)–and in the fourth century of Black oppression in the present-day United States–we, the undersigned Black activists, artists, scholars, writers, and political prisoners offer this letter of reaffirmed solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and commitment to the liberation of Palestine’s land and people.
We can neither forgive nor forget last summer’s violence. We remain outraged at the brutality Israel unleashed on Gaza through its siege by land, sea and air, and three military offensives in six years. We remain sickened by Israel’s targeting of homes, schools, UN shelters, mosques, ambulances, and hospitals. We remain heartbroken and repulsed by the number of children Israel killed in an operation it called “defensive.” We reject Israel’s framing of itself as a victim. Anyone who takes an honest look at the destruction to life and property in Gaza can see Israel committed a one-sided slaughter. With 100,000 people still homeless in Gaza, the massacre’s effects continue to devastate Gaza today and will for years to come.
Israel’s injustice and cruelty toward Palestinians is not limited to Gaza and its problem is not with any particular Palestinian party. The oppression of Palestinians extends throughout the occupied territories, within Israel’s 1948 borders, and into neighboring countries. The Israeli Occupation Forces continue to kill protesters—including children—conduct night raids on civilians, hold hundreds of people under indefinite detention, and demolish homes while expanding illegal Jewish-only settlements. Israeli politicians, including Benjamin Netanyahu, incite against Palestinian citizens within Israel’s recognized borders, where over 50 laws discriminate against non-Jewish people.
Our support extends to those living under occupation and siege, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the 7 million Palestinian refugees exiled in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. The refugees’ right to return to their homeland in present-day Israel is the most important aspect of justice for Palestinians.
Palestinian liberation represents an inherent threat to Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid, an apparatus built and sustained on ethnic cleansing, land theft, and the denial of Palestinian humanity and sovereignty. While we acknowledge that the apartheid configuration in Israel/Palestine is unique from the United States (and South Africa), we continue to see connections between the situation of Palestinians and Black people.
Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of Black people in the US, including the political imprisonment of our own revolutionaries. Soldiers, police, and courts justify lethal force against us and our children who pose no imminent threat. And while the US and Israel would continue to oppress us without collaborating with each other, we have witnessed police and soldiers from the two countries train side-by-side.
US and Israeli officials and media criminalize our existence, portray violence against us as “isolated incidents,” and call our resistance “illegitimate” or “terrorism.” These narratives ignore decades and centuries of anti-Palestinian and anti-Black violence that have always been at the core of Israel and the US. We recognize the racism that characterizes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is also directed against others in the region, including intolerance, police brutality, and violence against Israel’s African population. Israeli officials call asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea “infiltrators” and detain them in the desert, while the state has sterilized Ethiopian Israelis without their knowledge or consent. These issues call for unified action against anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and Zionism.
We know Israel’s violence toward Palestinians would be impossible without the US defending Israel on the world stage and funding its violence with over $3 billion annually. We call on the US government to end economic and diplomatic aid to Israel. We wholeheartedly endorse Palestinian civil society’s 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and call on Black and US institutions and organizations to do the same. We urge people of conscience to recognize the struggle for Palestinian liberation as a key matter of our time.
As the BDS movement grows, we offer G4S, the world’s largest private security company, as a target for further joint struggle. G4S harms thousands of Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in Israel and hundreds of Black and brown youth held in its privatized juvenile prisons in the US. The corporation profits from incarceration and deportation from the US and Palestine, to the UK, South Africa, and Australia. We reject notions of “security” that make any of our groups unsafe and insist no one is free until all of us are.
We offer this statement first and foremost to Palestinians, whose suffering does not go unnoticed and whose resistance and resilience under racism and colonialism inspires us. It is to Palestinians, as well as the Israeli and US governments, that we declare our commitment to working through cultural, economic, and political means to ensure Palestinian liberation at the same time as we work towards our own. We encourage activists to use this statement to advance solidarity with Palestine and we also pressure our own Black political figures to finally take action on this issue. As we continue these transnational conversations and interactions, we aim to sharpen our practice of joint struggle against capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, and the various racisms embedded in and around our societies.