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The Shared Suns of Solidarity: Palestinian and Black Struggles

In August 2014 the Black population of Ferguson, Missouri erupted in protest and defiance. In the nights after Michael Brown’s murder, they had faced teargas and sonic canons. They had stood toe-to-toe with riot police and literal tanks while chanting “No Justice, No Peace.” From the hours Michael’s teenaged body lay in the daylight to the intensity of the U.S. police state’s response in the predawn, they resolutely kept protesting. As they did, they received a welcome show of solidarity from afar — from a people who could relate to their struggle, despite the distance.

Tweets carried the support — advice on how to wash out the latest pepper sprays; messages of love and hope for the Black rebellion — all the way from Palestine. West Bank residents wrote signs expressing their undying support, and Palestinian-Americans marched for Black lives in Missouri streets. Soon crowds in Ferguson were chanting “Free Gaza,” and Black Twitter users were making direct connections to Black and Palestinian oppression and resistance.

This was far from the first time Palestinians and Black Americans had made common cause. In the years since 2014, many activists and scholars have recovered this rich history for a new generation of struggle. As we reflect, commemorate and take action for Black August, we must highlight these connections. However, while Western writers (often rightly) focus on solidarity shared from Black America to Palestine, we must also emphasize that this solidarity has never gone in just one direction. The best of the Palestinian movement has always sent love and solidarity right back.

Reflection and Resistance

Black August emerged as a month of reflection and solidarity with Black political prisoners — those incarcerated for waging a struggle for freedom against American white supremacy. In their own quest for justice, Palestinians have carried on a decades-long struggle in Israel’s prisons and jails. Looking from Palestine to Black America and back again, staring at one’s own reflection in the hall of mirrors of oppression and resistance, drives the long-standing solidarity and unity between these liberation movements.

Shared Cries for Freedom

Activists and scholars like Michelle Alexander have described the widespread system of mass incarceration and over-policing in the U.S. According to some estimates, one in four Americans have criminal records, and U.S. prisoners make up one-quarter of the world’s prison population. The system has largely targeted people of color and Black communities — one in three Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetimes.

Meanwhile, Palestinians face a brutal system of incarceration as well. Approximately 5,300 Palestinians are currently languishing in Israeli prisons — including 250 children. Many of us may remember Israel jailing the children of peace activist Iyad Burnat. We may also remember then-17-year-old Ahed Tamimi’s imprisonment while defending her family’s home. Inside the prisons, Palestinian detainees face torturous conditions similar to the political targeting and solitary confinement Black political prisoners endure. Youth and adults report being placed in “stress positions,” handcuffed to chairs for several hours, and beaten so badly they cannot open their eyes. All this to deter and repress Palestinians’ quest for freedom.

This shared trauma has driven solidarity and resistance. As Black revolutionary Angela Y. Davis, once a prisoner of the U.S. government, reflected, “during my own incarceration, I received support from Palestinian political prisoners as well as from Israeli attorneys defending Palestinians.”

Shared Commemorations

Many Palestinians and Black activists even share the same practices for the month of August. August similarly serves as a month of reflection and commemoration for Muslim Palestinians — “the Forbidden Month.” Both Black activists and Palestinian Muslims are encouraged to fast. Both are encouraged to support mutual aid, charity, or otherwise do good deeds. Studying the history of resistance (in the case of Black August) has a certain prayer-like or meditative quality too. From Palestine to Black America, this month is reserved for deep reflection and understanding for the ongoing ordeals of political prisoners aspiring to breathe free and others advocating for their own freedom.

Solidarity Today

As the Black Lives Matter movement has developed since 2014, Palestinian solidarity has continued apace. The Palestinian National Committee of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement and other Palestinian social movements have released several statements over the years encouraging Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans to take action for Black lives.

When the Movement for Black Lives published its political platform in solidarity with Palestine, the BDS campaign saluted the organization: “We pledge to firmly and consistently stand in solidarity with our black sisters and brothers in the United States and around the world by supporting the demands and policy proposals in this platform.”

After George Floyd’s murder and the new round of struggle in American streets, that commitment continued:

“[W]e in Stop the Wall Campaign would like to express our solidarity and support to you amid the protests over the murder of George Floyd by racist police violence, which have been taking place since over two weeks. Your amazing and relentless protest that is growing everyday has inspired people of conscience and minority groups in the Global North and oppressed people in the Global South, including Palestine, to take to the streets demanding justice, freedom and an end to white supremacist paradigms of power…

The face of George Floyd is now painted alongside our own martyrs in a powerful mural on the apartheid Wall. We all are together in the same struggle.”

Solidarity is the lifeblood of any successful struggle. Our partners and allies are at the forefront of these connections throughout the Black and African diaspora. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) has stood in solidarity with African farmers resisting their own land grabs. Baladna Association for Arab Youth recognizes struggles for identity whether among Palestinian youth or the Afro-Puerto Ricans in Colectivo Ilé. And in addition to Black and Afrodescendant solidarity, our Palestinian partners have made links with other struggles for freedom as well — like Stop the Wall and immigrant rights activists’ work in the World Without Walls campaign.

As we continue to commemorate Black August, let us draw from this rich history of shared struggle to map the route to freedom ahead.