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Who Are My People? The March on Washington for Gaza and Historical Connections in Black-Palestinian Solidarity

A delegation of Black organizers in the West Bank, Palestine. Photo courtesy of Black 4 Palestine (

#Articles & Analysis#Defense of Territory#Human Rights Defense
February 2024

Trina Jackson

Senior Solidarity Program Officer – US Internationalist Program

“With our arms linked, our struggles intertwined, and our liberation bound together, there is no turning back.”

Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian feminist poet, scholar, and activist, posed a critical question in We Must Learn to Use Our Power: On Apartheid, Police Brutality and Internationalism: “What does it mean to be a citizen of a country on the wrong side of every liberation struggle on this earth?” She was writing about apartheid in South Africa and the growing resistance of the Black majority. She was also lamenting the US tax dollars spent on suppressing Palestinian resistance to occupation. As I participated in the March on Washington for Gaza on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend, I reflected on this question and what it means about Black-Palestinian solidarity. MLK’s message that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” resonates with the international demand for a permanent ceasefire and, most importantly, an end to the occupation and a free Palestine. It also resonates with my own experiences traveling to Palestine.

In August of 2023, I visited Gaza and the West Bank as part of a delegation organized by Grassroots International. It was my second trip to the region, and this time I was even more aware of the connections between Black liberation, civil rights, and Palestinians’ struggles for freedom. I was moved by the openness and generosity of people in Palestine, who shared their stories, their dreams, their anger, their outrage, their resistance, and their humanity while living in an apartheid system that seeks to strip it away – and that has been doing so for 75 years. This made me think about our long, multi-generational struggle as Black people in the US, fighting against the daily assault on Black humanity in the form of poverty, criminalization, incarceration, and militarized racist police violence. Just as I observed the daily expressions of Palestinian resistance to settler colonialism and their demands for freedom and justice, Black people in the US – in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island and the Global South, with whom we share a kinship – continue our fight to dismantle the settler colonial project of white supremacy and racial capitalism. While entering Gaza, I remember vividly the seating area at the Erez Crossing checkpoint, crowded with Palestinians enduring the daily security checks to go about their lives. I’ll never forget what it felt like to be escorted ahead of them with my US passport and privileged status as a foreigner. As an African-American, I thought about what our people experienced in the Jim Crow South: second-class treatment in bus terminals and train stations.

On April 4, 1967, MLK made what is said to be one of his most important speeches on the war in Vietnam. He spoke about the betrayal of silence amid an unjust war, and he called for faith and community leaders to have the moral clarity and the political courage to speak out against the war and the imperialist policies of the US. Dr. King named the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism to recognize the US as the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Dr. King also talked about the hypocrisy of the US taking “Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to [supposedly] guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.” The US could hardly refer to itself as being about peace and freedom with the violent subjugation of Black people, as well as its foreign interventions.

The way that Dr. King spoke then of the US poisoning Vietnam’s waters, killing a million acres of Vietnam’s crops, bulldozing through areas to destroy precious trees – all while claiming to be liberators – parallels what I witnessed in Palestine, in both Gaza and the West Bank. Dr. King indicted the US as the initiator of the war in Vietnam and bearing responsibility to stop it. Of course, this is true with Israel’s war on Gaza, of which the US bears a similar responsibility as the primary financial and political supporter of Israel’s continuous occupation and military siege, and genocidal slaughtering of Palestine’s Indigenous people.

Global Catastrophes of Apartheid

The struggles of people worldwide against the oppression they face are all fundamentally connected. In 1948, Zionist militias committed the Nakba. They created the state of Israel through the violent dispossession of Palestinian people from their land — acts of dispossession that continue today, along with the destruction of Palestinians’ society, culture, and political rights. 1948 was also the year when the National Party was elected in South Africa, implementing the apartheid government, which sanctioned brutal racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against Black South Africans. They, like Palestinians, were dispossessed of their land rights and divided along tribal lines to decrease their political power. Meanwhile, that same year in the US, a young MLK was ordained as pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, marking a significant turning point in his activism to mobilize the Black church for the civil rights movement. Several years later, in 1951, the Civil Rights Congress issued a document signed by civil rights leaders charging the US government with genocide against Black people in the US.

In its case before the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide, South Africa argues that the documented humanitarian crisis of deprivation of food, water, electricity, and medical care and the attacks on hospitals are evidence of the intent of the forced removal of Palestinians from their land. South Africa’s case invokes the legacy of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, who famously said, “We know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” This “incomplete freedom” applies to Black people in the US as well, even if many of us don’t know it yet. South African apartheid politicized a lot of African Americans; for the first time, many were able to think about being Black outside of the US context. A new level of Black transnational solidarity and resistance among Black folks in the US emerged from this political consciousness.

The Black feminism of Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Barbara Ransby, and the Black liberation analysis of the Black Panther Party, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Malcolm X, and others have a deep, explicitly political analysis of Palestine and the linkages to Black liberation. After visiting Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in 1996, the Black feminist poet June Jordan wroteI was born a Black woman and now I am become a Palestinian.” Jordan not only connected the suffering of anti-Black racism and the oppression of Palestinians, but also grappled with complicity as a US taxpayer: 

“Yes, I did know it was the money I earned as a poet that

paid for the bombs and the planes and the tanks

that they used to massacre your family.”

The Black Lives Matter uprising and younger generations of Black activists are carrying forward these politics, connecting calls to dismantle US policing, US imperialism, and Israeli apartheid together. It was during the 2014 uprising against the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, that Palestinians used social media to help protestors in Ferguson deal with tear gas. This display of international solidarity was instrumental in the BLM movement and has helped deepen Black-Palestinian solidarity, inspiring new political formations and connections. In this new moment of solidarity with Palestine to stop the genocide, Black people can go deeper in connecting our conditions – over-policing, educational apartheid, enforced poverty – to Palestinians facing Israeli apartheid and genocidal violence.

As Community Movement Builders, participants in the Grassroots International delegation to Palestine and core organizers of the #StopCopCity campaign, write in their Grassroots Thinking newsletter:

“New Afrikans / Black people living in the U.S. are living in a country with a similar origin to the state of Israel. The United States is a polity that was founded by White European settlers who stole land from the indigenous people of North America and stole Black people from Africa to labor for them. The United States was built on the idea of White supremacy, with our people, indigenous people, and others finding ourselves excluded from the franchise, excluded from control of land, and facing harassment and terror by the state and the police.”

“Black / New Afrikan people have also experienced land theft and displacement through White terrorism. One example of this is the events leading up to the Great Migration in which countless Black / New Afrikan people left the Black Belt South and headed north, in part because White supremacist terrorist entities like the Ku Klux Klan were violently preventing our people from having any control over land through means of terror. There are a lot of parallels between the situation that we are in and the situation that Palestinians are in.

These links are evident in the current fight against “Cop City,” a proposed police training center in Atlanta, GA. Its proposed “services” include regular training in police tactics from the Israeli military. Like other police departments nationwide, the Atlanta police participate in a formal exchange program with Israeli occupation forces — learning military techniques they enact on Black communities. Likewise, many of the corporate backers of the Atlanta Police Foundation, the organization building the police training center, are targets of the Palestinian BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment) movement.

Struggles Intertwined

MLK’s position on Palestine and Palestinian liberation is still debated today. Though he chose his words carefully, he openly acknowledged that land conquered by Israel must be returned to Palestinians; this was the only means to peace. As I reflect on the teachings and life work of MLK in the context of today, especially his political analysis and his advocacy for non-violence, one takeaway is that we have an imperative to demand a permanent ceasefire and a stop to the acts of genocide against the people of Gaza by the Israeli government with US support. And we must also call for the rights of Palestinians to be respected, including an end to the occupation and realization of the right to return.

I hear the prophetic calls of dreams expressed in MLK’s speech at the March on Washington in 1963 in the demands of the March on Washington for Gaza in 2024: that there is no peace without justice and that change comes from mobilizing people and working together across different alliances for freedom and dignity. With our arms linked, our struggles intertwined, and our liberation bound together, there is no turning back.

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