by Robin D.G. Kelley
Peace is not just the absence of violent warfare; peace is justice: No Justice – No Peace. In Palestine and in the U.S., what we seek is a new and better world, not just a cessation of armed hostilities. So, “How did we move from a solidarity firmly rooted in the commonalities of resistance to one based almost entirely on the commonalities of oppression?”
Yes, I Said “National Liberation”
by Robin D.G. Kelley
This article previously appeared in Counterpunch.
“You can’t trust a big grip and a smile
And I slang rocks Palestinian style”
– “The Shipment,” Steal This Album by The Coup
“We radicals regarded the PLO as a vanguard in a global Third World struggle for self-determination.”
For the past thirty-five years, “Free Palestine” has been etched into my political vocabulary. In the movement circles that nurtured and trained me, “Free Palestine” rolled off the tongue as easily as “Free South Africa,” “Free the Land,” “A Luta Continua,” “Power to the People,” and the ubiquitous “El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido!” I was a sophomore in college when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, in order to drive out the exiled Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Two years later, as a first-year graduate student and chair of UCLA’s African Activists Association, I invited representatives of the PLO to participate in our fifth annual conference on imperialism. We received hate mail and death threats from the Jewish Defense League, and the university administration leaned on us to withdraw the invitation. But we prevailed. I completed my doctoral dissertation in 1987, the first year of the First Intifada, and like most of my compatriots attributed Israel’s willingness to participate in the Oslo negotiations to Palestinian resistance. Although Oslo proved to be a disaster and a betrayal of the PLO’s founding principles, we saw the prospect of direct negotiations as a small step toward an elusive national liberation.
Yes, I said “national liberation.” Liberals wished for “Peace in the Middle East.” We radicals regarded the PLO as a vanguard in a global Third World struggle for self-determination traveling along a “non-capitalist road” to development. Palestine stood on the frontlines in a protracted battle against imperialism and “settler capitalism.” Palestinians weren’t victims – at least not in my political world. They were revolutionary combatants and, thus, models for those of us dedicated to Black liberation and socialism.
From our current neoliberal perch, this claim must seem completely foreign, if not absurd. But in the early 1980s, we were influenced by a group of activists/intellectuals who believed another world was possible, but only through revolution. Walter Rodney, Manning Marable, June Jordan, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Angela Davis, Chinweizu, Cedric Robinson, Vincent Harding, Cornel West, Barbara Smith, Stuart Hall, not to mention Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmad, and Samir Amin, wrote about the ravages of racial capitalism, the violence of patriarchy, the futility of parochial politics in the face of global imperialism, and the absolute necessity to resist. We were living in the last decade of the Cold War, the era that gave rise to Reaganism and Thatcherism, new imperialist wars, and new revolutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, from El Salvador, Haiti, and Grenada to Nicaragua and South Africa. Here in the belly of the beast, capital flight, the erosion of the welfare state, neoliberal privatization schemes, the weakening of antidiscrimination laws and policies, and a wave of police and vigilante killings struck our communities with the force of a cluster bomb. The decade, in fact, opened with police killings and non-lethal acts of police brutality emerging as a central political issue, resulting in a massive urban insurrection in Liberty City, Florida, in May of 1980. That same year witnessed the founding of the National Black United Front (NBUF) and the National Black Independent Political Party (NBIPP). Black radicals took factory jobs to reach the working classes, demanded freedom for political prisoners, threw their energies behind building a socialist Africa, continued the long tradition of community-based organizing, and participated in acts of solidarity occasionally chanting “Free Palestine.”
“Images of infant corpses and entire families buried beneath concrete rubble generated feelings of anger and sympathy.”
Three decades later, in the wake of the incalculable devastation caused by Israel’s latest assault on Gaza, solidarity with Palestine appears stronger than ever. In every corner of the United States, people took to the streets and to social media to condemn so-called “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s latest genocidal assault on Gaza. Palestine solidarity activists built bridges with prison abolitionists, immigrant rights activists (under the banner “Stop the War on Children From Gaza to the US/Mexico Border”), labor (in the Block the Boat demonstrations), and most spectacularly with the struggle against racist police violence in Ferguson/St. Louis, Missouri. What drives most of these acts of solidarity, however, is empathy for Palestinian suffering and/or recognition of common experiences of oppression. Spectacular violence is guaranteed to generate condemnation, which explains why outrage tends to ebb and flow with Israeli military incursions, rising precipitously during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and again when Israeli airstrikes resumed under “Operation Returning Echo” in 2012. The 2014 criminal war on Gaza has thus far produced the most casualties, the most material damage, and the greatest moral outrage. Images of infant corpses and entire families buried beneath concrete rubble generated feelings of anger and sympathy, while propaganda efforts to portray Israelis as vulnerable, terrified victims of Hamas rockets largely backfired.
Thanks to fearless journalism and relentless activism, spectacular violence in Gaza and the West Bank has swelled the ranks of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, largely because it offers a tangible, ethical, nonviolent strategy to challenge occupation, the slaughter of civilians, and Israel’s egregious violations of international law. Even when the movement’s financial impact is minimal, the educational effect has been enormous. Thanks to years of sustained, protracted debate, the public knows a lot more about the occupation, who profits from it, and the historical roots of dispossession going back to 1948. During the bloody summer of 2014, I encountered more and more people in the United States openly describing Gaza as the largest open-air prison in the world, citing the fact that our taxes subsidize Israel’s garrison state to the tune of 6 million dollars a day, criticizing the US for consistently vetoing UN resolutions condemning Israel’s human rights abuses while violating our own Arms Export Control Act prohibiting the use of US weapons and military aid against civilians in the occupied territories. Even a few American liberals no longer see the question of Palestine as an Arab-Israeli “conflict” rooted in some ancient, irreconcilable hostility, but rather as a colonial occupation and violation of international law and human rights, subsidized by the United States.
Then in August, as the war on Gaza rose to the top of the news cycle, so did the escalation of racist police violence in the US. The killings of Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Kajieme Powell, John Crawford III, and most significantly, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri – all unarmed, all in the space of a couple of months – were immediately linked to events in Gaza. The people of Ferguson who took to the streets to decry Brown’s unwarranted murder (he was on his knees with his hands up when Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot him) faced down riot police, rubber bullets, armored personnel carriers, semiautomatic weapons, and a dehumanizing policy designed to contain and silence. Activists readily drew connections between Israeli racialized state violence in the name of security and the US – from drone strikes abroad and the killing of Black men at the hands of police—and the role Israeli companies and security forces have played in arming and training US police departments. Palestinian solidarity activists issued statements about the Ferguson protests and the NYPD killing of Eric Garner, and Palestinian activists in the West Bank have put out their own solidarity statements along with advice on how best to deal with tear gas.
“Activists readily drew connections between Israeli racialized state violence in the name of security and the US.”
The Gaza to Ferguson link has been revelatory in other ways. In our lexicon – especially post 9/11 – cops and soldiers are heroes, and what they do is always framed as life-saving, defensive action in the name of public safety. Police occupy the streets to protect and serve the citizenry from (Black and Brown) criminals who are seen to be out of control. This is why, in every instance, there is an effort to depict the victim as assailant – Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Darrien Hunt – the sidewalk is a weapon, their big bodies are weapons, they lunge, glare, flail their arms as evidence of threat. In Israel/Palestine, wars of pacification and annihilation are branded as efforts to neutralize the threat of terrorism. The blockade of Gaza is presented as necessary for Israel’s security. People who live under occupation experience the world as victims of perpetual war. Indeed, the police department’s decision to leave Mike Brown’s bullet-riddled, lifeless body on the street for four and a half hours, bleeding, cold, stiff from rigor mortis, was clearly an act of collective punishment. This is the point of lynching – the public display of the tortured corpse was intended to terrorize the entire community, to punish everyone into submission, to remind others of their fate if they step out of line. Collective punishment violates the laws of war, though in this case the Geneva Conventions do not apply. Collective punishment takes other forms as well: routine stops, fines for noise ordinance violations (e.g., playing loud music), fare-hopping on St. Louis’s light rail system, uncut grass or unkempt property, trespassing, wearing “saggy pants,” expired driver’s license or registration, “disturbing the peace,” among other things. If these fines or tickets are not paid, they turn into possible jail time, making bail, losing one’s car or other property, or losing one’s children to social services. The criminal justice system is used to exact punishment and tribute, a kind of racial tax, on poor/working-class black people. In 2013, Ferguson’s municipal court issued nearly 33,000 arrest warrants to a population of just over 21,000, generating about $2.6 million dollars in income for the municipality. That same year, 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of traffic stops in Ferguson involved black people, this despite the fact that one in three whites was found carrying illegal weapons or drugs, while only one in five blacks had contraband.
How do the police and the courts get away with this? By criminalizing Blackness, much the same way the Israeli state criminalizes Arab-ness. (Of course, Blackness is also criminalized in Israel, as evidenced in the treatment of African asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv, just as Arab-ness is criminalized in the US post-9/11). In the US, decriminalized Blackness exists as a state of exception – i.e., by portraying the Mike Browns and Trayvon Martins of the world as the undeserving dead, by rendering them good kids, college-bound, honor students, sweet, as if their character is the only evidence they have of their innocence. If we really enjoyed color-blind justice, then even someone with a dozen felony convictions has a right to due process and a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise in a court of law.
“People who live under occupation experience the world as victims of perpetual war.”
We see these same principles at work in Palestine. Focusing on the killing of innocents – children, women, elderly – to the exclusion of able-bodied men (except for journalists and the like) plays into the deserving/undeserving dead binary and assumes that all men are combatants (i.e., justifiable targets) unless proven otherwise. At its core, this framing automatically excludes those defending their territory, in accordance with international law, from any claims to “human rights,” foreclosing any serious conversation about the justifiable right to self-defense – whether in Gaza or Ferguson. Those deserving of human rights protections, political scientist Sedef Arat-Koç wryly observes, must “present themselves in, and effectively accept, a state of pitiful, naked humanity, a child-like innocence and helplessness, a non-politico-human status, and complete dependence on the pity and charitable recognition of outsiders.” She goes on to ask: “Does it mean that resistance, struggle for dignity and justice, and an aspiration for self-determination are inherently illegitimate and suspect . . . if they are exercised by Palestinians who disagree with the Western mainstream solutions to the Palestinian question?”
Of course, Arat-Koç is absolutely right. Western liberals are not pacifists: They are quick to arm “rebels,” so long as they are the right rebels. The innocent child, the grandmother, the widow, are the only Palestinians deserving of liberal sympathies, for they are ostensibly unburdened by political motives, even though they dream dreams of taking back their native land, recovering stolen property, enjoying the rights of citizenship and nationality, and bringing down Israel’s apartheid state once and for all. But what about those dreams? Palestinian dreams? Black liberation dreams? How did we move from a solidarity firmly rooted in the commonalities of resistance to one based almost entirely on the commonalities of oppression? From a radical vision of national liberation, a dream of building a post-Zionist, post-racist world, to a solidarity rooted in shared victimization? How did we come to pitch human rights against self-determination, as if it is an either/or proposition? Are we merely struggling for a long-term ceasefire and the withdrawal of settlements in the West Bank? Are we really fighting for a détente with an apartheid, Bantustan-style “state” ruled by the Palestinian Authority? Are we really fighting for more federal oversight of police, the “demilitarization” of local law enforcement, and a return to the myriad “standard” weapons cops used to kill us in the past? Is our political imagination limited now because the Palestinian Authority is the arm of Israeli state repression rather than the governing structure of a new society? Or is it because Black political power, from the White House to the courthouse, has become the arm of US state repression rather than the leader of an authentic post-racist society?
Whatever the reasons, our solidarity ought to be based on building a new world together. I am not suggesting that we abandon the struggle to hold Israel accountable for its continued crimes against humanity and violations of international law, or that we stop mourning and honoring the dead, or that we cease any of the immediate actions designed to sustain life and bring a modicum of peace. But peace is impossible without justice. The brilliant Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif put it best: “The world treated Gaza as a humanitarian case, as if what the Palestinians needed was aid. What Gaza needs is freedom.” And what is freedom for Palestine? “Free Palestine” means, at a minimum, completely ending the occupation; dismantling all vestiges of apartheid and eradicating racism; holding Israel accountable for war crimes; suspending the use of administrative detention, jailing of minors, and political repression; freeing all political prisoners; recognizing the fundamental rights of all Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel for full equality and nationality; ensuring all Palestinians a right to return and to receive just compensation for property and lives stolen, destroyed, and damaged in one of the greatest colonial crimes of the twentieth century.
“Peace is impossible without justice.”
Ironically, as AIPAC-backed, right-wing Christian Zionist organizations, such as the Vanguard Leadership Group (VLG) and Christians United for Israel (CUFI), work furiously to recruit Black students, elected officials, and religious leaders to serve as moral shields for Israel’s policies of subjugation, settlement, segregation, and dispossession, it was precisely the Zionist promise of a new society based on the principles of justice, liberation, and self-determination that attracted such overwhelming Black support for the founding of Israel. This is a complicated story. Black identification with Zionism predates the formation of Israel as a modern state. For over two centuries, the biblical book of “Exodus,” the story of the flight of the Jews out of Egypt and the establishment of Israel, emerged as the principal political and moral compass for African Americans. “Exodus” provided Black people not only with a narrative of slavery, emancipation, and renewal, but with a language to critique America’s racist state since the biblical Israel represented a new beginning.
When Israel was founded in 1948, Black leaders and the Black press, for the most part, were jubilant. Few Black writers mentioned Arab dispossession, the Nakba, or the terror tactics of the Haganah. Instead, Black leaders and the Black press embraced the founding of Israel because they recognized European Jewry as an oppressed and homeless people determined to build a nation of their own. In a speech backing the partition plan, socialist labor leader A. Philip Randolph said that he could not conceive of a more “heroic and challenging struggle for human rights, justice, and freedom” than the creation of a Jewish homeland. “Because Negroes are themselves a victim of hate and persecution, oppression and outrage,” he argued, “they should be the first to be willing to stand up and be counted on . . . in this fight for the right of the Jews to set up a commonwealth in Palestine.” And yet, in defending a Jewish homeland, Black leaders and the press often succumbed to anti-Arab racism, depicting Arabs as the brutal, bloodthirsty aggressors and the Jews as the heroic defenders of the nation and purveyors of civilization. In March 1948, the Atlanta Daily World ran a photo of Arab “snipers” juxtaposed to another photo of Jewish men standing guard under the caption, “Violence in the Holy Land.”
There were exceptions. The iconoclastic writer George Schuyler used his column in the Pittsburgh Courier to criticize the expulsion of the Arabs. “The same people who properly condemned and fought against German, Italian and Japanese imperialism . . . now rise to the vociferous defense of Zionist imperialism which makes the same excuse of the need for ‘living space’ and tries to secure it at the expense of the Arabs with military force financed and recruited from abroad.” Schuyler dismissed characterizations of Arabs as “‘backward,’ ignorant, illiterate and incapable of properly developing the land” as thinly veiled justifications for a Jewish state, reminding his readers that this was the same argument used by the Nazis to invade Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia, and to justify European colonialism. Schuyler was not only deluged with letters accusing him of anti-Semitism and downright lunacy, but his own paper rebuked him in an unsigned editorial.
“Black leaders and the Black press embraced the founding of Israel because they recognized European Jewry as an oppressed and homeless people determined to build a nation of their own.”
These postwar Black intellectuals and activists who viewed Israel as a model of national liberation were not dupes, nor were they acting out of some obligatory commitment to a Black-Jewish alliance. Rather, with the exception of figures such as George S. Schuyler, they failed to see Israel as a colonial project founded on the subjugation of indigenous people. Why? First, Zionism was seen in 1948 as a nationalist movement forged in the cauldron of racist/ethnic/religious oppression, resisting the post-Ottoman colonial domination of the region by Britain and France, and poised to bring modernization to a so-called backward Arab world. The nationalist and anti-colonial character of Israel’s war of independence camouflaged its own colonial designs. Second, the Holocaust was critical, not just for the obvious reasons that the genocide generated global indignation and sympathy for the plight of Jews and justified Zionist arguments for a homeland, but because, as Aimé Césaire argued in Discourse on Colonialism (1950), the Holocaust itself was a manifestation of colonial violence. Israel comes into being as a nation identified as victims of colonial/racist violence, through armed insurrection against British imperialism. It is a narrative that renders invisible the Nakba – the core violence of ethnic cleansing. The myth of Israel’s heroic war of liberation against the British convinced even the most anticolonial intellectuals to link Israel’s independence with African independence and Third World liberation. Israel’s ruling Labor Party pursued alliances with African nations under the guise that they, too, were part of the Non-Aligned Movement, and Israeli leaders publicly condemned racism and presented Israel as a model democracy. In 1961, when South Africa’s Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd tried to deflect international criticism of his country by describing Israel as “an apartheid state” (“The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years.”), Israeli leaders promptly denounced him. Indeed, in 1963, then Foreign Minister Golda Meir told the UN General Assembly that Israelis “naturally oppose policies of apartheid, colonialism and racial or religious discrimination wherever they exist.”
Meir wasn’t the first foreign minister to lie to the General Assembly, nor would she be the last. The Non-Aligned Movement never embraced Israel, which it had come to see as a colonial power. In 1956, Israel joined Britain and France in a joint military invasion of Egypt after President Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to nationalize the Suez Canal Company. As part of the war on Egypt, Israel occupied southern Gaza and slaughtered Palestinian refugees and other civilians in Khan Yunis, Rafah, and the nearby village of Kafr Qasim. Eight years later, Malcolm X visited the refugee camp at Khan Yunis during his two-month stay in Egypt and learned of the massacres, inspiring his oft-quoted essay, “Zionist Logic” which appeared in the Egyptian Gazette, September 17, 1964. Malcolm concluded that Zionism represented a “new form of colonialism,” disguised behind biblical claims and philanthropic rhetoric, but still based on the subjugation and dispossession of indigenous people and backed by US “dollarism.”
“The Non-Aligned Movement never embraced Israel, which it had come to see as a colonial power.”
The 1967 Arab-Israeli War brought many more African Americans around to Malcolm’s position. The Black Caucus of Chicago’s New Politics Convention of 1967 unsuccessfully proposed a resolution condemning the “imperialist Zionist war,” and the Black Panther Party followed suit, not only denouncing Israel’s land grab, but pledging its support for the PLO. The event that drew the most ire from liberal Zionists, many of whom had been veteran supporters of the civil rights movement, was the publication of “Third World Round-up: The Palestine Problem: Test Your Knowledge,” in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) newsletter. It described Israel as a colonial state backed by US imperialism and Palestinians as victims of racial subjugation. In short, Black identification with Zionism as a striving for land and self-determination gave way to a radical critique of Zionism as a form of settler colonialism akin to American racism and South African apartheid.
As a result of SNCC’s article, “responsible” Black leaders were called on to denounce the statement as anti-Semitic and to pledge their fealty to Israel. It was in this atmosphere that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., made his oft-quoted statement: “We must stand with all of our might to protect [Israel’s] right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.” Pick up most literature from AIPAC or Stand With Us or CUFI and you will likely see this quote emblazoned in bold letters but bereft of any context. King’s words come from a long, public interview conducted by Rabbi Everett Gendler at the 68th annual convention of the Rabbinical Society on March 25, 1968 – ten days before his assassination and ten months after the War. Revisiting it is highly instructive. First, Gendler tried to cajole him into denouncing “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel Negroes.” But King pushed back. Dismissing the claim that anti-Semitism was rampant in the Black movement, he argued instead that Black-Jewish tensions stem primarily from economic inequality and exploitation. He implored the audience “to condemn injustice wherever it exists. We found injustices in the black community . . . And we condemn them. I think when we find examples of exploitation, it must be admitted. That must be done in the Jewish community too.” In other words, King not only insisted on condemning all forms of injustice but he refused to allow the charge of anti-Semitism to silence legitimate criticism – of Jews or of Israel.
His remarks about Israel and the Middle East are even more striking. Short of condemning war altogether, he called for “peace” above all else. For Israel “peace . . . means security,” though he never specified what security meant in this context. He also addressed what he thought peace meant for the Arabs. “Peace for the Arabs means the kind of economic security that they so desperately need. These nations, as you know, are part of that third world of hunger, of disease, of illiteracy. I think that as long as these conditions exist there will be tensions, there will be the endless quest to find scapegoats.” On the one hand, the statement belies a surprising ignorance of the history as well as the consequences of the 1967 war. King repeats the mantra that Palestinians suffer from hunger, disease, and illiteracy because they are poor, not because they were dispossessed of their land and property and subjected to a security state that limits their mobility, employment, housing, and general welfare. King’s solution?: “a Marshall Plan for the Middle East.” On the other hand, by situating Palestine in the “Third World,” he placed it squarely within what he identified as the whirlwind of global revolution sweeping aside the old economic structures based on capitalism and colonial domination. “These are revolutionary times,” he announced in his legendary speech on Vietnam a year earlier. “All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born . . . We in the West must support these revolutions.”
“King not only insisted on condemning all forms of injustice but he refused to allow the charge of anti-Semitism to silence legitimate criticism – of Jews or of Israel.”
We can only speculate on how King’s position may have changed had he lived, but given the opportunity to study the situation in the same way he had studied Vietnam, he would have been less sanguine about Israel’s democratic promise or the prospect of international aid as a strategy to dislodge a colonial relationship. To be sure, his unequivocal opposition to violence, colonialism, racism, and militarism would have made him an incisive critic of Israel’s current policies. He certainly would have stood in opposition to the VLG, CUFI, and the litany of lobbyists who invoke King as they do Israel’s bidding. And let’s be clear: King preached revolution. Distributing humanitarian aid and ending hostilities were never the endgame. The point of civil disobedience was not to keep the status quo intact, to make the regime slightly more just or fairer. The point was to overturn it. More than a regime change, King called for a revolution in values, a rejection of militarism, racism, and materialism, and the making of a new society based on community, mutuality, and love.
Not surprisingly, I found this revolutionary commitment to build a new society in Palestine. Yes, I confronted the apartheid Wall, witnessed the harassment of Palestinians passing through checkpoints, wept over piles of rubble where Palestinian homes had been demolished and their olive trees uprooted by the IDF, walked through the souk in Hebron littered with bricks and garbage and human feces dumped on Palestinian merchants by settlers, negotiated the narrow, muddy pathways separating overcrowded multistoried shacks in the refugee camps erected in the shadows of fortress-like West Bank settlements, and was overwhelmed by the level of violence, repression, and dehumanization Palestinians had to endure. But what impressed me most were the activists, the intellectuals, the youth, who spoke confidently about a liberated country, who saw the old guard leadership and the Palestinian Authority as impediments, who envisioned and debated a dozen different paths to a democratic and decolonized future. They gathered at Muwatin: the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy in Ramallah; at Mada al-Carmel: the Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa; and in the refugee camps in Balata, Jenin, and Bethlehem.
“More than a regime change, King called for a revolution in values, a rejection of militarism, racism, and materialism.”
Bethlehem’s Aida Refugee Camp is home to the Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Society, a genuine community center and youth theater founded by director, poet, playwright, and educator Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, who believes theater is a “nonviolent way of saying we are human beings, we are not born with genes of hatred and violence.” Having grown up in the camp, Abusrour gave up a promising career in science to devote his life to creating a “beautiful theater of resistance” aimed at releasing the creative capacity of young people to turn their stories into transformative experiences. Abusrour’s play, We Are Children of the Camp, is something of a collaborative venture, incorporating the kids’ own stories into a sweeping narrative about Palestine since 1948. The children speak from personal experience about Israeli soldiers invading the camps, shooting their parents, and then denying them access to hospitals on the other side of the wall. They long for human rights, a clean environment, freedom, a right to return to their land, and the right to know and own their history. Condensing nearly seventy years of history in the play’s title song, they sing of being made refugees in their own land, of colonies built, and villages demolished. “They put us in labyrinths,” they sing, “They planted hatred in us / They considered us as insects.” And yet, the children onstage, like their brothers and sisters and friends whom I met laughing, riding their battered bikes along the narrow camp streets, kicking around a scraped-up soccer ball, or peppering me with questions about America, refused to become insects to be stamped out, or cauldrons of hatred. “We may have a spring,” the song continues,
Sun may rise again in our sky
We look to Jerusalem
Singing for freedom in our hearts.
Palestinian lives matter. Black lives matter. All lives matter. This should be self-evident. The children at the Aida Camp remind us that what matters most is struggle. Here I am not speaking only about self-defense. To struggle is to overturn the logics of a racial regime that uses security to justify dispossession, military rule, and the denial of the most basic rights. To struggle is to begin building the future in the present, to prefigure a post-apartheid/post-Zionist society. As one song from Children of the Camp put it: “Occupation never lasts . . . The government of injustice, vanishes with revolution.”
The same vision of revolution is evident among the young activists in Ferguson, Missouri. They, too, remind us that Black struggle matters. It matters because we are still grappling with the consequences of settler colonialism, racial capitalism, and patriarchy in the US. It mattered in post-Katrina New Orleans, a key battleground in neoliberalism’s unrelenting war on mostly Black, Latino, Vietnamese, and Indigenous working people, where Black organizers lead multiracial coalitions to resist the privatization of schools, hospitals, public transit, public housing, and the dismantling of public sector unions. The young people of Ferguson struggle relentlessly, not just to win justice for Mike Brown or to end police misconduct but to dismantle racism once and for all, to bring down the Empire, and to ultimately end War. As they reach out to Palestine, and Palestine reaches back to Ferguson, the potential for a new basis for solidarity is being born – one rooted in revolution.