Palestinian Women in U.S. to Connect with Communities of Struggle
Four months ago I sat in the apartment of a family of Palestinian refugees in Burj el Barajneh camp, just outside of Beirut. It was the final night of a trip to examine the potential for relationships and exchanges between Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Black people in the US.
I sat with Umm Riyad, a woman in her eighties who survived the Nakba (the Zionist colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948), joined by three generations of her family. We had met a few days earlier on a guided tour of the camp, when she spoke of the dispossession and exile that Israel has forced her and her family to live through for the last 70 years.
I came back to offer gratitude for her family opening their home to us and to let them know that there is a growing movement of Black people in the US who support the Palestinian cause.
My translator was 23 year old Palestinian journalist Amena El Ashkar. Amena had spent three months in the US in 2016 touring the country with an 86-year old Nakba survivor to educate audiences about the conditions facing Palestinians living in exile in Lebanon. Amena had joined Black4Palestine later that year for our first network meeting in Washington, DC.
“There is a growing movement of Black people in the US who support the Palestinian cause.”
The family began telling me that they love Blackness and that many of them are Black themselves. One of Umm Riyad’s daughters called her son down from the apartment above to show me that we indeed had the same color skin.
One of their family members lived in Georgia and they asked me about the conditions in the US. I told them that like Palestinian refugees, our education is a system designed to keep us ignorant and disempowered, that we too struggle for public resources such as clean water, and that our outside societies view us and our neighborhoods as dangerous, violent and criminal.
They were a little surprised so Amena told them what she learned about our conditions as Black people based on her time in the US for the 2016 Nakba Tour. She gave them a five minute overview of the Black struggle from slavery through Jim Crow through police violence today. The women sucked their teeth in disapproval throughout Amena’s story.
Amena told them how many of the places she visited where Black people live, such as Jackson, Mississippi and Detroit, look just like the camps in Lebanon.
“The family began telling me that they love Blackness and that many of them are Black themselves.”
By the end of our exchange the whole family was shocked. "We knew there was some racism, but we didn't know it was this bad,” they said. “It sounds like your situation is worse than ours!" they joked.
This kind of awareness raising is exactly what motivates the work we do in seeking to connect the Black struggle in the US with Palestinians. Mutual exchange about our struggles creates the groundwork for the revitalization of internationalist consciousness and practice from the base of our communities.
It is in this spirit that I’m assisting with the 2017 North America Nakba Tour, which will bring Amena back to the US alongside Khawla Hammad, an 84 year old Nakba survivor.
The tour will run from September 15 through mid-December across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. It will also travel through Quebec and Ontario.
We hope to engage Black audiences throughout the tour, both longtime friends of Palestine and people who are just learning about the struggle.
“Mutual exchange about our struggles creates the groundwork for the revitalization of internationalist consciousness.”
This tour is especially important as we approach the 70th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. While this year marked the 50th anniversary of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, we must hear Palestinians when they insist that the Israeli occupation began in 1948.
For it was in 1948 and not 1967 that Zionist militias cleansed over 750,000 Palestinians (or 75 percent of the total Palestinian population) from their land to create the state of Israel. The military occupation that began in 1967 simply represented full Israeli control over the remaining 22 percent of Palestine that wasn’t colonized in 1948.
As people in solidarity with Palestine, we will be called to give stronger and more vocal support to Palestine over the coming year and this tour provides an opportunity for us and our organizations to learn more about contemporary conditions facing Palestinians. We must specifically amplify the right of return for Umm Riyad, Khawla, Amena and 7 million other Palestinian refugees to return to their rightful homes in what is currently called “Israel.”
We too can and should wage our own “right to return” campaigns to the neighborhoods we’ve been displaced from alongside our Native, Latinx and working class communities from Detroit to Brooklyn to Washington DC.
“We must specifically amplify the right of return for the 7 million Palestinian refugees.”
So we invite Black people and organizations along the tour route to attend the local events and to bring in members of our communities who have less exposure to Palestine and international issues. If any Black organizations are interested in co-hosting a stop on the tour they can reach out to the tour organizers for more information.
And because solidarity is about mutual engagement and struggle, we welcome Black organizations to host mini-tours of social issues in your community for the women during the tour. Amena has already done a segment on Black-Palestinian solidarity for Palestine Today and is interested in learning more about contemporary Black struggles to share when she returns to Lebanon.
From Huey Newton, Muhammad Ali and June Jordan to Ajamu Baraka and BAR’s own Glen Ford, generations of our freedom fighters have learned that Palestinians are our global kin from visiting the camps in Lebanon. We hope that new generations will come to see the same from this tour.
For more information about the tour, including a full list of tour stops, visit nakbatour.com. You can reach the tour organizers at [email protected].