Juneteenth

If We Want Black Liberation, We Need Global Solidarity Now

In 1964, after Malcolm X returned from the Palestinian territory of Gaza, he delivered a speech at a rally sponsored by the Organization for African-American Unity in Harlem. "I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance in realizing the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world," he said. That call for global solidarity between oppressed people is just as important today as it was then—especially as we celebrate Black freedom day, Juneteenth. 
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I had an opportunity to heed this call to solidarity in 2015. Months after the 2014 Ferguson uprising rocketed anti-Black State violence to headlines across the world, and months after Israel had mounted an aggressive and violent two-month offence in Gaza, a delegation of organizers, artists and academics set out to Palestine to learn about the Israeli occupation and build connections across our struggles. I was a part of the historic delegation coordinated by the Dream Defenders, a Florida youth organization that formed in 2013 in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Palestinian activist Ahmad Abuznaid, one of the coordinators of the delegation, said of the trip: “As a Palestinian who has learned a great deal about struggle, movement, militancy and liberation from African Americans in the U.S., I dreamt of the day where I could bring that power back to my people in Palestine. This trip is a part of that process.”
This certainly wasn't the first time there was a meeting between Black and Palestinian activists or a show of Black-Palestinian solidarity. James Baldwin wrote about the plight of Palestinians in The Nation in 1979. Weeks before Baldwin's article was published, representatives of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) met with Yasser Arafat in Lebanon during a fact-finding mission to the Middle East, to bring back recommendations and to discuss with then-President Carter the necessity of recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization and ending Israel’s use of U.S. weapons. (The delegation also planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but Begin refused to meet with the delegation of Black activists.)
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After his trip to Gaza, Malcolm X said, "Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the 'religious' claim that their forefathers lived there thousands of years ago?" Our delegation intended to build upon that history.

I left Palestine knowing our struggle didn't just have similarities; they sprung from the same source.

It's been seven years, but I can still paint the open-air prison from memory: checkpoints in East Jerusalem were constructed to herd Palestinians between work and home, and the constant presence of uniformed Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers carrying automatic assault rifles. My arrival to Tel Aviv started mildly enough. It was a beautiful coastal city that one could quickly tell had a vibrant recreational life. On the hour shuttle ride to Jerusalem, I saw a billboard for GAP and another one boasting Tel Aviv as a vacation destination and haven for same-sex couples. This was the Israel of progress, modernity, diversity, and acceptance. We would later learn that Israel's heavy promotion of its position as the only state in the Middle East that has legalized same-sex marriage was a veiled attempt at concealing the violence Israel enacts on Palestinians, what activists call "pink-washing." 
Closer to the Israeli settlements near Ramallah, we saw what were once beautiful olive groves, uprooted and destroyed by Israel to make way for new settlements. One Palestinian shared that the act of destroying groves wasn't just about expanding settlements but killing an integral part of how many families made their livelihood. The olive groves provided a source of income for many Palestinian families and an ancestral inheritance now disrupted by colonial violence. Israeli settlers have uprooted over 800,000 olive trees since 1967. "It is how Israel exerts power over us, by taking our land and destroying our food systems," one of the guides offered. One group member drew parallels between the barren fields and the theft and intentional sabotage of indigenous food systems in America.  
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Israel's military strength was evident to us in Palestine. The IDF littered the landscape at almost every turn. In the streets of Hebron, we were met with soldiers demanding to check everyone's documents. It was clear that our Palestinian comrades were the targets. We watched as young IDF soldiers, draped in automatic assault rifles, denied our Palestinian friends passage to certain streets. Those of us with American passports were not restricted, but the movement of Palestinians, people indigenous to the land, was heavily policed. Even Ibrahim mosque, an important place of worship for Muslims, was heavily guarded—callously ironic, given the last display of violence at Ibrahimi was in 1994, when Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Palestinian worshippers, killing 29 people.
As we traversed through Palestine and around Israeli settlements, we'd come to more checkpoints that seemed constructed to herd livestock—not people. Each time, our Palestinian comrades were made to walk through and show their documents; an internally colonized people, both terrorized and heavily policed at home. I left Palestine knowing our struggle didn't just have similarities; they sprung from the same source.

IDF meeting young Palestinian protestors with tear gas and riot gear echoed what America [had done] during the 2020 uprisings in the name of George Floyd: a State that would antagonize grieving people and justify their violence as defence against those they've harmed. 

In 2021, the Israeli occupation has been front and centre after protests against evictions of Palestinians in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah escalated into a full-scale Israeli military offensive, killing at least 248 Palestinian people, including 66 children. The IDF met Palestinian protestors with tear gas and riot gear, echoing what many saw in the U.S. during the 2020 uprisings in the name of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many more: a state that intentionally antagonizes grieving people and justifies their violence as a defence against those they've harmed.
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It's not a mere coincidence that the violence being enacted on Black and brown communities in America and those in Palestine is linked; it's by design. One day during a visit to Ramallah, Yasmine*, a Palestinian artist-activist, and I were talking about the tweets that Palestinians sent to Ferguson protestors on how to best deal with the tear gas police were spraying. These days, it's a favourite story often brought up in conversations of Black-Palestinian solidarity. Yasmine leaned over and gestured towards a few IDF soldiers lined up across the street from us and said, "They teach a lot of this stuff to your police. The tear gas, the flashing sirens—all of it.” According to Amnesty International, law enforcement officials from nearly a dozen American metropolises have traveled to Israel for training from the IDF. 
While anti-Black police violence has been an issue well before the exchange program between U.S. police departments and the IDF, we must fully understand the origins of this relationship as well as the dangers of the global effort towards para-militarized police and their shared mission of exploitation of oppressed people, resource extraction, and rebellion repression. 
During World War I, Britain gained control of Palestine. Zionist leaders saw an opportunity to petition London to support the creation of a Zionist state, and Britain saw an opportunity to control the Suez Canal in neighbouring Egypt. The strategic agreement was called the Balfour Declaration. The U.S. became a nuclear superpower after World War II and its policy of support for the creation of a Jewish state would grow to become Israel's biggest ally. U.S. powers were both interested in the oil reserves in the region and in stamping out the anti-imperial sentiments sweeping the Arab peninsula. For the U.S., Israel was strategic gold, providing a military outpost to advance American interests in the region. In return, Israel has received billions in U.S. aid, much of which is spent purchasing military equipment from U.S. defence companies. America's unequivocal support of, and investment in, Israel has paid off tenfold. 
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The relationship was successful in thwarting Soviet influence over the Arab diaspora in the Middle East during the Cold War. Support for Israel has only become more immovable with each U.S. Presidency. Pro-Israel interest groups donate to political campaigns, with a whopping $30 million given across both parties in 2020 alone. The special U.S.-Israeli relationship has cemented over time through waves of military aid, defence contracts, Pro-Israel lobbyists, police exchange programs, and political campaign contributions, creating a loop between State and private interests. Together the two allies have co-constructed an imperial stronghold, with the IDF serving as another proxy for a U.S. military base, able to quell any uprisings that might threaten white, Western hegemony in the region

The death toll of Afro-Colombian protestors is steadily climbing. We don't have to walk far back to find the United States' involvement. 

Halfway across the globe, American interests have their hands in another long-standing fight. Last month, in response to protests against oppressive tax reforms and the killing of human rights activists, the Colombian state deployed its military into the predominantly Afro-Colombian community of Cali. The death toll of Afro-Colombian protestors is steadily climbing. We don't have to walk far back to find the United States' involvement. 
In 2000, President Bill Clinton and Colombian President Andrés Pastrana negotiated a deal for military and financial aid to help combat Colombian drug cartels and left-wing insurgency groups. Though the supposed original intent of the agreement, dubbed 'Plan Colombia,' was focused on social programs, a whopping 78% of aid went to the military and police. The shifting focus to the army and the police in this plan was supported by someone who is no stranger to “tough-on-crime” policies. In a speech before Congress, then-Senator Joe Biden stated: 
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"What did we do? We gave the Colombian National Police aid, $750 million in aid...if I stood on this floor five years ago and said the Colombian police are going to crack the Medellin and Cali Cartel, no one would have said that is possible. No one. Guess what. They cracked the Medellin Cartel. They cracked the Cali Cartel. They put them in jail. They are extraditing the police. Why? Because we trained their police...."
'Plan Colombia' was an extension of the so-called 'War on Drugs' started by Richard Nixon—at least, that's how it was sold to the American people. The agreement that bolstered military aid to U.S.-backed Colombia under the premise of drug crackdowns was crafted while Colombia was fighting the left-wing insurgency group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). FARC was a Marxist rebel group founded in 1964 by the Colombian Communist Party. The U.S. interests in the region date that far back, as both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower moved to secure their geostrategic positions in the region and contain the spread of communism. Like every president, they wanted a pro-American Colombia government to advance American interests in Southern America with U.S. investment in the region's oil and the Panama canal. FARC disarmed itself in 2017, but the vestiges of their resistance remain today as protestors fight back against military occupation and police presence funded by the U.S. 
Since the invention of the War on Drugs, every U.S. President has worked to reaffirm the connection between drug cartels and the need for military aid and intervention in Colombia. 
The War on Drugs at home was extended to, or arguably an extension of, the fight for American imperialism abroad. As it's made enemy combatants of leftist insurgencies overseas, so has it of Black people here at home. Today, nearly 77 percent of people incarcerated in America’s federal prisons for drug offences are Black and/or Latinx. Colombia remains America's third-biggest trading partner in Latin America. 
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Just as [Black Americans] rose up against our police state, #EndSARS was not only Nigeria’s battle cry to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police force that terrorized their communities, it was also a cry against neoliberalism and colonization.

Another major movement that rose up in the past year was the #EndSARS protest movement that sparked in Nigeria in October of 2020, nearly 60 years after Nigeria gained independence from Britain. Just as Black protestors in America rose up against our police state, #EndSARS was not only Nigeria’s battle cry to disband the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) police force that terrorized their communities, it was also a cry against neoliberalism and colonization. To understand how, we have to understand Nigeria's history pre-Independence. 
One of Britain's first acts after establishing the colony was to create a paramilitary police force to protect British occupiers living in certain quarters of the country while also making way for unfettered exploitation of Nigerian resources. Police and military were a central part of funding proposals in the Nigeria Police Act of 1943, and additional state-hired guns proliferated the streets—recruited and trained by the British Empire to crush potential uprisings. 
The presence of armed forces continued well after Nigeria's independence, and in the early 2000s, U.S. AFRICOM was established by the U.S. in partnership with other western powers. Like the America's partnership with Israel, the pretext of AFRICOM was counterterrorism and protection against domestic threats, but the real aim was and still is, protecting Western investments in Nigeria. AFRICOM now operates in over 50 African countries and continues to provide military weaponry to the powerful and elite who, in exchange, make way for the theft of resources by both state and private interests, including what would become SARS. 
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Black people in America must see their struggle as a part of a broader global decolonial struggle.

So what, then, is our mandate? Solidarity between oppressed peoples across the globe isn't about a perfect homology. These aren't just parallels, but imbricating pieces of a global struggle. The Black Panther Party understood this and offered an anti-imperial framework that situated Black people as an internal colony in America, in solidarity with other colonized people worldwide. 
Though the Black internationalism tradition has experienced a renaissance, with organizations like the Movement for Black Lives and Black Youth Project 100 embracing Palestinian liberation as a core politic, the demand to "Free Palestine" is not popularized across the Black political spectrum. For those who consider themselves in solidarity with oppressed people around the world, it should be.
Yet Black Evangelicals have a long-standing relationship with Israel and Zionism based on a manipulation of faith texts that suggests that Jewish people must return to Israel in order to trigger the Rapture—wherein Jesus will return to Earth to bring Christians to heaven and everyone else will suffer in hell—a belief that's been characterized as anti-Semitic. Global powers are brokering international alliances in service of colonization and capitalism; land theft and unmitigated riches, while their people suffer and rage. The oppressors' playbook has become clear: colonize the land, exploit their resources, call it a fight against communism to save democracy, call it counterterrorism, call it a War on Drugs, call it tough-on-crime—and for Evangelicals, call it religious duty.
Whatever the suggested pretext, however it gets packaged and sold to the American people, it is but a part of a trajectory of neocolonialism, a marriage between capitalism and imperialism, and people across the globe suffer. From Palestine to Cali, to Nigeria and abroad, an insurgency spirit is cropping up alongside the rise of right-wing regimes backed by the U.S. government. 
This Juneteenth, it is not enough to invoke the past work of our elders; solidarity is something each generation of freedom fighters must opt into by deeply studying these histories, popularizing education about struggles beyond our borders, and heeding calls to picket and boycott from our comrades abroad. Black people in America must see their struggle as a part of a broader global decolonial struggle. As Malcolm said: "As long as we think...that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you'll never get Mississippi straightened out. Not until you start realizing your connection to the Congo."
* Yasmine's name has been changed for her protection

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