- Black–Palestinian Solidarity in the Ferguson–Gaza Era
Leading into summer 2014, no one could have predicted the actions that pushed Black–Palestinian solidarity into mainstream focus. The police killing of Michael Brown and subsequent uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked mass action across the country just as US outcry against Israel’s fifty-day war on the Gaza Strip reached its fever pitch. Protesters from Oakland to New York chanted “from Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime” and began to highlight connections between the two struggles.
Yet, as Rabab Abdulhadi remarked at the 2014 American Studies Association annual meeting, Black radicals and Palestinian resistance have been in solidarity and drawing connections long before Ferguson: “These expressions are not new and they’re not because of the excitement of the moment. They do have their historical precedents in the connections that organically brought together anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist—very clear revolutionary politics, not reformist politics.”1
While many Black radicals supported the Zionist movement in Palestine and founding of Israel in 1948, a notable shift emerged after the 1967 war, when radical Black groups and individuals began to locate solidarity with Palestine in an anti-imperialist, antiracist lens.2 The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was penalized for its 1967 statement against Zionism a dozen years before Andrew Young was fired from his ambassadorship to the United Nations for meeting with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO and Black Panther Party drew comparisons between racial capitalism in the United States and Israel, in addition to strategizing together while in Algiers—all under a project of revolutionary internationalism and anti-imperialism.3
There are many lesser-known accounts as well. On the first day of a woman of color delegation to Palestine, Angela Davis recounted that one thing that sustained her time in prison was a letter that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails had managed to pass from their families in the West Bank to her colleagues in the United States.4 In 1984 Adrien Wing was one of two US representatives [End Page 1017] invited to attend the Palestine National Council in Amman, Jordan.5 Speaking on behalf of the National Conference of Black Lawyers, Wing said, “The Black American people and the Palestinian people are bound together in a common struggle” that is “symbolized by the U.N. General Assembly 1975 resolution which identified Zionism as a form of racism” and chanted “Revolution! Revolution until victory!” as she concluded her speech.6 In the United States, Black and Palestinian Americans have supported each other from the San Francisco State University general strikes in 1968 to divestment from apartheid South Africa, to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition and calls for an independent Palestinian state in his presidential platform.7
Within liberal and mainstream Black and Palestinian American circles, the question of solidarity has been more fraught. From the mainstream civil rights organizations and leaders of the 1960s through today’s Congressional Black Caucus, the liberal Black political class has largely supported or remained ambivalent about Zionist policies and has hesitantly expressed solidarity with Palestinians (if at all). Arab and Palestinian anti-Blackness, particularly from the Arab merchant class in Black urban communities, has been an impediment to mainstream antiracist and anti-imperialist solidarity.
In the context of these histories and tensions, the most recent chapter in Black–Palestinian solidarity—the Ferguson–Gaza moment—marked an increase in mainstream US political awareness and momentum shift for both Black and Palestinian liberation struggles. For Black and Palestinian people in the United States, and Palestinians in Palestine itself,8 this moment created a new opportunity for multidirectional solidarity both on the ground and online.9 The moment also presented an opportunity for the resurgence of Black internationalism in the contemporary era. It is as a participant and witness in this current chapter that I offer the following essay.10
As the scenes in Ferguson unfolded after Michael Brown’s death, images circulating on social media revealed the face of the militarized police state to an even wider portion of the US population. These images of people facing guns and tear gas while protecting their communities were...