From slavery to civil war, and from segregation to civil rights, the United States has struggled with racism throughout its history. Black Americans still face systematic discrimination, abuse and injustice, on the streets and in the job market; segregation hasn’t been overcome; and as the George Floyd killing demonstrated, arbitrary and aggressive policing means they have good reason to fear for their lives.
There are many parallels to draw between the experience of Black Americans and Palestinians living under oppressive conditions. Both communities experience systematic inequality, discrimination, lack of justice, and fear of the police. We Palestinians, in common with African Americans, always feel like a target for the police; in any encounter, we must first justify our innocence. We are always asked to express our frustration "very carefully and reasonably" when everything we experience is unreasonable. Our necks have often been knelt on, too.
When I saw the video of George Floyd’s terrible murder in Minneapolis, I was devastated and disgusted by the police officer’s effrontery in committing such a crime in broad daylight. He knows he’s being filmed, and while the poor victim is pleading for his life and witnesses warn that he can’t breathe and then he has stopped moving, Derek Chauvin appears to be enjoying his lethal assault. When I saw the video I could not help but compare it to our daily life and remember the many stories of Palestinians physically abused and murdered in cold blood.
Less than 72 hours after Floyd was killed, Israeli police murdered another unarmed Palestinian, an autistic 32-year-old man, in broad daylight. We have many reasons to fear for our own lives.
As the news of George Floyd murder broke out, Palestinian activists were already rightly highlighting the parallels between the injustices that the Black American community face and the struggle of the Palestinian people living under occupation. Murals, posters and social media posts proliferated, all illustrating the similarities between crimes committed by the Israeli police and the Israeli army with the crime committed by Derek Chauvin.
As a believer in ending all kinds of oppressions and occupation, I believe in the importance of developing alliances between the oppressed, such as the Palestinian cause and the Black American struggle. But at this specific moment, I hesitate to reference the Palestinian cause and tie it to the Black Lives Matter protests. It is not because our lives are not of equal value, but out of the respect for this watershed moment in Black American history.
This is a historic moment for the whole world to focus on the lived injustices of Black American communities over many years. It is not a moment to divert attention from this struggle. We should not highlight the similarities during the peak of a certain struggle.
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It is a moment for us Palestinians to understand the Black American struggle, and centuries of slavery and discrimination. It is a moment to look within our own societies, where racism and bigotry is just as ubiquitous, whether against black people, women or the LGBT+ community.
To understand others we often need to connect it to our own experience. As Palestinians we need to learn Black American history. For the purposes of solidarity and a united struggle against violence and injustice. I personally believe the comparisons between George Floyd and Eyad Hallak are appropriate and effective. Many people are drawing these parallels out of their careful understanding of both struggles. But others are only doing so to insert Palestine into a protest movement for the sake of Black people in America.
What’s happening to Black Americans needs to be recognized and affirmed in its own time and space. It is certainly not completely dissimilar from many realities of oppression happening all around the world, but it is still a singularity that should be respected as such.
We need to speak about the struggle of Black Americans without the words "Palestine" and "Israel." The analogies certainly deserve attention and are important for both: but not now. In this time we need to pay attention to the Black American struggle and show realsolidarity to center their struggle without any competing narratives. It is the minimum we should do, and it’s the right thing to do.
As Arabs there are many things we can consider doing in these times of crisis. Some of those acts are uncomfortable; some require us to recognize when we have been perpetrators of racism ourselves and not targets of it. Two Arab Americans, Rana Abdel Hamid and Mafaz Suwaidan, have put together a key resource called: "Arabs for Black Lives."
"We need to learn and understand that Arabs have historically contributed to, and promoted, anti-blackness. We need to start having hard conversations within our own families about anti-blackness. We need to center black Arab voices in our communities. We need to understand that we can be Arabs and have racial privileges. We must stop using anti-black language and stop normalizing it."
Right now is an opportunity for Palestinians to confront ourselves and our own prejudices, not seek a leading role in the protests and slogans in America. This is how we truly build an honest, intersectional, grassroots, anti-oppression movement that will in the future amplify our own voices about injustice in Palestine.
George Zeidan is co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine, an initiative to illustrate the reality of Palestinian life through sports. A Fulbright awardee with a masters degree from the Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, he works for an international humanitarian organization in Jerusalem. He grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City