Last October, the African Heritage Delegation of Interfaith Peace Builders went on a two-week educational tour of Palestine. Recently, the delegation issued a joint statement on the tour with Black Lives Matter. News journalist Terese Jordan’s African American Delegation to Palestine Speaks Out, a summary of the delegation’s full statement, follows:
The delegation consisted of 15 people of African descent, mostly African American, from across the United States. Ages, religions, professions and knowledge about the conflict over Palestine varied among the delegates. But by the end of the trip, they largely stood united in support of what they see as the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination.
Their experience was heartbreaking and life-altering. The group of Black activists is speaking out against what they call a system of oppression inside Israel—not just perceived oppression against the Palestinians, but also against Black Israelis, African refugees and indigenous Bedouin peoples. Delegate Kamilah Moore, an L.A. native, says, “The Israeli government detains African immigrants, (the majority are Eritrean and Sudanese), in a detention center called Holot. They live in shipping containers in the middle of the Negev Desert in southern Israel and are not allowed to work……..When I visited the West Bank, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Black and Palestinian society—particularly how they are largely dictated by white supremacist forces in America and Israel.”
The message of these activists: “Black lives matter everywhere,” and the same Black leaders calling for an end to so-called police brutality against racial minorities here in the U.S. should be championing for an end to alleged human rights abuses against minorities in Israel.
Our short time in Palestine/Israel revealed to us the toll the occupation has taken on the human dignity and freedom of the Palestinian people, an occupation that is upheld by various oppressive tactics including the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the network of checkpoints, the segregated legal system, land confiscation and more. However, we saw, and were encouraged by the resolve and yearning for liberation we felt from the Palestinian people we encountered during our delegation. It is this central energy that binds the Palestinian struggle together and that connects our struggle to theirs.
This feeling of alienation from the Israeli justice system is part of the reason why on April 1st, Palestinians officially joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move largely supported by the African Heritage Delegation. The goal, according to a senior Palestinian official, is to “defend (Palestine) against Israeli colonization and other violations of international law.” But the White House opposes the move and accuses Palestinians of trying to skirt the peace process. The U.S. also fails to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state which would make Palestinians ineligible to join the ICC.
But support of Israel appears to be waning among African American voters. The Pew Research Center conducted a poll during last summer’s Israel-Gaza conflict in which the UN says about 70 Israelis (mostly soldiers) and more than 2,200 Palestinians (mostly civilians) were killed. Thirty-five percent of Black respondents said Israel overreacted as opposed to 22% of whites. Black respondents were slightly more likely to blame Israel over Hamas for instigating the conflict.
Members of the African Heritage delegation see a historic link between the Palestinian and Black political struggles for justice, and several are now calling on Black political leaders to act: “Congressional Black Caucus members, including Southern California representatives Maxine Waters and Karen Bass, should take this opportunity to stand on the side of justice,” says Kamilah Moore, adding, …The CBC can play an equally important role in holding Israel accountable for its ongoing attacks and policies of racial discrimination targeting Palestinian civilians.”
A Democratic congressional aide recently told U.S. News magazine, “The Congressional Black Caucus is gone” as far as its support for Israeli’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned. Several members of the CBC boycotted Netanyahu’s March 3rd speech before the U.S. Congress. Netanyahu accepted the speech invitation from Republican House Speaker John Boehner without consulting the White House. Rep. James Clyburn reportedly called the speech, “An affront to America’s first Black president.” But voicing outrage is not enough according to African Heritage delegate Trina Jackson: “The CBC now must take a principled stand on the side of international law, morality and common decency to support the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians for freedom and an end to occupation.”
Yet, CBC members, like the majority of U.S. lawmakers, have largely been unwilling to voice support for Palestinian liberation, either because they don’t agree with the cause or they are afraid of political backlash. On the other hand, several CBC members, including Rep. Charles Rangel (New York) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (Ohio) are vocal allies of Israel and active supporters of the powerful Israeli lobby group (AIPAC).
However, there are small signs that the tide is shifting. In 2009, nearly every CBC member in the House voted to support Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. But last year, only 11 of the 42 CBC members voted for a House resolution backing Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Black leaders may soon be compelled to either justify or rethink their stance on Israel as more young African Americans continue to become active on the issue.
Terese Jordan is a news journalist and documentary producer based in Los Angeles.