Roundtable on UN Security Council Resolution 2334: Reflections by Noura Erakat, Mouin Rabbani, and Sherene Seikaly
On 23 December 2016, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2334 confirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, as well as other measures to change the status of these territories. The resolution was sponsored by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, and Venezuela—after Egypt submitted then quickly withdrew the draft text in in order to appease the incoming Trump administration and Israel’s Netanyahu government.
The passage of UNSC 2334 marks the first occasion since 1980 that the Security Council has censured Israel’s settler-colonialist practices, primarily because the United States had consistently threatened to use or exercised its veto power against similar initiatives for the past thirty-six years. On this occasion, Washington once again refused to support the resolution—but on account of its abstention, the Security Council was able to unanimously adopt the draft text.
In the commentaries below, Jadaliyya Co-Editors Noura Erakat, Mouin Rabbani, and Sherene Seikaly examine various aspects of UNSC 2334, including its broader political and legal implications.
Noura Erakat: UNSC Resolution Is Merely an Opportunity
by Noura Erakat
The most significant aspect of UNSC Resolution 2334 is that it forms the first break with an otherwise absolute US policy to obstruct every Palestinian effort to resist Israeli expansion, especially during the past eight years. During his tenure, President Barack Obama has witnessed and colluded in two massive Israeli onslaughts upon the Gaza Strip, helped shelve the Goldstone Report, and adopted an unprecedented thirty-eight billion US dollars memorandum of understanding with Israel that increases US military aid to it from 3.0 to 3.8 billon US dollars annually over the next ten years. The administration used its first veto in the Security Council in early 2011 to quash a resolution condemning settlements very similar to the one that has just passed, citing Washington’s distaste for internationalizing the conflict.
If the Obama Administration was concerned with ushering a new era of the peace process, it would have abstained five years ago and not mere weeks before departing office; or during Palestine’s 2011-12 statehood bid; or in 2015 when it quietly crushed an effort to set a deadline for ending the occupation in the United Nations’s law making body. The administration’s abstention appears more like a finger to US President-Elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than a change of heart. At this juncture of its tenure, the Obama Administration only had two embarrassing choices: to veto law and policy it has rhetorically upheld since 1967 or to abstain and expose Israel to international scrutiny. A veto was simply more costly in this instance. The resolution itself does not obligate member states to take action and includes no enforcement mechanisms for the action it recommends. In the wake of the UNSC 2334, Israel is set to approve 618 new settlements in East Jerusalem.
So then what does the resolution mean? It all depends on the conduct of the Palestinian leadership.
The worst thing it could do is use the opportunity to resuscitate bilateral negotiations under the terms of the Oslo framework. And sadly, all indications point in that direction. But this is an opportunity to break from the self-effacing terms of Oslo and its progeny since 1993. It is an opportunity to take Palestine out of the backwaters of bilateralism and place it back on the international stage. Obamas’ abstention was a theoretical put of the issue out of the US’s absolute scope. The support of New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal, and Venezuela in the face of Egyptian capitulation, and together with French enthusiasm to carry the mantle in lieu of the United States, indicates an international readiness to shift course.
What Palestine needs is a resistance strategy—one that is ready to confront rather than accommodate the occupation and that does not place undue faith in the United States to deliver a solution it has proved unwilling and unable to provide for nearly five decades. It should use this resolution, together with similar initiatives including the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as well as the 2013 UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Commission on Settlements to run a diplomatic marathon to pressure states to impose sanctions on Israel in order to highlight, and end, the structural violence of apartheid. It should isolate Israel and delegitimize its settler-colonial project not just to halt and dismantle settlements in the West Bank, but to highlight Israel’s demographic-based policies for what they are: racist and unacceptable. It should use this opportunity to teach the world that the Green Line is imaginary and settlements are not just in the West Bank but also within Israel as demonstrated by the impending wholesale destruction of Umm al-Hieran with the blessing of Israel’s Supreme Court. Netanyahu is already helping on this front by summoning the US ambassador to Israel, reprimanding the ambassadors of states that voted for the resolution, terminating Israeli contributions to five UN institutions and downgrading relations with states that supported the Resolution. He is doing the work of sanctions on our behalf.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian leadership does not inspire much hope or confidence. Recall how it sabotaged the Goldstone Report, failed to call for sanctions after the ICJ Advisory Opinion, mourned Shimon Peres rather than highlight his violent and racist legacy, failed to resolve the schism with Hamas, and reified a sinking ship rather than usher a new leadership at the recent Fatah conference. Yet today the ball is in its court, the choice is one between more of the same losing game, or first steps on a much-needed new course that begins by removing Palestine’s eggs from the US basket.
Mouin Rabbani: The Significance of UNSC 2334
by Mouin Rabbani
US President Barack Obama’s record on the Question of Palestine has been so spinelessly atrocious that it almost makes one nostalgic for the days of Richard Nixon. To credit the United States for United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted on 23 December 2016, is simply laughable. It is the work of others, which Washington did not support but ultimately chose not to obstruct.
There is virtually nothing in the resolution that is new, but that does not make it insignificant. It has been a full thirty-six years since the Security Council last considered the legal status of Israel’s settlements in occupied Arab territory, when UNSC Resolution 465 of 1980 unanimously determined they have none and must be dismantled.
During this interregnum Israel’s leaders worked ceaselessly to normalise its colonies and appeared to be making significant headway, particularly in the United States and especially so during the second Clinton and Bush fils administrations. Much of East Jerusalem had been effectively apportioned to Israel by the Clinton Parameters, while Bush in correspondence with Ariel Sharon stopped just short of formally recognizing Israeli sovereignty over most settlements abutting the Green Line. During his own eight years in office Obama indulged Israeli expansionism more than any of his predecessors, thwarting each and every attempt to raise the matter in international fora—including a 2011 veto of a draft UN resolution functionally indistinguishable from the one just adopted.
Increasingly exasperated with not only Israel but also the United States, and alarmed by signals emanating from Camp Trump that it intends to detonate the global consensus on the Question of Palestine as well as by Israeli legislative and physical initiatives to make this a reality, the international community decided it needed to confirm certain long-established principles in order to preserve them. We’ll eventually learn why Washington decided to not veto UNSC 2334, but it likely has more to do with Obama feeling personally slighted by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and prematurely marginalized by President-elect Donald Trump, than with reasons that can be characterized as serious or substantive.
Be that as it may, the primary significance of UNSC 2334 is that it sends an unanimous, unambiguous and indeed definitive message from the international community that Israel’s cumulative efforts have resolutely failed to make even a single settlement one shade less illegal than in 1980. This applies equally to what Israel and the United States term “neighbourhoods” in East Jerusalem. Possession may be nine-tenth of the law, but illegal possession, as the Resolution explicitly states, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” The Security Council resolution in effect amplifies politically the legal conclusions reached on these matters by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 Advisory Opinion on the West Bank Wall.
The tsunami of faits accompli Israel has unleashed since 1967 in order to normalize its occupation has therefore, from a legal and diplomatic perspective, achieved precisely nothing. As stated in the Resolution, the international community “will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties through negotiations”. If and when meaningful negotiations to end the occupation materialize, furthermore, Palestinians will have the right to veto any proposed boundary changes, including land swaps.
To dismiss UNSC 2334 as “merely symbolic” does not quite capture the nature and scope of Israel’s defeat; everything it has done to change the status of occupied territory, and achieve recognition of such changes, has been dismissed as meaningless and irrelevant. More to the point, the Resolution provides added impetus and legitimacy to attempts to hold Israel and its officials accountable for their actions, including under Article 8.2(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court that defines settlement practices such as those implemented in the occupied territories as “war crimes”.
Unlike Resolution 465, UNSC 2334 does not explicitly call upon Israel “to dismantle the existing settlements”, and only repeats the demand that it “completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”. Yet, notes Norman Finkelstein, UNSC 2334 “prominently affirmed the principle of the inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by war, and the US didn't dissent from it”. It therefore seems “the United States no longer supports the interpretation of the operative clause of UNSC 242 that omits the definite article before ‘occupied territories’, as leaving room for Israel to annex territory”. Notably, adds Finkelstein, “inadmissibility was not balanced by the right of all States to live in peace and within secure borders” as it was in UNSC 242.
While many have pointed out that the international community has done virtually nothing to implement similar resolutions adopted since the Security Council began censuring Israel’s colonialist practices in 1967, and that this latest resolution too lacks enforcement mechanisms, UNSC 2334 does call upon member states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. This entails a clear obligation by states that recognize and/or trade with Israel to differentiatebetween it and the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. Application of this principle will necessarily require far-reaching sanctions against institutions and corporations based in Israel because these almost uniformly and often deliberately ignore the existence of the Green Line. It also exposes foreign entities that conduct themselves similarly to the prospect of criminal prosecution.
UNSC 2334 does not tread any new legal ground but rather confirms established principles and positions—albeit padded with silly references to “incitement and inflammatory rhetoric” to save a gutless American’s face. It is precisely for this reason that the Resolution is above all a political statement. The problem is that—as demonstrated by Egyptian President Abd-al-Fattah al-Sisi’s pathetically craven attempt to kill his own government’s draft resolution—the current Palestinian and Arab leaderships are wholly unqualified to translate its articles into meaningful achievements, and without their lead others are unlikely to follow. The Palestinians will not have another thirty-six years to produce movements, strategies and leaders capable of rising to the occasion.
Sherene Seikaly: UNSC 2334
by Sherene Seikaly
The legacy of Obama’s presidency is now subject not only to its own imperial machinations but also to the triumph of the right and the celebrity of stupidity that will define Trump’s rule. In the twelfth hour of Obama’s eight-year term, the theater of the United Nations witnessed some unexpected events. First and foremost is the United States government’s abstention on a resolution denouncing the policies of its prodigal child, the state of Israel. It will be this move, while not historically unprecedented, that journalists and commentators will focus on the most. For Israel’s prime minister, it is a source of US betrayal of the now decades long “special relationship” between the two settler colonies.
Yet there was another unexpected turn in this late December vote at the United Nations; Egypt’s withdrawal of its own draft resolution shortly after it was formally submitted to the Security Council and just before it was to be put to a vote.
It was expected that Egypt’s strongman Abd-al-Fattah al-Sisi would embrace the logic of the leaders he sees himself closest to: Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and US President-elect Donald Trump. While the Egyptian government had worked alongside the Palestinian Authority to draft the resolution, which after all is simply a reinforcement of conventional international law, Sisi decided to withdraw it at the last hour. His office stated this act came after a telephone call from Trump. Closer observers know that the ties between Sisi and Netanyahu also bore some credit. The two leaders have been fostering these ties since Sisi’s overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president in July 2013. Those ties were at their most explicit during Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza in 2014, when Sisi’s closure of Rafah sealed the only exit for over a million Palestinians in an open-air prison. It was then that Netanyahu insisted to John Kerry that Israel would only negotiate a ceasefire with Sisi.
So what then is so unexpected about last week’s Egyptian drama? The shift here comes from Sisi’s unabashed rejection of the rhetoric of state-led pan Arabism. Scholars have long shown that Arab regimes and their initiatives and policies, at best, have been disinterested, duplicitous, and damaging to Palestine and the Palestinians. Egypt is not exceptional in this regard. But Egypt has been the nation that birthed the ill-fated and misguided state-led pan-Arab project. It has been a nation whose citizens have sacrificed lives and limbs in various wars and conflicts. It has been a nation that has served as the intellectual and cultural refuge for so many Palestinians. For Egypt to withdraw a resolution confirming the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, is a rhetorical first. It is effectively, the final unmasking of the long-standing fallacy of regime led pan-Arabism. Since that fallacy has been rotting for decades now, perhaps Sisi has done us a favor. We can finally leave the wake and bury the corpse.
In mid-July 2016, we, a group of scholars, activists, and artists from the United States, Belgium, and Palestine, released a pedagogical project entitled Gaza in Context. The project aims to upend an ahistorical narrative that has cast the Gaza Strip as a national security issue. By emphasizing the role of Hamas and diminishing the question of Palestine, Israel has collapsed conditions in Gaza with asymmetric conflicts, or what has come to be known as the “global war on terror,” thus eliding the consequential distinctions between Palestinians and other non-state actors. This pedagogical project is an attempt to re-frame the issue in order to place greater emphasis on the broader question of Palestine and to explain Israel’s policy towards the Gaza Strip in a settler-colonial framework.
A 20-minute multi-media film that combines lecture, animation, typography, and footage from Palestine is the centerpiece of this project. The short film is also available in four, five-minute parts and each part corresponds to a teaching guide for instructional purposes. Other components of the project include abibliography featuring 110 entries that include books, journal articles, book chapters, essays, films, lectures, and videos as well as a compendium of Jadaliyya articles featured in what we call a JadMag. All of these elements are housed on the project’s own website, which is part of a larger research project on Palestine headed by the Forum on Arab and Muslim Affairs at the Arab Studies Institute.
The project received warm endorsements from academic, advocate, and activist luminaries, Sara Roy, Raja Shehadeh, Richard Falk, Nadia Hijab, Diana Buttu, as well as Robin D.G. Kelley, who commented:
Gaza in Context should be required viewing for everyone, including those familiar with the situation in Palestine. Powerful, informative, and persuasive, Noura Erakat delivers a fusillade of facts with concision and passion, obliterating in twenty minutes some three decades of media misinformation about Israel’s occupation of Palestine. An effective teaching tool, irrespective of one’s political position.
The project received broad international coverage including the following pieces:
The Nakba marks a momentous rupture in the history of Arab connection to the land of Palestine. The forcible, mass removal of native Palestinians in 1948 thus overwhelms the history, literature, activism, and memory regarding the Palestinian Question. To begin in 1948 is to narrate a story of collective loss, one that gives vivid expression to the collusion of state powers, the asymmetric capacities between industrialized and developing nations, the unyielding sway of nationalism, and to the remarkable expendability of certain human life.
While these expressive lessons are particular to Palestine and Palestinians, they are also plainly unexceptional. The question of Palestine is like so many other case studies of settler-colonialism, institutionalized racism, and state-led practices of systematic dehumanization. And so many other case studies are like Palestine in their modalities of repression and technologies of violent domination. If, indeed, there is no Palestinian exception, what does that freedom from anecdotal particularity afford us in the way of understanding the conflict and its possible solutions?
One productive approach is to try to understand how anti-blackness informs the conflict. Here I draw on the work of afro-pessimists who have theorized anti-blackness as an analytical framework with a focus on the afterlife of slavery in the New World. This framework informs how the nation-state comes to embody technologies of power, coercion, and violence that determine death and the possibilities of life. Scholar Rinaldo Walcott explains:
“What it means to be human is continually defined against Black people and Blackness….It is precisely by engaging the conditions of the invention of blackness, the ways in which its invention produces the conditions of unfreedom and the question of how those conditions produce various genres of the Human, genres that are continually defined against blackness, that any attempt to engage a decolonial project may avoid its own demise.”
This framework urges us to rethink Zionism so that it is not just a settler-colonial movement predicated on the forced removal and annihilation of the native, but also a nationalist movement predicated on the racialized tropes deployed against Jews of Europe. An anti-blackness framework also urges us to think about other communities, besides native Palestinians, that intersect with the category of “black.” People of African descent have long been in Palestine/Israel, and their presence cuts across dominant categories: there are Afro-Palestinians (predominantly Muslim), Ethiopian Israeli Jews (whose mass migration begins to achieve momentum in the mid-eighties), and recently-arrived asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea (both Muslim and Christian). Such provocations unsettle a stark native-settler binary and illuminate broader implications for anti-racist commitments within the Palestinian liberation struggle.
Israeli Jewish society features a stark socio-economic and racial hierarchy. It includes Western European Jews, African Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, and Russian Jews, as well as other social groups like non-Jewish foreign workers. The oppression these groups experience cuts across various intersecting axes of race, class, gender, national origin, as well as other distinctive markers. Palestinians, including citizens of Israel, do not represent the most extreme site of oppression in this social order; rather, they are outside it altogether. They constitute a baseline equivalent with social death because of the extreme institutional deprivation they endure, which denies them access to opportunities, movement, family, nationhood, land, livelihood, and security in the physical and metaphysical sense. Palestinian nationalism equips us to resist this dehumanizing framework by exposing the annihilationist logics of Zionist settler-colonization and demanding a restoration of indigenous sovereignty. It does not, however, adequately grapple with the racial logics that mediate Palestinian deprivation and Israeli socio-racial stratification.
Among liberal Zionists, the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is a matter of foreign policy, while racial discrimination, against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and African descendants, is a domestic issue. In a Palestinian nationalist framework, Afro-Israelis and asylum-seekers might be seen as settlers, even if relatively less privileged ones, and Israel’s violent exclusion of them demonstrates its constitutive race-based logics. But what is the connection, if any, between the exclusion and discrimination against these native and settler classes?
Borrowing from afro-pessimist works on the condition of being human, we may reconsider Zionism as a civilizational project that reifies the ineligibility of Jews for European whiteness even as it divests Palestinians of any material or metaphysical value. As a derivative of Enlightenment Europe, Zionist nationalism reproduced the polarized binaries of the superior, enlightened West and the inferior, primitive East. It claimed that Jews as a national entity belonged to the superior, enlightened West despite their geographical origins in the East, and sought to enlighten (read: colonize) its primitive peoples. Accordingly, Zionist ideology inferiorized the non-Western Jew, and aimed to civilize her by erasing her difference, just as Enlightenment Europe had sought to do with its Jewish population. It combated anti-Jewish bigotry by internalizing and reproducing it.
The nationalization of Judaism (Israel refuses to recognize an “Israeli” nationality, only a Jewish one, as confirmed by the Supreme Court in the Ornan case) nevertheless ascribed significant value to Eastern and African Jewish identity; they remained superior to the Palestinian native. Zionism consecrated Jewish nationality in law and strictly regulated its acquisition and the myriad entitlements that flow from it. Palestinians who lacked Jewish nationality were not eligible for rehabilitation, or whiteness, at all, and had to be removed, dispossessed, and/or contained. The Palestinian body, as a site of exploitation, dispossession, and precarity, lacks material value. The value of Jewish nationality, and, by extension, Israeli Whiteness, directly correlates to the deprivation of Palestinian land, presence, and nationhood. Structurally, therefore, the approximation of whiteness within Israel necessitates the ongoing deprivation of Palestinians. And the deprivation of Palestinians reproduces and reifies the logic constitutive of Israel’s racial hierarchal regime.
Settler-decolonization affords an opportunity for emancipation from the fundamental assumptions of white supremacy by addressing the very racial logics that presuppose Jewish inferiority to European Whiteness. Destruction of the colonial relation that facilitates systematic Palestinian deprivation should thus subvert those disfiguring oriental tropes that positioned Jews as outsiders in Europe and, later, as colonial masters in the Middle East. Such a movement aims not only to unsettle a native-settler relationship, but also to unsettle the system of stratified value measured against it. Under such a framework, Jews are able to resist, rather than embody, the racial logics that produced their exclusion within Europe and that continue to stratify Israeli society.
This is also a worthwhile inquiry in light of the resurgence of Black-Palestinian solidarity. It helps navigate the responsibilities that may inhere to the Palestinian movements claiming such solidarities. For example, without scrutinizing the modalities of anti-blackness, non-black Palestinians may risk reifying these institutionalized systems of dehumanization. Palestinian proximity to social death makes Palestinians the non-human, figurative black body in this moment in Israel/Palestine. However, unlike their Afro-Palestinian, Afro-Arab, Afro-Israeli, and African diaspora counterparts more generally, this status is contingent rather than global. Like the Eastern Jews who are eligible for modified whiteness within a Zionist schema, Palestinians view national sovereignty as means for their own aspirations to contingent whiteness. There is therefore an inherent risk within the Palestinian movement for settler-decolonization of reifying anti-blackness: in seeking to overthrow the yolk of Zionist settler-colonization without addressing the racist logics motivating its annihilationist assumptions, Palestinians risk restoring indigenous sovereignty and reproducing the same state structures predicated on dehumanizing a putative other. Not all settlers are the same. Removing the settler without combating the supremacist logics that facilitated her presence risks leaving those logics intact.
Mapping possible strategies and frameworks that address these risks is a critical task for the Palestinian movement. Worthwhile questions include what is the proper place of African Jewish-Israelis and African asylum-seekers in an anti-Zionist framework? What are the possibilities and limitations of coalition with Middle Eastern Jews? How does attention to or elision of Afro-Palestinian communities inform understandings of Palestinian liberation? These are all questions that help to guide our thinking beyond the Palestinian exception and to use the practice of Palestinian struggle and resistance as a platform for addressing liberation not just for a nation, but, more broadly, for humanity’s expendable populations.
For further reading: Noura Erakat, Whiteness as Property in Israel: Revival, Rehabilitation, and Removal, 31 Harv. J.Racial & Ethnic Just. 69 (2015).
This video project is the culmination of over a year's work with an incredible team of writers, media advocates, music producers, film editors, and lots and lots and lots of solid friends. We dropped it on 14 October 2015 and it went viral, so to speak. The media coverage was extensive because of the noteworthy participants in the video and the fact that the project built on a mounting legacy of movement building between Black and Palestinian communities. Here's a blurb about the video from the website:
Black-Palestinian solidarity is neither a guarantee nor a requirement - it is a choice. We choose to build with one another in a shoulder to shoulder struggle against state-sanctioned violence. A violence that is manifest in the speed of bullets and batons and tear gas that pierce our bodies. One that is latent in the edifice of law and concrete that work together to, physically and figuratively, cage us. We choose to join one another in resistance not because our struggles are the same but because we each struggle against the formidable forces of structural racism and the carceral and lethal technologies deployed to maintain them. This video intends to interrupt that process – to assert our humanity – and to stand together in an affirmation of life and a commitment to resistance. From Ferguson to Gaza, from Baltimore to Jerusalem, from Charleston to Bethlehem, we will be free.
If Israeli Tactics in Gaza Are Legal, No One is Safe: Response to Michael N. Schmitt and John J. Merriam
In their forthcoming paper, The Tyranny of Context: Israeli Targeting Practices in Legal Perspective, Michael Schmitt and John J. Merriam examine Israel’s targeting practices against the Gaza Strip and Lebanon. Their purpose is to scrutinize the context in which these attacks take place as well as the Israeli Army’s relevant legal standards regulating them.
Their findings are based on two visits to Israel in December 2014 and February 2015. During those visits, the Israeli Army granted them:
…unprecedented access that included a “staff ride” of the Gaza area, inspection of an Israeli operations center responsible for overseeing combat operations, a visit to a Hamas infiltration tunnel, review of IDF doctrine and other targeting guidance and briefings by IDF operations and legal personnel who have participated in targeting. The authors also conducted extensive interviews of senior IDF commanders and key IDF legal advisers. (3)
The methodological approach should raise, at least, a few red flags. Schmitt and Merriam are aware of their problematic methodological approach and write:
Although the approach might be perceived as leading to a pro-Israeli bias, the sole purpose of the project was to examine Israeli targeting systems, processes and norms in the abstract; no attempt was made to assess targeting during any particular conflict or the legality of individual attacks. (3)
In essence, they acknowledge that this entire paper examines what IDF lawyers say rather than what IDF operators do. At best – we should read it as a supplementary report to the Israeli Army’s war manual: it is just theoretical. That may be acceptable, but the authors go on to say:
With respect to the resulting observations and conclusions, note that the authors combine extensive academic and operational experience vis-à-vis targeting and therefore were in a unique position to assess the credibility and viability of Israeli assertions. The result was a highly granular and exceptionally frank dialogue. (4)
So what they tell us at first, that this paper is just “in the abstract,” they also claim is “granular and exceptionally frank.” Moreover, they claim that their combined experience enables them to assess the “credibility and viability” of Israel’s claims. This is an arguably impossible task if they do not assess Israel’s assertions about their practices in comparisons to actual practice. In fact, the next fifty-some pages read like an estimable apology on Israel’s behalf. The authors accept nearly everything their respondents say, and even what they decline to say, at face-value. The authors assert the authoritative nature of their findings although they do not interview a single Palestinian or Lebanese civilian who has been subject to Israel’s military attacks. They do not even bother to review the reports describing Israel’s operational practices. Several of those reports have alleged that Israel’s practices constitute war crimes. The words “war crimes” appear only twice in the paper: in the titles of articles they cite in their footnotes. Their exceptional reference to Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International reports are primarily to support claims regarding attacks on Israel by Hamas or Hezbollah.
As my colleague and legal scholar on laws of war explained to me, he has become accustomed to reading such reports like an anthropologist. Indeed, the value of this paper is its insightful display of the production of knowledge on national security and counter-terrorism from the US and Israeli metropolises. While this may be reason to dismiss the paper all together, it is also precisely why the paper merits response. Schmitt and Merriam are hardly insignificant. Their tremendous body of scholarship and influence means that their interventions will be taken very seriously and will inevitably bear upon the ways we come to understand, justify, and/or reject the development of the laws of armed conflict. This short piece aims to use three select examples to highlight the methodological shortcomings that give rise to insufficiently tested findings that are emblematic of the paper. For the sake of specificity and fidelity to context, I will focus just on Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014, 51-day attack on the Gaza Strip.
1) “The single most important facet of warfare from Israel’s perspective is the proximity of the threat.”
In this passage beginning on page 5, Schmitt and Merriam discuss the implications of proximity of the threat emerging from the Gaza Strip. They assess that such proximity denies Israel the advantage of “expeditionary force” and, therefore, it must be prepared to fight “…within minutes, and sometimes within view, of their homes.” Conversely, this spatial reality affords Israel the benefit of interior position or, “the virtue of enabling one to concentrate forces quickly and maneuver them in any direction the situation may warrant.”
Schmitt and Merriam discuss the military implications of the Gaza Strip’s proximity but fail to address its fundamental nature: Israel’s military occupation. The Gaza Strip is the western-most frontier of Mandate Palestine that Israel did not conquer in the 1948 War, which it subsequently occupied in 1967. The coastal enclave is proximate because Israel established itself in the area already inhabited by native Arabs and who were promised self-determination under the League of Nations Mandate system. This history matters for two reasons.
Firstly, this history brings into play the right of a people under alien occupation and colonial domination to use force in pursuit of their self-determination captured in Article 1(4) of Additional Protocol I. This provides the legal justification for Palestinians to use force against Israel. Notably, the authors mention this right much later in the paper where they muse whether Israel’s opposition to Article 1(4) mirrors the U.S.’s position, that national liberation movements lack the resources and accountability mechanisms to fulfill the duties and obligations of international law. While they do not resolve this issue, they note,
Although not directly bearing on the issue of Israeli targeting, note that the Israeli position deprives members of national liberation movements of any belligerent immunity for their attacks on Israeli targets, including those that qualify as military objectives. (31)
They do not raise the obvious conundrum that Israel’s position simultaneously incapacitates the Palestinian population from using force, even with weapons capable of precision-strikes, while fully and arbitrarily subjecting them to Israel’s military prowess. In fact, they qualify this condition by claiming that it does not bear “on the issue of Israeli targeting” at all. Schmitt and Merriam note this without irony as they discuss the “tyranny of context.”
Secondly, the status of the Gaza Strip, namely whether or not it is occupied, impacts Israel’s permissible use of force against it. The authors say that Hamas has been in control of the coastal enclave since 2007 but fail to probe whether that control is tantamount to the cessation of occupation under the Geneva Conventions. While Israel has insisted that its occupation ended upon its unilateral withdrawal in 2005, numerous scholars (seehere, here, and here) as well as the Office of the Prosecutor and the Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission to Gaza have insisted that the occupation continues and remains consequential. In sum- if the territory is occupied, Israel has the duty to protect the civilians under occupation and in cases of unrest, it can use law enforcement authority to resume order. In contrast, if it can invoke self-defense in law (UN Charter and/or customary law) then it can resort to military force. Notably, since 2001 Israel’s High Court has insisted that it can apply both the law of occupation to govern the Occupied Territory as well as the law of armed conflict (LOAC) to quell unrest. (Can’an v. IDF Military Commander). By 2005, they find that LOAC supersedes Occupation Law. (Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v. The Government of Israel). This means that it can deny Palestinians the right to govern themselves and simultaneously use military force to thwart their resistance to military rule. Israel’s High Court has been in lockstep with its Government in maintaining a military occupation and deeming it a war against terror.
Context here is consequential. The Gaza Strip is not proximate to Israel by random fortune- but because Israel established itself in Mandate Palestine by war and literally removed and dispossessed its native Palestinian inhabitants. This conquest remains contested by Palestinians and that is the root source of ongoing conflict.What Schmitt and Merriam swiftly disregard as proximate asymmetric violence is in fact the function of ongoing and unresolved claims over Israel’s authoritative jurisdiction. Obscuring this context risks creating a new body of law intended to protect a power’s colonial holdings as it gives the impression that Israel is using force to defend itself when, in fact, it is using force to squash Palestinian claims and militarily resolve the dispute over its control. Simultaneously, Israel criminalizes all Palestinian use of force in response, or otherwise, as terroristic. The authors in/advertently reify this false and counterproductive narrative without scrutiny.
2) “…[C]asualty-aversion leads Israel to liberally apply force…”
In the same section on operational context, Schmitt and Merriam explain that the Israeli Army is a conscript force. The diffuse and shared nature of military service shapes Israeli values and thus how Israel engages in warfare. In particular, the public’s aversion to soldier casualties “…leads Israel to liberally apply force, particularly airstrikes and counter-battery fire, in order to ‘guarantee force protection.’” (8) This, the authors explain, also impacts Israeli sensitivity towards captured personnel and shaped the Hannibal Doctrine- the operational doctrine wherein the mission is to rescue a soldier from captivity at all costs including (fatal) injury to Israeli personnel.
While Schmitt and Merriam do not explicitly say so, the proposition above unduly shifts the risk of warfare from soldiers to enemy civilians; an incredibly controversial position. So much so that it occupied a series of essays and responses between the authors of the proposition and other legal scholars. Proportionality in ongoing hostilities demands that a belligerent’s military advantage outweigh the harm it causes to civilians and civilian infrastructure. Under Israel’s force protection rubric, its military advantage includes heightened security afforded to its soldiers. While all armed forces consider force protection as part of its military advantage, Israel’s proposal is radical in that it considers its soldiers lives to be more valuable than those of enemy civilians. Therefore, when assessing proportionality, it tolerates greater numbers of civilian deaths and injuries so long as that spares its soldiers from harm. The outcome of this almost ensures devastating results. At the most extreme end of this proposition is that a belligerent force could carpet bomb its adversary for the sake of preserving their soldiers’ lives, thus destroying those gains achieved by anti-colonial struggles and captured in Additional Protocols I and II. Colonized and occupied peoples would thus be subject to nearly unregulated military force. Consider the testimony of sixty Israeli soldiers who fought in the 2014 Gaza Offensive testified to very lenient rules of engagement including directives to “shoot at anything that moves.” These rules of engagement may very well reflect Israel’s radical force protection proposition. Notably, Israeli forces killed approximately 2,100 Palestinians, including 504 children during Operation Protective Edge.
Schmitt and Merriam do not take serious issue with this proposition. In fact, they do not mention the implications of Israel’s force protection until some 35 pages later in their section on Proportionality. There, they simply note their surprise and then their passive acceptance for the novel approach:
Both authors were struck by the weight of accorded in the proportionality analysis to the military advantage of protecting the civilian population and individual soldiers. Although they would not label it unwarranted in light of the unique operational context in which Israel finds itself, it was clear to them that avoidance of harm to the Israeli civilian population and the protection of individual soldiers loomed large in Israeli proportionality calculations. (45)
Among the examples they provide to demonstrate the application of this approach is Israel’s deadly operation in Rafah where its Army applied the Hannibal Doctrine. Schmitt and Merriam mention that Israel’s rules of engagement “…reportedly resulted in as many as 114 deaths in Rafah.” (46) They say nothing more about the significance of these civilian losses that may put Israel’s proposition into question. For example, they do not share that the Israeli Army admitted to sealing off a 1.5 mile radius so that no one could flee. Nor did they say that according to an Israeli officer, they released 500 artillery shells onto the area over the next eight hours, nor the fact that they also conducted 100 airstrikes over the course of two days. They do not mention that the commander of the Givati Brigade said to the Associated Press "That's why we used all this force…Those who kidnap need to know they will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade."
Israel’s proportionality assessment has had horrifying consequences. Schmitt and Merriam discuss nothing of this and simply state that Israel factors in “rescue and survival” into its military advantage in ways that would tolerate greater collateral damage. One of the authors agrees with the Israeli Army’s approach and the other believes that this is only significant for determining “the military feasibility of precautions in attack…” (46) Neither author critically assesses the unprecedented harm this approach would impose on civilians caught in warfare especially those civilians caught in anti-colonial struggles.
3) “The civilians are hopefully frightened into dispersing.”
In their discussion on aerial targeting practices, Schmitt and Merriam discuss Israel’s “knock on the roof” policy. This is the practice of shooting a missile at a home or building in order to warn the civilians of an impending strike. The policy is highly controversial. The relatively small rocket causes damage. A rocket in and of itself, regardless of the size has the impact of causing shock and often paralysis. When used by Israel, the larger rocket usually makes impact 45 seconds to three minutes later not providing adequate time to flee. In some instances, no rocket follows and the small rocket can constitute psychological warfare upon Palestinians. The authors discuss none of these details. In fairness, they describe the technique as “controversial.” They write
The technique involves employing small sub-munitions that impact one corner of the roof and detonates as very small explosions that produce noise and concussion, several minutes ahead of the strike. The civilians are hopefully frightened into dispersing. Once they have cleared the target area, the IDF launches the attack. (17)
The authors go to great lengths to downplay the size and scope of the rocket. They implicitly suggest that the Israeli Army waits for the civilians to leave before launching the second and larger missile, and explicitly say so in their footnote. This has hardly been the case as indicated by the numbers of Palestinians killed in their homes. The most troubling part of this passage, however, is their comment that the “civilians are hopefully frightened into dispersing” indicating an ambivalence about the efficacy of the warning technique while simultaneously acknowledging its psychological impact of creating fear. The authors characterize this practice as legal because it is incidental to a legitimate military objective. In contrast, they concur with Israeli legal advisers that the fear wrought by Palestinian rockets is illegal, even if they do not pose a deathly threat, because they intend to cause fear. (45) Reference to empirical evidence undermines these findings. Based on their investigation, for example, the FIDH concluded that “rather than minimising loss of civilian life, Israel’s warning policy fomented massive forced displacement and spread confusion and fear among the population.” (23) OCHA reported
Throughout the conflict there was a real fear among the population that no person or place was safe, as evidenced by attacks on hospitals, residential buildings and schools designated as shelters. Psychosocial distress levels, already high among the population of Gaza, have worsened significantly as a result of the conflict.
Later Schmitt and Merriam claim that the technique is used exceptionally when other warnings have proven futile- this based solely on what their Israeli interlocutors have told them. They then claim, as a matter-of-fact, that “the technique is only used when the building has been converted into a military objective through use (such as weapons storage)” again based solely on Israeli intelligence. (49) A cursory reading of any of the reports and commentary conducted on Israel’s warning system, or lack thereof, would provide a completely different assessment. (See e.g., United Nations, Amnesty International, B’tselem, Al Mezan, Human Rights Watch, FIDH).
The authors defend the fact that Israel does not always afford adequate time to flee. They explain this situation typically arises
…when the enemy is using the warnings to either know when and where to use human shields or take measures to prevent the civilians there from leaving. Such practices may leave only a narrow window of opportunity to strike before the number of individuals likely to be harmed in the attack rises. Therefore, a strike soon after a warning may in certain circumstances be the best means for minimizing civilian injury even when it does not afford civilians a great deal of time to leave or take shelter. (49)
Schmitt and Merriam are making an absolute proposition: when Israel forces believe necessary to achieve their military objective, they must strike immediately even if civilians do not have time to flee or a place to shelter. They implicitly suggest that in such a case, Israel is relieved of its duty to assess whether such harm is proportional because it issued a warning, essentially giving its forces free reign to use force. Had the authors considered operational practice it may have included a discussion of the United Nations’ Board of Inquiryfindings. That investigation concluded that Israel indeed struck seven UNRWA schools, several providing shelter to civilians, and none were storing weapons or militants. Israel responded that it was investigating these claims. How does this operational practice recalibrate the authors’ analysis? How can we take their findings seriously if they are not even considered?
The paper is rife with similar examples: explanation/apology for Israel’s rules of engagement without examining their application in operational practice. Schmitt and Merriam’s omissions merit much deeper scrutiny and engagement. Just scratching the surface reveals their flawed methodological approach and the inadequate engagement with the implications of their findings. In the best-case scenario, readers will approach their essay like a supplement to Israel’s Army Manual and read it with leisurely interest. In the worst, and more likely scenario, this work will significantly bear upon the production of knowledge regarding national security and humanitarian law and have fatal and devastating consequences. This does not only bear upon Israel’s wars but especially those waged by the United States against both state and non-state actors. For this reason, we should treat this essay with the alarm it merits.
Originally Published on Jadaliyya on 18 June 2015
Moderated by Noura Erakat
In the course of resilience against the merciless edge of state violence in the summer 2014, protestors in Ferguson held up signs declaring solidarity with the people of Palestine. In turn, Palestinians posted pictures on social media with instructions of how to treat the inhalation of tear gas. Organically, an analysis emerged highlighting similarities, but not sameness, of Black and Palestinian life, and more aptly, of their survival.
But before the violent and tragic events of summer 2014 unfolded, a critique of anti-Black racism among Arab communities in the United States and the Arab world had emerged putting into question the “natural” solidarity between Palestinians and Blacks. This often played out in competing claims in regards to Black solidarity and legacies of Black liberation struggles by Zionists and Palestinians, who among themselves are not necessarily in agreement. In turn, Black writers and activists responded to those claims withrejection, ambivalence, or affirmation based on different normative values. These interventions seemed to speak past one another for lack of a singular point of departure. Does the question of Black solidarity turn on a political commitment to combat white supremacy? Can that be done, even if victims of supremacist violence knowingly, or unknowingly, reify anti-blackness? If not, what is the proper response? If so, what is the proper response?
At the core of these exchanges is an unequivocal recognition of the value of Black solidarity and Black liberation legacies that has not been commensurate with an appreciation for ongoing struggles against structural and literal violence afflicting Black communities the world over. This dissonance thus embodies the risk of reproducing anti-blackness and occluding responsibility for it. In so doing, the critique has also given rise to interesting questions about race, race-formation, and racism in the Arab world. Could a US-based anti-racist framework be applied indiscriminately across space? Does such a question fundamentally misunderstand the thrust of anti-blackness? What could be gained by clarifying the meaning of anti-blackness, often read as a stand-in for one form of racism rather than a framework that informs how the nation-state comes to embody technologies of power, coercion, and violence that determine death and the possibilities of life? By extension, and based on these competing understandings, how does a lack of critical engagement with the meanings of solidarity also risk reifying anti-blackness? And how could a politics committed to liberation beyond the possibilities of state reformation serve as a corrective?
The controversies engendered by discussions of anti-blackness, Israeli settler-colonialism, and Black-Palestinian solidarity, have turned on multiple and interchanging axes that often obscured what was at stake. As a result, the discussion seemed to be an effective iron rod for tension but never a productive space for reflection, self-reflexive analysis, and, ideally re-orientation. The inclination amongst the most committed and strident activists has been to bury the conversation or have it in private spaces to avoid the incendiary and unintended outcomes of critical inquiry mediated by social media. In our time of the Black Lives Matter movement and the continued struggle for decolonization and settler decolonization, this Roundtable brings together public intellectuals to bring criticism, in the liberatory sense that Edward Said theorized the term, to bear on interconnected struggles.
Beyond scholarly inquiry, this conversation is happening organically across the country and globe among organizers building a movement daily. In the streets of Ferguson, in the 250-mile March2Justice from New York to DC, on the several recent delegations to Palestine (see here, here, and here), at the Color of Violence 4 conference in Chicago, on university campuses in Occupied Palestine, activists are having these discussions with one another and, sometimes, answering these questions in deed rather than in words.
This Roundtable seeks to highlight those conversations and synergies in an attempt to better understand what a commitment to anti-blackness should look like in the Palestinian solidarity movement and among Black-Palestinian solidarity efforts. The questions posed to the respondents deal primarily with the framework of anti-Blackness and its relationship to Palestine and solidarity without adequately interrogating the ways in which anti-Blackness manifests itself among and between Black and Palestinian communities. The respondents include scholars and activists who are often one and the same. Some of the responses help elucidate relevant theoretical frameworks, others use ongoing scholarly research to help provide historical depth and nuance, while others emphasize how practice informs these inquiries. Their responses are hardly uniform, as they reflect different disciplinary approaches and political frameworks for understanding anti-blackness, the Palestinian question, and solidarity, respectively. The Roundtable, therefore, does not point to a definitive answer. Instead it reflects the myriad approaches to the conversation to help provide a point of departure in ways that spark more questions, more responses, more provocation, and engender more spaces in which to grapple with them, including on these pages. It is our hope that this serves as a useful pedagogical and political instrument within the classroom and in the streets where the battle for justice and emancipation rages.
Roundtable Participants (listed in alphabetical order):
Rabab Abdulhadi is an Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies/Race and Resistance Studies and the Senior Scholar of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative, at the College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University. Before joining SFSU, she served as the first director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan, Dearborn.
Ahmad Abuznaid is a lawyer and founding member of the Dream Defenders and co-organizer of 2014 delegation of Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and Dream Defenders representatives to Palestine.
Ebony Coletu is an Assistant Professor of English at Penn State University. Formerly she taught in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com, Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Justice.
Che Gossett is an archivist and activist who works to excavate queer of color AIDS activist and trans archives. They have contributed to Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex and BCRW’s Scholar & Feminist Online and Queer Necropolitics.
Sarah Ihmoud is a doctoral candidate in social/activist anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a Palestinian American Research Center Fellow, a Wenner-Gren Foundation Fellow, and is currently conducting dissertation research on sexuality, intimacy, and settler colonialism in Palestine/Israel.
Robin D.G. Kelley is the Distinguished Professor of History & Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in United States History at UCLA. Kelley is the author of seven books including Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (The Free Press, 2009).
Aja Monet is an internationally established poet, performer, singer, songwriter, educator, and human rights advocate of Cuban-Jamaican descent.
Donna Murch is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University and the author of Living for the City: Migration, Education, and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).
Nadine Naber is an Associate Professor in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies and Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago and a member of the Diaspora Studies Cluster. She is the author of several books including, Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (NYU Press, 2012).
Linda Sarsour is a Palestinian American, racial justice and civil rights activist. She is the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York and co-founder of Muslims for Ferguson.
Jared Sexton is an Associate Professor and Director of the African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism (University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
Nadera Shalhoub is the Lawrence D. Biele Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law-Institute of Criminology and the School of Social Work and Public Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of several books including a forthcoming work entitled Security Theology, Surveillance and the Politics of Fear (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
1) What are two or three pressing questions about anti-blackness Black-Palestinian solidarity?
i) What habits of speech and practice can help shift the conversation of shared struggle from the metaphoric uses of blackness as the sign of disposability to linked fate that focuses on the interdependence of segregating, flattening, threatening institutions that distort our existence?
ii) How do we avoid bracketing blackness when it leads to contradictions in practice/analysis?
i) If we envision anti-blackness as a permanent structure of Black enslavement, and settler colonialism as a permanent structure of native elimination, what are the conditions of possibility for black and native survival and life?
ii) How might we begin to construct a theoretical perspective that, on the one hand, recognizes the pitfalls of the "people-of-color" paradigm (e.g., Sexton 2010) and on the other, is able to conceive of a set of potential political solidarities based on Black/Palestinian relationalities? Is there a basis for political solidarity between the Slave and the Native that does not mask complicity with structures of anti-blackness?
iii) If we analyze Israel as a settler colonial state, and thus, Palestinians as an indigenous peoples, how do we envision settler decolonization in terms that do not recapitulate to the very logics of white supremacy formative of the Israeli state that are inflected by anti-black animus; that is, what alternative political imaginaries might form the basis for an alternative epistemology?
2) What is Anti-blackness and how does it bear on the work of all organizers committed to combatting racialized violence regardless of context?
Anti-blackness is the tacit or explicit use of Blackness to mark what is undesirable, disposable, and not valued on a sliding scale of humanness, and it includes all of the pleasures and subtle benefits of that marking for those who do it. The impulse to deny anti-Blackness as a lived encounter and socially legitimized practice gives some clue about its acceptance and the work that goes into protecting it. Anti-blackness emerges from a robust set of interlocking legacy institutions that legitimize segregation and black invisibility, weaponized visibility, and ultimately black death to secure and prioritize white supremacy, renamed as a drive for ‘safety’. Rather than focus on a crisis of empathy for black death, anti-Blackness probes our political imagination to historicize the ways black disappearance, torture, devaluation, and the racialized optics of terror congeal into inevitability. As a result anti-Blackness reframes the question of how we die. Instead of viewing black death as a demographic issue that affects a particular population, it signals the importance of blackness as a predicate that releases those who kill black people from responsibility.
The challenge organizers face in addressing spectacularly racialized state violence and vigilantism, is to resist the urge to metaphorize slain black bodies as the master sign of disposability. We can then think of anti-blackness as a way of naming the operating assumption that Black people can be killed with impunity and instead of reinforcing that as an enduring fact, offer a broader prompt to reimagine our political futures beyond an exclusive claim to humanness premised on the disappearance or marginalization of blackness.
Women of color have been at the forefront of some of the most transformative “joint-struggle” work reflecting an analysis of the intersectionality of multiple oppressions and multiple struggles—recent examples include the Southwest Youth Collaborative’s (SWYC) work on Juvenile Justice and post-9/11 related war and racism; the interconnected anti-military recruitment campaign and Palestine Points of Unity initiated by INCITE!; the Women of Color Resource Center (WCRC) integration of Palestine solidarity within the organizing and activism for the World Conference against Racism in Durban in 2001; the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association’s dialogue on difficult issues between Black and Arab women in Seattle in 1994 and their multiracial coalition building related to Palestine, the Philippines, Iraq, indigenous struggles, the prison industrial complex, and more with ADC SF(now AROC) in the Bay Area in 1999 and 2000; and the recent joint struggle against Loyola university’s administration between Black students, Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Middle East Student Association.
There is a lot to be said about what can happen when movements place women of color, queer and transgender people of color’s life struggles at the center of struggles aimed at keeping people alive. At the least, masculinist paradigms that require diminishing difference and uniting and fighting are replaced with commitments to enlarging the frame for how we understand oppression; dismantling multiple oppressions and leaving no one behind; and prioritizing all forms of human dignity. As Black Lives Matters makes more clear than ever, the outcome is broader movements for dismantling many forms of racism, occupation, classism, and heteropatriarchy and their distinct intersections in different contexts.
Bill Fletcher Jr.
European colonialism introduced “race” as a method of oppression and social control, with the prototype being found in Spain and the English conquest of Ireland. Color was introduced during the slave trade as a means of creating an identifiable hierarchy to reinforce the system of colonialism and capitalism. "Black" has been used by various societies at various points to suggest a lower place in the socio-economic hierarchy, frequently associated with those who worked outside in the sun getting darker compared with those of an elite class who were inside. But "blackness" as a negative category associated with suppression and oppression is directly linked to the slave trade and colonialism. European colonization of much of the world introduced this particular variant on "color," thereby reinforcing prejudices through the construction of a system of oppression. Further, "black" is not simply a color. A very dark-skinned South Asian is not considered "black" by the oppressor in the United States, whereas a light-skinned African American is considered "black."
In the alternative, the late Steve Biko suggested a positive understanding of "blackness" that related to the conscious appreciation of the need to both take pride in one's heritage (as part of a racially oppressed group) and to engage in the struggle against racist and national oppression. This definition is incredibly important in that it helps us to understand how a South Asian in Britain or in South Africa or in Guyana will declare themselves to be "black" even if they are not directly of African origin. "Blackness," in that sense, takes on a progressive, political and internationalist framework.
Anti-blackness is a racial logic foundational to modernity and the liberal humanist framework, and thus, the very formation of the modern nation-state, shaping contemporary formations of race and gender regardless of socio-political context. Theorists of anti-blackness reveal that black intimacy with death is modernity’s condition of possibility. Despite the legal end of slavery and the formal colony, black captivity and social death endure in other forms, both discursively and as a political project, as “slavery’s afterlife”. The imagination of the white polis, and the paradigm of liberal civil society with its attendant discourses of rights, freedom, and law, relies on the exclusion of blacks altogether or their availability for gratuitous violence and premature death. Moreover, the symbolic non-value of blackness energizes the entire spectrum of human subject positions and thus, anti-blackness is the condition of possibility for the “universal subject,” or the “human”.
In this sense, then, anti-blackness is a provocative reframing of the black ontological condition that opens up our understanding of humanity as a structure of antagonisms. Moreover, the durability of blackness as a category equated with racial slavery and social death that transcends space and time, the impossibility of integration and thus, black life in the modern nation-state, raises a pointed critique of identity-based politics predicated on a politics of recognition, forcing a radical reimagining of liberatory projects for social change. Ending racial slavery would entail destroying the very category of the human, a relinquishing of desire for integration into the nation-state, a rejection of democracy itself and a radical break with Western epistemology as we know it.
3) How would you define Black-Palestinian solidarity? Is that an appropriate way to describe solidarity between Blacks in the United States invested in anti-racism work and Palestinians, generally, committed to anti-Zionism? Is there an optimal way to describe organic movement work dating back decades to the present as Black-Palestinian solidarity?
There is a sense in which we might understand “the essential blackness of the Palestinian struggle” as the interminable radicalization of every radical movement worthy of the name. I draw this phrase from a 2013 op-ed published in The Electronic Intifada by noted Palestinian American writer and activist Susan Abulhawa. There are various ways to read this phrase to be sure, too many to discuss in the present forum. But as a modest contribution, drawn from the history of express political solidarity with Palestine from black movements throughout the world, I would affirm, before specifying, what I think is the obscure truth indicated by the author of the critically-acclaimed novel, Mornings in Jenin. In a moment of friction with the editors of EI, it appears the article was titled against Abulhawa’s stated wishes: “The Palestinian Struggle is a Black Struggle.” The hope of the editorial decision was an expanded readership generated by provocation; the fear of the authorial objection was a broad misunderstanding running the risk of appropriation. The question raised thereby was symptomatic: how to tell the difference between solidarity, slight, and seizure? More precisely, the challenge is to understand a solidarity that seems to persist, in principle and in practice, despite problems of asymmetry or even antagonism; a solidarity that does not simply join the struggle, but exceeds it from within; a force of solidarity that is in the struggle more than the struggle itself?
The interconnections between Black and Palestinian struggles have been well established. Consider the framing that asserts these are “similar struggles” based on glaring evidence --about African American and Palestinian experiences with similar forms of systematic state violence, military occupation, and mass incarceration or about how many U.S. police officers brutally killing African Americans trained with the Israeli military. But asserting either “similarity” or a “shared enemy” (capitalism, imperialism, racism, etc.) cannot sustain long-term Black-Palestinian solidarity and has (intentionally or unintentionally) produced “transactional” forms of solidarity. In a U.S. context where simply asserting a Palestinian narrative (of dispossession, struggle, etc.) is a battle of its own, the transaction model establishes “solidarity” in exchange for legitimacy or visibility. And many Palestine solidarity activists have struggled with and against the opportunistic short term move of reaching out to Black liberation movements in ways that do not do much more than legitimizing our struggle or broadening our base.
This question reminds me of the work undertaken to declare Zionism as a form of racism in U.N. Assembly Resolution 3379, which was pivotal and complicated. The subsequent effort waged by Israeli and American government officials as well as proxy actors to undo the resolution (formally retracted in 1991) definitely demands critique, and we can do that while recognizing that a commitment to anti-racism does not necessarily capture the scope of anti-Zionism. Nor does it account for the varied invocations of Zionism within certain traditions of anti-racism work that have imagined freedom variously through the lens of settler-colonialism or remigration to an ancestral homeland.
Recently, I traced the movements and recruitment rhetoric of an ancestor who grew up in the Gold Coast, Alfred Charles Sam, who later collaborated with African Americans to facilitate resettlement in what is now Ghana. They invoked ‘African Zionism’ heavily throughout the movement (1911-1917). However, it eventually collapsed under the weight of questions about land ownership, local labor compensation, business development models, colonial taxation versus exemption, and indigenous rights. Later, waves of Rastafarian migration to Ghana also invoked a kind of Zionism without displacing or colonizing indigenous resources, but that does not rescue Zionism or 'blackwash' the concept. It just encourages us to look more closely at the negotiations that unfold in the wake of migration. How are desires and debates about land, distant kinship, religion, and the politics of entitlement resolved?
How can that history inform conversations within faith communities that rhetorically deploy Zionism in ways that seem to contradict the politics of solidarity? To what extent can solidarity be reframed as the work undertaken to forge connections even in the midst of contradictory commitments? And when do the contradictions nullify, or rely uncritically on a history of solidarity that has not been maintained? The answers may shift but the practice of relentless asking may help reimagine the roots/routes of Black-Palestinian solidarity.
“As a slave, the social phenomenon that engages my whole consciousness is, of course, the revolution. The slave -- and the revolution. Born to a premature death, a menial, subsistence-wage worker, odd-job man, the cleaner, the caught, the man under hatches, without bail--that's me, the colonial victim.” -- George L. Jackson,Blood in My Eye
I discovered in the course of researching George L. Jackson’s life, that the anthology of Palestinian poetryEnemy of the Sun by Naseer Aruri and Edmund Ghareeb was found in his cell after his assassination by prison guards. Jackson was so moved by the poem “Enemy of the Sun” that he wrote it down on a piece of paper. The Panthers in their eulogies for him thought it was written by Jackson – we can recall June Jordan -- “born black and now become Palestinian” -- however was authored by the Palestinian poet of resistance Sameeh al Qaseem. Yet as a social text, the poem transcends the domain of authorship, because it performs as poetics of prison abolitionist solidarity, a symbol of joint struggle and resistance to colonial prison regimes, anti-black racism and occupation, it traveled from Palestine to San Quentin. The book Enemy of the Sun was published by Drum and Spear Press, by three black women who were members of SNCC in 1969. As an abolitionist text, with an introduction that compared the Black and Palestinian liberatory poetics, it intended that this particular anthology of Palestinian resistance poetry find its way through the supposedly impenetrable walls and cages.
Bill Fletcher, Jr.
I would speak of African-American/Palestinian solidarity. While there have always been Black internationalists, e.g., Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Dubois, who would speak out on the conditions of the colonially oppressed, African American/Palestinian solidarity took a turn after the June 1967 war. It is at that point that elements in the Black Power Movement (a component of the larger Black Freedom Movement), spoke out vocally against Israeli aggression and in favor of Palestinian rights.
African American/Palestinian solidarity has always been a feature of the work of the post-1967 Black Left in the United States. Whether one is speaking of the Black Panther Party, Republic of New Africa, or multi-racial/multi-ethnic leftist organizations that had roots among African Americans, it is this group that took the lead in building various forms of political solidarity. To a great extent this was provocative and propagandistic in that there was an effort to shift and organize public opinion in favor of Palestinian rights.
I would qualify this solidarity by saying that Palestinian and Black radical politics entail a commitment to struggling against racism, Zionism, Orientalism, Islamophobia, and all forms of structural inequalities, based on gender, sexuality, class, age, ability, citizenship, etc. I am arguing here against exceptionality and identity politics that oftentimes suggest that racism only affects Blacks who should fight against it; only Palestinians are affected by Zionism and should therefore struggle against it or only Indigenous people are impacted by US settler colonialism and must dismantle it. It is as if Blacks, Palestinians and Indigenous people were special interest groups. This is about principled and strategic alliances by organizers and scholar-activists who share similar politics and worldviews.
Black-Palestinian solidarity has had a long and rich history that we can trace back to much earlier times than the recent expressions in Ferguson, Baltimore, Gaza or Nazareth. This includes by Malcolm X, Robert Williams, Black Panthers Party, SNCC, Patrice Lumumba Coalition, the African and Caribbean Resource Center, the December 12th Coalition, and the 1968 Student Strikers at San Francisco State University, to name a few. The same applies to Palestinian solidarity with Black Power movement, including support for Mohammad Ali in his defiance of the US military orders to fight in Vietnam and the letter sent by Palestinian freedom fighters who were incarcerated in Israeli jails to Angela Davis, who was imprisoned at the time in US jails.
I think solidarity is active listening and creates empathy manifested in praxis. Genuine solidarity is radical love and demands of us the decolonizing of our imaginations, dismantling our programming. If we are talking about Black-Palestinian solidarity then we are talking about how those who hate us, as manifest in a logic of disdain and dehumanization, are organized and partnered in our oppression. It means we must create less “safe” spaces and more spaces of risk, spaces where we confront our internalized pain and suffering, where we make healing a necessity by personal transformation. I would define Black-Palestinian solidarity as a unified force to combat hatred and anti-blackness. When I speak of blackness I speak of an other-ing that racism has coopted in order to rationalize a deep hatred for the difference between us. Blackness is an all encompassing entity with dimensions far deeper than a mere visible color, it is the soul of any and every movement and so Black-Palestinian solidarity is not something specific to Black and Palestinian people but is simply solidarity. Solidarity is that guttural feeling of “we are in this together” and it demands that we make change towards our future a necessary demand in every area of our lives. It requires a perspective that recognizes our interconnectedness.
There is always a moral or ethical reason to stand with the oppressed, and many do so accordingly, but for true solidarity to be present there must be a common goal, for Blacks in the US and for Palestinians, we are fighting systems of dehumanization which both invoke and advance white supremacy. I often think of the heavily cited James Baldwin quote “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time”.
Although we can make argument for the moral, strategic, and passionate justification for this solidarity, there are Palestinians who are anti-black, it is difficult to name a community that is not since the subjugation of Blacks is definitive of U.S. society. Some are anti-black because of their intention to assimilate into whiteness; other factors add into this dynamic as well. In January 2015, the Dream Defenders organized a delegation to Palestine. In part, the purpose was to expose oppressed communities in the U.S. to the Palestinian struggle, and its relation to, and implications for, life in the heart of the U.S. empire. It was also also a moment to show Palestinians that these communities identify with our struggles. None of our communities can do this alone, so Palestinians should know that there are those in the belly of the beast who are just as hungry for true liberation.
In some ways, partially because of my age but also because of my scholarly focus on Black Power and Black Liberation of the postwar era (1940s-1970s) I view the current deepening of African American and Palestinian solidarity through the lens of anti-colonial struggle and anti-racism more broadly. This convergence is certainly not a new one and indeed from the fight back against the land dispossession of 1948 to the influence of Arab nationalism on Malcolm X, radical elements within the Black Freedom movement saw supporting a free Palestine as an essential part of the global politics of national liberation. In the years since the end of the Cold War and with the emergence of this new movement against state sanctioned violence in the United States, the discourse of anti-blackness has become a way to talk about the centrality of domestic repression against African Americans (and peoples of African descent more broadly) to the carceral agendas of mass incarceration, police militarization and what are increasingly understood as projects of racial genocide. I think this is an important lens for the mobilization of a new generation of activists. But I also feel that it is difficult to uncouple the history of anti-blackness embodied in enslavement, forced labor, criminalization, racial apartheid and outright murder from that of Indian killing and expropriation as well as the United States’ history of imperial violence not only on the North American continent, but throughout the world. In this sense, the historical memory of the nonaligned movement, international solidarity struggles and the transnational anti-colonial left remains essential to how we build solidarity struggle today. Moreover, just as a long tradition of African American Palestinian solidarity informs current anti-state violence youth activism, it is also instructive for strengthening ties between Palestinians and communities of African descent throughout the Arab world.
It’s really more than a competing history of oppression. Blackness is the constant creation of death in order to allow the potential of life and living power of others. And this is what we see today, it is a continuous death. Analytically if you discuss something that is dead it is no longer there; legally you have to have a death certificate, medically you need to have a dead body but it’s this fear of the living power of the Palestinian body and the fear of the Black dead body and living body that puts us in the same category. It’s a part of the necropolitical framework, one that reflects the political economy of life and death in its everydayness, in its intimacy, its sexuality, its economic gains, and its geopolitical scope.
Solidarity is about death and social death. We are talking about two groups that are globally perceived as living dead. As a Palestinian, I see clearly, that on a global level, Palestinians do not have a right to exist. Israelis have a right to exist because of a Biblical right and in that narrative we are invaders and are disturbing a world order. This is where I see solidarity between Blacks and Palestinians because the political economy of Blackness is the political economy of Palestinianness whereby there is other-ization and being perceived in zoological terms, in the Fanon sense. Consider the Balfour Declaration- therein we are not even people to be consulted. And the same can be said of Blacks- who are slaves and should not be consulted. They are not there to be consulted, we are not even people.
4) What is the place to address Islamophobia in the context of Black-Palestinian solidarity? Is it an impediment to movement building? If so, how can it be dealt with without creating false binaries between Muslim and Black communities given that the largest population of Muslims in the United States are Black?
Robin D.G. Kelley
Ideally, a principled anti-racist, social justice movement will always call out and resist Islamophobia, not to mention anti-Black racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of racist/sexist/homo- and trans-phobic tendencies, actions and behaviors. Being principled is not an impediment, but it will produce unavoidable challenges, temporarily fracture alliances, reveal contradictions, and create dissent. But we must always remember that it isthe racial regime that generates “false binaries,” not movement strategy or tactics. Our task is to expose these false binaries by resisting all manifestations of racism everywhere; to reveal how “the Muslim” is produced as a racialized subject, what the process masks (e.g., that people of African descent make up the majority of Muslims in the U.S., that there is no relationship between political violence and Islam, that the “clash of civilizations” discourse is a racist fabrication); to thoroughly grasp the changing character of anti-Black racism in a context in which a Black petit-bourgeoisie exercises significant power and influence over the very machinery of state violence, economic exploitation, and social misery.
Islamophobia is crucial for the success of the master Zionist narrative in the Black community that does not recognize that many of the Africans who were kidnapped from their homelands in West Africa and enslaved in the Americas were Muslims. Islamophobia also comes up in accounts of Malcolm X. In his “Ballot or Bullet” speech, he contrasts how US “mainstream” media refers to him as a Muslim Minister but does not apply the same logic to Christian ministers. This is obviously not accidental. In fact, Orientalist Zionists have deliberately popularized the notion that Islam was more damaging to Africa than colonialism or that Arabs and Muslims were solely responsible for the African slave trade. This is not an attempt to sugar coat the fact that Arabs and/or Muslims (and others) did participate in the slave trade. However, slave trade (among European, Arab and Africans or Christians, Jews or Muslims) was premised not on skin color but rather on war victories. Linking racism to skin color has been part and parcel of the creation and institutionalization of plantation economy at the heart of which was white supremacy. Finally, Zionism is at the heart of the US-based Islamophobia industry, from Pamela Geller and David Horowitz, to Sheldon Adelson who is hosting a big gathering at his casino headquarters in Las Vegas to devise strategies to defeat the growing BDS movement.
Bill Fletcher Jr.
Islamophobia is found in the work of the right-wing elements of the Black Church. It is a manifestation of a form of Christian Zionism. Those who argue, incorrectly, that there is a Jewish entitlement to Palestine, allegedly approved in the Bible, stoke this trend.
I have felt for a long time that there is a need for a strong theological counter-offensive, originating in the African American community, against Christian Zionism. It must challenge a certain 'reading' of the Bible, including suggestions that could lead certain people to believe that genocide against the Palestinians is somehow legitimate. In the absence of a theological wing to our movement, it may ultimately be difficult to gel a constituency to become very vocal and active. To the extent that the Christian Zionists can make arguments that seem to resonate with what many of us learned in Sunday School, there will, at best, be paralysis in the face of Christian Zionism.
5) There seems to be a conflation between the Arab-American community, the US-based solidarity community, Palestinians resident in Occupied Palestine and Arabs writ large in discussions regarding Anti-Blackness and Black-Palestinian Solidarity. For example, legitimate criticism highlights how Palestine solidarity activists “expect” Black solidarity, and even if not, they invoke examples of Black liberation struggles without adequately combatting anti-Blackness. In other instances, the critique is leveled at Palestinians in Occupied Palestine who are accused of harboring anti-Blackness as a matter of fact. Still in other discussions the question is about racism and anti-Blackness throughout the Arab world, or twenty-two Arab states without distinction for their economic, social, cultural, and political histories. How does one responsibly discuss anti-Blackness in relation to Black-Palestinian solidarity without inadvertently collapsing these distinct classes into a single one?
I definitely find that collapsing differences is problematic at best and malicious at worst. First, many advocates for justice for/in Palestine are neither Palestinian nor white; they are rather Indigenous, Black, Latina/o, and Asian and/or come from other marginalized communities, such as the undocumented or poor and working people (who might be one and the same). Secondly, we should note that Arabs, including Arab Christians, Muslims and Jews, who originate from North and East Africa, from Mauritania to Djibouti, and West Asia, from Yemen to Kuwait, come in all shades and colors, including a small African community in the old city of Jerusalem in Palestine. During the height of the Darfur crisis, Zionists tended to refer to warring Darfuris as Arabs attacking Africans in order to drive a wedge among members of the same Muslim community who looked the same and came from similar roots but were divided over resources. It was not beneficial to the Zionist, Orientalist, and racist establishment to clarify that this is the same community, lest the labeling of Arabs as racist be challenged. Third, while there are definite manifestations in the Arab (and the rest of the) world today on the privileging of a lighter skin color, this is more a function of colonial legacies by which race, class, gender and sexuality become instruments of neocolonialism rather than an inherent trait in Arab or other third world societies.
But how do we explain why Arab and Muslim immigrants to the U.S., including Palestinians, manifest racism toward communities of color, including anti-Blackness? In my view, to borrow from Adrienne Rich’s term in discussion compulsory heterosexuality, this is part and parcel of the herding of immigrants into whiteness in their unsuccessful quest to achieve full “Americanness” --a failed project no matter how hard they try precisely because settler colonial projects are inherently racist, hierarchical and oppressive.
This question already poses some of the distinctions that we need to sustain, which is to say, naming specific interventions according to the context in which they happen. But the analytic frameworks we have to make these distinctions sometimes feels limited because the pressure to understand anti-Blackness as a geographically and historically specific phenomenon—tethered to America and Europe, or as a strictly as a colonial legacy--hobbles efforts to say something more foundational. At the same time, we have to be cautious about global statements that forfeit specificity, which is why so much work has gone into understanding context-specific racialization and the places/moments when anti-Blackness functions as a political-economic tool for exploiting labor, justifying degraded forms of citizenship, and marking the boundaries of humanness.
The other challenge is to combat what Neldon Maldonado-Torres has called ‘defensive regionalism’ which declares race an irrelevant concept for a particular region. When speaking of or within Arab-majority states conversations are quickly shut down with contrary assertions that deny the presence of racism and anti-Blackness in particular while ahistorically taking racism for granted as an unchanging feature of life in these countries. Yet obviously within the ‘Arab-world’—which is in quotes only to recognize non-Arab and hybrid populations—we can look for the ways ethno-nationalism develops, how Arabization in particular occurred, and what kinds of paradoxes thrive in each cultural context. For instance, it doesn’t work to speak of blackness as a marker of ancestral enslavement in Egypt—but the urge to do so, to hail black bodies as abd/slave rests on this presumption. Nubians consistently reference their indigeneity to unsettle that logic and highlight the tandem erasure of native blackness alongside non-black migration and colonization in the production of modern Egyptian national identity. There are material and political consequences to this erasure that affect what resources are invested in their resettlement, land claims, and cultural preservation.
Bill Fletcher Jr.
First, part of building solidarity starts with mutual education. One aspect of that is the understanding of the development of the Arab World and Arab culture. It is incredibly important for African Americans to appreciate "Arab" as not equivalent to an ethnic group, in traditional terms, and, as a result understand the vast differences between Moroccan Arabs (and their relationship to the Berber/Amazigh people) and Iraqi Arabs, for example. The issue of "color" in the Arab World must be addressed in all of its complexity as with the issue of the Arab slave trade (in Eastern Africa). This is all very different, however, from the context within the United States. Arab-Americans, to a great extent, believed themselves to be "white", particularly if they were Christians. Second, African American/Palestinian solidarity is a political cause and must be treated as such. It is similar to the solidarity that existed between a certain wing of the Black Freedom Movement and the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. This solidarity existed despite the fact that various tensions existed between segments of the East Asian population in the United States and African Americans. This is a point that I emphasized to several African Americans on a delegation taken to Palestine in early 2014. That is, the existence of racism or race prejudice among Arab-Americans, or for that matter in the Arab World, is a matter separate from the political and moral obligation of African Americans to support Palestinian national self-determination.Third, there is an important recognition that must be made of the fact that oppression does not,ipso facto, give any group an enlightened consciousness on matters of race, class, gender, religion, or otherwise. It may make them more open to a broader and more progressive analysis, but such an analysis does not appear spontaneously.
Robin D.G. Kelley
As I suggest in my response to Question 4, without a deeper analysis of the national and global/imperial operations and histories of racism, we will continue to reproduce these sorts of binaries. I see the problem partly rooted in a myopic identity politics in which “Black” people and “Palestinians” are painted as monoliths, whose shared identity presumes a shared politics. Embedded in the question is part of the answer to the problem: too often we tend to substitute a complex historical perspective with an “identity” model of the world that collapses the kinds of differences I described in Question 4 (e.g., Black people/ Palestinians are natural rebels; Arabs are racist and Black people are victims; ad infinitum). We have a lot of history to learn and theoretical and interpretive work to do in order to move to a more sophisticated and radical politics. For example, Palestinian solidarity activists (irrespective of color) are often shocked by Black Zionists defending Israel, and yet supporting Zionism has long been the default position among African American leadership at least before 1967. There is an historical logic to this apparent paradox, which many scholars have addressed. Simply put, we need to know more and engage these questions at a much deeper level. This is why recent studies by Keith P. Feldman, Alex Lubin, Melani McAlister, Nikhil Singh and others are so valuable for advancing a new, transformative antiracist politics that doesn’t descend into cartoon identities but grasps how slavery, colonialism, dispossession, the war on terror, etc., are constitutive of the current racial regimes in all of its global dimensions. While the fight to end the occupation and perpetual war against Palestinians, and to end state violence against Black and Brown people have set the stage for the latest manifestations of solidarity, these cannot be the end goals. The ultimate objective, as I understand it, is the complete dismantling of the racial regimes themselves and the elimination of all forms of oppression.
6) What does a commitment to anti-Blackness look like at least in the context of US-based Palestine solidarity organizing?
We can turn to long-standing examples where “joint struggle” work extends beyond the “already converted” solidarity activists. Consider the relationships between Palestinian, Black, and Latino communities established between 1991 and 2012 in Chicago through the SWYC. SWYC had three after school youth centers and a Community Organizing Initiative. Their vision, work, and structure had communities working together across cultural/racial/ethnic boundaries and they were intentional about centering the different surrounding local communities. Day to day connections brought about an organic coalitional consciousness whereby those involved understood and addressed the many connected forms of racism, solidarity with Palestinians, etc. Recently, members of Greater Detroit’s Z Collective have been discussing a plan for hosting private women's circles to talk within Arab American communities not only about issues impacting “Arabs,” but also about the connected issues of anti-Black racism in light of the hierarchical and fraught context of Arab-Black relations in Greater Detroit.
Yet many collaborative initiatives lack a long-term agenda; have failed to bring to life “joint struggle” on the ground; and have been short lived. Since we do not exist outside racial capitalism, this painful and exhausting work requires (for Arab Americans) challenging anti-Black racism in our own communities --in the intimate spaces of our neighborhoods and living rooms and standing up when inter-racial marriages are banned or when racial tensions become inflamed. We need to show up for each other when any of us are colonized, sexually assaulted, intimidated, brutalized, or killed. And as recipients of the racist-imperialist corporate media and education system, Black and Arab communities generally need to do something about the limited knowledge and misinformation many of us carry about each other’s histories, traditions, and politics. The “big events” and the “photo ops” are important, but while we are organizing the next rally, let’s also focus on long-term joint campaigns and analyses and let us build life-long relationships.
Combatting anti-blackness in US-based Palestine solidarity organizing requires addressing what Hortense Spillers famously described as an historical “grid of identities running at perpendicular angles: things in serial and lateral array; beings in hierarchical and vertical array.” Needless to say, it matters greatly whether one speaks to and from the X or Y axis of a global matrix established by the epochal trade in enslaved Africans from the seventh century CE onward - from the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean basin toward the later transatlantic circuit, and whose pivot entailed a deepening and intensification of the internal slave trade throughout most of the African continent. There is, buried beneath modern colonial history and its opposition, what Saidiya Hartman terms “the still unfolding narrative of captivity, dispossession, and domination that engenders the black subject in the Americas” and whose subject-that-is-not-one pursues “a politics without a proper locus.” Without a locus or a land base, this landless, baseless politics, which lacks nothing at all, sits at the vertex of every sovereign claim, putting pressure on the work of solidarity with Palestine to consider another frame of reference altogether, to interrogate the basic assumptions of the struggle for liberation as such. Slavery is the threshold of the political world and the ongoing movement for abolition is a strange attractor radicalizing through the perverse affirmation of deracination, an uprooting of the natal and the national; a politics whose demand is, as the late Michel-Rolph Trouillot said of the Haitian Revolution, “too radical to be formulated in advance of its deeds.”
Theorizations of anti-blackness produce a critique of identity politics and multiracial coalitions, as any politics of recognition ultimately claims inclusion in civil society and humanity, masking complicity with structures of anti-blackness (see for example Sexton 2010, Wilderson 2010). Similarly, settler colonialism is a permanent structure of native elimination (e.g. Wolfe 2006), but the ontological position of the Native articulates with that of the Slave only when s/he claims genocide. When the Native does not claim a radical politics of refusal, but rather, some form of liberal inclusion, s/he too capitulates to the structure of white supremacy.
Anti-blackness is formative of the Israeli settler colonial state and consequently, the structural position of the Palestinian native is shaped by anti-black animus. The settler colonial regime’s inscription of terror against the Palestinian native’s body and home space has been the precondition for the life and ‘safety’ of the Jewish settler polity since the Nakba. It is thus that Palestinian suffering and death, in both its “exceptional” and mundane forms, must not be seen as an aberration to, but rather formative of the settler colonial state.
If we take this analysis to its logical conclusion, understanding that there is no integration for the Palestinian native into the Israeli settler state (to do so, she would have to cease being Palestinian), calls for a political project that goes beyond any state solution, towards a project of settler decolonization. Engaging the logic of anti-blackness forces us to reckon with a decolonization project that is not reducible to some form of native sovereignty wedded to the nation-state form, but one that seeks a far more radical break with Western epistemology, and the construction of a new world. Anything less is merely a deferred form of genocide for native Palestinians, and complicity with the structure of anti-blackness.
Abolition speaks to the unfinished project of ending anti-Black racism, racial capitalism, anti-trans, anti-queer, patriarchal policing, colonialism, and caging. June Jordan’s and James Baldwin’s archives speak to legacies of Black queer solidarity with Palestinian struggle. It was through what June Jordan called her “embattled baptisms”—Black queer poetic struggles against war and militarization, cages and carceral violence, apartheid, and occupation from Mississippi, Attica, Nicaragua, South Africa, Palestine and Lebanon—that she found renewed life. Under pinkwashing, Israel is figured as a site of queer modernity and the Middle East and North Africa, in Orientalizing and anti-black fashion are portrayed as backwards, uncivilized, ever infantile, and outside of the temporal and spatial coordinates of Western modernity. Blackness has always figured as sexual/gender transgression and been subject to criminalization and regulation. Pinkwashing plays both on anti-black and anti-Arab sexual tropes. Queer and/or trans prison abolitionists and feminists of color, such as Angela Davis, Nadine Naber and many others, situate an anti-pinkwashing analysis within a broader vision of decolonization, carceral abolition, and transformative forms of justice. At the recent INCITE Women of Color Against Violence conference, I had the pleasure of being in a packed audience, listening to the intersecting struggles and voices of Rasmea Odeh, Reina Gossett, Andrea Smith, CeCe McDonald, and others who reminded us—as have Assata Shakur and Mahmoud Darwish—that the apartheid wall, the border wall, the prison wall are historically constructed and so, can and must be torn down.
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” This quote by Lila Watson, an Aboriginal Australian hangs in my office as a reminder of how I engage in movements led by others. Organizing as a Palestinian American Muslim in the Black Lives Matter movement has been a blessing but has also brought some challenges. Building solidarity with Black communities when we as Palestinian Americans/Arab Americans have not holistically addressed anti-Black racism within our own ranks calls to question in some cases our solidarity. While we chant “Black Lives Matter”, what are we doing as Palestinian Americans to ensure that we are contributing to the creation of a society that truly embraces, respects and upholds the dignity of our Black sisters and brothers in every aspect, socially and structurally? Solidarity is not a noun; it’s a verb, its action. When I agreed to co-chair the March2Justice, a 250-mile journey on foot from New York City to Washington, DC alongside a Black American woman and a Mexican American woman to demand an end to police brutality it was to test my own leadership and my solidarity. What was I willing to risk? What example was I ready to set for my community? Along the route a Palestinian American imam hosted us at a masjid in Philadelphia. These experiences and the conversations about the clear connection between oppressed communities in the United States and Palestine are being derived through story telling and relationship building. This struggle knows no borders and we know that all oppression is intertwined. I am very proud of the progress, the friendships and allies that have been established. We must continue to organize together, share our stories and remain consistent in our presence for others. My investment in the Black Lives Matter movement is based on the belief that Black Liberation will lead to the liberation of all people, including Palestinians. Onward.
There are Black Palestinians and it would do us all good if we could talk about the dimensions to Blackness, which works as an othering category in all countries, communities, cultures, etc. Palestinians must see and embrace the Blackness in themselves; than we can begin to have a healthy discussion that can go somewhere more than theoretical words and thoughts. We must examine our traumas and how even our methods of perceived liberation perpetuate systems we are fighting against. We must examine how deeply we internalized capitalism as well as the hierarchal perspective of freedom. It is very simple, Palestinians need to reexamine their ideas about blackness as more than the “struggle porn” commodified by the United States and exported to rest of the world for exploitation. Palestinians should identify not just with our pains and injustices but also our victories, our joys, our visions, and our imaginations for a future where change is real and possible. Blackness is the embodiment of resistance, the soul of resistance, and Palestinians know resistance. In the pursuit of justice we must honor how much of our oppressors’ mannerisms and ideologies we have absorbed and internalized. If we want to be free, let it be because we know shackled and silenced is no way to be—let us know real pursuits of happiness—if we want to be free, let it not be because we want to live in the house of our oppressors, still silenced, and still shackled. Blackness is the collective voice of our protest and all that we create in the direction of our freedom.
We need to look at the psychology of the oppressed and at survival mechanisms whereby you witness your inability to keep your house, to reach places, to keep your children alive, and to live literally and all you are doing is surviving. And if you don’t see support and see that Palestinians are separating themselves from Blacks and the Black movement, it is a condition of their situation and fragility as individuals and communities in the world. I don’t support it but I can understand it.
This is where gendered violence may be helpful. In some cases, you see a girl who is about to be killed by her own family for transgressing social norms and you see her mother is approving the killing. How can a mother approve the killing of her child? But then you understand that this mother is trying to preserve the lives of the other girls in the house and if she will show her anger and pain over her daughter, she might lose the rest of her children. The power of the powerless is limited and their ability to cope for survival reflect a narrow set of choices for decision-making.
Politically, there is no question. We must be part of a Black liberation movement. The complication happens on a daily level among individuals—here support and solidarity with Blacks is imperative because we need work together. We are both in the same boat of death and need to work together. There is a pathology of self-preservation that limits these horizons and we need to be less tough on one another to allow room to breathe.
In thinking about Black and Palestinian solidarity since the 2014 Gaza bombings, one of the most exciting dimensions is how the genesis of a burgeoning movement against state sanctioned violence inside the US has intersected with the increased visibility and success of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. Aided by the coincidental timing of the Ferguson protests with Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza civilians last summer, many protestors experienced a convergence of struggles in which young people found themselves facing down military weapons, including tanks, armed assault rifles, Kevlar shod “soldiers”, and CS gas. The juxtaposition of images of human vulnerability in the face of overwhelming force, embodied by Israel’s carpet-bombing of residential areas spanning forty percent of Gaza and of armored vehicles advancing on young Ferguson teens in their own neighborhoods as they kneeled with their hands up, forged a lasting historical memory of the genocidal intent of using weapons of war against civilians. Indeed, at precisely the moment that members of Israel’s Home party openly advocated genocide through attacks on Palestinian women as “mothers of snakes,” African Americans began using the term to describe the state violence they were facing at the hands of law enforcement. In the ensuing months, genocide has become a lingua franca to express the plight of both African Americans and Palestinians. The victories of BDS have literally helped to lift the gag rule of both the mainstream press and particular arenas of social media thereby enabling much more unselfconscious discussion about the shared histories of the US and Israel as “racial states” and “settler societies.” In addition to genocide, recurrent themes are the shared experiences of statelessness, entrapment, and carcerality. This cross-fertilization of political culture and analysis is an incredibly exciting development that links both intellectual production and grassroots protest of African Americans and Palestinians.
Commitment to combating anti-blackness, first and foremost involves the support and amplification of black voices, black organizing, black lives, more importantly, inviting leaders of the Black liberation movement into traditional Palestinian spaces. There need to be more opportunities for interaction. For true solidarity, we must not only work to eliminate the many manifestations of anti-blackness, but also key is to build valued, sustainable relationships between those in the different communities.
Being a Palestinian male, in leadership of an organization dedicated to fighting systemic oppression and racism here in the US, means that sometimes there are issues that may not directly affect my family, or even if we are affected, we are not affected to the same extent our black siblings from the US are. Many times, as a non-black oppressed community member, this work involves a great deal of listening, learning and opening up of the space for others. At times, there are black-only spaces, and supporting those spaces is essential, recognizing that black liberation should be led by the very best of black movement minds. We have to make sure Palestinians understand the above, as well as the fact that terms like “Black Power” and “Black Lives Matter” do not decrease the worth or importance of our movement for Palestinian liberation, in fact they only strengthen them. In addition, Palestinians who have flourished economically here may struggle with the need for the personal implications of supporting true economic liberation for Black Americans, as it may directly affect their amassed wealth. This challenge is to be expected as white supremacy, capitalism, and imperialism have often utilized the divide and conquer strategy. The goal is to be developing the analysis and requisite politics to overcome these hurdles in the pursuit of liberation for all.
Robin D.G. Kelley
Two things: first, let us not forget the LONG history of Black radical solidarity with Palestinian liberation going back at least to 1967, with traces emerging as early as 1948, and with Malcolm X in the early 1960s. These examples of solidarity and identification were not based on an expectation of reciprocity—we support your struggle so long as you support ours. Rather, it was based on the principle of resisting injustice everywhere and recognizing that Zionist logic undergirding the founding and management of the state of Israel was based on racialization and colonial domination.
Second, fighting anti-Black racism ought to be a basic principle of every social justice movement everywhere (and for a period in the 1960s and early ‘70s, this was almost the case). This shouldn’t even be a question. However, it need not be a precondition for solidarity. The Black freedom movement has long stood up against the exploitation and oppression of peoples who not only failed to reciprocate but perpetuated anti-Black racism—the white working class, certain indigenous communities, immigrants, etc. They saw no contradictions between simultaneously challenging their racism and fighting xenophobia, dispossession, labor exploitation, and the like. Of course, there were those Negroes who supported and even benefited from state policies of oppression and subjugation, but they stood outside the Black radical tradition. Perhaps I’m just old school, but I believe these principles should continue to govern our politics, and they are best summed up in Dr. Martin Luther King’s unforgettable line: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Can the International Criminal Court (ICC) deliver the justice Palestinians have struggled to realize for well over a century? The pursuit of accountability at the ICC is one venue of this struggle. But any sustainable vision of Palestinian liberation must account for the confines of the courtroom in particular international law more broadly. As should be clear to all observers of international law, the odds are stacked against Palestinians in that courtroom. The challenge ahead is to innovate not simply litigation strategies but to put them in conversation with radical popular mobilization.
The move to the ICC does offer Palestinians two significant opportunities. One, it allows the Palestinian Authority (PA) to once and for all abandon US tutelage once. Since the Oslo Accords and its attendant processes created the PA in the 1990s, the nominal Palestinian leadership has relied exclusively on the United States as its patron saint. This reliance, and indeed the PA’s very existence as a product of Oslo have foreclosed the pursuit of self-determination. Instead the PA and the Oslo process nourished Israeli settler-colonialism, apartheid, and military occupation. Two decades of escalating Israeli political and economic dominance has left the PA with ever-shrinking space to maneuver. The turn to the ICC comes in many ways as a response to this externally—and to some extent self-imposed—straitjacket. The turn to the ICC will expose Palestinians to several vulnerabilities. Yet it also offers the PA another golden opportunity: to once and for all turn away from its investment in an ostensible peace process that has served to buttress a small circle of elite interests and return once again to the pursuit of self-determination. Such a pursuit would not preclude the possibility of a political solution. It would enhance the Palestinians’ negotiation leverage.
Despite rumblings for several years, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s signing of the Rome Statute on the last day of 2014 came as a surprise to most observers. Until late 2014, the PA dangled criminal accountability as little more than a loaded threat in the vacuous remnants of a liberation strategy that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has abandoned since signing the Oslo Accords. Legal, grassroots, media, and popular mobilization fell to the wayside. On the legal front, such a strategy would include advocacy within the United Nations General Assembly, the advancement of human rights norms, the insistence upon adherence to international law, and cooperation with multilateral human rights organizations. It would also include supporting civil society representatives among human rights treaty bodies, and innovative claims within the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as well as in foreign national courts. The grassroots component includes support for local efforts aimed at building solidarity, including but not limited to Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) efforts. A media strategy involves globally taking on Israeli hasbara efforts through print, audio, television, and social media.
The PA turned its back on these strategies and adopted a narrow political emphasis rooted in an unequivocal faith in realpolitik. This faith effectively positioned the United States, in its capacity as world superpower and Israel’s primary patron, as the only party capable of delivering a Palestinian state. In practice, this strategy is the strict adherence to the US-brokered bilateral process, which lacks any reference to international law, external review mechanisms, and is dictated by expedience and pressure. In this iteration, the political is a narrow realm that dismisses the law and its attendant normative values as impediments to the possibilities of a political solution. Since 1993, at least, the Palestinian leadership has bought into this understanding of the political and left itself with no negotiating leverage.
Indeed, the PA has chosen time and again to prioritize realpolitik over any pursuit of legal accountability. There are many examples of these choices. In 2009, the PA rescinded the Goldstone Report from the United Nations Human Rights Council and turned its back on popular calls for criminal accountability as well as a review of Israel’s use of conventional weapons, and its non-adherence to the Fourth Geneva Convention. The PA also failed to leverage one of its most significant legal achievements, the 2004 ICJ Advisory Opinion on the route of the Separation Barrier and the situation in the Occupied Territories more generally. The PA showed no interest in using the ICJ’s recommendations to encourage states to cease all trade with Israeli corporations that facilitate the expansion of the wall or the entrenchment of its settlement infrastructure in the West Bank. The Palestinian leadership looked the other way when 170 civil society organizations assumed the mandate issued by the ICJ to states and launched the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. The PA’s legacy of legal advocacy is one of missed opportunities and opportunistic failures. Since Israel’s twenty-two day aerial and ground onslaught on the Gaza Strip in 2009, the Palestinian leadership has invoked ICC prosecution as a threat of last resort should the United States (continue to) fail to deliver its political guarantees.
The concern in this last ditch turn is that the two decades of abandoning legal strategy means that the PA has not invested in its study, development, or preparation. It is likely ill prepared to tread the many pitfalls of an ICC investigation. The multilateral body, which is highly vulnerable to state interests and interventions, is replete with the trappings of legal technicalities. It cannot be a panacea to Palestinian claims for accountability. To successfully pursue ICC prosecution of individual Israelis on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the PA must launch a multifaceted campaign that positions the courtroom in a broader vision of political mobilization. These efforts should support the ICC process, while looking far beyond it. ICC jurisdiction itself is not a silver bullet and may even prove more detrimental than beneficial. If the PA is to pursue claims within the ICC, it must do it within a broader commitment to resisting Israel’s apartheid regime and military occupation.
The law is a realm of both possibilities and obstacles, in particular in its inability to proximate non-legal justice. As David Luban, Michael Kearney, and others have shown, this is just as true for the ICC as any other venue. Here, I highlight these stumbling blocks and conclude with recommendations for viable legal strategies.
Stumbling Blocks on the Road to ICC Investigation and Prosecution
In 2009, the Fatah-dominated PA attempted to give the ICC ad hoc jurisdiction over Israeli crimes in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. The ICC declined, stating that “only states can join the ICC or give ad hoc jurisdiction, and we cannot yet decide that Palestine is a state.” Since then, Fatou Bensouda was appointed ICC prosecutor. In August 2014, she signaled her willingness to consider a new application by Palestine. The November 2012 UN General Assembly vote, when 139 member states recognized Palestine as a state, may settle the question of statehood. The recognition of the state of Palestine renders an occupied territory as a viable entity. The evocation here of Palestine is one tinged with irony. The law has made its evocation before international legal institutions and multilateral bodies possible, while Israel both continues to deny and diminish its sovereignty. On 31 December 2014, Palestine deposited a 12(3) application accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction since 13 June 2014 and acceded to the Rome Statute. Unlike in 2009, in late 2014, Palestine committed itself to the Statute’s provisions and potentially made the entirety of the situation in Palestine, the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, subject to review.
As such, the ICC can investigate both Israel as well as Palestinian armed groups. Here, the law reifies the power imbalance between the occupying power and the occupied. However, some legal analysts have argued that only prosecuting Israel would be counterproductive for Palestinians. In this rationale, such a strategy would undermine the court’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world’s most powerful, and skeptical states, not least of which is the United States. Significant here of course is that of its (now) 123 parties, “Brazil is really the only large state in the world that is a member of the ICC.” Moreover, “more than half the world’s population lives in countries that do not belong to the ICC.” Here then, we see the vulnerability of the ICC. It has the potential to become a strong body but is reliant on the world’s strongest non-member states to determine the scope of its legitimacy.
Investigating War Crimes
The fact that the ICC can examine the entirety of the Palestinian territories is actually a positive development. Israel’s structural violations in law and policy and not simply its engagement in armed conflict become subject to scrutiny. Crimes that belligerents commit during wartime are the most difficult crimes to investigate. Their legal character is not self-evident. For example, the ICC would have to examine each of Israel’s military attacks on a case-by-case basis. This examination would entail a consideration of whether military harm outweighed the pursued military advantage. Thus the court must have access to military intelligence that both Israel and Palestinian resistance armed groups would not provide. More crucially the emphasis on the idea of “military advantage,” without examining the context in which that force is being used, itself legitimizes the use of armed violence and once again reifies the power imbalance between the colonizer and the colonized.
Legally, the conduct of Palestinian groups is easier to decipher. Palestinian rockets lacked the capacity to distinguish between military and civilian objects. Their use is thus ipso facto illegal. In contrast, Israel insists that it sought to avoid civilian casualties. This claim, while unevidenced, would necessarily complicate the legal readings of Israeli military action. Should Israel choose to participate in these proceedings, it will be eligible for making a case in contrast to Palestinian armed contingents. This has significant implications for Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and is one half of the desired, and necessary, Palestinian unity government. Its leadership will be the primary target of an ICC investigation and should the investigation lead to their prosecution, it will delegitimize their participation in government. Depending on who is prosecuted, it may have the effect of delegitimizing Hamas all together. Hamas recognizes this risk and has endorsed the ICC bid. Still, the Palestinian leadership should be prepared for this outcome and its impact on a unity government.
Palestine, as the ICC recognized it, is also at a disadvantage because of its inability to demonstrate that it can adequately investigate and prosecute its own alleged crimes. For this reason, the provision of complementarity, which affords the ICC jurisdiction only over cases where the state “is unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out the investigation or prosecution,” is—for all intents and purposes—moot. In contrast, Israel can make a case for complementarity. Specifically, it can argue that it is willing and able to investigate itself, as evidenced by its five ongoing criminal investigation into Operation Protective Edge. Together with its inclusion of non-military personnel in its military commissions, as established during the Turkel Commission, Israel could argue that these are genuine investigations. While Israel’s dismal record of investigating its own war crimes during Operation Cast Lead puts the adequacy of complementarity into question, to demonstrate that inadequacy would involve a separate and lengthy legal process. The principle of complementarity would at best shield Israel from ICC investigation and at worst, delay the process so severely as to thwart justice.
Even if the ICC could adequately investigate Israel’s alleged war crimes in during the summer of 2014, and assuming that it could demonstrate that Israel’s own investigations were not genuine, that does not guarantee an ICC investigation into the matter. The court may still choose to avoid the political landmines of walking into the Palestinian-Israel conflict, and, as put by Kevin Jon Heller, “slow-walk the preliminary investigation intooblivion.”
The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) exercises significant discretion in deciding which cases and situations to investigate. Should the prosecutor find that a criminal investigation would not serve “the interests of justice” because it would hamper an ongoing political process or fail to adequately satisfy any party thus exacerbating the situation, she could simply delay the preliminary review process so severely as to make it irrelevant. Heller points out that this was the case in Afghanistan and Colombia:
Afghanistan was moved from phase two to phase three after seven years. In other words, it supposedly took seven years for the OTP to conclude that at least one international crime was committed in Afghanistan. You and I could have completed phase two in a lazy afternoon with tea. Photos of torture at Bagram Air Force Base would have been enough. Even one Taliban killing would have been enough for phase two to move to phase three, and yet it took the OTP seven years. Even worse, Colombia is still in phase three of the preliminary investigation after ten years, even though every human rights group inside and outside of Colombia agrees that the Colombian government is doing nothing to investigate and prosecute high-level perpetrators of violence in the country, particularly those that are linked to the government itself.
There is nothing to shield Palestine from this outcome. This possibility should temper faith in the ICC’s ability to deliver justice.
The Palestinian leadership can refer a specific situation to the ICC for investigation. Rather than refer the situation of the Gaza Strip or of Palestine, the Palestinian leadership could refer the situation in the West Bank only in order to limit the ICC’s investigation to the question of settlements. This may be preferable to prosecuting Israel for alleged crimes committed during Operation Protective Edge because it circumvents the difficulties of investigating military operations during hostilities. More importantly, a limited referral would bypass the hurdle of complementarity because Israel will investigate neither settlements nor prolonged military occupation since both are explicit Israeli state policies. That said, a limited referral will still open Palestine to prosecution for suicide bombings launched from the West Bank and other alleged crimes under the Rome Statute. Moreover, even this option is not a silver bullet since the Prosecutor can exercise her discretion to reject this referral for limited review. She can choose to investigate the Gaza Strip only or both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, putting us back at square one.
While less complicated than the investigation of military operations, investigation of the transfer of civilian populations into occupied territories and the confiscation of land for that purpose will still raise considerable difficulties. These challenges include the impediments of bilateral treaties that the PLO and Israel have signed onto—namely Oslo II. Oslo II gave Israel military and civilian jurisdiction over Area C (of the West Bank), where Israel has aggressively entrenched its settler-colonial enterprise. The court is not likely to conclude that Oslo II overrides Palestine’s jurisdiction over the West Bank. As articulated by Darryl Li, Palestine did not delegate authority it had to Israel, but rather that the Occupying Power delegated its nominal authority to a temporary and local administrator, the PA. This is a lucid example of the irony of evoking Palestine as a state actor under the law. It exists as a forward-looking shadow without the ability to fully step into its own body.
That still leaves (at least) two issues. First, what is the value of the land swaps, which the PA has indicated a willingness to accept, on the territorial scope of the Palestinian state? And do those potential land swaps matter in light of the UN General Assembly November 2012 recognition and subsequent diplomatic efforts across Europe recognizing Palestine? I imagine that if the ICC prosecutor chooses to investigate this case or situation that she will defer to the majority will of member states and recognize Palestine as existing within the 1949 Armistice Lines. Secondly, what does ICC prosecution mean for land confiscations? During an ongoing armed conflict and under Occupation Law, which govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel can justify these confiscations.
So Now What? Some Recommendations
At present, Abbas has only signed onto the Rome Statute and deposited a 12(3) application that gives the ICC retroactive jurisdiction to 13 June 2014. He has not referred a situation or case to the Office of the Prosecutor. This may be the farthest that the Palestinian leadership actually goes and that would not be unwise. This holding position is forward-looking and serves as a deterrent to any future attack Israel may launch against the Gaza Strip. If, however, the PA chooses to refer a situation to the prosecutor, then it is best to refer one of structural substance. One possibility is referring the situation in the West Bank in order to focus on settlements. If the prosecutor accepts this limited review, it would avoid the possibility of complementarity as well as the many liabilities associated with the investigation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip.
The ICC will not be the site of adequate redress for Palestinians. The likely scenarios include: the court slowly killing the referral in the inaccessible and lengthy intricacies of its proceedings; Israel evading prosecution through complementarity; the prosecution of alleged crimes committed by Palestinians only; and investigation of Israel’s settlement enterprise preceded or complimented by prosecution of Palestinians. These possibilities range from abhorrent to tolerable. The ICC cannot be a destination in and of itself. It is simply one venue, and a complicated one at that, of many. Any courtroom, including the ICC, can only be effective if it is one part of a broader commitment and struggle for self-determination and justice.
This broader commitment and struggle is the only way to leverage any potential benefits ICC prosecution may offer. The isolation of Israel and the delegitimization of its apartheid regime and military occupation require a resistance platform. Such a platform would include the PA’s expansion of its legal strategy and its seeking of diplomatic partners to resist and withstand US sanctions. It would include the PA’s turning to civil society’s robust campaigns, such as but not only the global BDS campaign, for direction. It would include the PA’s dedication to a concerted media effort, as well as its investment in Palestine’s cultural workers, and in a agricultural resistance economy. Such an economy seeks to provide basic goods to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and enables them to boycott Israeli goods and resist their formation as a captured market. It would include achieving an actually functioning realistic unity government with Hamas- one that envisions the possibility of ICC prosecution against its leadership and prepares for that attendant fall-out.
Ultimately the best outcome of the turn to the ICC would be the PA’s extrication from the swamp that is Oslo and its reorientation toward Palestinian liberation. The worst-case scenarios are abundant. The PA could use ICC prosecution haphazardly and, more detrimental still, as weak leverage to continue the structural trap of bilateral negotiations. The best-case scenarios require diligence, resources, and a tremendous amount of good fortune. Most of all, they require the PA to turn away from its limited pursuit of self-interest. Such a dramatic shift among the Palestinian leadership offers much more promise for the pursuit of justice than any court could deliver.
[An excerpt of this essay originally appeared in a MERIP roundtable on Palestine and the ICC.]
In late November 2014, I had the honor of visiting the occupied Kingdom of Hawai’i as aninvited guest. I prepared for the trip with ample readings J. Kehaulani Kaunaui both wrote and shared with me, along with book recommendations that my hostess, Cynthia Franklin, passed along. (It merits writing a separate article just about Cindy and her phenomenal skills as an organizer and her generosity as a friend. She is fire.) I thought my greatest challenge would be unraveling the competing independence paradigms, namely de-occupation and de-colonization, and understanding their relationship to indigenous nationhood. While we indeed delved into these issues, they were quickly eclipsed by something I could not prepare for: the island’s spirit.
It must sound silly to reduce the violent, military takeover of a sovereign nation, the exploitation of its lands and waters, and the marginalization of its people to a metaphysical sensation. However, this is not to make light of the situation. To the contrary, by centering that spirit, I am emphasizing the gravity of these ongoing crimes and the righteousness of the resistance to them.
The Kanaka Maoli, who today constitute twenty percent of Hawaii’s population, often express their relation to their lands with “aloha aina,” literally love for the land. Aloha, though neatly commodified to sell Hawai’i to tourists, represents a way of being deeply ingrained within native Hawaiian culture. It encompasses how you treat your neighbor, your family, how you maintain your relations with the elements that sustain life, and how you will to live. Aloha aina seems to translate neatly but is meant to capture a people’s sacred commitment to life, a way of life and a way of viewing life.
In my five hurried days that included three lectures, several interviews, and generous dinners, I admittedly only caught a glimpse of that spirit. Yet, that glimpse gripped me almost instantly and I found myself beginning my lectures with confessions about the impact of this spiritual knowledge and how it scales hyper-intellectual conversations to their proper size. I began with a discussion about my family’s journey of displacement and exile, about how I came to be a settler in North America, and what it meant to visit the occupied kingdom in solidarity. No one flinched at my openness. It could not have been more proper, especially following the welcoming songs or the Oli–the Hawaiian ceremonial chants—that preceded my remarks.
De-Tour: The People’s History of Hawai’i
It was with this openness and spiritual awareness that I embarked on the De-Tour or Sovereignty Tour with local leaders and s/heroes, Kyle Kajihiro and Aunty Terri Lee Keeko’olani. The tour provides a critical history of the island and its most well-known landmarks. We happened to go on the tour on Hawaii’s Independence Day. On 28 November 1843, the United Kingdom and France recognized Hawai’i as a sovereign state by treaty. Hawaii’s formal sovereignty is precisely what makes it so unique. There is no contestation that it is occupied.
Hawaii’s sugar oligarchy, represented by white American settlers, motivated the occupation. Seeking to remove the tariffs on their sugar exports to the United States, this oligarchy in collusion with the US Minister to Hawai’i, John L. Stevens, facilitated the landing of US Marines on Hawaiian shores to hold the Queen Lilioukalani hostage and take over the kingdom in 1893. US President Grover Cleveland refused to recognize the US military coup and takeover of Hawai’i and recommended restoration of the Queen. His efforts failed, and his successor, William McKinley, supported annexation despite fervent protest captured in petitions against annexation that were buried by colonial school curricula and only recently resurrected by Hawaiian scholar Noe Noe Silva. The United States formally annexed Hawai’i in 1898 although the annexation lacked legitimacy for being unilateral and not treaty based. It incorporated Hawai’i, and Alaska, into the United States in 1959.
In 1993, one hundred years following the takeover, the United States issued a formal apology to native Hawaiians for the takeover of the Kingdom and the annexation of public and government lands without compensation. But the US government did nothing to remedy the situation. Hawai’i remains vital to the United States for military and strategic reasons.
The United States has confiscated 1.8 million acres of the kingdom’s four million acres of land. It set aside a miniscule amount in trust for native Hawaiian benefit, measured by a distorting blood quantum, and uses the rest of that land for the expansion of bases or other military purposes. There are 118 military bases on Oahu alone. They take up twenty-six percent of the land or 230,000 acres.
Beyond its territorial dominance, the United States uses Hawaii’s strategic position to maintain control over its Western border. It does so from its Pacific Command (PacCom), also known as the head of the octopus or he'efor being the largest unified US command. It extends from the US western coast to the Indian Ocean and from Alaska and includes all of Antarctica—it stretches over fifty percent of the earth's surface and includes forty-three countries. Pearl Harbor is part of this vast network and is the tip of the iceberg of the entrenchment of military-industrial complex in Hawai'i. It is so central to the economy that folks describe it as a necessary evil. The presence of military installations and retired personnel marks an elite demographic that shapes Hawai'i's politics. This includes subsidized housing for military personnel to the tune of three thousand US dollars per month and private malls, grocery stores, schools, and golf courses. Often times these luxurious benefits juxtapose dilapidated housing complexes for native Hawaiians who live communally.
The Battle Over Water and Livelihoods
US occupation of Hawai'i has had a tremendous impact on the flow and distribution of water. Taro—a wetland root—has been a staple among bad for native Hawaiians. The emergence of sugar plantations overseen by American oligarchs necessitated the diversion of water from those wetlands to more arid landscapes severely undermining indigenous agricultural practices and livelihoods. Elite interests unjustly also altered the flow of water throughout all of the islands thus impacting socio-political relations among Hawaiians as well. When sugar was no longer as profitable, ruling oligarchs shifted their businesses to tourism. The original waterways have never been restored though this battle continues.
Brothers, Charles and Paul Reppun, have led several of these protracted battles. Together with their families, they oversee a sustainable farm on Oahu that we had the privilege and delight of visiting and tasting. Between 1913 and 1916, the Oahu Sugar Company built a ditch and diverted twenty-seven million gallons per day from the windward watersheds of the Koolau mountains to Oahu’s central plain to support sugar plantations. In 1995, the Oahu Sugar Company ceased its operations, thus sparking a legal battle to restore the streams and native stream life. The Reppuns, in coalition with other taro farmers and native Hawaiians led this battle. The Hawaiian Supreme Court twice vacated the Board of Water Supply’s (BWS) findings and recommendations citing their non-compliance with State Water Code and public trust principles. In 2006, the BWS issued a split decision that seems to reiterate its 1997 recommendations overturned by the Hawai’i Supreme Court in 2000. The BWS majority favors diverting the water for future yet-to-be-permitted uses like housing developments and tourist attractions. This is a battle between a way of life, livelihood, cultural practices, sacred sites on the one hand and lucrative development for private interests on the other. As Charlie explained to me, like all else, “farming is political.”
Hawaiians Seek Sovereignty
Despite their striking parallels to indigenous nations in North America and to Palestinians, Hawai’i is quite distinct. For one, settler-colonialism in Hawai’i does not seek to disappear and replace the native but rather to appropriate and commodify their cultural practices, land/sea-based livelihoods, and images. That is tied to the sovereignty movement, which does not seek to federal recognition as a nation with the benefits of semi-autonomy (think Native Americans and reservations) but rather seeks an end to US occupation and the restoration of national sovereignty. During the summer 2014, the Department of Interior held a series of hearing across the archipelago on this issue and this resistance to federal recognition organically emerged as a consensus. Positive unintended consequences.
What next for the Hawaiian movement? The recent DOI hearings revealed a new and organic consensus for independence. Questions remain however, whether that should be a process of diplomatic recognition at the United Nations and among European capitols (think Palestine’s efforts between 2011 and the present) or should it be a movement aimed at ending US colonization by placing Hawai’i on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories? Should it be both? What it is the particular role of the Kanaka Maoli in the independence movement and post-independence? Should Hawaiians extricate themselves from a military-industrial economy and if so, how? What is the role of language restoration, environmental justice, and economic justice in these battles? These are all questions Hawaiians are grappling with daily and have been writing about brilliantly. I share a modest reading list below. I am honored that I have met several of these esteemed authors and kahunas.
Solidarity With Palestine
In the midst of their struggles–Hawaiians have stood in principled and fierce solidarity with Palestinians. Each of my talks was overwhelmingly attended and I was received as no less than a representative of a nation. A humbling and undeserved honor that painfully reminded me that had a vibrant Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) still existed, this may have been possible. In the course of our conversations, Hawaiians expressed that while they see parallels between their struggle and that of Palestinians, they recognize how different they are because they do not endure the violence of military occupation, apartheid, and all out warfare.MANA, the Movement for Aloha No Ka Aina, read this solidarity letter in protest of the war on Gaza at the closing event, which they originally read at a rally protesting a talk by Secretary John Kerry and the US support of Israel’s war on Gaza:
Movement for Aloha no ka ʻĀina (MANA) is a movement-building organization, established to achieve independence from the United States and social justice in Hawai'i. Hawai'i has been under US occupation for over 120 years, an occupation that is illegal both under international law and US domestic law, a fact that the United States has yet to refute. We follow in the history of Aloha ‘Āina in Hawaiʻi, and in the tradition of peoples throughout the world who struggle for liberation, freedom, and justice.
Under US occupation, our people and land have suffered what some might consider a more "tender" violence than what we are currently witnessing in Gaza where the the most explicit of US-backed state violence is being wielded upon Palestinian families. Nonetheless, for the same reasons, for the economic exploitation of our land, the US has systematically repressed our Independence, oppressed Kanaka Maoli, tried to erase us from our land and from our culture and has and continues to drive us and our stories off our lands for housing developments, military expansion, and other corporate interests.
To rub salt into the wound, the US military uses our lands to prepare armies around the world to do to other people, what they have essentially done to us. It is both dehumanizing and humiliating to not have control of our own country, to not be able to determine whether our sacred ʻāina will produce food or whether she will be forced into the production of US wars.
We are both outraged and strengthened as we witness the Palestinians’ own commitment to struggle to maintain their ancestral connections to land and we are committed to continue to struggle in Hawai'i to liberate our ourselves and our lands toward the liberation of all victims of US empire.
They also gifted me with this letter and pair of earrings. And though it was addressed to me, it was meant for a nation on behalf of a nation.
I want to end by sharing the poem of Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada- someone I am honored to call a friend and a teacher. Bryan read this poem at the closing event on 1 December 2014 and it is worth sharing many times over. I am also sharing a YouTube clip of his recitation at a different event because watching it is a whole different experience.
To Ea: In Response to David Kahalemaile, August 12, 1871
By Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada
Ke ea o ka i‘a, he wai
Lu‘u a ea, lu‘u a ea
Breathe deep, O breath-stealing ocean
You offer much but exact a toll as well
Our friends and our land swallowed by your hungering mouth
Too many mistake your surging power for invulnerability
And your injuries wash up broken and rotting upon our shores
Yet your tattooed knees show that you too have been ignored
Sides heaving, coral ribcage expanding, contracting
Breathing, an exertion made difficult in this age
This era of disrespect, of not honoring reciprocity
And those closest to you are those who suffer
Until we rise again from your depths
Yearning, reaching, crying for ea
Ke ea o ke kanaka, he makani
Hali mai ka makani i ka hanu ea o ka honua
Wind called from our lungs
Anae leaping from the pali, two minutes at a time
Some lifted on the shoulders of the wind
Others clawing for breath as they fall
We are taught never to call them back
The wind returns, but they do not
Mouths stretched open until jaws crack
Used as fishhooks, drawing forth our connections from the sea
Circular and round, soft and untenable
Wind sweeps infinitely into night
‘O ke ea o ka honua, he kanaka
‘O au nō na‘e kāu kauwā
In your presence, I count by fours
Carrying a breath in each space between my fingers
Each palm drawn towards the ground
Called close by your fertility
Our noses touch
Nothing but the ea held in our manawa
Cartilage, skin, and bone connecting to rock, earth
And young, smooth stone
The hā of genealogical age passes between us
And I know the weight, the measure, the depth
Of my connection to you
Ke ea o ka moku, he hoeuli
‘O ka hōkū ho‘okele wa‘a ke a‘ā nei i ka lani
Familiar stars and swells etch a map in our aching bones
Remembered pain is how we find our way to you
Frenzied waves whip the ocean to a bitter froth
But we’ve never forgotten how to navigate
How to draw our fingers across the face of a passing wave
The sun strains as our sail, while birds lift our hulls
Koa has always grown on this sea, in our masts, our hulls, our hearts
Leaving only the question of crew
We accept only those who will step bravely into darkness
For we have the generations to light our way
Ke ea o ko Hawai‘i Pae ‘Āina, ‘o ia nō ka noho Aupuni ‘ana
E ka lāhui ē, ‘o kāu hana nui, e ui ē
They tell us that they have seen the wonders of Mānā
But it is only heat rippling on sand
And we are angry that they are pushing a mirage
There is no fucking bucket--
But we have always been crabs
Pai‘ea, Kapāpa‘iaheahe, Ka‘a‘amakualenalena
Holding fast to the stones, fighting against crashing waves
Each struggling breath between sets reaffirms our ea
And what they refuse to recognize
Is that when we yell, when we shout
We do it not in anger
But to reassure our ancestors
That we are still here
Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s Story By Hawaii’s Queen. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1990.
Goodyear-Kaopua, Noelani, Ikaika Hussey, and Erin Kahunawaika’ala Wright, eds. A Nation Rising: Hawaiian Movements for Life, Land, and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
Yamashiro, Aiko and Noelani Goodyear-Kaopua, eds. The Value of Hawai’i 2: Ancestral Roots, Oceanic Visions. Hawai’i: Biographical Research Center, 2014.
Haunani Kay Trask, From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawai’i, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1999.
Ku’e: Thirty Years of Land Struggles in Hawai’i, Text and captions by Haunani-Kay Trask, Photographic Essay by Ed Greevy. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 2004.
Tengan, Ty P. Kawika, Native Men Remade: Gender and Nation in Contemporary Hawai’i. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.
Silva, Noenoe K, Aloha Betrayed: Native Hawaiian Resistance to American Colonialism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
Osorio, Jon, Dismembering Lahui: A History of the Hawaiian Nation to 1887. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002.
J. Kehaulan Kauanui, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Sovereignty and Indigeneity, Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.
J. Kehaulani Kauanui, “Hawaiian Nationhood, Self-Determination, and International Law,” Transforming the Tools of the Colonizer: Collaboration, Knowledge, and Language in Native Narratives, Ed. Florencia E. Mallon, Durham: Duke University Press, 2011, pp27-53
George Mason University’s Middle East Studies Program, Global Programs, New Century College (NCC) and the Trans-Arab Research Institute welcomed four international law experts to discuss the political and legal implications of an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of recent conflict in the Gaza Strip. This discussion was held on Monday, October 20, 2014.
In July and August, hostilities in the Gaza Strip left 2,131 Palestinians and 71 Israelis dead, including 501 Palestinian children and one Israeli child. Of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents, 475,000 are living in temporary shelters or with other families because their homes have been severely damaged. The extent of destruction has raised questions around culpability for war crimes on all sides of the conflict. International organizations including the United Nations Human Rights Council, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for independent investigation.
Palestine is considering accession to the Rome Statute, which would grant the International Criminal Court the authority to investigate war crimes conducted in Palestinian territory. Such an investigation would bring both Israel and Palestine under scrutiny for events from this summer and as far back as 2012, and possibly to 2002 when the ICC was first formed to investigate war crimes.
This panel explored the relevant legal questions under international criminal law as well as the political issues related to ICC accession by Palestine. Panelists included:
14 August 2014
At midnight last night- the fourth ceasefire established since July 8, 2014, ended. Despite the renewed exchange of fire, the ceasefire has been extended another 120 hours or 5 days until midnight August 18th to establish a longer-term agreement. Notwithstanding the relative calm in the Gaza Strip right now, there is no safety or freedom from harm. The humanitarian crisis is overwhelming.
16,800 homes have been partially or completely destroyed- nearly 450,000 Palestinians are displaced, 350,000 are being sheltered in UN facilities and of them 100,000 are completely homeless. This is only exacerbated by an intransigent siege that limits food goods, infrastructure, and trade. Additionally, a new and lethal threat has painfully surfaced: 1000s of explosive remnants of war - aka unexploded bombs. Yesterday, one such bomb killed 6 people in Beit Lahiya, including an Italian journalist and his interpreter. These are scattered throughout the densely populated Gaza Strip and threaten the lives of thousands of Palestinians. In 2006 and upon its withdrawal, Israel similarly left 1000s of cluster munitions scattered throughout southern Lebanon. A long-term ceasefire would simply stop this situation from getting worse. An effective agreement would ensure that it would get better.
In better news- the Obama Administration has suspended shipment of hellfire missiles to Israel and has made clear that it will scrutinize future weapons shipments to Israel. One US official explained that this was to demonstrate that there is no "blank check" from Washington to Tel Aviv.https://uk.news.yahoo.com/gaza-strip-crisis-us-suspends-hellfire-missile-shipment-114211696.html#PnTu1CG
This is clearly insufficient to reverse course and remedy the situation on the ground but its significance cannot be underestimated. In an environment where Israel can do no wrong, this signals a schism between the White House and Netanyahu's government. The last time the US imposed sanctions on Israel was in 1991. Congress is likely to throw a mad fit and frenzy in response. So if you can - take heed of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation call to action and contact the White House and your State and local reps:
29 July 2014
Former IDF advisers turned law professors in the US have repeatedly dodged the weight of facts for the sake of law in theory to obfuscate what are obvious war crimes. (See Amos Guiora on PBS NewsHour, Gabbe Blum on Ronan Farrow Daily). First- let's be clear: I'm not concerned with this because of the questions of legality it raises. This is a moral issue and should be discernible at plain sight. The onslaught of a besieged, impoverished, and defenseless population with modern weapons technology is absolutely abominable. I think the law has been used as a smoke screen to (weakly and ineffectively) defend the unacceptable.
Aside from the illegitimacy of Israel's full scale assault on territory it occupies and civilians it has an obligation to protect- there is the question about the laws of war. That corpus balances military advantage and humanitarian suffering. Here that means asking if Israel's military advantage (destroying Hamas's military capacity) is equivalent to the humanitarian loss (1,106 dead, 6,500 injured, cutting off electricity and water to 1.2 million, destroying over 5,000 homes). I think the answer is, and should be, obvious.
On Ronan Farrow, Blum explained that the death toll of over 1,000 was not indicative of war crimes because criminality revolves around intention. But in law, one can deduce intention from outcome - here the sheer number of civilians killed together with the direct attacks on critical civilian infrastructure as well as the attacks on children and families in their homes belies that civilian deaths are merely collateral.
Moreover, Israel has made clear that it considers persons non-civilians by their mere location (did not evacuate a home, near a site where Hamas allegedly - bc no systematic proof ever shown- using as a place from where to launch rockets). This is a radical and dangerous concept of law. Civilians only lose their status when they directly participate in hostilities. Israel is suggesting and insisting that geographic location can change that status and in effect making nearly all Palestinians legitimate targets.
This may not be new among right-wing Israelis who have long devalued Palestinian life and consider them impediments rather than equal subjects but what is harrowing is listening to liberal Zionists attempt to rationalize this carnage. Somehow they are equivocating their fear with the material and pounding devastation against a captive population. It takes unparalleled logical acrobatics to defend the horror endured by Palestinians today in the name of preventing that same horror unto themselves. They are precluding co-existence as a possibility and defending a merciless massacre as a necessary evil. You can only believe that if you believe that Palestinian life is not equal to all other life.
These are not crimes against Palestinians, they are crimes against our humanity. If the tables were turned, and I hope they never are, I would be protesting on behalf of that principle and not blindly and chauvinistically on behalf of a particular people. Humanity is not exceptional, and yet in the course of this onslaught, that is the discussion being had.
28 July 2014
This is what worries me most, Israel's expansion of its non-borders and shrinking of the Gaza Strip under the veneer of war. It is how Israel has steadily settled the West Bank and concentrated Palestinians into increasingly smaller and smaller population centers surrounded by settler and military infrastructure in an effort to disembody the Palestinian nation physically, by legal status, and by Palestinian narrative. It has similarly ghettoized its Palestinian citizens as well. In Gaza, Israel has achieved this by forcefully displacing more than 100,000 Palestinians so far (this report says 118,300, UNRWA says ~160,000 more than 3 times the number displaced during 2008/09) and now look at the map- 40% of the already tiny Gaza Strip is off limits to the Palestinians who once lived there 21 days ago. The return of these Palestinians must be part of the ceasefire agreement but likely will not be.
22 July 2014
Yesterday Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinian youth and used live fire in Nablus, Hebron, Jerusalem, and surrounding villages. Israeli police also clashed with 200 Palestinian-Israelis in Nazareth. There are no rockets from anywhere in the West Bank. There are no rockets from Jerusalem where the population is subject to ethnic cleansing as explicitly stated in its 2000 Jerusalem Master Plan to shift the demographic balance of Jews to Christian and Muslim Palestinians from 60:40 to 70:30. There are no rockets in the Negev where Israel seeks to forcefully displace 70,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel to make room for a Jewish-only settlement. Israel does not have a problem with Hamas, it has a problem with Palestinians.
The attacks on the besieged population of the Gaza Strip are horrific. I struggle to even write 600, because one death is too many and yet we have become conditioned to expect suffering in the hundreds in the form of decapitated bodies, flailing limbs, charred faces. But emphasis on Israel's war on Gaza or headlines about Israel and Hamas attempt to separate and exceptionalize Palestinians in Gaza from the rest of the global Palestinian nation.
This is a diversion from Israel's primary problem: it cannot be Jewish and democratic. Being Jewish means that it MUST discriminate as a matter of fact and no country whose constitution is predicated on such stark discrimination (from slavery and Jim Crow in the US to Apartheid in South Africa) is sustainable. The debate among sympathetic liberal Zionists is about how much discrimination is acceptable. The conversation we are pushing is that discrimination, subjugation, and supremacy in all its forms is unacceptable.
Israel seeks to either placate, co-opt, or force the Palestinian population into submission. But it is not in our human nature to submit. Like all people, Palestinians fight to live; not just during spectacular episodes of carnage and destruction but daily, year round, for decades through resilience, sumoud, protests, storytelling, cooking, dancing, singing, loving, and memory. You can't blow that up.
16 July 2014
According to Maan News, Hamas and Islamic Jihad submit a list of 10 demands to enter into a 10-year truce with Israel. They all affirm life.
-remove tanks from western border allow farmers to farm
- release re-arrested prisoners
- lift the siege
- allow airport to function
- increase naval zone to 10 nautical miles to allow fishermen to fish
12 July 2014
There is a demonstration in DC today at 1 PM. I encourage folks to come through. It's a bit pathetic that we have little way of intervening in this incessant attack on Palestinians in Gaza (again) besides our showing of internet outrage, novel media interventions (because bringing on Palestinians to speak for themselves is still "bold"), and of course our mass gatherings in public spaces to assert moral claims about the massacre of civilians, absurdly framed as "self-defense."
Israel continued its attack overnight and struck a center for the disabled in the middle of Gaza, killing two women and seriously injuring four (not shocking that I cannot find their names). It also struck another home in Jabaliya refugee camp killing 3 Palestinians (not shocking that I cannot find their names) bringing the total number of residential homes directly targeted to 12 - all with families inside.
It has deployed its reservists to the West Bank and deployed its regular troops to the Gaza Strip in preparation for an 'imminent incursion' and what Yuval Steinitz has said will be a "temporary" re-occupation of the besieged area. That's very dumb because the occupation of Gaza has never ended. What's troubling about this nonetheless is that I believe the long-run objective is to concentrate Palestinians into truncated areas just as it has steadily and successfully done in the West Bank for over four decades now and certain maps I've seen show that this is also the case within Israel itself. The end result will be the establishment of tiny, isolated, and discontiguous enclaves of Palestinians throughout all of Mandate Palestine surrounded by Israeli settler infrastructure and with limited autonomy (sound familiar?) This is a long-term projection but kinetic violence offers Israel the perfect veneer under which to accelerate its project. Otherwise, Israel steadily continues it under the veneer of a "peace process" and other diplomatic overtures.
The end of this current massacre will not end the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Palestine. We need to keep saying that now and we need to keep organizing against it well after it is over.
7 July 2014
On Saturday night an Israeli settler ran over a 13-year old Palestinian boy riding his donkey on a bypass road in Jerusalem. On Sunday morning, settlers ran over two Palestinian laborers from Tul Karem crossing the road in Haifa. Later on Sunday, Israeli air strikes killed 9 Palestinians in Gaza. On Saturday it was confirmed that 16 year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was burned alive.
This brings the total number of Palestinians killed by settlers to 4 this week alone and the total number killed by Israeli soldiers to 19 since June 12th. This suffering has been incorrectly framed as an “another cycle of violence” rather than an escalation of violence endured by Palestinians during relative calm, when no one is watching.
Settlers are indeed attacking Palestinians more brazenly then ever, but it is not the first time they are attacking them. UN OCHA has documented a 4-fold increase in settler violence from 115 in 2006 to 399 in 2013. The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel reports that of the 700 complaints filed by Palestinians regarding settler violence in the past 10 years, 700 have been closed without a criminal investigation.
On an annual basis, settlers attack the famers during their olive harvest. On a daily basis, they terrorize the Palestinian residents of Hebron who are held hostage in their own homes. On November 14, 2013, two Israeli settlers firebombed a Palestinian home where a family of 7 slept.
The surface problem is Israeli impunity, the root problem is Israeli settler-colonialism.
Al-Haq Organization مؤسسة الحق produced a critical report on settler violence and impunity in 2013 entitled “Institutionalized Impunity: Israel’s Failure to Combat Settler Violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” [http://www.alhaq.org/publications/publications-index/item/institutionalised-impunity-israel-s-failure-to-combat-settler-violence-in-the-occupied-palestinian-territory]
Dena Takruri produced an excellent 3-minute video describing what settlements are with AJ Plus. [http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18383/video_israeli-settlements-explained]
Tariq Dana explains how the Oslo peace process and the Palestinian Authority’s security coordination with Israel is both protecting the settlers and thwarting more fervent Palestinian resistance in this stellar piece. [http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/18379/the-beginning-of-the-end-of-palestinian-security-c]
Gideon Levy has written a scathing and honest critique of Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state that explains why these problems are not limited to the Occupied Territories but permeate all of Israel as well. [http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.603232]
Mainstream media, including numerous local news outlets, have thankfully, and uncharacteristically, picked up the story of young Tarek- Mohammed’s cousin visiting his family from Florida and beaten by Israeli officers to non-recognition and then detained to be placed on trial. He has since been released but is held under house arrest and subject to a fine (yes this is as absurd as it sounds).
While this attention is critical and “good” it should be a gateway story to the stories of Israel’s structural violence rather than a shocking story that shows that Israelis are bad too.
On Saturday, Diana Buttu did a phenomenal job of exposing this narrative of false parity when she refused to appear on set with Netanyahu’s spokesperson Mark Regev. [http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/05/world/meast/israel-palestinian-remarks/]
Failing to dig deeper is akin to accepting that Donald Sterling’s commentary about his own basketball team is the most egregious example of racism in US-based professional sports. It’s just the surface and, arguably, the least harmful kind.
Beneath the surface (in Palestine) is a foundation comprised of laws, policies, decrees, practice, pop culture, foreign aid, and international diplomacy that sustains and perpetuates settler-colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid.
3 July 2014
The burial of Mohammed Abu Khdeir will take place tomorrow so that a proper autopsy can be conducted today. A burial on Friday after prayer in Ramadan. That is intense enough.
The burial of a kidnapped, tortured, and burned boy in the midst of ongoing clashes in Jerusalem, ground troop deployment to the Gaza border, and an escalating discourse of hate demanding Arab blood among Israeli society is deeply frightening.
Because what is likely to unfold is violent provocation that cannot be contained easily; setting off systematic clashes and military crackdowns throughout the West Bank and a renewed onslaught against Gaza. This will provide the perfect veneer for Israel under which to expand the "buffer zone" in Gaza; entrench the separation of Palestinian society from one another by military infrastructure, and to accelerate an already rapid ethnic cleansing campaign in East Jerusalem that includes Shufat and several other neighborhoods that have been under Israeli attack for years.
When the dust falls, Israel will have established a new status quo around which negotiations revolve.
I hope I am completely and horribly wrong. In all cases, the message should be clear: the problem is settler-colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid and they must end.
1 July 2014
Why would Israel launch another attack right now? It revolves around the political life (& death) of PM Netanyahu.
In short form- he failed to prevent a US-Iran rapprochement on nuclear weapons which remains hostile but clear of war; he appeared as the obvious culprit that dashed Secretary John Kerry's renewed and fervent efforts to renew the peace process; Palestinian national reconciliation took place under his watch and was accepted by both the US and the EU; and domestically he failed to prevent the precedency of Reuven Rivlin in his parliament.
His own power is severely cracking, and as in 2012 and before, Netanyahu took to beating down on Palestinians and drumming up violent public hysteria to draw attention away from his own failures as well as to flex his militant brass.
This is all repulsive and draped in the obfuscating language of national security. It is likely only the beginning since the bodies of the settler boys have not even been buried and laid to rest.
30 June 2014
The bodies of the 3 kidnapped Israeli settler teens found in northern Hebron in Halhul. Israel continues to insist that this operation is not over and it seeks to pound Hamas- likely in retribution and deterrence. The problem: Hamas has nothing to gain from this operation as part of the recently formed unity government and a crippled economy. Khaled Mashal has publicly chastised Mahmoud Abbas for not justifying the kidnappings but insisted that it is not a Hamas operation. In the course of Israel's violent and intense incursion into the West Bank and against Gaza since the kidnappings, Israel has killed 6 Palestinians, arrested 400 alleged members of Hamas, and searched 1,300 homes, buildings, and sites. Two men have been accused of the kidnappings: Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha- Marwan only admitted membership in Hamas under torture in Israeli custody.
I'm afraid that Hamas and, more tragically, the population of the Gaza Strip, will continue to bear the brunt of Israeli politics.