This is a brief summary and overview that presents many of the voices in the lengthy history of African-American support and solidarity for the Palestinian People’s legitimate claim for justice and selfdetermination. This support has grown and developed from a perspective advocated by some of the most radical and progressive activists such as Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party to a position embraced by a wide array of voices within the African-American human rights community.
Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el Shabazz) was not the first African-American activist to articulate an internationalist political perspective. Minister Malcolm X stood on the shoulders of earlier advocates and visionaries such as Marcus Garvey, W.E. B. DuBois, and Paul Robeson. But Malcolm X was one of the first to specifically draw the connection between the African-American peoples struggle in the US and the violent removal and dispossession of the Palestinian People, called ‘the Nakba’.
Malcolm X first traveled to the Middle East in 1959. He returned in 1964 and was hosted by Palestinian officials and intellectuals. He visited Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps. During this period the leading US civil rights organizations, NAACP, CORE, and the National Urban League, gave uncritical support to Israel. The following quote expresses Minister Malcolm’s awareness that the displacement of the Palestinian Peoples was not solely a project of Jewish Zionism but was aided by the support of Christian forces in the US and Europe.
Malcolm X (circa 1964) “The Jews, with the help of Christians in America and Europe, drove our Muslim brothers [and sisters] out of their homelands, where they had been settled for centuries, and took over the land for themselves. This every Muslim resents” (interview with C. Eric Lincoln cited in Black Power and Palestine (Fischbach, 2019).
African-Americans have an intimate knowledge of racism associated with white settler colonial projects and governments. The so-called Atlantic “slave trade” was the largest forced human migration in history. Generations of African-Americans were brutally enslaved by white colonial governments. The US settler governments also waged genocidal warfare against native tribes and nations, hypocritically demonizing the native peoples as “savages” while forcing them from their ancestral lands.
The Black Panther Party (BBP) for Self-Defense was founded in Oakland, California in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. The Panthers were organized to protect the Black community from police brutality and the BPP expressed support for the Palestinian people.
Huey P. Newton, The Black Panther Party (1966) – “We realize that some people who happen to be Jewish and who support Israel will use the Black Panther Party’s position that is against imperialism and against the agents of the imperialist as an attack of anti-Semitism… We have respect for all people, and we have respect for the right of any people to exist. So, we want the Palestinian people and the Jewish people to live in harmony together. We support the Palestinian’s just struggle for liberation one hundred percent.
During a 1974 humanitarian tour of the Middle East, Muhammed Ali, The Peoples’ Champion (who heroically refused to serve in the US military during the Vietnam War era) stated, “In my name, and in the name of all Muslims in America, I declare support for the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland and oust the Israeli invaders…” (as cited in Black Power and Palestine – Fischbach, 2019).
Jimmy Carter was elected President of the United States in 1976. Andrew Young (a close associate of Martin Luther King), became the highest ranking African-American in the Carter administration when he was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations in 1977. However, he was forced to resign in 1979 when he secretly met with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Andrew Young stated, “So I leave this Council with no regrets for the fact that perhaps we broke the comfortable diplomatic channels and we violated some long-ago made agreements that are ridiculous” (Ambassador Andrew Young’s Personal Statement to the United Nations Security Council 8/24/79).
The ANC (African National Congress) was founded in 1923 and led the protracted anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. African-American human rights activist, Paul Robeson and others organized the ACOA (American Committee on Africa) in 1953 as a vehicle to advance US support for anti-colonial movements in Africa and particularly the anti-apartheid campaign. By the 1980s the growing international movement to boycott and isolate apartheid South Africa was effective but the State of Israel remained a firm supporter the apartheid regime.
Reverend Jessie Jackson commented in a 12/02/85 interview in Journal of Palestinian Studies – “And Israel’s selling South Africa arms is an issue… Israel’s selling arms to South Africa is as offensive to us as an African nation’s selling arms to the PLO would be to them”.
Many other more recent African-American freedom fighters have continued the advocacy on behalf to the Palestinian people. This advocacy has recognized the horror and injustice of the Nakba, the Israeli State’s denial of full citizenship to non-Jewish citizens, the apartheid security and surveillance measures employed against the Palestinian population, the annexation of Palestinian lands in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, and the rejection of Palestinian refugees right to return to their land and property.
Professor Angela Davis et al (2011) – “Each and every one of us—including those members of our delegation who grew up in the Jim Crow South, in apartheid South Africa, and on Indian reservations in the U.S.—was shocked by what we saw. We issue an urgent call to others who share our commitment to racial justice, equality, and freedom … we unequivocally endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign… We call upon all of our academic and activist colleagues in the U.S. and elsewhere to join us by endorsing the BDS campaign and by working to end U.S. financial support, at $8.2 million daily, for the Israeli state and its occupation.
Alice Walker, Literary Artist (2013) The New York Amsterdam News, 5/31/13 “Open Letter from Alice Walker to Alicia Keys: Don’t Perform in Israel” – “It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people… We changed our country fundamentally, and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there…”
In 2015, 1000 individuals and 39 organizations signed the 2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine. “Our support extends to those living under occupation and siege, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the 7 million Palestinian refugees exiled in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine. The refugees’ right to return to their homeland in present-day Israel is the most important aspect of justice for Palestinians… We know Israel’s violence toward Palestinians would be impossible without the US defending Israel on the world stage and funding its violence with over $3 billion annually. We call on the US government to end economic and diplomatic aid to Israel. We wholeheartedly endorse Palestinian civil society’s 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and call on Black and US institutions and organizations to do the same.
In 2016 the esteemed Rev. Graylan Hagler from Washington, DC led a delegation of African-Americans on a journey to witness in Palestine. The delegation included faith leaders, academics, labor activists, Hip-Hop and spoken word artists. Rev. Halger stated, “This journey to Palestine is a story that needs to be told because there is so much will to silence the Palestinians and their cause and those who support them. But silence is not an option when your eyes have seen and your heart is filled with memories of Jim Crow, apartheid, discriminations, and human beings’ inhumanity to other human beings.”
Professor Maulana Karenga (2018) – ‘African Liberation Day: Everywhere a Battle Line, Everyday a Call to Struggle’ Los Angeles Sentinel, 05-24-18, p.A4
“And we must not be afraid to condemn and oppose the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine, their collective punishment and imprisonment of a whole people, and the recent massacre of over a 100 unarmed people and the wounding of over 3500 who were rightfully demonstrating against the savage
Marc Lamont Hill, Journalist and Professor (11/28/18) In Honor of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – ‘Our Solidarity Must Become a Verb’- The United Nations: “… [B]lack resistance to American apartheid did not come purely through Gandhian nonviolence. Rather, slave revolts and self-defense and tactics otherwise divergent from Dr. King or Mahatma Gandhi were equally important to preserving safety and attaining freedom. If we’re to operate in true solidarity with the Palestinian people, we must allow the same range of opportunity and political possibility… we cannot endorse a narrow politics of respectability that shames Palestinians for resisting…”.
Cornel West, Professor and Activist – The Guardian, 12/04/18 ‘Why did CNN fire a pro-Palestinian commentator?’
“Many supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, such as [Marc Lamont] Hill and myself, see this strategy as a last-ditch effort to avoid more bloodshed. This is especially important in the US context, as $3.1bn dollars of military aid currently goes to Israel to support such an unjust and inhumane occupation… Hill’s courageous UN speech in honor of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People was a gallant attempt to highlight the horrendous suffering of and callous indifference to the Palestinian people. … The climate of opinion is shifting against the impunity of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Needless to say, there will be some reckoning…
Michelle Alexander, Legal Scholar and Advocate (2019) The New York Times, 1/19/19 – ‘Time to Break the Silence of Palestine’
“It’s what I think about [Martin Luther King’s 1967 Riverside Church sermon on the Vietnam War] when I go over the excuses and rationalizations that have kept me largely silent on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine… Our elected representatives, who operate in a political environment where Israel’s political lobby holds well-documented power, have consistently minimized and deflected criticism of the State of Israel, even as it has grown more emboldened in its occupation of Palestinian territory and adopted some practices reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the United States …if we are to honor King’s message, and not merely the man, we must condemn Israel’s actions: unrelenting violations of international law, continued occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, home demolitions and land confiscations. We must cry out at the treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, the routine searches of their homes and restrictions on their movements, and the severely limited access to decent housing, schools, food, hospitals and water that many of them face. … We must not tolerate Israel’s refusal even to discuss the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, as prescribed by United Nations resolutions, and we ought to question the U.S. government funds that have supported multiple hostilities and thousands of civilian casualties in Gaza, as well as the $38 billion the U.S. government has pledged in military support to Israel…”
These diverse and compelling African-American voices have been raised in support of the Palestinian peoples just struggle. These voices challenge Israeli government policies and call out the role of the US government in financing Israeli aggression. From our own history we are familiar with settler colonial schemes of dispossession, displacement, and demonizing the people who resist. And these voices cannot be dismissed as reflecting distant historical grievances because the dispossession and demonizing of marginalized populations continues to this day.
In the African-American experience today, it’s called Katrina displacement, gentrification, and mass incarceration. Among native American peoples, it’s called the reservation system. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, thousands of families are being forced from their home island of Puerto Rico while developers seek to turn the island into a playground for the rich and wealthy. And for a generation, native Hawaiians have been displaced from their home island through disproportionate incarceration and inadequate of housing. Whether by government policy or corporate development ventures and schemes, these practices need to be critiqued and challenged. Our bold history and freedom fighting heritage instructs us to always advocate for justice – we will not be silent.
Peoples’ Organization for Progress, General Assembly Endorsed (8/08/19) www.NJPOP.org