By Palestine Center Interns
Connected by the similarities of their situations and a strong desire for liberation, Black Americans as well as the Irish have long stood in support of Palestine. Though people worldwide have supported the Palestinian struggle, the solidarity from these two groups is unique. Black Americans recognize that their struggles against state-sanctioned violence and institutionalized racism in the U.S. are quite similar to Palestinians resisting such actions perpetrated by the Israeli state and military. The Irish draw ties to Palestine based on their shared experiences of settler colonialism, British imperialism, partition, and anti-colonial struggle.
As Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza entered its second month, a different case of state-sponsored violence was plastered all over newspapers and TV screens across the United States ⎼⎼ the killing of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, at the hands of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. His death sparked protests in Ferguson, word of which soon spread across the world via social media. When the news reached activists in the West Bank, they tweeted back both practical advice to help Ferguson protesters deal with tear gas as well as messages of solidarity. Via Twitter and other social media platforms, activists discovered that the tear gas and smoke grenades, made by Pennsylvania-based manufacturer Combined Tactical Systems, known to be used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinians were also being used by Ferguson Police forces against those protesting Michael Brown’s death.
In the wake of the tragedies which occurred in the summer of 2014, Black-Palestinian solidarity grew even stronger. Palestinian individuals and groups released a statement on Michael Brown’s death, honoring his life and emphasizing their support for the Black American struggle. In it, they wrote, “We understand your moral outrage. We empathize with your hurt and anger. We understand the impulse to rebel against the infrastructure of a racist capitalist system that systematically pushes you to the margins of humanity. And we stand with you.” This solidarity is not a one-way street. A year later, activist group Black4Palestine also released a statement of solidarity. In it, they recognized the connection between the two struggles and affirmed that “we offer this statement first and foremost to Palestinians…whose resistance and resilience under racism and colonialism inspires us….We declare our commitment to working through cultural, economic, and political means to ensure Palestinian liberation at the same time as we work towards our own.” Additionally, groups like the Dream Defenders have organized solidarity trips to Palestine and have released statements such as their statement of solidarity with Ahed Tamimi. This transnational solidarity grows stronger by the day, and it finds itself among many other linkages between oppressed groups worldwide and those oppressed in Palestine.
Another of these linkages is the solidarity between the Irish and Palestine. Political leaders in the Republic of Ireland such as Gerry Adams, outspoken nationalist and the former president of Sinn Féin, have called for the recognition of a Palestinian state as well as the upgrading of the Palestinian mission in Ireland to a full embassy, while activists have created movements across the island encouraging an arms embargo on Israel as well as fighting the imprisonment of Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi and other political prisoners held in Israeli jails.
One of the key Irish activist groups is the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), which attempts to raise public awareness about the human rights abuses in Palestine and aid Palestinian refugees in Ireland while also lobbying the Irish government and the EU. Additionally, the IPSC strongly endorses the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but this support for boycotts is not without historical basis. The Irish were well known supporters of the boycott movement against South African apartheid, and utilized boycotts in their own liberation struggle prior to the development of this movement; in fact, the term “boycott” was coined in Ireland in the 1880s by Charles Parnell in order to define Irish ostracization of Charles Cunningham Boycott, a British estate manager, in protest of high rents and land evictions.
Historic support for Palestine in Ireland is not limited to boycott, however. On the eve of the Irish liberation struggle, commonly known as The Troubles, in 1969, Irish Foreign Minister Frank Aiken described the resolution of the Palestinian refugee crisis as “the ‘main and most pressing objective’ of Ireland’s Middle East policy,” and by the end of the year, Irish policy was set as follows: “There could be no peace without the repatriation of the maximum possible number of Palestinian refugees and full compensation, not merely resettlement, for the remainder.” Given its status as an EU and UN member state, the Republic of Ireland has a power on the international stage that other non-state actors — such as Black Americans, the global LGBTQ+ community, and others — do not. Often Ireland has taken advantage of this power, becoming the first EU member to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in February 1980 and the last to allow Israel to open a residential embassy in December 1993.
Solidarity from Irish political prisoners is also particularly strong, as their treatment in British prisons mirrors that of the Palestinians in Israeli prisons. This past May, in the midst of the Palestinian hunger strike for freedom and dignity led by political prisoner Marwan Barghouti, Irish political prisoners in Maghaberry Jail released a statement of solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners, writing that, “Given the long history of Republican Prisoners and Hunger-Strikes in Ireland, the Palestinian prison struggle resonates particularly with us. Our thoughts are with the hunger strikers at this time, and we send our support to them in the sites of captivity and in their struggle for freedom.” This sort of solidarity statement is not unprecedented, however; in 1981, during the famed Irish hunger strikes led by Bobby Sands, Palestinian prisoners released a statement of solidarity which read, “We extend our salutes and solidarity with you in the confrontation against the oppressive terrorist rule enforced upon the Irish people by the British ruling elite…Our people in Palestine and in the Zionist prisons are struggling as your people are struggling against the British monopolies and we will both continue until victory.” The strength of this connection is unlike most other transnational links in both the depth of its historical precedent and the similarity of circumstances in each location.
It is clear that solidarity of the Irish and Black Americans with Palestinians is steadfast, but why is this sort of solidarity important? As Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and associate professor at George Mason University, states in an interview with AJ+, “The point is not to compare oppression…but the point here is that solidarity is a political decision on how to resist and how to survive in our respective fights for freedom.” In this view, solidarity with Palestine also finds its place in global movements such as intersectional feminism. For example, after a group of feminist indigenous women and women of color visited Palestine, they immediately endorsed BDS, citing settlement expansion, discussions with refugees, the apartheid wall, injustices in the prison system, and the “pinkwashing” of Israel via its false claims of progressivism and equality for women and the LGBTQ+ community as reasons for their decision. In their released statement endorsing BDS, the delegation noted the connection of their personal liberation struggles to the Palestinian liberation struggle, writing that “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 US — was shocked by what we saw.” It is in this way that transnational connections begin to build — when we begin to recognize the intersectionality of our struggles.
While Palestinians are leading their movement, freedom for Palestine is not just a fight for Palestinians. It is a fight for feminists, who take issue with the unique problems of gender inequality that Palestinian women face as a result of Israeli apartheid. It is a fight for prison abolitionists, who abhor the discriminatory military court system and horrific treatment of Palestinians in Israeli jails. It is a fight for LGBTQ+ rights activists, who see the Tel Aviv Pride Parade as a mere performance that the Israeli state uses to cover its blackmailing and torture of LGBTQ+ Palestinians. It is a fight for environmentalists, who see the detrimental effects of Israeli resource stripping at the Dead Sea as well as the uprooting of Palestinian-owned olive trees by the IDF and settlers. It is a fight for anti-imperialists, who recognize that Israel is a settler colonial state which did not end its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians with the Nakba in 1948, but in fact continues it to this day. It is a fight for anyone, anywhere, who recognizes that, in the face of transnational violence and oppression such as that which is shared between global superpowers, the most powerful response is transnational solidarity.