Jasper Saah: First off, I’d like to thank everyone for being here. This is the first lecture in our Summer Series which is called “Palestine & Us: Contextualizing Palestine and US Political Activism”. For the Series, we’ve invited several political activists from this country who tackle different causes, and we think that having a different understanding of Palestine helps to create an intersectional understanding of forces like imperialism, and white supremacy, and things that affect all of us. And Palestine is sort of a microcosm of all of these things, and provides important context, and also of course, it is an important struggle to have solidarity between different movements. And that’s what we hope to do with this series. Next Thursday is the second one, which will be speaking with Reverend Hagler from the Plymouth United Church of Christ. And then the following Monday, the 30th of July, we have two activists from the Piscataway Nation who are the Native American tribe that is indigenous to Maryland. So, we hope that – we’re very glad that you’re here now, and we hope that you can come to one of the later events as well.
Dylann Nasr: Today, we are joined by Palestinian attorney and activist Ahmed Abuznaid. As a co-founder of Dream Defenders, Abuznaid has a history of activism and has demonstrated his passion for social justice. Dream Defenders is an activist group formed in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida. Through Dream Defenders, he has focused on the issues of mass-incarceration and police brutality, particularly against black Americans.
Jack Fleming: And in 2015, Ahmed led activist delegations from the Movement for Black Lives to Palestine in order to highlight the intersectionality between the Black Lives Matter movement in American and the Palestinian struggle. Currently, he works as the director of the National Network for Arab American Communities, which is a consortium of 26 independent, Arab-American, community=based organizations with a mission to represent the needs of the Arab-American community at the local and national levels.
Thomas Milnes: Well, again we’d like to thank you for coming tonight for our first installment of our lecture series. At this point, I would like to ask you to turn off your cell phones or any other noise-making devices. So you know, Ahmed will be speaking for around 45 minutes, and then we’ll hold a Q & A session. So, we ask also that you hold your questions until after he has spoken. Also, we’d like to encourage you to go on our website at www.thejerusalemfund.org, where you can look up information about our next installments in the series, as well as look at videos of past lectures that we’ve had here. And yeah, so thank you very much for coming. And without further ado, join us in welcoming our esteemed guest, Ahmed Abuznaid.
Ahmed Abuznaid: Should I use this? … Let me use this one. So, good evening. I’m using my phone here. It’s a product of just, you know, I think, how do I say, habit. You know, the phone is in my hands 24/7, and also I’m saving trees by not printing out a speech. The second one I just thought of before I came up here, so it wasn’t really part of the strategy. Thank you for joining us, you know it’s a Friday evening. You could be doing a lot of things, and I don’t doubt that those things could be very important and valuable uses of your time, but I consider this to be a valuable use of your time. How to start? Well, I want to show a video. It’s a video that we put together after our first delegation, or actually while we were in Palestine. And then I’ll begin the talk with a little bit about the historic connections between these liberation struggles.
Video Available Here: Solidarity Demonstration in Nazareth
Let’s give it up for the dream defenders. You all may recognize some of the folks in that video, a lot of them have been doing really pivotal work in the US as far as the Movement for Black Lives is concerned, and the Women’s March, Ferguson, you know. Some of these folks have been very central to that work [in a way] that I think allows for our culture to shift a bit in this country and the conversation to shift a bit in this country around certain topics. This work couldn’t be done without the many contributions of so many important individuals and not just individuals in this video and individuals over the last few years, but it’s really quite important to note that with this subject, we’re doing work that is a continuation of revolutionary struggles decades on in. So, when we begin to examine the connection between the Black liberation struggle and the Palestinian liberation struggle, we have to go to the past.
The first example that I want to lift up for us to examine today is Malcolm X. You know, when we talk about intersectionality, I think I heard intersectionality mentioned early, Malcolm was a leader at the intersections of Black liberation and Muslim liberation in this country. Fighting for the rights of both of those communities, and [he] really was one of those characters that continues to shift the way we think about our sacrifice, the way we think about our limits, and the way we think about the power we can develop as a community. So, Malcolm X had a chance on his trip to the Middle East—and by the way, I don’t like that term The Middle East either, it’s just easier to utilize in this short form talk—Malcolm X, upon visiting the Middle East, had a chance to go to Gaza and he met a poet in Gaza that left an imprint on him. It was during his time in Gaza that he began to make the connections between US imperialism and Israeli imperialism, or the colonization of Palestine as is the colonization of this land here. It is always important to note that we are here on stolen land. Malcolm began to see these parallels during his trip to Gaza and Egypt. He wrote a piece in the Egyptian Gazette, September 17th, 1964, titled “Zionist Logic.” It’s a short essay, maybe a page and half. I won’t read it all to you, I do want to read an excerpt and you can go back through, google it on your way home and check out the full statement. I do want to read a bit of an excerpt from it, and this was in 1964. I talk about another shift in the conversation in 1967, but this is in 1964. And I quote:
[Quoting Malcolm X, Zionist Logic. 1964]: “Did the Zionists have the legal or moral right to invade Arab Palestine, uproot its Arab citizens from their homes and seize all Arab property for themselves just based on the ‘religious’ claim that their forefathers lived there thousands of years ago? Only a thousand years ago the Moors lived in Spain. Would this give the Moors of today the legal and moral right to invade the Iberian Peninsula, drive out its Spanish citizens, and then set up a new Moroccan nation … where Spain used to be, as the European Zionists have done to our Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine?
In short, the Zionist argument to justify Israel’s present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history … not even in their own religion. Where is their Messiah?”
Now I won’t get into the religious debate on this subject, that’s for other people to have. I tend to examine this subject strictly from a human rights perspective. While I understand the religious nuance to it, I think some things are clearer than we make them to be, and so I choose to look at them in that lens.
So why did Malcolm X take this stand? About that time Malcolm X was beginning to shift from a Black Nationalist stance to more of a Pan-Africanist stance and at that time he was also seeing the connections between Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and this relationship between Pan-Arabists and Pan-Africanists. It was important to him to lift up this subject because even though today we see Palestine as a litmus test, it was viewed as such way back in the day by others. So, Malcolm lifted up this controversy so that Black Americans and those of conscience in the United States could begin to look at Zionism within a different lens. Previous to this, in 1948, you know, many in radical leftist, communist circles even, were in support of the Israeli nation state. They viewed it as essentially a fight against imperialism, as imperialism at that time was only maybe viewed through the arms or tentacles of the US, the UK, the French, some of those nations that traditionally had been involved in colonization, whereas Israel was a new form of colonization. So, 1948, many people didn’t really fully absorb the subject of what was happening. The facts on the ground weren’t made clear to people, the population demographics, the shifting in land, none of that was clear to people. So, for many people, 1948, Zionism was a liberation movement.
This began to be clarified for folks in 1967. There was a shift after the 1967 war where Israel was essentially clarifying its colonial intentions and its colonial state for the world to see. One such example of that shift is SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Many of you who have studied the US Civil Rights movement have heard about SNCC. Freedom Summer. Registering folks to vote in Black communities, risking their lives, and really yielding to a representation of liberation for all. That’s what led them to issue a statement on Palestine when they were examining “Third World Struggles,” as they put it. When they were examining “Internationalist Struggles,” as they put it. So, they released a statement on Palestine in 1967. What’s important to note, regarding SNCC, is that they faced significant backlash for this stance on Palestine and that’s not different from organizations we see today, for organizations that are willing to take the stance for Palestinian liberation.
In the June/July 1967 SNCC newsletter, shortly after the 1967 war, they wrote a piece titled “Third World Round-up: The Palestine Problem: Test Your Knowledge,” and it was written by Ethel Minor. Ethel Minor was one of the SNCC leaders most responsible for pursuing the issue of Palestine and educating folks around the issue of Palestine. She was communications director at the time and her primary source was a pamphlet published by the Palestine Research Center called “Do you know? 20 Basic Facts about the Palestine Problem,” and it basically went through some really key facts around the displacement of the Palestinian population, the subjugation of the Palestinian people, the massacres that were committed. So, it became clear to the folks from SNCC what the Palestinian problem really was, and the problem wasn’t the Palestinians.
So, after its release though, as I said, there was some controversy. John Williams, who was then administrator of SNCC’s national office called a press conference to announce that the article did not represent SNCC’s official position and soon thereafter staffers in Atlanta called a press conference to announce the release of that statement. Another point of fallout is that Kwame Ture, a.k.a. Stokely Carmichael, in his many talks he’s referred to the “essential evaporation or dismantlement” of SNCC based on their position on Palestine. And so, as he put it in one of his speeches, “immediately after the statement, phone calls rang in and the checks stopped coming.” Cars that were being utilized to get people registered to vote had to be returned. Funding was being pulled away immediately due to SNCC’s stance on Palestine. Furthermore, SNCC released a more formal statement in response on August 15th, 1967 entitled “The Middle East Crisis.” It incorporated many of the points that were previously mentioned in the earlier piece, the unofficial piece, but within it, it also added context that acknowledged the horrors of the Holocaust, the suppression of American Jewish voices that protested Zionism, and the critical support given to Zionism by the United States.
Of course, all of these subjects are not to be ignored when discussing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but it showed that you know, in order to present the subject, they had to take more of a politically correct, even handed approach to at least getting us to the subject, and I think we see many of those still present today. Another example I want to highlight is the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party never shied away from their politics. They were exclusively Marxist-Leninists. They were exclusively internationalists and never wavered from that. Now their stance on Palestine was always strong. At one point they asked for Israel to respect the 1967 borders, and I think that was the request of the PLO and Fatah, so they still maintained the consistency of being connected to the Palestinians they were working with at the time. The first Black Panther Party statement in 1970 proclaimed, “We support the Palestinian struggle, the just struggle for liberation 100 percent. We’ll continue doing this and we hope that all the progressive people of the world will join in our ranks to create a world where all people can live.”
You know, once again the Black Panther Party had a very internationalist lens and viewed these struggles as part of a connection between working peoples and third world peoples and those of us who lived within an empire, and that cannot be overstated. The Panthers made a point to mention that they were in daily contact with the PLO, provocatively. Obviously, it may be more acceptable these days to be in contact with the PLO, but in those days it certainly was not. They also had a deep relationship with the PLO via their participation in the Algiers Conference. There was an international section of the party, and so the Black Panther Party then decided to open up a branch in Algiers, Algeria. The statement was made at a press conference in 1970 and was re-published in 1972 as part of “To Die for the People: The Writings of Huey P. Newton.”
Kwame Ture, who I described earlier, was a member of SNCC and the Black Panther Party. He described Palestine as the tip of Africa and I think this is something that for me became clear upon visiting the Afro-Palestinian community in East Jerusalem for the first time. If you go to the Old City of East Jerusalem you’ll see Ali Jeddah, usually sitting on the steps heading down into the old city. Ali was referenced by Aja in the poem [of the video]. He calls himself the Denzel Washington of Palestine. He is one of our national treasures for sure, not Denzel, but Ali. You really notice that as soon as you enter the Afro-Palestinian community: there’s a big image at the entrance that has Africa and the northeast tip of Africa is al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock rather, I’m sorry. I think Stokely’s designation of Palestine as the tip of Africa holds true for many, and we don’t shy away from that connection. But Stokely once remarked that he had two dreams: “I dream number one, of having coffee with my wife in South Africa, and number two, of having mint tea in Palestine.” And to those of you who’ve had mint tea before, it tastes better in Palestine, so make sure you experience that one day.
So, what does this solidarity look like now? I’m thankful to say, and proud to say, happy to say, that we have a bit of a rejuvenation of that movement in the last few years. It takes work, and as I said earlier, we acknowledge that we didn’t come up with this stance of solidarity. We didn’t create this connection between the Black and Palestinian struggle. We’re merely continuing the work of those who have led the way before us. But also, it is important to note here that solidarity is not philanthropy, solidarity is not missionary work. Solidarity is really driven by a realization in one self that your struggle is connected to the struggle of another. That the system you’re fighting against is connected to the system of oppression of another and the realization that we need to abolish these systems in order for us to get free. So once again, solidarity is key not only to liberation for Palestinians, for Black Americans here, for Native Americans here, for families getting ripped apart at the border. We have to have solidarity for all of these and acknowledge that these systems have to fall.
So how did we get to this point with this latest iteration? The Dream Defenders were founded in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin. How many people in this room have heard of Trayvon? Raise your hand.
That’s wonderful, that’s great to know. Sometimes you’d be shocked, some people haven’t heard of the tragedy. So, the Dream Defenders was founded in 2012. We founded the organization by launching a march from Daytona Beach from Bethune-Cookman University, a HBCU [Historically Black College] in Daytona Beach, Florida, and we marched 40 miles to Sanford, Florida where Trayvon was murdered. Now, this was the first founding event, the first organized event for the dream defenders. Previous to that, we had a couple of phone calls to essentially organize for this. And, on that first march, I had a t-shirt that had Palestine on the front, a picture of the Dome of the Rock, and I had a kuffiyeh, the red and white kuffiyeh the whole trip. So, you know, I wasn’t intentionally trying to interject Palestine into an issue. What I was doing was representing, you know, what brought me into this fight. What I was representing was what made social justice and human rights so important for me, as a person. And it was a great conversation starter. So, in this 40-mile march, where you’re marching for three days, you know, spending nights on church floors, spending nights on community floors, you have a lot of deep conversations. And in those conversations, we began to make a lot of connections between the struggle of the Palestinian community, back in Palestine, and in the diaspora, and the Black community. I was not shocked to find out that many of the folks on the march had already known. So, this wasn’t, again, new to many people. It was something that maybe folks needed a little bit more nuance and a little bit more education around, but they understood that something was going on there. And so, you know, that was the start of Dream Defenders. You know, why would a Florida organization that was founded in the aftermath of a murder of a young Black male that’s committed to ending the zero-tolerance policies in the State of Florida, why would an organization like that, you know, take a stance on Palestine, and be so concerned with Palestine?
First and foremost, I’m one of the founders of the organization, so we were gonna speak up on Palestine. We were not gonna remain silent on an issue that, you know, for many of us is life and death. But, beyond that, beyond the theoretical connection, or the personal connection to the issue, we began to examine the issue within the United States of racial profiling, you know, policing in black and brown communities, and of course, mass incarceration. And we know that the United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world. We know that the United States profits off of the imprisonment of black and brown bodies, most of the black bodies, in this country. And so, when we looked at that, we found that US police forces were being trained in Israel. And it’s not that US police forces needed to be trained in Israel to learn how to be racist, or how to be anti-black, or how to kill unarmed people. But they were able to collaborate, right, with another settler-colonial state, and its infringement on the rights of indigenous and minority communities. And so, we should pay attention to this.
What we also found out is that many of the same actors that were involved in imprisoning Palestinians were also involved in imprisoning Americans here. And, in fact, in Florida, one of the violators of these rights was G4S. G4S had been active in the Palestinian Territories, and actually, I think as of last year, had announced, due to pressure from BDS and this internationalist movement, had announced that it was pulling out of Israel. Yes, absolutely that’s something to celebrate! However, they’re not gone from Florida and they’re not gone from the United States. And in Florida, we had youth detention centers, youth detention facilities, facilitated by G4S. At that point in 2013, 2014, about 85 to 90 percent of the juvenile prisons in Florida were privatized. So when we think about zero-tolerance policies that Dream Defenders were fighting against and we think about these private prison profiteers that Dream Defenders were fighting against, we thought about the fact that police were being trained to enhance their skills to quell protests and to, you know, staunch any type of dissent in this country, you know, we had to make those connections.
And so, beginning in 2014, we began to examine the possibility of a delegation. We started to think, you know, 2014, [the] Movement for Black Lives now had started to penetrate, you know, the country, and started to penetrate college campuses, so we knew that someone from the Movement for Black Lives needed to be there, or several folks from the Movement for Black Lives. There was a New York City justice league that was ramping up in protests due to the death of Eric Garner, the murder – I should say – of Eric Garner. Raise your hand if you’ve seen Eric Garner or heard of Eric Garner. [Many audience members raise their hands] Absolutely! So, we knew there were connections that were existing across the country with freedom fighters that we wanted to be connected to the Palestinian struggle. And we planned for this delegation, and it was going to be in July of 2014. Can anyone remember what happened in July 2014? The war-okay- so the assault on Gaza – one of the latest assaults on Gaza. It [was] really a dark time for many Palestinians and those who, you know, care about the Palestinian struggle, or for those that have warm blood flowing through their bodies. You know, there were so many dead children at that point, in 2014, that they had to store the children in ice cream freezers. There was no more room in the morgues. One of the, I guess, fallouts from this war, for us, as Dream Defenders, was that we no longer were able to have our delegation in that time. Actually, it was for August, I’m sorry. It was scheduled to be August 10th, 2014, but with this war and this onslaught, and this death and this destruction, we decided we had to hold off on our delegation. And you know, it was the right decision, and although at that moment I felt really powerless and I felt really weakened by what was going down, and also our inability to connect and do something about it, things work in mysterious ways, and sometimes they end up the way they should.
So, what happened, a couple of weeks later, in the beginning of August, can someone tell me what happened in the United States in August 2014? Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. Another unarmed black male lost his life in the hands of those who were sworn to serve and protect him, and we begin to see the community in Ferguson and St. Louis rise up, and it is wonderful to see folks from Ferguson in the building tonight, because I think, you know, just like many of us draw inspiration from the Palestinian struggle and the Palestinian resistance, we felt similarly with Ferguson. And so, in Ferguson, you had community beginning to rise up and what you would notice, after some time, was that you would see the Palestinian flag being held – down at some of the rallies and protests – and the reason that this happened is because, while people in Ferguson were being, you know, essentially being in conflict with the military, the US police force which were becoming more militarized at that moment. They were shot at with tear gas. And Palestinians were not only tweeting their support and essentially advocating for their resistance, they were also tweeting about how to resist the tear gas, and essentially ways you should combat the tear gas. What things you should do, what should you wash out your eyes with, which directions you should run in. And so, Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank were making these connections with folks in Ferguson. And so, it was no shock that you began to see the Palestinian flags being waved in the streets of Ferguson by non-Palestinians, and sometimes by Palestinians, of course.
So, our trip got delayed. Mike Brown gets murdered, this resistance movement ends up developing in Ferguson, and since our trip was put off, we were fortunate enough to be able to add folks from Ferguson. So, you noticed Tara Thompson and [inaudible], the two folks in that video [that] helped found Hands Up United in Ferguson, where they do breakfasts and book clubs essentially – very similar to what the Black Panther Party did, you know, making sure to give nourishment to the people in addition to educational nourishment. And so, January 2015 we embarked on this journey, and it was a very special moment, so since then, Dream Defenders has done two more delegations, and I have also led one for interfaith peacebuilders, also known as Eyewitness Palestine. But this will still be the most special delegation, you know, and I have no problem saying that, because I think the timing, the organic nature of the relationships, and the connections made on this trip to this day were very special. So, I want to show another video now.
So, after the delegation we began to work with many groups in the U.S., you know, to push this message of solidarity, to push the experience of the delegates. And we got a chance to work with Angela Davis and Noura Erakat, with folks on the [inaudible], several of the folks who, really, are leaders in this work. And they created this video.
[Plays video: When I See Them, I See Us]
So, I have to shout out a couple more people’s names in the video because they have been so important to this work. Christian Davis Bailey who helped to find Black for Palestine. Also, Asia Monet, who was on the first delegation. And again, I am stressing the importance of this first delegation. Asia went on to not only produce several pieces of poetry centered around Palestine, but [also] in August 2017, she and I lead a delegation together where we brought together artists and organizers to experience Palestine and develop projects together. I’m sure I missed a couple of names, you all saw some of the individuals; some of them need no introduction. But it’s really powerful to see, you know, what we have been imagining and dreaming of here, people have been receptive to.
Next, I would like to talk about, you know, as I said, Dream Defenders had done a couple more delegations and Dream Defenders is one of the organizations within the movement for Black Lives at a central position to this topic, in this conversation, you know, educating Black folks around the subject and the nuances they are in. And this came to ahead in the summer of 2016, when the movement for Black Lives released their visionary policy platform. Anyone here read that document?
Okay, so, [it’s a] really dynamic visionary document listing our demands and solutions for Black America, listing our demands and solutions that would help many of us as marginalized communities in the United States. And so, there was stuff about education, just a really, very, nuanced document. But the one part that got the most reaction and push-back was the one paragraph around Palestine. So, I want to read that to you all, it is important in the context of the conversation around SNCC and their stance to understand what happened to the movement for Black Lives after 2016. So, the paragraph reads:
The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel, and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people. The US requires Israel to use 75 percent of all the military aid it receives to buy US-made arms. Consequently, every year, billions of dollars are funneled from US taxpayers to hundreds of arms corporations who then wage lobbying campaigns pushing for even more military aid. The results of this policy are twofold: [it] not only diverts much-needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but [also] it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government. Israel is an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanctioned discrimination against the Palestinian people. Palestinian homes are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements
Ahmed Abuznaid: Important to note in this moment we have seen the same things within the last few weeks and the introduction of the Israeli State Bill, so this issue is clearly not going away.
Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as four years, without due process. Everyday, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US funded apartheid wall.
Ahmed Abuznaid: Since that visionary statement, again, black folks were asking for things like reparations, and that did not get as much pushback as the paragraph around Palestine. It is important to recognize the consequences that were lost in networking opportunities for these organizations; they lost relationships, especially with funders, and actually lost funding. So many different groups lost funding in the U.S. because of their relationship to this platform. There was also a loss of different opportunities and events that were canceled because of this stance. Because I have to wrap up soon, I will go through one last quick example.
So in 2017, Asia Monet, who I was just speaking of, was able to co-organize a delegation with me to take some folks from here to Palestine, and one of them was [inaudible], a recording artist with Rock Nation. If you went to the Jay-Z four-four-four tour, he was opening for Jay-Z – a really dynamic individual. And I just have one excerpt from his piece which was titled “What Palestine Taught me About American Racism”
The parallels between the black American experience and the Palestinian experience are overwhelming. Staring into the worm-infested water tank on top of a dilapidated house in Aida Refugee Camp, I can’t help but think about Flint, Michigan, and the rust-colored, lead poisoned water that flows through their faucets. As I gaze over the 25-foot “separation wall”, the economic disparity is acutely transparent. The Israeli side of the wall looks like the Capitol in “The Hunger Game,” while the Palestinian side reads like a snapshot from a war photographer. It is as if the south side of Chicago is most forgotten in this disenfranchised neighborhood, separated from the luxury of downtown’s gold coast, by simple concrete wall. The site alone is emotional, and many people cried on that roof. Rage cannot describe how I feel thinking of the insects swimming in that water tank, or just across the wall is an Israeli settlement with an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
So, I just want to lift up again the work of Black for Palestine, the Dream Defenders, the folks at Standing Rock who have been in solidarity. Many other folks that are taking the stance with us in these days in trying times, and I want to – before I leave – just shout out the BDS movement, which is a non-violent movement to isolate Israel until it comes into compliance with human rights. As you can see, it’s effective because they are trying to make it illegal to involve yourself in a nonviolent action here, and so I want to lift up BDS as a model for us to take part in, for us to share at our local levels, and for us to – hopefully – win on. So, thank you very much, I’ll take time for questions.