2019 Summer Lecture Series: No One Is Free Until Everyone Is Free

Video & Transcript
Sandra Tamari
Transcript No. 524 (July 9, 2019)


Malak Afaneh: We are so excited to welcome all of you to the first event of our 2019 Summer Intern Lecture Series, titled, “Resist, My People, Resist Them”: Centering the Voices of Palestinian Women in Resistance. We picked this title because “Resist, My People, Resist Them” is a poem written by a Palestinian poet, Dareen Tatour, who after writing the poem was arrested. So this is just a small example of the injustices that occur for Palestinian women, and the way her voice was used as a form of resistance. 

This summer lecture series focuses its attention on the genealogical transformation of Palestinian women’s resistance, explores the different forms of resistance that Palestinian women have taken, and draws attention to the varied ways that Palestinian women have been involved with, shaped, and led resistance. We have planned an exciting line-up of events over the next couple of weeks, and you can find more details on our website, our social media page, we have an Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, all that, and we also have some flyers laid out on the table by the front of the door if you’re interested. As the interns this year, who are all four Palestinian women, which is iconic, we decided to create a Zine, and a small brochure that maybe some of you saw, it’s by the front of the table, make sure to check it out on your way there, and it has artwork and poems that center Palestinian women and it’s a little way of having this physical symbol of what Palestinian women’s resistance looks like.

It’s a pleasure to introduce the speaker of our first event of this series, Sandra Tamari. Over the five years since the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, organizing for Palestinian liberation in the United States among Palestinian-Americans has developed a stronger commitment to an intersectional analysis that recognizes no one is free until everyone is free. Gender justice, queer liberation and racial justice have emerged as important ways to understand the Palestinian struggle for freedom, equality and justice. Sandra Tamari will explore how a focus on universal values of freedom and justice are working to embed Palestine into progressive and mainstream discourse.

A little bit about Ms. Tamari: Sandra Tamari is a Palestinian-American organizer and the Acting Director of Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian advocacy organization that highlights the discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel to illustrate structures of oppression. Prior to her work with Adalah, Sandra served as the Senior Program Manager for AMIDEAST, the Assistant Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, and from 2008 to 2009 worked with Al-Jana, Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts in Beirut. She is a co-founder of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and was co-chair of the Steering Committee for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights from 2015 to 2018. During the Ferguson uprising in 2014, she worked on building joint liberation efforts between Palestinians and Black Americans and remains committed to lifting up other social justice struggles as she works for Palestinian rights.

She will speak for around 40 minutes, after which we’ll open up the floor for questions. For our online audience, please feel free to Tweet us your questions @PalestineCenter.  Now without further ado, please join me in giving a warm welcome for Ms. Sandra Tamari.


Sandra Tamari:

Thank you so much, it’s an honor to be invited by young people. When I first got the invitation from the interns, I thought, “Wow, okay” [laughs], because it’s the best to be recognized by people who are up and coming. Because the people that are here, at the back of the room, doing all this work, are the movement. And we’re just clearing the rubble away so that they can take the path and do the marathon that needs to happen in our movement. It’s a pleasure to be at the Palestine Center. This is a place that is iconic in the minds of Palestinians. I used to live in DC, so this is a place that’s familiar to me. I heard all the greats speak here, so to be among that line-up is also an honor, and it also reminds me a lot of a mentor of mine, Dr. Hisham Sharabi, who is one of the founders of the Palestine Center, and I was thinking about him as I was coming over here, and I remember I worked at Georgetown University at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, and as many of you know, Dr. Sharabi was a giant in that center and in the founding of Arab Studies here in DC. And 20 years ago, it was the 50th anniversary of the Nakba, and a group of students organized an event at the university, and I was an administrator at the Center — assistant director — and they said, “Would you be willing to co-sponsor?” and without a second thought I said, “Sure. You got it. You got the room, whatever you need. Put our names on the flyer, whatever you need.” Little did I know that — well, we should have predicted — but anyway, the right wing Israeli opposition came down hard on the university. [They] went to the Dean’s office to complain about the programming, and the way that they were attacking the event was the use of the word “Nakba”. So that [was] 20 years ago. So let’s just reflect, right? Today, you can go online and you can see Buzzfeed articles about the Nakba, right? You can see Vox that’s covering the Nakba. This is all to say that discourse has changed considerably in my period of being active in this movement. Not that discourse is enough, obviously, because last year — [at] 70 years [since the Nakba] — we had a horrendous day with the embassy move and the terrible attack on the very brave protesters in Gaza. Over 70 killed on that day. But discourse changes really are important. So I want to think about that with you, and think about how we change discourse and celebrate the little wins. Because if we’re not radically optimistic about this movement, then we don’t have much that we’re going to be holding on to.

Anyway. Let’s give you a little bit of information. I am with the Adalah Justice Project. Some of you may be familiar with Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel based in Haifa. Adalah was formed in 1996, to do strategic legal litigation in the Israeli courts to highlight the discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. ‘96 was a period of time post-Oslo, where there was a lot of concern among Palestinians of ‘48 that their issue was going to be sidelined. Two states did not address what was happening inside Israel. Two states did not correct the historic injustice of the foundation of the state of Israel and it did not address the Nakba. It did not address the redistribution of land within the state. 22 years of litigation has shown that we get the Jewish Nation-State Law. Unfortunately our lawyers are tired, and are not really sure what they should be doing. They continue to fight, they continue to litigate and they do have litigation that’s going to be heard against the Nation State Law in the future. We don’t know. It was supposed to happen in January, and now a future date. Probably after the elections; long after the elections in Israel. So they were thinking a few years ago, “What do we do? What do we do if litigation is not going to be the answer? The legal system is built against us, just like it’s built against many people in this country. Can we do advocacy in a new way?” And they had a young attorney, an American citizen who was coming back to the U.S., and she said, “Let me do some mapping. Let me figure out what we should be doing.” So she came to the U.S. and she did that mapping and she went back to them and she said, “We should definitely be in the U.S., and we should be everywhere except D.C. We should not be at the UN, we should not be in Congress, we should be doing grassroots advocacy. And this is how I got introduced to Adalah, because they showed up in Ferguson, where I live, in St. Louis. 

So, we are using the treatment of Palestinians citizens of Israel as a microcosm of what’s happening. As a way of illustrating structural racism and making connections to movements in this country that are also fighting structural racism. We think that this lens helps people understand their own situation. We think that it helps them be a little bit easier on themselves and not blame themselves when the system is rigged against them. And I hope that through the course of this time that we have together that I can give you a few lessons that we’ve learned in the last five years, and [that] I can help you think about what “intersectional” means, not in an academic or theoretical way, but at the grassroots level. Because I’m not an academic, I am an organizer. And I really want to speak from my experience, and I hope that we can have a conversation about how this works. 

I said we were not going to talk about theory, but we do have a theory of change. Our theory of change is based on a de-exceptionalizing of Palestine. So I think many of you have heard this idea that there are PEPs: Progressive Except Palestine. Right? We know about these people; they surround us. Liberal Zionists who want to be marching against cages at the border, and want to be talking about the injustice of the Muslim ban, but at the same time supporting the same policies in Palestine. We have, on the other side, what are sometimes referred to as POOPs, which is Progressive Only On Palestine. And those are people in my community, as a Palestinian, sometimes in the Muslim community, that want to say that Israel is somehow a unique phenomenon in the world, unparalleled injustice that’s never existed before. I reject that analysis as well, because Israel is a settler colonial state that uses white supremacy to subjugate a group of people, namely the Palestinians. We’ve seen this happen. This happens in this country. This happens in Australia, happens in Canada, happens across the globe. So it’s not a unique phenomenon. So we really are trying to say, “Have coherence.” We’re talking to the PEPs, we’re talking to the POOPs. Both. 

A few years ago we put together a website called “Freedom, Bound” — I invite you to visit it, it’s https://freedom-bound.org — that really talks about a legacy of solidarity. Really exploring Black-Palestinian solidarity through the ages, going back to the 1960s and really exploring how those things have manifested, again and again, as political choices through the decades. There are many lessons that we’ve gleaned, and we have about ten lessons on the website that you can explore, but today I was hoping you would let me indulge you in four of those lessons. Then we can talk about how those manifested in some of the organizing that I’ve done.

The first lesson is “Show Up”. Pretty simple, right? We have many examples in the past of members of the Black Panthers and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNICC), traveling to Tunisia and having exchanges with the PLO, really basing their analysis of racism in this country in an international analysis of what was happening, and Palestinians becoming a model of resistance. In the more recent period, what we have seen beginning in Ferguson and really going back to Trayvon Martin in Florida with the rise of the Dream Defenders and the fact that the Dream Defenders was co-founded by a Palestinian, Ahmed Abuznaid, we really saw that there was a lot of showing up. Palestinians showing up for the Black struggle. And making connections with police brutality in this country. 

The Ferguson moment was something that changed my life forever. We’re coming into August, this year will be five years since the murder of Mike Brown on that August 9th. It was a very hot Saturday, and I was sitting at home reading the Twitter feed of this young man in the street, as we all know the story. Four and a half hours in the sun, his mother unable to reach him, and it was that summer, that same summer of terrible violence in Gaza, and the kidnapping of a child in Jerusalem [and] burned alive… So it wasn’t just theoretical in my mind. As a mom, it was a very visceral sorrow that I was feeling in my heart. So the first impulse that many Palestinians that I was active with was, “We must send a letter to Michael Brown’s mother. We must get to her somehow and express our sorrow.” And it was a good impulse, but we learned quickly that it wasn’t addressing the issues that the Ferguson community was asking us to do. What they were asking us to do was show up in the streets and to occupy the police department and to be brave. It wasn’t about an individual act, we had to address the structural racism that allowed this murder to happen and allowed the person that did this to be let go.

I want to go, then, to one year after the murder of Mike Brown. We got a note that there was a delegation coming to visit us. I didn’t know much about who was coming, and [at] the very last moment I had three people in my home, and we went to the march for Mike Brown together. One of these people was Siam Nuwara. Some of you may know Siam. Siam is a Palestinian father from Ramallah whose son, Nadeem, was murdered by snipers on Nakba Day in 2014. Three months before the murder of Mike Brown. Siam is a brilliant person. He used forensic video, he analyzed the video of the sniper shot against his son, and he was able to identify through social media the individual that shot his son, and took this to court. When he came to St Louis, he was on a tour looking for answers and trying to get justice for Nadeem. And a group of people decided that he needed to come to St Louis to try to make connections and to meet the family of Mike Brown and meet the family of VonDerrit Myers, another young man who was shot in that same summer by police in St Louis. When I first met Siam, I tried to explain to him what was going on and who Mike Brown was and why there was an uprising and what was happening, and he was very resistant. He did not want to hear about it; he had a single mission: justice for Nadeem. But I want to show you a short video that a really talented filmmaker made of this visit, and show you where Siam ended up by the end of this intense three days. 

[showing video: Showing Up: From Palestine to Ferguson

Video Transcript:

*crowd chanting* “United we stand, united we stand, united we stand” 

Speaker: “In the soil of revolution, we pray oh God, that we might co-labor with you and the Earth, that we might bring the day, an end to the day where every other day our children are shot down in the street. And God, until then, we swear with our very lives, we will resist.”

Siam [in Arabic]: “I am the father of the martyr Nadeem Nowara, who was martyred last year on the anniversary of the Nakba for no reason at all. I am here now in St. Louis to support the families of those who were martyred the same way that my own son was martyred. I mean who were killed unjustly. For no reason at all. I am Palestinian, and I showed up. And they appreciated that stance. They appreciated that I came to support them, to encourage them, to stand with them, to feel with them. If we want others to feel for us, we must feel for others. 

I empathize with the people here and how they are losing their children. We in Palestine, we are also losing our children. The same system that is used against them, is used against us.” 

[end video]


So you can see you know, how CM had a transformation with us, in our short time together. So we spent a lot of times, late in the evenings, you know, showing CM. He was into video forensics, so he was shocked when him videos of police shootings in this country. And he said, “The evidence is there. You see it happening and there is no justice.” So through hearing these stories, and meeting the families, and having the reaction— you can see, you know, people like Cornel West and Bri-Bri hugging him and comforting him. The showing up became an act of solidarity. That he was there, meant a lot to them. They didn’t know where he was, right? They thought he was there to be there for them. And they reciprocated that solidarity. So it was a really powerful moment of time, and I think that Palestinians living in Ferguson felt that over and over again. I feel that we can talk more about how that happens in different contexts. 

Lesson two, right: Share Strategies. So there’s a lot of examples. This is [pointing at screen] one of the Freedom Riders. We remember, of course, the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement. Palestinians, you know, borrowed this tactic, and this narrative, to talk about segregated roads and settlements inside the West Bank. It was a powerful action. This was the more famous one [pointing at screen]. There were tweets that were coming into Ferguson from people in the West Bank that were talking about how to deal with tear gas. So we have people like Miriam Barghouti and others who were sending people really practical ways of dealing with this phenomenon that they had not dealt with before. Don’t rub your eyes. Bring milk of magnesia to the protests. Run away from the wind and very different, but practical things. And it was heard, right? And it was heard and in a very powerful way. This is usually when you talk to people about how did Palestinians become embedded in the Ferguson movement? They usually refer to these tweets. So this is a really important moment of solidarity, this sharing of strategies. And this continues, you know? There are lots of ways that we share strategies. At Adalah, we look to U.S. law. We look to Jim Crow era to make arguments in the Israeli courts. Lots of different times, when they’re looking at me and asking, “Is there any research? Whats the research on different legal strategies in the past that have happened in the U.S? When we work with partners like the Center for Constitutional Rights, we try to think about strategies and arguments that can be made in the Israeli courts. The Israeli courts like to think of themselves as liberal. The judges like to remove themselves from the state, and to say, “The third—,” I don’t know if anyone has been to law school? Any lawyers? My understanding is that a lot of the textbooks, the law textbooks, really use a lot of Israeli case law. So as a way of saying, you know, look at this, you know independent judiciary and how upfront they are. But we know the reality of this, right? Obviously it has its rightward trend, just like in this country. This is another way of sharing strategies [pointing at the screen] that had an impact. Cherrell Brown was a Dream Defender, and one of the first Dream Defender delegations to Palestine in January 2015. She wrote an article about talking to someone who had a Palestinian flag at one of the Ferguson protests. And she was asking him, “Why do you have this flag?” He said, “Well, I don’t know. All I know is that these are the people on Twitter telling me how to survive tear gas. So I got there flag out here.” So, it’s really, you know, great. We’ll take it. 

Lesson 3: Study. Sharing strategies but also sharing intellect. This is a picture of Audrey Lord, and Audrey Lord has had a huge impact on Palestinian feminism, and feminism across the globe. So you know, waking up to the idea that Palestinian feminism must be grounded in an anti colonial framework. That it’s not simply a feminism that is against masculinity or against men, because it’s not only men Israel that are oppressing them. It’s the whole system that’s oppressing them. So you know, this is an important reminder that reading outside of our movements is very important. This is one of the ways that Adalah does its work, here in the U.S. When we say to de-exceptionalize Palestine, we want Palestine to be embedded in different conversations. So coming to the Palestine Center is nice, you all are great. But you know these issues and you’re all with me, right? But I, for instance, like to go to different settings and we like to set up conversations that maybe don’t happen all the time. One example, and there’s at least one person from New Orleans, so I don’t think you were at this meeting. But you know we set up a conversation with housing advocates in New Orleans. We invited them in, saying we’re going to have lunch. We’re going to host this at you know, a place that’s known to all of you at the housing advocates’ office, and  we want everyone to come in and we want to strategize with you. What we did is we created a space of co-education. We refer to this as co-education. We presented for a very short time about housing policies in Israel. We discussed admission committees. Admission committees are committees in small towns, over 500 towns inside Israel, that are set up to interview potential residents. These admissions committees can create their own rules. They can decide who is socially suitable to live inside that community. So while the law that allows these admission committees never says, “This is used to discriminate against Palestinians,” it does. Many of these communities say simply, “We’re a Zionist community.” “We’re a community that’s committed to Zionism.” So the first question that a Palestinian applicant will have is, “Are you a Zionist?” And Palestinians by definition are not Zionists, in case you were wondering. Or they will have a stipulation that requires military service to be a resident of that community, and Palestinians do not serve in the military because they’re seen as a Fifth Column inside of Israel. So they’re exempted from military service. So we began to describe these tactics and these law. The New Orleans housing advocates said, “We know that! We’ve heard of this before. This is exactly how it works here. So they began to explain to us about housing covenants that had been passed after Katrina. They stated very specifically that in one instance,  that for a landowner to rent to a tenant, that tenant had to be a blood relation within two or three degrees. What that meant is that white landowners, which were the majority, the vast majority, could only rent to relations that are also white. So this was segregation by another name. All of a sudden, Palestine, that seems so far away from them, and so distant, became an issue that they understood and was connected to their own issues. So this was a very powerful two hours of conversation about how Palestine is not an exception and not far away, but really connected to their own issues. So this is the kind of thing we like to curate.  

Lesson Four. Centering Native History. [Points at screen] This is an artistic description of Mahmoud Darwish, who many of you know. The poem, which you can’t read is by Lee (last name), who is an indigenous poet from Canada and she met Mahmoud Darwish at an international conference. The quote, if I’m remembering it correctly was that, “Something inside Mahmoud Darwish spoke deeply to her when she met him.”  It was this, you know, understanding, this seeing of each other as indigenous people, displaced. Adalah Justice Project really does try to ground our work in an understanding of settler colonialism and our own complicity in settler colonialism on this land. I should have acknowledged the land. We are in Piscataway land, and it’s important for us to remember that we also are complicit in this. So as we are fighting Israeli settler colonialism, we have to be consistent and coherent and talk about our complicity in that. Even we Palestinians, and other immigrants, we are also immigrant settlers. [points at screen] This is the map that we are always showing at our events right? It’s an important map. But the map that we don’t talk about is this one. This is not what we’re taught in school, and this is not what our movement is talking about. We absolutely have to talk about the loss of native land if we want to be consistent. We are partnering with indigenous organizations like The Red Nation. We are partnering with organizations that are fighting the Dakota access pipeline. Many Palestinians went to Standing Rock. This pipeline continues  to be built. It’s going across the country and it’s ending up in the Louisiana Bayou and in the Louisiana Bayou, the map of the pipeline is going through unincorporated towns. Unincorporated towns are towns that are not recognized, not on the maps, not on the GPS, and this is a way of erasing native and black communities, poor communities. The very same way that Israel erases Bedouin villages in the Naqab. So there’s a lot to learn from one another and that you know, it’s important for us to continue to keep this in mind as we go forward. [points at picture] Just examples of Palestinians showing up for native struggle.   

So I want to go back to the title that I chose for this talk. “We are not free until everyone is free,” goes back to Fannie Loui Hamar. As a civil rights icon, she really pushed to make sure that black women were represented in the political process and fought for voting rights. It’s important to remember that black women have been taking great risk in this country and have been taking great risks for our movement, for the Palestinian movement. I just want to lift up the women of the Dream Defenders, the Woman of the Highlander Center, the women in St. Louis that have continued to lift up our movement and to make it very strong. It’s been an honor to be side by side with these people and to struggle with them. Try to show up, try to share, try to study, and to  remind ourselves of our complicity in these systems. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve been transformed in the last five years and I’m excited about the discourse changes that have been happening. Going back to what I was saying, five years ago there wasn’t a conversation about reparations happening in this country. Now presidential candidates are being forced to have a policy position on reparations. We did not have conversations about prison abolition and it’s people like Angela Davis and the movement that have made that an essential piece. We are relying on our partners in the movement for black lives and other social justice movements, to make sure that Palestine becomes part of the progressive movements in the U.S. That Palestine is not left behind. They are committed to that. I’m always humbled when I ask for their help and they’re willing to take us on and put their issues aside. One of the things that I learned in Ferguson is that when Palestine does get embedded, and I think many of you know this, it takes over. The conversation becomes all about us. It becomes all about the opposition and the backlash. What I kept doing was apologizing was for how much space my issue was taking. The biggest gift I was ever given was by a black activist that I’m very close with in St.Louis is, “Never apologize for being here. Your issue is central and important to us. We need an international perspective on these issues. Otherwise, we think that we’re alone.” 

So the last story I’ll tell you, is that on Sunday night I was at the Church of Reverend Graylan Hagler in northeast D.C for the counter CUFI action. There was a beautiful choir that  sang at that event. I was really moved. A really beautiful singer— tall, black woman– sang the verse of “We Shall Overcome.” But she’s saying it, “We are not afraid.” I was moved to tears that that song was being offered to the Palestine Liberation Movement. I went up to her afterwards and I thanked  her for her voice and her presence. What she told me was that she was there to honor her daughter who had passed away two years ago. Her daughter had worked for the American Friends Service Committee in Africa and had died two years ago and just before her death she had returned a camera that had belonged to her mother. Her mother left  this behind at Bus Boys and Poets and she was distraught that she had lost this camera. Six weeks later after her daughter had passed away, and she thought the camera had been gone forever, a Palestinian called her and said, “I’ve been looking for you. I have your camera.” She was so moved by this, and they met up, and this Palestinian told her, “I’m here to protest AIPAC, and that’s why I’m here. I wanted to make sure you got this back.” She said [the mom], “I’m going with you. I’ll go to the White House with you. I’m going to protest  AIPAC too.” And Sunday night was her daughter’s birthday and she felt like the only place she needed to be in was in a space for Palestine. So these are the moments of showing up. These are the moments and the gifts of solidarity. This is what gives us meaning. This is what gives us hope. We have to remain hopeful. We have to remain optimistic because if we’re going to win, which I believe we will, we have to remain joyful. So thank you for all the work you’ve been doing. I appreciate you.