Continuing the tradition of Black youth organizations’ solidarity with Palestine
American imperialism helps to fund and, by extension, build the foundations of Israel's genocide, making this occupation just as much USA's.
by Ajamu Amiri Dillahunt
On April 16th 2018, the City Council of Durham, North Carolina became the first city in the country to unanimously pass a policy statement ending police exchanges between the Durham Police Department and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).
This auspicious decision was made possible because of the Demiltarize! Durham2Palestine Campaign, a progressive grassroots coalition of ten organizations who support the Palestinian struggle for Human Rights. There were many contributions that made this victory possible and all are equally important, but I want to explore the contribution of the historically Black college in Durham: North Carolina Central University (NCCU).
On October 24th, 2016, two years before the coalition formed, NCCU hosted an event entitled “Linking Liberation Struggles: Pursuing Global Awareness and Civic Engagement.” One of the panelist happened to be City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson who talked about the importance of Black and Palestinian Solidarity.
For many students, this was their first time hearing about the Israeli occupation and it exposed them to the interconnectedness of the Black freedom struggle and the Palestinian struggle for human rights. Two years later when the campaign emerged to end police exchanges between the Durham Police Department and the Israeli Defense Force, the movement to support Palestine was not new to the historically Black campus.
During Black history month, I gave a talk on the history of the Civil Rights Movement and its importance to understanding the contemporary movement and the issues we are currently fighting. To conclude my presentation I showed a video by Jewish Voice for Peace, explaining how the Palestinian land was taken. NCCU students, without hesitation, signed the petition organized by the Demilitarize campaign.
The participation of students from NCCU must be put into the historical context of Black and Palestinian solidarity dating back to the twentieth century with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a civil rights organization founded in 1960 and led by Black youth.
SNCC released a statement in support of Palestine in 1967 where they provided a critique to the racist formation of Zionism and thoroughly explained the expropriation of Palestinian land. The student organization also articulated profoundly the role of the United States and Britain in helping create the Zionist movement for its own capitalist gain.
The statement explained: “[T]he facts are that Israel is and always has been the tool and foot-hold for American and British exploitation in the Middle-East and Africa.” This statement was also released two years after Kwame Ture shouted Black Power at the Meredith March in June of 1966 and one month after SNCC declared themselves a Human Rights Organization. This was an all Black organization publicly making a statement in support of Palestine.
This very important connection of Black and Palestinian struggles for freedom would be continued and strengthened in the latter part of the twentieth century. In 1980, the Black Liberation Press published a document entitled “Palestine! Zionism! & Black America” and one of the contributing organizations was the Black New York Action Committee (BNYAC). It also included a speech from a sociologist from Hunter College who spoke on “Zionism as a form of Racism.”
The BNYAC was a Black activist organization out of Harlem doing political education in Black working class communities and they also supported African liberation struggles. The organization also held a solidarity rally for Palestine and connected the Israeli occupation to a broader disagreement with American imperialism and its role in zionism.
Just like SNCC, the BNYAC made the connection between Zionism, US imperialism, and their role in Africa. Also included in the document was a speech from Zehdi Terzi of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) at the Zion Lutheran Church in New York in 1979, where he identifies the cooperation of Black people and Palestinians as an “identification of struggle for our rights.” The work of the BNYAC was advancing the Black struggles connection to Palestine and building with Palestinian-led organizations.
The efforts to link the Black freedom struggle to the Palestinian struggle for human rights did not stop with the BNYAC, these connections are still being made in the current period. In fact there have been a number of delegations of Black people to Palestine, like the delegation led by the Dream Defenders in 2015.
Long-time labor, racial justice, and global activist Bill Fletcher visited Palestine and remembered his time there as: “Blink once, and you saw apartheid South Africa; blink twice, and you saw the Jim Crow South of the USA; blink three times, and you realized that you were not in the past, but in a very dangerous reality where an entire population is facing the prospect of perpetual marginalization and dispossession.”
That same year, a Black activist statement in support of Palestine was signed by hundreds of organizations and individuals. One of those individuals was Angela Davis, who has for years publicly spoken out in support of the Palestinian liberation. Her book, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement is a must read for understanding the importance of Palestine to the Black freedom struggle.
The Movement for Black Lives unequivocally released a statement in solidarity with Palestinians after the IDF killed over 100 Palestinians during their Great March of Return, calling out the billions of dollars that the United States gives to Israel to fund the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people. American imperialism helps to fund and, by extension, build the foundations of Israeli genocidal occupation of the Palestinian people, making this occupation just as much America’s as it is Israel’s.
It is our duty as oppressed people in the United States to link our struggles to other people who are victims of American capitalism, racism, and imperialism.
Solidarity is not simply people traveling to Palestine. There are concrete actions that we can take and one of the most accessible is participating in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. BYP100, a Black activist based organization, was represented by our National Director Charlene Carruthers on the delegation with the Dream Defenders in 2015. The BYP100 Durham Chapter was also a coalition partner with the Demilitarized Durham2Palestine Campaign connecting our struggle against police violence to the Palestinian struggle against the violence of the IDF.
As an organization committed to the Black freedom movement, it can be stated that we are indeed continuing the tradition of Black organizations seeing Palestinian freedom as an important part of their organizing agenda, and we are proud to do so.
Ajamu Amiri Dillahunt is a rising senior at North Carolina Central University double majoring in Political Science and History. He is a member of Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ) and the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100). He is also a former intern with the SNCC Digital Gateway Project.