It is no surprise to me that Marc Lamont Hill would speak boldly about how the American empire continues to fund genocide and apartheid.

-Daniel Johnson

by Daniel Johnson

Recently, University of Temple professor, author, and activist Marc Lamont Hill was fired from his post as an on-air political commentator at CNN after delivering an address at the U.N. during the organization’s marking of the upcoming 70th anniversary of its original Declaration of Human Rights, which came on the conclusion of WWII in 1948.

On the surface, it seems that Hill’s firing from CNN is entirely due to the company’s feeling that his call for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” was, in fact, a declaration of aggression against the Israeli people or Israel as a country. But a more detailed look reveals that his remarks became the focus of several pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which leveraged the power of Twitter and their considerable outrage manufacturing powers, resulting in his firing from the media company.

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In a rather ironic twist of fate, CNN has in its employ at least one conservative pundit, Rick Santorum, who has previously said that Palestinian people essentially do not exist, that the preferable solution for the conflict in Gaza is to remove the Palestinians from the country that they have always lived in. This sentiment has been parroted recently by failed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and the father of the most prolific liar in the White House not named Donald.

There has also been rampant speculation that Hill’s employer, Temple University could also fire him for his remarks, but the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has come to Hill’s defense on this front.  In the weeks since Hill’s firing, he has addressed the controversy in an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer, saying that “Many have focused specifically on my final remark, which said that justice required a ‘free Palestine, from the river to the sea.’ Critics of this phrase have suggested that I was calling for violence against Jewish people. In all honesty, I was stunned, and saddened, that this was the response. My use of ‘river to the sea’ was an invocation of a long history of political actors – liberal and radical, Palestinian and Israeli – who have called for their particular vision of justice in the area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

There is a well-documented history of radical Black activists and organizers calling for solidarity between Palestinians being oppressed by Israel’s government and Black Americans being oppressed by the American government. Most of this was brought to a national audience during the events of Ferguson, Missouri following the police shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. by officer Darren Wilson. While the Black activists who were in the city were dealing with their own country treating them like an insurgent force, tossing tear gas into crowd indiscriminately, they would receive instructions from Palestinian activists on the most effective ways to deal with the chemicals such as wearing masks and using milk to soothe the eyes after being exposed the canisters.

This is largely described as the birth of a Black-Palestinian solidarity movement, which seeks to address the common conditions of Black people in America and the Palestinian people, calling attention to the ways in which the two imperialist countries seek to keep the two minority groups in their perceived rightful places through empowering police units with the legal power to shoot to kill them, regardless of any material conditions present upon the policing officers choice to shoot and kill civilians.

Calls that position the Palestinian people as oppressed and speak plainly about the suffering which the Palestinians are forced to endure are often called anti-Semitic, as some of the figurehead leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement found out when they issued a statement on Palestine during the release of their political platform, in which they name the actions of Israel “genocide” and “apartheid” terms which many Black activists would simply define as true.

Digging deeper, we can see the inherent anti-Blackness in the way that Afro-Palestinians are treated within this conflict between Palestine and Israel, as Al-Jazeera reported in 2017. Afro-Palestinians told stories that sound exactly like the treatment Black people living in America got during the early Civil Rights movement. In addition, the Palestinians are dealing with police checkpoints that are set up by the Israeli government to severely restrict their movements within the country.

They are conscious of the constraints placed on them, largely because of their race, as many of these Afro-Palestinians have been in the country since 1948, the same year of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, which coincided with the foundation of Israel as an official state power and the elimination of Palestine as a legitimate country. According to Ali Jiddeh, a leader in the Afro-Palestinian community of Gaza, “You have to notice these soldiers. They focus on the young generation of girls and boys, because they are the main element of this uprising. They interrogate them and humiliate them in front of everyone. Eventually, the youth can’t take it anymore, and they explode….They are watching TV and constantly browsing the internet. They make comparisons with what they see in other countries. From a very young age, they realise life under occupation is not normal.”

As a result, it is of no surprise to me or anyone else who is following the Palestinian occupation by Israel that Marc Lamont Hill would speak boldly about the ways in which the American empire continues to fund genocide and apartheid. In so many ways, what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people looks a lot like what the United States has done and continues to do to its Black and Indigenous population.

Even though most of the conversation around Trump’s immigration policy has centered on Brown immigrants, some of his most notable explosions have come by way of denigrating countries which are full of Black people. Trump named Nigeria when railing against “shithole countries” and he has explicitly targeted the Haitians who originally came here to escape the humanitarian crisis of 2010 and will seek to force them to repatriate elsewhere or deport them back to Haiti, a clear sign that his hatred of immigrants is not limited to brown-skinned Central Americans of Middle Easterners, but also extends to all manner of Black people.

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The great Andre 3000 once proclaimed via a t-shirt, “All across the world, darker skinned people suffer the most. Why?”

What is clear is that there is no resistance against the apartheid of the Israeli government that is not bound up in the resistance against the unjust policing of dark-skinned people in America. Whether it is here in America or there in Gaza, the fundamental conditions of oppression bind us both together, and to be a global citizen means to look broadly at the implications of what it means to envision freedom for all oppressed peoples all across the globe, the vast majority of whom are dark-skinned or Black people.

Hill sees the world both as it is and as it could be. He sees Black liberation as a collective struggle, as a global problem. He understands that Black liberation is not exclusive to Black Americans, but it is a common set of issues that Black people around the world face. The reality is that he was fired for being a steadfast beacon shining a light on the atrocities being committed by both the United States and Israel, and the connections therein.

Free Palestine, free all political prisoners, free us all. This is the call Marc Lamont Hill made to the U.N., and calling for a more comprehensive version of freedom, one that includes all currently oppressed people in the conversation of freedom ultimately cost him a job, because this is what happens to truth tellers. 

Daniel Johnson studies English and creative writing at Sam Houston State University. In his spare time, he likes to visit museums and listen to trap music. His work can be found at The Root, Black Youth Project, Racebaitr, Those People, and Afropunk.