The Thorns that Exist and Resist

Black-Palestine Solidarity in the Twenty-First Century

by Andy Clarno
published in MER282

Black-Palestinian unity and solidarity is at its absolute height in the US, because both peoples recognize that the racist nature of the US government and the racist nature of Israel are the same. When I saw those white racists marching in Virginia, all I could think of was the white settlers in Israel burning Palestinian children to death or marching to attack my people in Jerusalem. —Rasmea Odeh [1]

On August 12, 2017, more than 1,200 people gathered in Chicago to bid farewell to Rasmea Odeh, a Palestinian-American community organizer facing deportation due to US government efforts to repress struggles for social justice and support for Palestinian freedom. At the gathering, Angela Davis honored Rasmea’s lifelong commitment to revolutionary struggles against racism, Zionism and imperialism. A week later, Kristian Davis Bailey, a Detroit-based activist with the Black4Palestine network, stood outside Rasmea’s sentencing hearing with banners that declared: “From Assata to Rasmea, We Fight for Freedom/Hurriya.” These moments highlight the black-Palestine unity that Rasmea celebrated in her final statement to the court, quoted above. For decades, Rasmea and the Arab American Action Network have worked closely with black liberation movements, including the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Building on these and other historical connections, movements for black and Palestinian liberation have intensified the bonds of solidarity in the last three years.

Two recent books provide powerful reminders that black-Palestine solidarity has deep roots in transnational struggles for liberation. In Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary, Alex Lubin provides a long history of black American political engagement with the question of Palestine. [2] As far back as the late nineteenth century, black diasporic visions of return to an African homeland were influenced by the idea of Jewish emancipation through Zionism. For more than a century, Lubin demonstrates, black writers, activists and organizers have built political imaginaries—ways of conceptualizing the present and envisioning the future—through comparisons and connections between formations of racial capitalism in the US, Europe and Palestine/Israel. During the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, the Black Panther Party articulated a politics of “intercommunalism”—arguing that the Palestinian struggle for national liberation and the black freedom movement were both targeting the same global system of US imperialism. More recently, he argues, black-Palestine solidarity has reemerged in a context defined by neoliberalism and securitization.

Keith Feldman extends this analysis in his new book, A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America, which argues that struggles for racial justice in the US from the late 1960s through the mid-1980s were deeply shaped by contested interpretations of the political situation in Palestine/Israel. [3] Feldman focuses on the role of cultural producers who influenced these debates. During deliberations on the United Nation’s 1975 Resolution 3379 declaring Zionism a form of racism, for instance, the US ambassador to the UN was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan is known in the US for insisting that poverty in black communities is the product of a pathological culture grounded in matriarchal family structures. At the UN, Moynihan confronted powerful critiques of Israeli settler colonial racism produced by the Palestine Research Center (PRC), including comparisons between Israel and South Africa. Insisting that Israel was a bastion of liberty, Moynihan rejected the PRC analysis as an anti-Semitic tool of totalitarian communism. Yet the PRC analysis prevailed and the UN General Assembly approved Resolution 3379.

Solidarity from Durban to Ferguson

Importantly, Feldman and Lubin both conclude their books with discussions of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa. Two of the most important debates at the WCAR focused on reparations for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and on Israel as a racist and apartheid state. The US and Israel undermined the official WCAR forum by withdrawing their delegations in protest over discussions of slavery and apartheid. But the unofficial NGO forum attended by thousands of civil society representatives from around the world produced a powerful report condemning Israel as a racist, apartheid state and demanding comprehensive reparations for slavery. [4] During the conference, tens of thousands of black South Africans marched through the streets of Durban declaring their solidarity with Palestinians, black Americans and other people fighting racism, discrimination, xenophobia and genocide. The WCAR was an important moment in the ongoing effort to forge transnational political imaginaries and movements that connect struggles against racism in Palestine, the US, South Africa and around the world.

Another key moment in black-Palestine solidarity took place in the summer of 2014. In July, Israel launched a seven-week assault on the Gaza Strip, killing more than 2,100 Palestinians and injuring 10,000. On August 9, while Israel bombed Gaza, Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black youth, in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Outraged over the repeated killing of black people at the hands of police in the United States, protesters took to the streets of Ferguson in an uprising that soon spread to Baltimore, Chicago and other cities where the devaluation of black life is on constant display. In a joint statement, black and Palestinian activists described this moment:

In the course of resilience against the merciless edge of state-violence, protesters in Ferguson held up signs declaring solidarity with the people of Palestine. In turn, Palestinians posted pictures on social media with instructions of how to treat the inhalation of tear gas. Organically, an analysis emerged highlighting similarities, but not sameness, of Black and Palestinian life, and more aptly, of their survival.” [5]

Over the last three years, activists, artists and educators have reinvigorated the bonds between struggles for black and Palestinian liberation.

In August 2015, more than 1,000 black organizers, activists, scholars and artists released the Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine. [6] Nearly 50 grassroots organizations endorsed the statement, including the Dream Defenders, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Assata’s Daughters and the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center. The same year, more than 60 black and Palestinian activists came together to produce When I See Them, I See Us. [7] This powerful video declaring mutual solidarity between black and Palestinian liberation featured dedicated freedom fighters such as Angela Davis, Rasmea Odeh, Omar Barghouti, Cornel West, Rafeef Ziadeh, Robin D.G. Kelley, Linda Sarsour and Kristian Davis Bailey.

In August 2016, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)—a collective of more than 50 grassroots organizations representing black people across the US—released a detailed M4BL platform outlining demands for political, economic and social transformation. [8] Alongside calls for community control, political power, economic justice, reparations and an end to the war on black people, the platform demands divestment from prisons, police and the military, and investment in the education, health and safety of black communities. As part of this demand, the M4BL platform provides a searing critique of the US empire, the military industrial complex, the global “war on terror,” AFRICOM, US interventions—in Libya, Somalia, Haiti and Honduras—and US military aid to Israel. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel endorsed the M4BL platform while the Palestinian BDS National Committee declared its commitment “to firmly and consistently stand in solidarity with our black sisters and brothers in the United States and around the world by supporting the demands and policy proposals in this platform.” [9] These public expressions of mutual solidarity provide a forum through which black and Palestinian activists articulate the relationship between struggles and outline visions for collective liberation. As Lubin would expect, the deepening political imaginary is grounded in a critique of state violence and neoliberal racial capitalism.

At its base, this political imaginary involves a mutual recognition of the systematic racist oppression confronting Palestinians and black Americans. This recognition is perfectly captured in the video’s refrain—“When I See Them, I See Us”—and in its juxtaposed images of police violence, displacement, imprisonment and death in the US and Palestine. Similarly, the Black Solidarity Statement draws parallels between the forms of state violence confronting Palestinians and black Americans: “Israel’s widespread use of detention and imprisonment against Palestinians evokes the mass incarceration of black people in the US, including the political imprisonment of our own revolutionaries. Soldiers, police and courts justify lethal force against us and our children who pose no imminent threat.” Rather than reducing similarity to simple equivalence, however, the authors of these statements recognize that structures of domination are context-specific. “We respect the uniqueness of our struggles and our varied histories,” declares When I See Them, I See Us. The Black Solidarity Statement points out that, “the apartheid configuration in Israel/Palestine is unique from the United States (and South Africa).”

Going further, the solidarity statements highlight the links between the US and Israel that connect the oppression of Palestinians and black Americans. One of the key links involves joint training exercises and the circulation of military and policing strategies between Israel and the US. As the Black Solidarity Statement testifies, “while the US and Israel would continue to oppress us without collaborating with each other, we have witnessed police and soldiers from the two countries train side-by-side.” They also share intelligence, technology and tactics. Similarly, the M4BL platform focuses on the impact of US military support for Israel. It argues that US military aid “not only diverts much needed funding from domestic education and social programs, but it makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government.”

Kristian Davis Bailey, a Detroit-based writer and activist, describes black Americans and Palestinians as “the thorns that exist and resist from different ends of the US colonial and imperial project.” He explains:

The descendants of enslaved Africans constitute one of the first and largest oppressed national groups on colonized territory on Turtle Island [North America] and Palestinians are the largest target of the world’s most recent colonial entity, which serves as an arm for US imperialism in the Middle East. Collectively, we are struggling internally and externally against the world’s biggest and most racist capitalist, colonial and imperial powers. [10]

The political imaginary of contemporary black-Palestine solidarity, therefore, is grounded in an analysis of similar yet distinct structures of domination connected through a global network of imperial power. Similarly, the visions for liberation emphasize the importance of conjoined struggles. According to the joint statement by black and Palestinian activists that accompanies the When I See Them, I See Us video, “We choose to build with one another in a shoulder to shoulder struggle against state-sanctioned violence. […] We choose to join one another in resistance not because our struggles are the same but because we each struggle against the formidable forces of structural racism and the carceral and lethal technologies deployed to maintain them.” The Black Solidarity Statement declares that “we aim to sharpen our practice of joint struggle against capitalism, colonialism, imperialism and the various racisms embedded in and around our societies.” And the M4BL platform expresses a global vision for liberation:

Until we are able to overturn US imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy, our brothers and sisters around the world will continue to live in chains. Our struggle is strengthened by our connections to the resistance of peoples around the world fighting for their liberation. The Black radical tradition has always been rooted in igniting connection across the global south under the recognition that our liberation is intrinsically tied to the liberation of Black and Brown people around the world.

Connecting Communities in Struggle

Statements of mutual solidarity are merely the most visible expressions of the deepening relationship between Black and Palestinian communities in struggle. In recent years, these relationships have been strengthened through delegations and educational exchanges, popular art and education and workshops bringing together scholars and activists.

Delegations are among the most important mechanisms for generating connections between communities and movements. Since 2008, Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) has taken six delegations of Black, indigenous and other people of color on two-week educational and solidarity visits to Palestine/Israel. In 2011, a group of indigenous women and women of color—including Angela Davis, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Barbara Ransby, Chandra Mohanty and Waziyatawin—visited Palestine on a solidarity delegation. Dream Defenders organized delegations to Palestine for Black, indigenous and immigrant rights activists in 2015 and 2016.

These delegations enable activists to witness Israeli apartheid and experience first-hand the oppression confronting Palestinians on a daily basis. They also help delegates deepen their understanding of the experiences of African Palestinians, Mizrahi Jews and African refugees. And they create opportunities for Palestinian, Israeli and US-based organizers to meet, learn from one another and stand together at demonstrations.

Reports issued by these delegations include calls for an end to the Israeli occupation, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, equal rights for Mizrahi Jews and African refugees, an end to US aid for Israel and support for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns. Members of the Movement for Black Lives who joined the 2016 IFPB Indigenous and People of Color Delegation released a statement reiterating the vision of a conjoined struggle:

In the fight for dignity, justice and freedom, the Movement for Black Lives is committed to the global shared struggle of oppressed people, namely the people of occupied Palestine and other indigenous communities who for decades have resisted the occupation of their land, the ethnic cleansing of their people and the erasure of their history and experiences. In this violent, political climate, it is urgent that we make clear the connection between violence inflicted on Black people globally that is encouraged and permitted by the state and the profiling, harm and genocide funded by the United States and perpetrated by Zionist vigilantes and the Israel Defense Forces on Palestinian people. Our collective oppression mandates that we work together across geography, language and culture to decry and organize an end to capitalistic, imperialist regimes. [11]

While most delegations take North Americans on visits to Palestine, a delegation of Palestinian activists also visited the US in 2014 through the Right to Education campaign at Birzeit University, in the West Bank. The delegation met with activists and grassroots organizations in Ferguson, St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia and other US cities. Coordinated by Students for Justice in Palestine, the delegation was organized “to create linkages between the student movement in the US and Palestine; to build long-term, institutional relationships between our universities; and to exchange information between Palestinians and US social movements fighting related issues of racism, colonialism and attacks on education (e.g., indigenous, migrant and black struggles).” [12]

Black-Palestine solidarity is also being forged through art, music, poetry and popular education campaigns. Lubin’s analysis of black-Palestine solidarity in the context of neoliberalization and state violence highlights the spoken-word poetry of Suheir Hammad and the music of the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. Poets such as Rafeef Ziadah and Rami Kenazi have provided powerful voices drawing connections between the Palestinian struggle and movements against racial capitalism in North America, Great Britain and Europe.

Kanazi’s poems—such as #InsideOut and #NoLessWorthy—weave together incidents of racialized and gendered violence from Gaza, Ferguson, Iraq and Paris to highlight the global connections between racialized regimes of dehumanization and expendability. As Kanazi points out, “The same impetus that drives me to act against Israeli occupation and apartheid motivates me to stand against US militarism, the prison industrial complex, police violence and the expulsion of undocumented communities. Similarly, this work can’t be separated from battling transphobia, misogyny and ableism. It’s to affirm that people deserve freedom and justice, whether in occupied Palestine or brutalized Baltimore.” [13]

In 2015, the Abu Jihad Museum in Abu Dis launched an exhibition titled George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine organized by Greg Thomas. [14] A member of the Black Panther Party, Jackson was murdered by prison guards in San Quentin in 1971. Among the possessions found in his cell were poems by the Palestinian poet Samih al-Qasim. Bringing together books, drawings, political posters and other artwork, Greg Thomas’s exhibit builds on the connection between Jackson and al-Qasim to highlight the deep historical links between Palestinian and black American revolutionary movements. After opening in Abu Dis, the exhibit has travelled throughout Palestine and the US—from the African Cultural Center in Jerusalem to the Black Panther Party 50th Anniversary Conference in Oakland, California. It has generated public conversations about political imprisonment, caging and the relationship between black and Palestinian struggles against racism and colonialism.

Another forum for deepening the connections between black and Palestinian struggles are workshops and conferences that bring together scholars and activists. In 2016–2017, the University of Illinois at Chicago hosted a series of transnational workshops on “Geographies of Justice” that provided space for political organizers, public intellectuals and interdisciplinary scholars to examine connections and build links between struggles for justice in Palestine, the US and South Africa. [15] The first workshop focused on prisons, policing and violence; the second emphasized education and pedagogy; and the third addressed wealth inequality and economic justice. Participants from three continents provided overviews of emergent actions and movements, discussed frameworks and infrastructures of resistance and generated political analyses of the current conjuncture. Attentive to the uniqueness of each context, workshop participants interrogated the overlapping structures of racial capitalism and envisioned possibilities for expanding connections between struggles.

In December 2016, organizers and scholar-activists travelled to Brazil for a two-day workshop called “The Arab Spring meets Black Lives Matter in Rio de Janeiro.” [16] Black Americans, Palestinians, Egyptians and others met with black Brazilian organizers and community members, including a group of students occupying university buildings in a struggle against racism and privatization. Tracing the interconnected histories of slavery, racism, colonialism and capitalism, participants learned about ongoing struggles and built connections between their movements.

These workshops highlight the internationalism underlying black-Palestine solidarity. Rather than a narrow focus on the US and Palestine, the movement is part of an expansive global network of organizations fighting racial capitalism, settler colonialism and empire. In 2014, Ana Tijoux and Shadia Mansour released “Somos Sur,” a celebration of musical movement and political solidarity across the Global South. During the 2016 Olympics, a delegation of Black Lives Matter activists from the US travelled to Rio de Janeiro to connect with Brazilian activists fighting police violence and displacement. Later that year, women from five continents joined the Women’s Boat to Gaza in an effort to break the Israeli siege. After the Israeli military seized the boat and deported the activists, South African participant Leigh-Ann Naidoo declared: “People asked me why take the risk to struggle for Palestine? Because apartheid is something we experienced in South Africa and I feel there are so many similarities with the way Israel operates and treats the Palestinians.” [17]

Advancing the Joint Struggle

The reinvigoration of black-Palestine solidarity has already proven effective. For instance, BDS campaigns targeting Group4Securicor (G4S)—the world’s largest multi-national private security company—have been animated by critiques of the global circulation of security forces that uphold racist regimes. Until last year, G4S provided security services for Israeli prisons, the headquarters of the Israeli police and for businesses operating in West Bank settlements. In 2012, Palestinian prisoner support organizations called for an international boycott of G4S. The following year, under pressure from South African BDS activists, a Cape Town hospital cancelled its contract with G4S. Since that time, businesses, universities and trade unions in Great Britain, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East have terminated contracts with G4S to oppose the company’s complicity in the oppression of Palestinians. In 2015, the Black Solidarity Statement identified G4S as a target for joint struggle, noting: “G4S harms thousands of Palestinian political prisoners illegally held in Israel and hundreds of black and brown youth held in its privatized juvenile prisons in the US. The corporation profits from incarceration and deportation from the US and Palestine, to the UK, South Africa and Australia. We reject notions of ‘security’ that make any of our groups unsafe and insist no one is free until all of us are.”

Working together, BDS activists and prison abolitionists convinced Columbia University to divest from G4S. The Gates Foundation and the United Methodist Church also divested. Under growing pressure from the BDS movement, the British company G4S sold all of its operations in Palestine and Israel to the Israeli equity fund, FIMI, in December 2016. The withdrawal of G4S represents an important victory for the BDS movement, as another international business realizes that there are costs associated with supporting Israeli apartheid. Nevertheless, FIMI has retained all of its existing operations as well as the name G4S Israel. In July 2017, vehicles marked with the G4S logo provided the surveillance technology that Israel installed at the entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque. Moreover, the multinational corporation Group4Securicor continues to operate prisons, migrant detention centers and youth incarceration facilities, and to provide security services to governments and corporations around the world. For this reason, activists point out, it is important to continue challenging the company.

Like the black freedom movement, Native American organizations fighting settler colonialism as well as immigrant justice and prison abolition movements have a long history of mutual solidarity with Palestine. Under the Trump administration, movements fighting state violence and racial capitalism are working to strengthen the connections between efforts to resist the incarceration and death of black youth, the detention and deportation of Latinx immigrants, the surveillance and harassment of Arabs and Muslims and the intensification of both exploitation and abandonment of working class communities. The liberation of Palestine is part of the political imaginary animating all of these movements.

In the US, Palestine solidarity work is under attack. State and federal governments are attempting to criminalize support for BDS. Student organizations and activists face repression from university administrations. The FBI continues to raid the homes of Palestine solidarity activists. Palestine remains an exception to free speech. And Rasmea Odeh has been deported. The intensification of repression is an organized response to the expansion of Palestine solidarity and the success of the BDS movement. In the face of this repression, Omar Barghouti notes, there is only one way to respond: “We need to expand, mainstream and build on our many inspiring BDS campaigns, academic, cultural and economic, as the most effective way to respond to the new McCarthyism designed by Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid and exported to states where its lobby groups enjoy massive influence.” [18] The work by black and Palestinian organizers to build principled, historically grounded relations of solidarity is key to the success of these efforts.



[1] “This is the court statement Judge Drain didn’t want you to hear,” Justice for Rasmea, August 18, 2017:
[2] Alex Lubin, Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).
[3] Keith Feldman, A Shadow Over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
[4] “World Conference Against Racism NGO Forum Declaration,” World Conference Against Racism, Durban, South Africa, September 3, 2001.
[5] “About,” When I See Them, I See Us:
[6] “2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine,” Black Solidarity with Palestine:
[7] When I See Them, I See Us:
[8] The Movement for Black Lives platform:
[9] “Palestinians Salute the Movement for Black Lives Emphasizing Common Struggle against Racial Oppression,” The Palestinian BDS National Committee, August 9, 2016:
[10] Kristian Davis Bailey, “Towards Justice: Deepening Black-Palestinian Solidarity and Global Struggle,” Black Solidarity with Palestine, July 5, 2016:
[11] “Reflection Three: The Movement for Black Lives in Palestine,” Interfaith Peace-Builders, July 29, 2016:
[12] “2016 R2E Tour,” National Students for Justice in Palestine:
[13] Mark Karlin, “Poet Remi Kanazi: Global and Palestinian Movements for Justice Are Inseparable,” Truthout, September 14, 2015.
[14] Rebecca Pierce, “How the Sun of Palestine Reached a Black Panther in Jail,” The Electronic Intifada, December 15, 2015.
[15] “Geographies of Justice,” University of Illinois at Chicago Social Justice Initiative:
[16] “Seminário Transregional: Primavera Árabe encontra Black Lives Matter no Rio de Janeiro,” Instituto de Estudos Comparados em Administração de Conflitos:
[17] “South African Olympian Returns Home after Gaza Protest,” World Bulletin, October 8, 2016.
[18] Omar Barghouti, “Omar Barghouti: Message of Gratitude and Hope,” The Palestinian BDS National Committee, April 1, 2017:

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