The Struggles in Palestine and Ferguson Are One
As Israel’s most recent massacre in Gaza continues, and as police in the U.S. continue to violently repress protesters who are exercising their fundamental human right to challenge injustice and demand an end to racist police killings, activists in each conflict have tied their struggles together.
Protesters in Ferguson have noted parallels between the state-sanctioned violence in Israel and the state-sanctioned racist violence at home (and the shared military training between both forces). Palestinians have shared tips for dealing with tear gas attacks. Jewish organizations have too noticed “the similarity in the tactics and technologies of repression against those who are rising up nonviolently in both places” and have stood in solidarity with the protesters.
On 19 August, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular revolutionary leftist organization that has historically stood at the forefront of the Palestinian liberation movement, released its own official statement of solidarity with Ferguson, “salut[ing] and stand[ing] firmly with the ongoing struggle of Black people and all oppressed communities in the United States.” The statement is based largely on an interview with Palestinian writer and activist Khaled Barakat. The PFLP echoes the writer’s statements, adopting them as its official position.
“The Empire Will Fall from Within”
Barakat begins the interview noting that it is just not just black Americans, but also Latinos, Arabs, Muslims, people of color, and poor people in the US who are fighting against the same systems of oppression. The statement connects various marginalized groups’ subjugation together and draws attention to the systemic, structural, not merely individual, nature of the struggle. The deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and so many more are not “mistakes,” the PFLP insists, “but rather are part and parcel of an integral and systematic racism that reflects the nature of the political system in the U.S.”
That political system is a settler colonialist system, the PFLP reminds us, in the first of many parallels to the struggle of the indigenous Palestinians against settler colonialism in their home. “The U.S. empire was built on the backs of Black slavery and the genocide of Black people—and upon settler colonialism and the genocide of indigenous people,” Barakat recounts. These extrajudicial murders of black Americans are not mere “isolated incidents” but results of “an ongoing policy that remains virulently racist and oppressive.”
Consistent with its nature as a revolutionary leftist organization, the PFLP too connects the struggle at the international level to the domestic one. National and international struggles “are inextricably linked,” it maintains.
“As people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Arab World see the brutality of the United States outside its borders, these communities confront its racist and colonial oppression within the borders of the U.S. … We also see U.S. exploitation and plunder of people’s resources around the world. And inside the United States, Africans, Latinos, Filipinos, Afghans, Arabs who have suffered war and imperialism at the hands of the United States outside its borders are the same communities who face criminalization, brutality, exploitation, isolation and killings and murder at the hands of the state. We see the targeting of migrants and refugees inside the U.S. after their countries have been ravaged by imperialism, war and exploitation by the same ruling forces.
The PFLP even discusses mass incarceration, stipulating that “Mass imprisonment and incarceration has been a central tool of racist control in the United States,” noting that one in three black men in the US will, at some point in their life, be imprisoned (compared to only one in every 17 white men), and that a police officer or vigilante kills a black man in the U.S. every 28 hours.
Barakat ties together the struggle of black Americans and Palestinians alike against racist mass incarceration. “Palestinians know well the use of mass imprisonment to maintain racist domination and oppression and breaking the racist structures of imprisonment is critical to our liberation movement.” Considering approximately 40% of Palestinian men have been or will be detained by Israel, such a comparison is incredibly apt.
It is not just the Palestinian people who are under siege, the PFLP insists. “Black people in the United States are in fact under siege” too, a “siege of institutionalized racism and oppression in education, jobs, social services and all areas of life.”
The PFLP acknowledges a little-discussed fact—that is to say, that the black liberation movement in the US has deep historical ties to the movement for Palestinian liberation. The organization “salutes the Black liberation movement” and expresses admiration for all that it has learned “from the experiences of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Frederick Douglass, the Black Panthers, Sojourner Truth, and generations of Black revolutionaries who have led the way in struggling for liberation and self-determination.”
Yet these ties are not limited to influences. Black Panther and former political prisoner Dhoruba Bin Wahad explains he in fact served as a liaison between the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and Palestine’s UN delegation. An Israeli Black Panther Party was also formed in 1971 by oppressed Mizrahi Jews, in order to protest what a founder referred to as the “exploitative capitalist system” of Israel that preferentially favors Ashkenazi Jews (those of European descent) and treats “the Oriental Jews [as] the working class.”
While some nationalists prefer keeping their respective struggles separate from others—sometimes going so far as to criticize other movements for “diverting attention away from” or even “appropriating” their own—the PFLP shows that international solidarity lies at the heart of the movement for Palestinian liberation. It “is critical for all of our communities to expand and deepen our links of struggle and solidarity,” it writes.
Instead of conceiving the struggle for Palestinian and black liberation as separate movements, the PFLP speaks of them in the same breath. The struggles for black and indigenous liberation in the United States are “central” to “the struggle against imperialism,” as they are resisting imperialism “in the belly of the beast.”
Every victory inside the United States and political achievement by popular movements and liberation struggles is a victory for Palestine and a victory for a world of human liberation. Those who think that the fate of people in the United States lies with the ruling class parties, the Republicans and Democrats, until the end of time, are living in an illusion. So too are those who believe Palestine can find freedom by seeking alliances or guarantees by those who oppress Black people.
Black Americans are “leading the world in the struggle” against U.S. imperialism, the PFLP says. And this struggle will only take place “through organization of people, emerging from uprisings and communities rising in anger against injustice.” Ferguson is today a locus of this struggle. “The people of Ferguson are resisting, in a long tradition of Black resistance, and we support their legitimate resistance to racist oppression,” Barakat declares.
The anti-racist movement and anti-Zionist movement are not and cannot be separated. Fighting against racism means fighting capitalism; fighting against capitalism means fighting for socialism.
The PFLP’s insistence that you fight capitalism with socialism appears to be an intentional allusion to Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and his renowned 1969 speech “Power Anywhere Where There’s People.” Like Barakat, Hampton maintains
We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.
We ain’t gonna fight no reactionary pigs who run up and down the street being reactionary; we’re gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we’re gonna fight reactionary pigs with INTERNATIONAL PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION.
The incipience of this international proletarian revolution can be seen in Ferguson, the PFLP affirms. The uprising in Ferguson, according to the PFLP, signify “another emerging Intifada.” And it “encourages all Palestinians, and especially our Palestinian community in the United States, to continue and intensify their efforts in support of the Black liberation movement,” so that this intifada may spread globally, for a global revolution against racism, imperialism, and capitalism.
This intifada, this international proletarian revolution, will continue, the PFLP holds. And Palestinians will always resist “until both of our peoples—and our world—are liberated.”
International Solidarity, Intersectional Struggle
The PFLP has always adopted this internationalist and intersectional approach to liberation. As a marxist organization founded in 1967, it has consistently spoken out against not just Israeli settler colonialism and racism, but capitalism, imperialism, racism, and sexism around the globe.
In the past almost 50 years, the PFLP has played an absolutely crucial role in the movement for justice in Palestine. In many ways, its resistance throughout the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps most famously symbolized by Leila Khaled, brought global attention to Israeli oppression, colonization, and racism in Palestine. It has long been the second-largest member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), after Fatah. Since 2010, it has suspended its participation in PLO legislative committee meetings, protesting chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ collusion with the Israeli government and “war against the Palestinian people.” The PLO today “does not meet the needs or aspirations of the Palestinian people,” the PFLP laments, for it has “accepted the logic of the slave master and did not seek to change the reality.” The needs of the Palestinian people have always stood at the center of the PFLP’s concerns, and it is perturbed that contemporary Palestinian leaders have lost sight of these needs.
The revolutionary left has long featured prominently in the Palestinian liberation movement (as has been the case with the liberation movements of countless other peoples). It is only in the past two decades or so, with the rise of political Islam, that revolutionary leftist organizations have begun to take a backseat in the Middle East.
The PFLP’s statement reminds us how important of a voice it still is today, nonetheless, in a time of such duress. Its position of solidarity with fellow oppressed peoples on the other side of the globe demonstrates that Palestinians and black Americans, and all oppressed groups, are fighting against the same systems of oppression, intersecting systems, absolutely inextricable from one another, what bell hooks refers to collectively as “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”
Barakat, whose words comprise the majority of the PFLP’s statement, exemplifies how this approach manifests itself in action. A Palestinian writer and activist based out of Vancouver, Barakat was the owner and editor of the the al-Shorouq newspaper, British Columbia’s only Palestinian newspaper until it was closed in 2009. Barakat today continues writing for numerous international Arabic-language publications. He serves as coordinator for the Free Ahmad Sadat Campaign, a grassroots movement devoted to freeing the eponymous General Secretary of the PFLP and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who was kidnapped by the Israeli military in 2006 and, along with approximately 5,000 other Palestinian political prisoners, has since been languishing in Israeli jails, often in solitary confinement. Barakat has also worked with the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and Al Awda Palestinian Right of Return Coalition.
A gifted orator, Barakat often speaks “on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” and too lectures regularly about “the struggle against imperialism, hegemony, dictatorship, plunder, military and economic intervention, and for liberation and sovereignty.” He has been a prominent voice in local Vancouver media, and was featured on local news television program The Standard before it was cancelled in 2010.
As is common with leftist Palestinian activists, Barakat regularly speaks of the Palestinian liberation struggle as a part of a larger, international struggle against oppression—such a position is by no means limited to this single PFLP statement. The indigenous struggle is at the forefront of these internationalist, intersectional politics. Barakat frequently begins speeches by reminding his Canadian audiences that they are standing on indigenous territory and expressing “solidarity with the struggle of the indigenous, native people in this country for sovereignty and self-determination.”
In 2012, just before Israel’s murderous Operation Pillar of Cloud, Barakat spoke at the opening plenary of the Right to Resist, Right to Exist conference conference:
In Canada, the oppressed communities are engaged in an extension of the struggle in our homelands for liberation; at the heart of our struggles here is the Native and Indigenous struggle, which has been taking place for hundreds of years, confronting the colonial settler state of Canada. I want to begin by saluting the martyrs, wounded and prisoners of the Indigenous native struggle on this land, who have sacrificed so much to defend their land against settler colonialism. If you understand the Palestinian struggle, then you understand the indigenous struggle here—we resist the same enemy and system of oppression.
It is to resistance against this same enemy and system of oppression that the PFLP devotes itself. By connecting their struggle, activists both in Palestine and here in the U.S. take steps toward the dismantling of this oppressive system.
Ben Norton is an artist and activist. His website can be found at http://bennorton.com/.