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Israeli border police arresting a young Palestinian boy in front of his school in East Jerusalem. (Photo: Majd Gaith/HRW)

The Movement for Black Lives, the Palestinian Struggle, and a Creeping Genocide

Zeina Azzam

The newly released platform of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL)—a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of Black people across the United States—articulates a powerful and comprehensive vision. Its “policy demands for Black power, freedom, and justice” touch on a multitude of rights and issues, going to great lengths to embrace the marginalized Black communities and their diverse experiences, including gender identity, incarceration, immigrant status, religion, class, and disability. The document’s tone is assertive, clear, courageous, and inspirational.

Activists in the Palestinian rights movement were heartened to read the platform’s acknowledgement of Israel as an “apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people” and as “a state that…has maintained a military occupation of Palestine for decades.” The document forthrightly describes the reality of the oppressive situation in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories as follows: “Palestinian homes and land are routinely bulldozed to make way for illegal Israeli settlements. Israeli soldiers also regularly arrest and detain Palestinians as young as 4 years old and without due process. Every day, Palestinians are forced to walk through military checkpoints along the US-funded apartheid wall.” Further, the platform endorses the Palestinian civil society-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a position which the Palestinian BDS National Committee publicly acknowledged with grateful words of solidarity and support for M4BL, affirming the two movements’ common struggle against racial oppression.

Perhaps the most hard-hitting sentence in this section of the M4BL platform is, “The US justifies and advances the global war on terror via its alliance with Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.” This linking of the Washington-Tel Aviv alliance with Palestinian genocide is indeed a forceful statement that points to the use of US tax dollars to serve pernicious and unjust policy decisions. One has only to look at the 2014 Israeli assault of Gaza, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “shocked and shamed the world,” to find proof of such policies. Israel’s war—part of a multi-year policy of assault and destruction of the people and land of Gaza—resulted in the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, almost two-thirds of whom were civilians. The figure includes 551 children.

Many American mainstream Jewish organizations have seized on the sobering term “genocide,” indignantly refusing to acknowledge its applicability to the Palestinian situation. Some of them ask if its use makes the platform anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. In response, others maintain that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian population should be seen for what they are: racist, discriminatory, and destructive with the aim of destroying Palestinian culture and identity—and ultimately, large numbers of the Palestinian population.

Article II of the United Nations’ General Assembly resolution on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide includes in its definition of genocide as any of the following acts intended to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

It is clear that at least a, b, and c are part of longstanding Israeli policy. Right from the beginning of the establishment of Israel, between the years 1948 and 1950, more than 400 Palestinian cities and towns were systematically destroyed or depopulated by Israeli forces, during which time thousands were killed and over 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. Over the last 68 years, thousands more have been killed, injured, and disabled by war, military occupation and assaults, incarceration, and extrajudicial assassinations. Since the year 2000 alone, Israeli security forces have killed 9,288 Palestinians. Israeli authorities also have uprooted over 800,000 olive trees since 1967, translating to serious economic losses for 80,000 Palestinian families. Other examples of such everyday injustices include house demolitions, military checkpoints and a separation wall that seriously impede freedom of movement, land confiscation, torture, curfews, administrative detention, and discriminatory laws for Palestinians living in Israel. Surely it is fair to say that such policies and actions are to blame for “Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; [and] deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part….” One can argue that all of these elements contribute to the aim of obliterating a people and their identity—genocide, according to the definition of the United Nations.

To be sure, hearing the word Genocide conjures horrific images. The genocides that unfolded during the Holocaust and in such countries as Rwanda and Cambodia, among others, are etched in our collective unconscious.  Perhaps the situation for Palestinians is not analogous because of the sheer numbers who died in these historic tragedies. At the same time, it is important to recognize the brutal reality of life in Palestine and to view Israel’s policies as perpetrating a creeping genocide. Israel’s deleterious policies have continued unchecked for decades and life for Palestinians keeps worsening by day, and too often taken away altogether.

Professor Marc Ellis writes that in the past, the Black Power movement has challenged the American and Israeli Jewish establishments, receiving responses that invoke the Holocaust, Jews as long-established players in the civil rights movement, and Israel as the model democracy in the Middle East. “None of these invocations work well anymore or at all,” he continues. Rather, he says, it is Israel’s policies of oppressing and ghettoizing Palestinians that should be offending us, not the language of genocide.

Notwithstanding the nomenclature, the M4BL platform is a prime example of the intersectionality among the multifarious struggles for justice. Such solidarity and witness underline the principles of the human rights-based approach to freedom and equality. The affirmed solidarity of the Black Lives movement with the Palestinian experience imbues the Palestinian struggle for human and national rights with renewed energy. As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Zeina Azzam

Zeina Azzam is executive director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center in Washington, DC. The views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter: @zeina3azzam

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