Barbara Ransby charts the relationship between Black feminist organizing and the movement for a Free Palestine, and provides a poem in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

The right-wing Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has persisted unabated for nearly eight months in its military assault against the people of Gaza in clear violation of international law. The forced displacement of 1.7 million people out of a population of 2.2 million, the withholding of essential services, the continued bombing of hospitals, homes and mosques, the shooting of live ammunition at the limited food distribution sites in Gaza, rendering it unlivable.The conditions inside Gaza have grown more dire, desperate, and gut-wrenchingly surreal. Children are literally starving to death in Gaza as Israel blocks the passage of aid to those in need. One UN official referred to it as a “graveyard for children.” Israel’s war represents deliberate ethnic cleansing, and protracted genocide. There is nothing else to call it. And the world is watching it unfold before our eyes on social media. The images are horrendous. 

Genocide is defined by the United Nations in the following way in Article II of the Genocide Convention: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” 

What is happening in Gaza today fits much of this description. And while I don’t condone the actions of Hamas on October 7th, and mourn all loss of human life, this conflict did not begin on October 7th. The before and after are deeply relevant. After 76 years of occupation, repression, indignities of checkpoints and military incursions, Gaza and Palestine as a whole, were a ticking time bomb fueled by decades of anger, frustration and violence, and a sense of abandonment by the international community as Israel continues to violate UN resolutions and international law on many fronts.

As I write the assault on Gaza continues as do protests and humanitarian appeals for an end to the carnage. Black radical and progressive voices once again have been outspoken in standing with the people of Gaza in this moment of crisis. This stance is a part of a long tradition. Here is some of that history.

For many of us who were involved in the anti-Apartheid and Free South Africa solidarity movements in the 1980s and 90s, the struggle of the Palestinian people was introduced to us by our friends and comrades in the African National Congress who had strong ties with the Palestine Liberation Organization. And the relationship between the Black Freedom Movement and the struggle for freedom in Palestine goes back much further.

In 1948, in the immediate wake of the Holocaust, many Black progressives were sympathetic with the idea of a Jewish homeland as a bulwark against anti-semitism and a response to the devastating effects of Nazism and fascism. Celebrities like Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne did benefit concerts for the new Jewish State, and Black diplomat and intellectual, Ralph Bunche, won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1950 for brokering the deal that led to the formation of Israel.

It should be noted that even in 1948 there was neither Black nor Jewish unanimity on the question of Palestine and Israel. Jewish communists and leftists rejected Zionism as a resistance strategy calling instead for a broad based united front against the Cold War, McCarthyism, imperialism and anti-Semitism. The majority of the Black Left shared this position. 

With the 1967 war and the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank,  Black political consensus shifted on the question of Palestine in response, in part to UN resolution after UN resolution condemning the Israeli occupation and the suffering it caused. It was also a time when the Black liberation struggle in the United States was intensifying and internationalizing in significant ways: delegations to southeast Asia and Cuba, Black political exiles being given safe haven in socialist and Arab countries, opposition to the war in Vietnam including sports icon Muhammed Ali’s refusal to serve in the war. 

In the summer of 1967, after much internal debate the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) issued a strong pro-Palestinian statement that read as follows: “We recognize Hitler’s massacre of the Jews as one of the worst crimes against humanity. By the same token, we do not see how the Jewish refugees and survivors could ever use this tragedy as an excuse ... to take over Palestine, to commit some of the same atrocities against the native Arab inhabitants, and to completely dispossess the Arabs of their homes, land and livelihood.” This harsh indictment of Zionism was coupled with a fierce condemnation of Nazism and antisemitism. There was no contradiction.

As historian Alex Lubin outlines in his book, Geographies of Liberation, the Black Panther Party was even more resolute in its support for the Palestine Liberation Organization in the late 1960s and was a conduit for educating Black Americans about the plight of the Palestinian people. PLO leader Yasser Arafat wrote editorials in Black Panther Speaks and from 1968 onward the Panther newspaper published numerous articles criticizing the State of Israel for the occupation and its treatment of the Palestinians. Panther leaders like Huey Newton were mindful of distinguishing Zionism as a political ideology from the Jewish people as a people, many of whom rejected Zionist politics, he argued. For the Panthers the fight for self-determination for the Palestinian people living under Israeli rule without rights or real political power was an extension of the global anti-imperialist struggle. They viewed their international solidarity work, as Lubin points out, under the rubric of “intercommunalism,” the concept that local subjugated peoples were connected with other similar groups around the world by Western imperialism that oppressed them all in one way or another. 

In the 1970s even more mainstream Black Freedom Movement leaders like Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. openly expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people, marked his famous embrace of Arafat, during his visit to the region. Even today, with health challenges,Rev. Jackson made an appearance at Chicago City Hall to support the City Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza..

The mid-1970s was a critical turning point that further solidified Black support for the Palestinian struggle. Israel’s deepening relationship with, and support for, the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa beginning was one of the reasons for increased Black criticism of Israel.

In the wake of the 1976 Soweto uprising of Black youth in South African townships there was a resurgence in anti-Apartheid solidarity organizing in the United States, including on college campuses, and including a critical core of African American youth and young adults. I was one of them. The demand to universities and US corporations was to divest from companies doing business in racist South Africa. Omar Barghouti was one of my classmates at Columbia at that time. He later spoke of having been inspired by the divestment movement there as he co-crafted the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign, which is Palestinian civil society’s call to the world to express nonviolent solidarity and support. BDS organizers have argued convincingly that Israel should not be viewed as the multicultural democracy it claims to be, but as an apartheid state which segregates people through force, and gives rights to some groups, namely Jewish citizens, which are denied to Palestinians living under Israeli rule. The surveillance regulation, repression, violence, and detention without charge that  characterized the South African Apartheid system until 1991, applies to Israel today, including the creation of fake homelands that relegate indigenous populations to cordoned off areas of the country, still under the control of the dominant powers, but without rights or freedoms.

Black feminist poet and activist June Jordan’s voice was important on this issue. Jordan famously wrote that she was born a Black woman but became a Palestinian through her solidarity work. In 1982 she visited the site of the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. She returned again in 1996 and wrote eloquently about the ways in which the oppression and suffering of the Palestinian people reminded her of the racist state violence African Americans endured in the United States. Jordan inspired a generation of Black feminists to follow her lead in their writings, public statements and participation in delegations.

In the 2000s Palestine continued to be a touchstone for Black politics of solidarity with several new twists. One is that an increasing number of Jewish progressives have joined the chorus of critics of the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and of the Occupation. Progressive groups like If Not Now, and the uncompromising Jewish Voice for Peace, with thousands of members, have both added urgency to the issue, and deflated the erroneous argument that to criticize Israel  is antisemitic. Black radicals certainly reject this notion as many of us have also criticized Black leaders around the world for right wing policies from the former dictators of Haiti and Zimbabwe to the AIDS-denying former president of South Africa. None of these political critiques were anti-Black, any more than a critique of Israel is antisemitic. Simply expressing this position however has often come at a price. In the early 2000s INCITE: Women of Color Against Violence, a feminist activist group with thousands of members and formidable Black feminist leadership, lost major foundation support when they dared to mention support for Palestinian women’s struggles in a 2002 conference call.

The Black Lives Matter/ Movement for Black Lives phase of the Black Freedom Movement which began in 2013 with the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of unarmed Black teenage Trayvon Martin has been unequivocal from the start in its support of Palestine rights. One of the founding groups of this new movement is the Florida based Dream Defenders who have now led several primarily Black activist delegations to Palestine where organizers met with Palestinian hip hop artists, visited refugee camps, talked with prisoner rights advocates, and experienced the heavily militarized checkpoints and segregated roads that Palestinians have to navigate on a daily basis.  BLM/M4BL also experienced Palestine solidarity during the Ferguson uprising with messages and statements such as this public joint statement from Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank and beyond issued in the summer of 2014: “We recognize the disregard and disrespect for black bodies and black life endemic to the supremacist system that rules the land with wanton brutality. Your struggles through the ages have been an inspiration to us as we fight our own battles for basic human dignities.” 

BLM too paid a price for its expressions when it released the “Vision for Black Lives” statement. Funders called up the directors of affiliated organizations to attempt to intimidate them.  Blacks for Palestine, which has grown considerably since the latest onslaught against Gaza began, is the latest incarnation of Black-Palestinian solidarity. In the spirit of SNCC, they mobilized a petition signed by 6,000 Black organizers, artists, writers, and scholars, and over 200 organizations, that  “mourn(ed) the loss of all civilian life,” condemned Israeli militarism toward civilians, and expressed solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

Finally, my own connections and commitment to this issue is both political and personal. In 2011 I visited the West Bank with an indigenous feminists of color delegation of scholar activists that included Angela Y. Davis, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Gina Dent. We thought we knew what to expect but we were still shocked and outraged by what we saw and heard. We experienced heavily armed checkpoints, open harassment of our Palestinian fellow travelers. We visited refugee camps, saw modern roads through Palestinian lands exclusively reserved for Jewish settlers in violation of international law. We met with Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, who were being forcibly pushed out of the homes. We visited refugee camps and met families displaced from their farms and villages, yearning to return.

In this Crucible moment, harassment and intimidation are being used to silence those calling for the modest human demands for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the war that has taken over thirty-five thousand Palestinian lives. It is important to continue to speak truth to power. It is important for those who identify with the Black freedom movement, with the anti-imperialist left, with anti-racist and anti-colonial abolitionist feminism and simply with justice to speak out. It is also important to remember what full scale genocide looks like. Sadly, and indefensibly, as the worldwide human rights community, and millions of people across the globe scream for an end to the assault on Palestine, the U.S. government has offered only tepid calls for restraint and continued to pour billions into Israel’s war coffers. Two thousand pound bombs that have killed untold numbers of Palestinians are paid for by U.S. dollars. This is unconscionable, and silence is not a morally defensible option.

A few weeks after the October 7th event as the death toll in Gaza continued to rise, I wrote the following poem in solidarity with the people of Gaza and the struggle for liberation in Palestine.


Who are my people?


Who are my people in this crucible moment of war and genocide, as we witness the DIRTY process of ethnic cleansing unfold before the eyes of the world?


Who are my people?


As tiny brown children are bombed in southern Gaza as they flee their homes following the evacuation routes prescribed by their bombers.


Who are my people?


As my friend’s cousin gives birth in total darkness in Gaza City and incubators are shut down as the power is cut off in hospitals throughout the Strip. No food. No water. No fuel. Just bombs.


In Al Zahra whole buildings are leveled: apartments where families cooked meals, lovers made love, children played games, and girls danced with their friends, are all gone now.


There is a hole in the heart of the Jabaliya refugee camp, that hole is a bomb crater beneath which unknown and unnamed bodies are entombed.


A broken man cradles his daughter whose little body has also been broken.


A woman wails for the loss of her son... no parts of his body have been found.


Who are my people in this crucible moment of violence and destruction in the name of defense?


“I was born a Black woman, and I became Palestinian” wrote our beloved sister, the radical feminist poet, June Jordan. 


In that simple quote she interrogates essentialist notions of identity and blood and belonging, and challenges us to be bigger than all of that.


Who are your people? Ella Baker would ask visitors and strangers. Who claims you and who do you claim in this world? And most importantly, who do you stand with in times of crisis and despair?


We do not need a DNA test or a genealogy search to know who our people are in this moment.


If I choose to stand on the side of freedom, my people are oppressed people of the world. People who are suffering under varied and violent forms of injustice and oppression from Haiti to Hebron; from Birmingham to Bethlehem; from Shatta Prison in Northern Israel, to Stateville Prison in Central Illinois.


I claim as my people all who are standing up to:

Occupation and dispossession

Hetero-patriarchy and White supremacy 

Colonialism and settler colonialism

Antisemitism and Islamophobia

Environmental pillage and Ableism

Carceral violence and authoritarianism

And of course, racial capitalism undergirding it all


My people are also the truth-tellers and freedom fighters of the world, those speaking truth to power in dozens of languages.

Silent vigils by the organization “Women in Black” on street corners in Barcelona, Tokyo and Madrid -- saying no to war and occupation

ASWAT, queer Palestinian freedom fighters saying.... the liberation of Palestine must include them

Courageous voices inside the halls of power... refusing to be silenced: 

Rashida, Cori, Ilhan... we are with you because you are with us

And the passionate Jewish protesters that shut down Grand Central Station in New York, and then the Statue of Liberty, insisting “Not in our name” and “Never again means never again to anyone.”


Never again, must mean never again to anyone.


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