A knee on the neck and other experiences Palestinians share

Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian protestor during scuffles outside the compound housing al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

A knee on the neck. Night raids. A jogger hunted down. 

All of these are tactics used to murder the innocent lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. These extrajudicial tactics have been the source of recent protests across America and the world. 

They’re also tactics that have been used against Palestinians by Israeli forces for decades, on a daily basis. This is not coincidence, as U.S. police departments regularly train alongside Israeli military officers, both of whom have decades long records of human rights violations.

The day after George Floyd’s murder, Israeli police shot and killed Eyad al-Hallaq, an autistic young man, in Jerusalem’s Old City, after suspecting he had a gun. Like the cases in America, there was no evidence. Protests against his killing were squelched by police. His murder faces no charges, only empty promises of an investigation. Sadly, this is a common outcome.

Our Palestinian and African American brothers and sisters are facing parallel power structures. 

We don’t make this connection lightly.  Each suffering is unique. Most of us can’t begin to comprehend the painful legacy of 400  years of capturing, selling, and brutalizing black bodies for the benefit of white civilization. We can’t claim to fully understand the pain of our Native American sisters and brothers whose land was stolen through the military conquest of European Christians, much like the conquest of Palestine by European Jews. 

Still, there are marked similarities between the Black American and Palestinian reality. Our co-founder, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb outlines these distinct features accordingly:

1. Twisting Scripture to dehumanize a people 

For many who interpret the Bible literally without regard to its context, both African American and Palestinians are the cursed descendants of Ham (Genesis 9-10). They are the enemy of “God’s people,” and forever a threat. This interpretation is used to justify their commodification as slaves, discrimination, and today, police brutality.

2. Focus on humanitarian aid without equality

Both Palestinians and Blacks are the recipients of aid. Those in power point to food stamps, international aid, and welfare systems as proof that they “care for” these groups, instead of actually empowering them to be full citizens. Systemic changes that would address income inequality, equitable access to education, employment, etc. would require sacrifices that the ruling majority has mostly proved unwilling to make. 

3. Foundational belief that white races are superior

In both cases, the root of the oppression is white supremacy. This might be obvious in the case of the African Americans, but isn’t so clear in the case of the Palestinians. Palestinians are not perceived as white, but labeled as Arabs, Muslims- labels weaponized by Israel to distinguish from Israeli Jews, the “chosen people.” Even among Jews, there’s a racial hierarchy.

A little history lesson: European Jews were considered inferior to other Europeans and thus not white, until 1944 when U.S. President Roosevelt signed the GI bill declaring Jews (and Italians) to be white and thus eligible for financial aid. African Americans were excluded from the GI bill. 

White European (Ashkenazi) Jews thus became part of the white race. In fact, if we observe the so-called Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last 50 years, we see that it’s a conversation that only includes white Anglo-Saxons and white Jews. Ethiopian Jews and Ultra-Orthodox Jews were excluded. White supremacy and Ashkenazi Jewish supremacy are two sides of the same coin.

4. Resilience of the oppressed

I would be remiss not to mention the most powerful similarity that unites our experiences: our resilience. Four hundred years of slavery and discriminatory laws, and over seventy years of colonial oppression and occupation, have not silenced our voices or made us surrender.

This resilience is yet another sign that Palestinians and Black Americans are image-bearers of the divine. Both of these oppressed peoples continue to rise, again and again, laying claim to their God-given value and dignity. They are Kingdom people, made in the image of our heavenly King. They do not get their value from human systems. Yet, when systems and  governments undermine this divine dignity, these institutions, and notably those charged to protect, betray the very Kingdom of God. 

Together, all of us bear witness to Black dignity, to Palestinian dignity. Together, we continue to “do hope,” by laying claim to justice and equity for these, our sisters and brothers.