How Should Blacks Relate to the Gaza Crisis?

Published on 18th January 2009

This letter goes out to my Palestinian brothers, who are currently entrenched in an uneven war of ideologies with our Israeli brothers. Keep your head up, first of all, as Tupac Shakur implored us. There are no easy solutions in the struggle for contested land. The powers of Europe and the United States have joined Israel to roundly deride the rights of Palestinians to exist in one space. Unfortunately, political turmoil is arbitrary. To the victor goes the spoils, as they say.  

The most impalatable part of the missile attacks on Palestinian civilians on the Gaza strip is the uneven media coverage. Although the Middle East conflict has been a steady presence in international politics for the last forty years (and the last century before that), there is little context to explain to viewers how the dredge of occupation by a military power in a poor community can have lasting effects on a generation of oppressed citizens. When the commentators (including our own President) are asked about the relentless missile raids on civilian communities, they take a hands-off approach except to say that “Israel must have the right to defend its territory from random rocket launches.” The point, though true, fails to mention that Israel has one of the largest standing armies in the world, and the support of still more heavy-artillery forces in Britain and the United States. But, as is the case with the propagandist branches of major media, and state-sponsored press releases, mum’s the word about the impact of such a sustained attack on a crippled community.  

Hamas and its extremists have few resources to contend with the might of Israel’s figurative sword. In fact, even as Hamas fighters mount small responses from satellite countries (allegedly Jordan and Pakistan) the tag “terrorist” would be a generous label at best. Palestinian citizens on Gaza strip are, on average, under seventeen years old. Many are poor workers and families living in a virtual serfdom, surrounded by fences and armed guards. This from Al Jazeera:

Bishara said the majority of Gazans are refugees, whose ancestors used to live in what is now Israel.

 “Everybody knows that 75 per cent of the people of Gaza are refugees. Everybody knows that Israel disengaged from Gaza militarily, but occupies it economically and politically and also it besieges Gaza militarily.

“Israel would say, “what would any normal country do if they were threatened by rocket fire? They would act.”

“But Israel is not a normal country, it is an occupying country, a colonial country and the people of Gaza are under siege.”  

It almost reminds me of the hood. When I walk through Bushwick, Brooklyn or when my countrymen walk through the depths of East L.A., Detroit or Dade County, I see a similar trap. The doldrums of the ghetto are undeniable, with the strips of cheap stores only broken up by the plentiful liquor stores. Police officers, in fully equipped radio cars, with antsy artillery, cruise the streets with a scowl and the means to protect the Better Half of society at any cost. But, it leads me to wonder: if the situation were reversed, and I had been shot by those patrolling sentinels, would my own media care about how humanly I was portrayed? Apparently not. In the past three months, a few high profile police brutality cases involving black men have been buried among the thousands of like stories. Just as I can find no definite number of Palestinian civilians have been killed by their colonizers, there is a veil over the number of Black men who are unjustly felled by blue bullets.  

If there is a way to address modern colonialism, media has pushed those answers to the far fringe, preferring to decry the tragedy of “women and children” dying unmercifully, rather than questioning the systematic (and silent) endorsement of these grave measures. Police brutality is no different. Billey Joe Johnson, a star high school athlete, died of a mysterious gunshot wound to the chest that Mississippi police claim was self-inflicted. With that news cycle, Billy Joe’s memory faded and justice has not yet been claimed. And in Oakland, where riots have erupted after an innocent Oscar Grant was shot to death on the BART transit system, the only recourse for the occupied citizens is to express physical outrage. A young man from Bellaire, Texas named Robbie Tolan was also shot in his driveway by police, alongside his cousin after no real wrongdoing on his part. Before him it was Amadou Diallo. Before him it was Arthur McDuffie.

Countless incidents have reminded Black men that we are unlawful beings roaming in large urban enclaves, subject to the whims of a bigger threat than a single police officer’s gun. Not only are we enveloped by the thick smog of official paranoia, we are also dealing with the real threat of a stray bullet or an irate cop.

The plight of Palestine rings true across the water, where our urban ghettoes double as occupation centers for the poor. Just as on the Gaza strip soldiers shot into crowd of innocents, and regularly assaulted people crossing invisible boundaries and fences, police soldiers make it their point to muzzle Black communities. Instead of removing ourselves from the story of Palestinian oppression, or from the story of Sudanese oppression, we must feel the blows of colonialism by proxy. We must voice the same frustration when Palestine hurts as when Kingston hurts as when Oakland hurts.  

At this point, when we flail our arms and feet about social malaise, it is in vain because there is not a united message. The most outstanding shows of solidarity involved our Garveys and our Kings banding to counter institutional powers. Now is no different.

By Drew Ricketts

Drew Ricketts is a blogger and writer with a vision of the future that involves dissecting culture. He makes purpose out of the unsorted mash of politics, news, sports and entertainment.

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