Judith Ferster


Black and Palestinian Lives Matter


In the time of the Black Lives Matter protests in The United States after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation vibrates with intersectional relevance.  The connections between police brutality in Missouri and Palestine had already already been made in 2015 at the unrest after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.  Palestinian activists had given advice to the Ferguson protesters about how to deal with the kind of tear gas that was used on crowds in both places —tear gas made by an American company.  This photograph records the international solidarity the tear gas created.

After the murder of George Floyd, many more became aware that hundreds of U.S. cities and counties had exchanged trainings with police, military, and intelligence agencies in Israel.  One of the legacies of those exchanges is a technique that Palestinians have often been subject to, a suffocating knee on the neck of a protester.[1]  The national organization Jewish Voice for Peace keeps track of Israeli training of American police and sheriffs on its Deadly Exchange website.


On occasion, protesters win in their power struggles with government, whose agencies are sometimes struggling among themselves. In North Carolina, students demonstrated against the 1913 statue memorializing students who had died fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War (as they had demonstrated in the 1960s).  But in the wake of a 2015 law passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly forbidding the removal of monuments,[2] in 2018 they just toppled it. On her way out of office, Chancellor Carol Folt had it moved into storage as a cause of division and unrest. The university, the first public university in the country, with its first buildings built by slaves, tried to give it back to the Daughters of the Confederacy, which had paid for it, but even after law suits, the ownership and fate of the statue are unsettled.

Because of the North Carolina protests following the death of George Floyd, in which more statues were attacked, spray-painted with graffiti, and pulled down, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper overrode the General Assembly by having all the Confederate statues around the Capitol removed, citing the need to protect public safety.[3]  In Virginia, where this wave of demonstrations for and against Confederate monuments began in 2017 in Charlottesville after Donald Trump became President, the much argued-over statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Row in Richmond may eventually be taken down. Speaker Nancy Pelosi had the ones in the U.S. House of Representatives removed.

Different levels of government also got involved in Minnesota, the state in which George Floyd was killed. Hennnepin County Attorney Mike Freeman asked state Attorney General Keith Ellison to join in. Ellison took over the prosecution and upgraded the murder charges against Police Officer Derek Chauvin to second-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder, and the charges against the other officers present to aiding and abetting murder. Ellison announced his involvement, asked for patience while his team investigated, and said that he was coordinating with Federal prosecutors in the Color of Law project and the Department of Justice.[4]  He also affirmed the role of protest in asking for justice but invited all parts of society, including the arts and entertainment industries, to continue to envision a more just society.

The convulsion of all parts of society that led to this concerted effort to build justice included some groups of protestors who may not have had this in mind.  At the beginning of the protest movement, there were people interested in looting and burning.  Criminal activities were not prominent in the later stages of protest, when protesters seemed more peaceful and police in different places responded differently, educating us all in their capacities for brutal and less-brutal methods of crowd control.  Police have been militarized not just by exchanges with Israel but also by receiving anti-terrorist training and equipment from the armed forces after 9/11. But many cities are taking the opportunity to reevaluate the role of police in  achieving social order, their responsibilities, and who in society, like mental health and drug treatment professionals, can help. There is also wider recognition of the factors that lead to crime in disadvantaged communities including poverty, housing and educational inequalities.  From chokeholds to systemic racism, the death of George Floyd and the slogans “Defund the police and “abolition” [of police and prisons] have put everything on the table. This may not be just one more commission added to the parade of reform commissions that have gone before.[5]

According to Michael G. Long in his book We the Resistance: Documenting Our History of Nonviolent Protest, it takes only 3.5 % of the population to spur a social movement asking for social improvement. Percentages vary, but there is a clear relationship between civil unrest and movements for social change.[6]

Palestinians have protested in many ways since the 1948 founding of the state of Israel and its conquest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in 1967.  There is no room here for a full accounting of the actions and reactions on both sides.  Onlookers sometimes ask for the Gandhi of Palestine, but there are Gandhis all over Palestine. In 2003-2004, at the height of the Second Intifada, the West Bank village of Budrus was demonstrating so consistently and peacefully against the way the wall that Israel was building cut the village off from parts of itself and its agricultural land that Israel accommodated slightly by changing the route of the wall. Budrus was not entirely healed, but it was less damaged by the wall and increased the nonviolent protest movement in Palestine. In 2009, filmmaker Julia Bacha  released an award-winning documentary about the struggle.[7]  Other villages have taken up similar tactics.  The small West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, led by the family of Bassem Tamimi, demonstrates against the occupation every week. There are others, such as Bil’in.

Today, the main subject of conflict about Palestine in Israel is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel would annex about 30% of the West Bank by July 1, 2020.  It did not, but has President Trump’s approval and could at any time. Israel does not plan to confer Israeli citizenship on the Palestinians who will come with the territory that it seeks to absorb. The previous annexation, that of East Jerusalem, conferred on the residents so-called permanent residency status, which sounds good but is so full of traps that 10,000 Palestinians have lost their right to live there.[8]  Another way that Palestinians may lose rights is the Absentee Property Law of 1957,[9] which would dispossess many Palestinians living in the annexed territory and make it impossible from them to live, build, and farm on their land.

Annexation is an existential threat to nations, which accounts for the sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea in 2014.  Although  with 800 military bases, the U.S. has been a major force in imposing world order, it is not a factor in holding Israel accountable for violations of international law because it has been an enabler of Israeli policy to the tune of $3.8 billions of military aid on unusually favorable terms and protector of Israel in international bodies. Presidents have requested pauses in settlement building but exacted no price when Israel refused. President Trump, having appointed a Zionist U.S. Ambassador to Israel who says “The Bible is our deed,”[10] is a full partner in annexation so the U.S. is no friend of the Palestinians.

Other possible sources of resistance to the annexation plan are Palestinians themselves and the wider international community seeking to shore up the Geneva Conventions and laws of the U.N. The European Union already puts some limits on Israel by insisting that goods manufactured in settlements thought of as illegal under international law not be labeled “Israeli” when they are imported into European countries. Several individual European countries have spoken against annexation, including Belgium and The Netherlands.[11]  Special Rapporteur on Palestine for the U.N., Michael Lynch, recommends that a UN working group prepare a menu of ways to respond if Israel persists with annexation.[12]

Even before the threat of annexation, there have been several attempts in the US Congress to hold Israel accountable for its actions.  Representative Betty McCollum offered H.B. 2407, defending children under occupation, who are often arrested,  isolated from parents, and deprived of legal representation.[13]  Representative Ro Khanna has written a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo invoking the Arms Export Act prohibiting financial support for military units that violate international human rights law, in other words, “defund Israel.”    Only a few Democratic Representatives have co-signed the letter.[14]

More recently Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez has written a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo suggesting that the U.S. should respond to annexation by pressuring Israel to grant more rights to Palestinians by conditioning some of the military aid on their doing so.[15]  Betty McCollum, Ro Khanna, and Bernie Sanders have cosponsored the letter.  It talks about the rights that Palestinians need with no mention of the two-state solution, the rubric under which Democrats have sheltered for decades.

In a similar non-governmental effort, more that than 115 groups have signed a letter from Code Pink to Trump and Biden that rejects annexation with reference to Palestinian rights and no mention of the two-state solution.

Spurred by the protests after the murder of George Floyd, the U.S. Congress has taken preliminary steps for criminal justice reform.

The connection between African Americans and Palestinians, two peoples in search of their rights, has a long history: Nelson Mandela recognized the kinship not long after he got out of prison[16] and, given the international trade in U.S. arms, we should not be surprised to find a T-shirt reading “Palestine” on a protester in Ferguson, nor that in 2018-19 a multifaith, multiracial coalition of ten groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, Muslim Public Affairs Committee, Students for Justice in Palestine, a migrant rights organization, and Black Youth Project 100 all combined to convince the Durham City Council in North Carolina not to send their police to train with the Israeli military [17].  One of the African-American participants talked about his experience on an Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee webinar.[18]

Although  one cannot draw a causal connection between the tone of protests or the lack of violence in Durham over the death of George Floyd death and the refusal of Durham City Council to send police for training in Israel, there was no violence on the part of either protestors or police.[19]

Since mourning for George Floyd spread around the world, we should also not be surprised to find a vigil in front of the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem to show solidarity between mourners for George Floyd and for Iyad Hallaq, a Palestinian with autistic traits killed by Israeli police. Their sign said, “Our struggles are one.”[20]  Struggles for equal rights are coming together all over the world. The struggles are indeed one.

Judith Ferster, a retired North Carolina State English Professor, has been active in the cause of peace between Israel and Palestine for decades through both local and national organizations.  In November of 2019, she had the opportunity to travel in Israel and Palestine with  Jewish Israeli writer and activist Miko Peled to explore Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.


[1] https://deadlyexchange.org/

Update: https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/update-on-deadly-exchange-campaign/

[2] The Cultural History Artifact Management and Patriotism Act of 2015, SL 2015–170.

[3] “I am concerned about the dangerous efforts to pull down and carry off large, heavy statues and the strong potential for violent clashes at the sit.”  The News and Observer, 6/21/2020, p. 1.

See also https://www.bbc.com/future/article/2013-it-only-takes-35-of-people-to-change-the-world

[4] https://www.startribune.com/four-fired-minneapolis-officers-booked-charged-in-killing-of-george-floyd/570984872/

[5] Jill Lapore, “The History of the ‘Riot’ Report,” The New Yorker Magazine, 6/22/2020.

[6] https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190513-it-only-takes-35-of-people-to-change-the-world. See also Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Resistance, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan

[7] https://www.justvision.org/budrus/about

[8] Jeff Halper discusses these traps on the website of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions; icahd.org/2020/04/29/icahds-jeff-halper-responds-to-the-agreement-between-netanyahu-and-ganz-and-the-annexation-plans/

[9]According to this law, one doesn’t actually have to be absent to lose one’s property, the ability to both live and farm on one’s land: Absentees’ Property Law, 5710-1950

https://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/E0B719E95E3B494885256F9A005AB90A[10] https://mondoweiss.net/2020/07/we-have-biblical-rights-to-the-land-the-bible-is-our-deed-israeli-ambassador-explains-why-west-bank-belongs-to-israel/[11] Lawmakers From 25 European States Sign Statement Opposing Israeli Annexation More than 1,000 lawmakers signed statement expressing ‘serious concerns’ about Trump administration peace plan, echoing EU chief’s stance that annexation ‘could not passed unchallenged’https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-lawmakers-from-25-european-states-sign-statement-opposing-israeli-annexation-1.8943269?utm_source=traffic.outbrain.com&utm_medium=referrer&utm_campaign=outbrain_organic

[12] Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the Palestinian Territory Occupied since 1967 on the role of the EU with regards to the looming Israeli annexation of parts of the Palestinian West Bank https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25991&LangID=e

[13] H.R. 2407, Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Acthttps://mccollum.house.gov/palestinianchildrensrights

[14]RELEASE: Khanna, Cohen, Eshoo Lead Letter Urging Administration to Oppose the Displacement of Palestinian Families and Ensure U.S. Equipment is Not Used in West Bank Home Demolitionshttps://khanna.house.gov/media/press-releases/release-khanna-cohen-eshoo-lead-letter-urging-administration-oppose

[15] https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-sanders-signs-aoc-s-anti-annexation-letter-threatening-to-cut-military-aid-to-israel-1.8959299

[16] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nelson-mandela-30-years-palestine

[17] https://www.durham2palestine.org/

[18] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvEsfWFWNuk

[19] https://www.cbs17.com/news/local-news/durham-county-news/george-floyd-protest-takes-place-in-durham/

[20] Abedalrahman Hassan APA images

Copyright © 2020 Writing for Peace. All rights reserved.