Palestinians’ unbreakable link with Black Lives Matter

Palestinians’ unbreakable link with Black Lives Matter

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Palestinian flags fly at a Black Lives Matter protest in the Place de la Republique, Paris, France, June 13, 2020. (Reuters)

The words “I can’t breathe,” which were uttered last month by African-American George Floyd as a Minneapolis police officer forced his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes — all recorded on video — have resonated across the US and the rest of the world. Floyd, 46, died as a result of the excessive use of force by police, igniting nationwide protests that have now entered their fourth week. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) has also crossed the Atlantic, spreading into European capitals, with largely peaceful protesters condemning racism, police brutality, social injustice and their countries’ colonial history.

Floyd’s death at the hands of the police was not unusual. Last year, 235 African-Americans were killed by US police. There have been at least another 88 African-American victims this year. In fact, as protests raged across the country, police shot and killed 27-year-old African-American Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta on Friday, in what has been deemed to be a homicide.

The BLM movement has inspired many, and it was inevitable that comparisons be made between the discrimination and brutality against blacks in the West and the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. Palestinians joined the US and European protests and raised Palestinian flags bearing the slogan “Palestinian Lives Matter.” A mural of Floyd was painted on the separation wall near Bethlehem. The BLM movement has become an indictment of all forms of racism, injustice and discrimination around the world. But, with Palestine, there is a special kinship. On May 30, Eyad Hallaq, a 32-year-old autistic Palestinian, was gunned down in cold blood by Israeli soldiers as he walked to his school in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The killing was widely condemned and, last week, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called on Israel to swiftly develop “a full, independent, impartial, competent and transparent investigation into Israeli forces’ killing of a Palestinian man with a mental disability in Jerusalem,” adding that “those responsible must be held to account.”

But Palestinians already know that Israel will try to evade responsibility and, even if an investigation was to be held, it would likely end up in exonerating the soldiers. This is the reality of Palestinians living under occupation: Discrimination and the excessive use of force with impunity. Human Rights Watch, whose representatives are being denied access to the Occupied Territories, reported last year that, between March 30 and November 19, Israeli forces killed 189 Palestinian demonstrators on the border with Gaza, including 31 children and three medical workers, and wounded more than 5,800. Israeli air and artillery strikes killed another 37 Palestinians in Gaza during the same period. Another 27 were killed — alongside 5,444 injured — in the West Bank. Human Rights Watch, along with Israeli human rights groups, also document Israel’s other human rights and international law violations, including the demolition of houses, the expropriation of lands and the transfer of Israeli settlers into Palestinian lands. Reports about child incarceration and torture in Israeli prisons are credible.

For decades, the Palestinians’ plight has been eclipsed by Israeli propaganda and the backing of mainly biased US administrations. But, thanks to social media and independent groups, the Palestinian side of the story is now reaching once-indifferent and misinformed Western publics. BLM has found an ally in pro-Palestinian activists, including the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which last week scored a significant victory when the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously that the highest appeals court in France had violated the rights of BDS activists when it upheld their criminal convictions in 2015.

BLM has found an ally in pro-Palestinian activists, including the BDS movement.

Osama Al-Sharif

On June 6, 500 law students marched in support of BLM from Washington’s State Capitol to the White House and, at one point, one of the organizers recognized the Palestinian flag and shouted “Free Palestine” as he denounced Israeli apartheid.

This wave of global protests against injustice comes at an awkward time for Israel, as it plans its controversial and illegal annexation of Palestinian territory. Many anti-Zionist Jewish activists have been especially active on social media, highlighting the fact that Zionism is tantamount to racism. In recent days, those activists have pointed to Palestinian suffering and to the fact that annexation would result in Israel becoming a de facto apartheid state ruling over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians, while ushering in a form of modern-day slavery.

It was described by some as the “American Intifada” and the BLM movement is proving to be the most potent and influential human rights drive since the civil rights marches of the 1960s. The link between BLM and the Palestinians’ suffering is unbreakable and Israel should not miss the profound impact of the current movement on its own dismal record as it inches further toward even greater dehumanization of the Palestinians.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010
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