Will Smith was quoted saying that racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed, and indeed, it is being filmed a lot lately. No sooner did we begin to recover from one victim of racist violence, the next victim is slain. Just as we began to wrap our heads around the murder of Breonna Taylor, we saw the lynching-murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and then came the murder of George Floyd. It’s interesting that the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd took place in broad daylight, in plain view, and were caught on camera, meaning that the perpetrators felt they could act with impunity.
It is also clear that it was the public outcry and the use of social media platforms in the wake of these murders that drove the authorities to act. Without being filmed and without demands for justice, the perpetrators would probably not have been held accountable.
In Palestine, within a manner of days, the Israeli authorities shot three people, killing two. Two of the three were young Palestinian men with special needs. They posed no threat, they had no history of violence much less aggressive behavior, yet they were shot. Ahmad Tamimi from Nabi Saleh, a young man whom I have known for many years, was shot in the leg and thankfully was not killed. This was after another man, Fadi Adnan Sarhan Samara, a father of five from the village of Abu Qash north of Ramallah, was killed by Israeli forces not far from the village of Nabi Saleh.
The other man is Iyad Khairi Hallak, who was shot and killed in Jerusalem. One can expect that none of the soldiers or police officers involved in these shootings will face a court of law, or even a reprimand.
As these words are being written, it seems as though the United States is in the midst of an uprising. Not rioting as some describe it, but a real uprising. From Minneapolis to Miami, From Los Angeles to Washington D.C., people are rising and more cities across the United States are joining every hour, and they demand justice. They demand an end to racism and state-sponsored violence. However, racism and violence are such an integral part of the United States that one has to wonder if a change is even possible.
Racism and violence are the driving force, they are the foundational pillars of the United States. From the genocide of the Native Americans to the mass murders in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American empire has been fueled by greed and due to the racist attitudes and violent nature of the empire, it managed to become the force that it is today.
It would be a lie to claim that the current expressions of racism in the U.S. are new and unrelated to American history. It would be equally naive to think that anything less than structural change will make a difference. If the current uprising is able to sustain itself and then meet and negotiate with representatives of the government to bring about systemic change, then there is a chance that things will be different in America. With presidential elections just around the corner, COVID-19 and the health care crisis together with the government’s inability to demonstrate control, this might be an opportunity. The questions remain as to how centralized the uprising is and how long it can be sustained.
Lessons from Palestine
There are lessons that can be learned from the Palestinian experience. Palestinians, not unlike people of color in America, have experienced broken promises, have been on the receiving end of rampant incitement, subjected to racist laws, and are on the receiving end of military and police violence.
One important lesson to be learned from the Palestinian experience is that it is not only pointless but extremely damaging to negotiate with a racist regime. Israel is an apartheid state that was imposed on Palestinians and gives privilege to Jewish settlers at the expense of the Palestinian native population. Furthermore, for the better part of the last hundred years, the state of Israel and its predecessor, the Zionist establishment in Palestine, have been engaged in a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinian people.
All attempts by Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy or to negotiate with the Zionist state have made things progressively worse for the Palestinians. Things have reached the point where it is almost widely understood and accepted that justice for Palestinians can only be reached once the Zionist apartheid state is dismantled and a democratic state that guarantees equal rights, one person one vote and the of the refugees to return is established in its place. It has become clear that the settler-colonizer establishment, aka Israel, must be dismantled before Palestine will experience justice and peace.
The clearest and indeed the only sustained Palestinian demands for justice are expressed in the call for boycott divestment and sanctions, or BDS, against Israel. The demands include an end to the Israeli military rule, equal rights for Palestinians, and the return of the refugees. The demands are clear, reasonable, uncompromising, and achievable.
The United States of Apartheid America
In the United States, the legal system of apartheid may have been dismantled but it was replaced with another repressive system that only pretends to offer freedom and opportunity for all. The current system, in fact, works to keep people of color, and any other groups that the white patriarchy currently steering the United States does not favor, out of the circle of opportunity.
The notion of an ongoing resistance by people of color in the United States sounds outlandish but might be what is needed in order to rid America of its racist and violent attitudes towards people of color. This will require a sustained resistance and a clear list of demands, similar to the Palestinian call for boycott divestment and sanctions, or BDS.
It is remarkable that in spite of systemic racism and violence towards people of color in America, the accomplishments and contributions they have made in the United States are remarkable. It is hard to think of a field in which the names of African American, Latino, Arab or Asian Americans do not appear at the top. This leverage may have to be utilized to bring about the systemic change needed.
Be it in Georgia, Minneapolis, Jerusalem, or Ramallah, the victims pile up and one wonders if enough is ever going to be enough.
Feature photo | Black Lives Matter protesters wave a Palestinian flag during a march ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Adrees Latif | Reuters
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”