Andrew Ryder

Recent days have seen an upsurge of signs of solidarity between African-American and Palestinian struggles. On August 17, an open letter entitled “Palestinians express solidarity with the people of Ferguson,” signed by Susan Abulhawa, Ramzy Baroud, and many other individuals and organizations was posted online. The signatories ended the letter with the proclamation, “With a Black Power fist in the air, we salute the people of Ferguson and join in your demands for justice.” Two days later, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine declared, “The PFLP sends its revolutionary greetings, its solidarity message and its salutes to the struggle people of Ferguson on the front lines confronting U.S. empire, and to the generations upon generations of Black struggle. Our Palestinian liberation movement is part of one struggle with the Black liberation movement.” At least a few of the Ferguson demonstrators reciprocated this solidarity, as a photo of a man waving a Palestinian flag in Ferguson was widely circulated on social media. A protest song by a popular rapper from Atlanta, T.I., even gave a shout-out to the Gaza Strip in its first lines.

These affinities are not entirely novel. Just a year ago, Susan Abulhawa wrote an essay titled "The Palestinian struggle is a black struggle." Suheir Hammad’s book of poems, Born Palestinian, Born Black, published in 1996, also insisted on this identification. Many people I know, trained in postmodern suspicion of totalities, tried to “correct” her for invoking a united anti-racist front, rather than exploring a sensitivity to multiplicity and diffusions of power.

Recent events, such as the devastation unleashed on Gaza and the militarized crackdown on peaceful protests in Ferguson, seem to have reactivated an older tradition of the decolonization and anti-racist movements, for which solidarity was more important than difference. It seems that we are now better able to recover the long tradition of recognition among anti-racist struggles–spelled out with regard to the African-American and Palestinian situations by people like Jean Genet, James Baldwin, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and Angela Davis, as well as the contributions made from outside the U.S. situation by great figures such as Nelson Mandela, Frantz Fanon, and Achille Mbembe.

However, although a strong and vital bond between the Palestinian and African-American situations has been rediscovered, a certain quick comparison between Gaza and Ferguson has also been made, that I don't think is very rigorous. It is heartening to see communication on social media between Gazans and demonstrators in Missouri. See here and here. There is a shared fight against oppression, but the situation in Gaza is in many ways quite qualitatively distinct.

What has been happening in Gaza for years is an ethnic cleansing operation characterized by massacres, bombing, chemical weapons, blockades on food and supplies, etc. This is not really comparable to the way that power works on the soil of the U.S. at this historical moment. In order to find a comparable situation in the U.S., I think you would have to look back to the massacres of Native Americans and of slaves that took place in the nineteenth century. Or, comparisons could be drawn, again imperfectly, with the many bombardments, invasions, and occupations of foreign countries that the U.S. has undertaken.

Where do I think the comparison of disciplinary power is much more appropriate is between the Ferguson events and the occupation of the West Bank. Similarly, there's a militarized security force with a culture of impunity and various strategies of popular resistance. In fact, it has been widely reported that the leadership of the Ferguson police received training in Israel. I am sure that the training that they received was based primarily on experiences of the Israeli Defense Forces in quelling unrest in the West Bank, rather than the much more destructive and bloody tactics pursued in Gaza. Indeed, one of the main similarities in the arsenal of the IDF and the Ferguson policy is the extensive employment of tear gas. While tear gas is used in Gaza occasionally, it is much more characteristic of West Bank operations, in which populations are pacified or dispersed without killing or maiming.

The apartheid regime in the West Bank, to me, is similar to the racialized repressive apparatus in the United States, although of course in Palestine the ethnocratic structure is more obvious and legally codified whereas in the U.S. it's primarily de facto and unwritten.

It might even be argued that the racialized repressive apparatuses in Missouri and the West Bank have more in common with each other than they do with Gaza. The events in Ferguson have revealed an apartheid structure in U.S. society, enforced by brutal violence, that has many similarities with the ways that power is deployed in the West Bank. But Gaza is perhaps singular as the “most accomplished form of necropower,” in Achille Mbembe’s description.

Andrew Ryder is Postdoctoral Associate of the Department of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh. He has written numerous articles on Continental philosophy, modern literature, and Marxism. He is presently finishing a book manuscript, titled Irreducible Excess: Politics, Sexuality, and Materialism.

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