What the lives of American people of color and Palestinians have in common is first and foremost that they both matter. To remind people of this simple fact is not to suggest that other lives don’t matter—that is just nonsense—a cheap distraction and sophomoric talking point. The point of the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is to draw attention to the obvious fact that people of color in the US (like Palestinians) have systematically been treated with callous, often brutal and lethal, disregard.
It is useful to consider President Trump’s approach to the current dual crisis of a global pandemic and the huge wave of protests across the US in light of this fact. Before going on, though, a simple truth must be acknowledged. The current pandemic virus doesn’t much care about human quarrels or ideologies. Further, the only tools we presently have to thwart its progress are masking, social distancing, testing and tracing, etc. In light of this, huge public gatherings are something that a competent president would try to avoid at all costs.
In response to the recent “revelations” of police brutality against blacks—which are nothing new, but have lately taken on the appearance of public, state-sponsored lynchings, a competent president could have taken a quite different approach. That would probably have kept tens of thousands off the street while still giving them their due say.
Trump could have immediately recognized the innate justice and legitimacy of the outcry against police brutality. He could have then instructed his DOJ to absolutely prioritize reform of police behavior and training and could have personally led the charge to prosecute guilty parties everywhere. In light of the pandemic threat, he could have done all this in a passionate speech that implored people across the nation to show solidarity with the cause of civil rights by stay home, but not to be passive. He could have asked them to do masking, go to their sidewalk in their community, take a knee, and stay there in silence for about 9 minutes (about the time it took George Floyd to die under the knee of the police).
And so, we come to how this relates to the people of Palestine. Like minorities in the US, they also have long-standing, legitimate grievances that have never been addressed. Many people find this whole issue daunting, and don’t know enough about it to draw the comparison. Many people believe the conflict in Palestine is ancient; it’s not. It only started around 1895. Many people think it is complex; it isn’t. It’s about one outside group (Zionist settlers) taking land from indigenous native people (Palestinians). There is a ton of other noise and nonsense that came later, but it’s really not about religion- “Muslim anti-Semitism,” rockets from Gaza, or anything else. It is just about one group trying to resist having its land taken by another group.
The final connection is the most important one: as with racism in general, many people claim the problem of Palestine is simply insoluble. It is not. In fact, it could be solved very easily if Israel would do what a good US president would do when confronted by the dual threat of the Pandemic and protests against police brutality. That is, to simply acknowledge and respond to the legitimate demands for justice which the Palestinian people continue to pursue.
In taking that simple action, Israel would not be making any new concessions or engaging in any kind of appeasement. The Palestinians demand an end to illegal settlement of their land, an end to illegal Israeli occupation, and the right of return for their refugees. These are totally legitimate demands—in fact, Israel has repeatedly, since the partition of 1947, made solemn pledges to do all that.
The tragedy is that (just like the many generations of American politicians who promised to protect equal rights for people of color in the US) Israel has simply, and repeatedly, made lame excuses and reneged on their commitments.
They have instead, done exactly what Trump has just offered to do in response to the outcry against racism and police brutality: that is, to try to meet it with “unlimited military force” and “total domination.”
This has, as the case of Israel clearly shows, never solved anything. The fact that in both cases, people in power would resort to tactics that result in such enormous, needless suffering says all we need to know about their basic morality and why we need serious change.
In March 2018, Palestinians began staging non-violent demonstrations at the “Apartheid Wall” that essentially keeps them in prison. Their action went on for almost two years. All the while, protesters were picked off by long-range sniper fire from Israeli security forces. Medics and media people were especially targeted. There was little outcry in the US. On the other hand, Palestinians were quick to express and demonstrate solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with the Native Americans at Standing Rock. It would be nice if more Americans recognized the justice of the Palestinian cause now. After all, the US spends billions of taxpayer dollars each year to support Israel’s misguided and abhorrent policies.
If there is a new surge in the virus pandemic in coming weeks, I have no doubt that Trump and his dwindling, diehard supporters will try to blame those who joined the anti-racism protests. That is nonsense—there was already a surge because Trump was pressing to reopen the economy much too soon. It started at Memorial Day. The other fact is that Trump could have acted quite differently and given the protesters a good reason to stay home. So ironically, Trump’s own facile slogan now becomes painfully true: the people go to the streets because although they may die from the virus, a lot of them have already died, or will die, from systemic racism. In Trump’s own parlance- “What have they got to lose?
Finally, in both Israel and the US, the words “security,” law,” and “order” have simply become empty, hypocritical platitudes and euphemisms for propping up a bankrupt system.