Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Our Greatest Strength is When We Come Together

The African Heritage Delegation to Palestine/Israel, organized by our member group Interfaith Peace-Builders, arrived in Jerusalem last week. Below are some early impressions from participants. 

Initial Welcome, Lasting Impressions
By Dr. Gilo Kwesi Cornell Logan

My initial welcome to Israel was being detained and interrogated for nearly 3 hours at the airport; the psychological and spiritual harassment was interspersed with questioning and waiting, waiting and questioning; condescending tones non-rhythmically thrown at me that I was expected to dance to, private questions piercing the peace of my heart, as intimidation attempted to suppress something from deep within.  But it is from this very same place within that this experience thus far has validated an essential part of my being as an African American; it has since shown me that it does not define the totality of the experience participating on this African Heritage Delegation to Israel.

I have come to see that my experience as an African American living in America has prepared me to – not only cope with the interrogation in a way that has turned what may be perceived as a negative experience into a strong positive – but to learn of things once unimagined... like meeting Black Ethiopians of the ancient Christian tradition, speaking with Black Sudanese and experiencing their plight, meeting Black Eritreans refugees who have recreated dignity in a foreign land, sitting with Arab Palestinians whose struggle for human rights, autonomy, and liberation mirrors, in many ways, our own as African Americans; and walking with Jews from North Africa who migrated to Israel decades ago and have modeled essential elements of their struggle for equality and dignity after the Black Panther movement in America – all in Israel!

To learn about this is powerful.  To experience this reality is transformative.  To live at one with these people – even if only for this moment – is liberating.  It puts into perspective the reality that oppressed people the world over hold African Americans in a higher esteem and a brighter light than many of us hold for ourselves.  It is only through this type of travel and experience on the other side of the world, and the knowledge gained from it, that we as an African heritage delegation have come to better know and understand ourselves, our situation, and our authentic beauty and boundless power as African Americans in living in America.

Excerpt from “The Way of the Black Panthers”
By Reverend Joi Orr

Today we visited a neighborhood in western Jerusalem made up of Jews of North African descent, living in the homes of Palestinians who were kicked out by Israeli forces in 1948. In 1971 this community formed a branch of the Black Panther party to gain equal rights and political representation in Israel which considered them second class citizens because of their African heritage.  The parallels between their struggle and the American black struggle of the 60 and 70’s are obvious; discrimination, segregation, second class citizenry, etc. 

However, knowing and discussing the parallels isn’t what brought me to tears.  What made me feel like I had golf balls in throat was the commemorative street sign erected by the “Muslala” activist-artist community collective.  The street sign read “The Way of the Black Panthers” and was the bookend to a series of alleyways that coursed throughout the North African community.

The Struggle Continues for the Sacred Homelands of Palestine
by Aaron Dixon

Visiting the holy site of Gethsemane Church helped me to understand the importance of Palestine in the eyes of the world, and how connected Palestinians and Jews are throughout history. I also recognized how the Palestine-Israeli conflict is at the center of world politics.

Meeting the founders of the Israeli Black Panthers underscored the inter-conflict of the darker Jews and the European Jews, and Israel as a racist security state.  The meeting also brought forward the complex issue of land rights and the true owners of East Jerusalem communities, since the Israeli Black Panthers were progressive movement builders who were and still occupy Palestine to this day.

Our delegation had an opportunity to meet with a Palestinian family and observe firsthand the struggle between them and racist Zionist Jewish settlers.  Most striking was the Palestinian family’s determination and strength, which was embodied in their 90-year-old grandmother who had been beaten and hospitalized on five different occasions by Jewish settlers who currently occupy a section of their home and the violent Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Click here to watch a video of the meeting.

The family’s desire, courage, and commitment is an inspiration to all oppressed people throughout the world, who are fighting to hold on to their sacred lands.