Connecting the Dots: The Liberationist Ethos of the Mapping Project

The Mapping project has been hit with significant backlash in the US. (Photo: via MAPliberaton TW Page)

By Omar Zahzah

Many of us can recall some of the most famous sayings of the revolutionary Palestinian intellectual Ghassan Kanafani, but current events are also providing each one of us dedicated to Palestinian liberation the opportunity to begin to commit to these sentiments through practice.

Kanafani famously remarked that “imperialism has laid its body over the world,” so that “Wherever you strike it, you damage it, and you serve the world revolution;” he also averred that “The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary… as a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era.”

 These sentiments as well as the broad range of Kanafani’s writings reveal an unwavering comprehension of Palestine as a one of the catalysts for a broader, global project of international liberation. Fighting a collective liberation struggle means unmasking the local manifestation of global imperial capillaries.

This was a crucial, if topical maxim in the pre-Oslo era, whereby a modern Palestinian liberation movement arose as part and parcel of the broader fight for anti-colonial liberation across the world. In such a setup, it was not only common, but crucial to forge linkages of joint struggle across seemingly disparate geographical and political locales, to engage in collective resistance formations defined by a broader refusal of colonial and imperial capitalist oppression.

But it is a sentiment that remains true today; ironically, perhaps even more so, for even as the neo-liberalization of the Palestinian struggle and economy has resulted in sharpened fragmentation and isolation of the Palestinian people, their agents of repression are part of a wide net that includes compatriots, clientele, and collaborators from and within the most brutally oppressive forces, institutions, and agencies worldwide.

 As local activists, we can proclaim that there is an interconnection between the violence of US gentrification and that of Zionist ethnic cleansing, but what if this interconnection was found to be material as well as ethical? How can we continue to build on previous efforts such as the Deadly Exchange program, showing not only the nefariousness of the Zionist entity’s training of US police, but also the deep convergence between Zionist and US police forces in a way that adds a new, material component to understanding the police as the global enemy of the people?

The Mapping Project: A Bold New Initiative

As it turns out, a bold new initiative has painstakingly begun a process of addressing these questions, and providing organizers with an invaluable resource to construct conscientious campaigns attuned to the inherently comparative nature of Zionist settler-colonization and US domestic and imperial violence.

The Mapping Project  is a  “multi-generational collective of activists and organizers on the land of the Massachusett, Pawtucket, Naumkeag, and other tribal nations (Boston, Cambridge, and surrounding areas) who wanted to develop a deeper understanding of local institutional support for the colonization of Palestine and harms that we see as linked, such as policing, US imperialism, and displacement/ethnic cleansing.

Our work is grounded in the realization that oppressors share tactics and institutions – and that our liberation struggles are connected. We wanted to visualize these connections in order to see where our struggles intersect and to strategically grow our local organizing capacities.”

A perusal of the afore-linked website demonstrates an impressive array of tools and reports for mapping—visually, and organizationally—the linkages between a wide network of organizations providing for, and profiting from the colonization of Palestinian land, the displacement of Black and Brown peoples in the US, the increasing militarization of US police forces, and more.

Crucially, the project also considers the outsized (if underreported) role that NGOs have played in funding the colonization of Palestine following extractive practices that also allow for members to hoard unconscionable amounts of wealth at the direct expense of the most dispossessed.

The Mapping Project’s thorough research combined with its incisive political analysis provides activists and organizers for Palestinian liberation with a powerful means of contending with the physical implications of a comprehensively colonial framework for thinking through policing and militarism, from the US to Palestine:

“In colonial-settler states, police focus overwhelmingly on colonized people, placing them under a regime of surveillance, denial of freedom of movement, mass imprisonment and lethal violence… The US military develops new technologies in its war zones and then brings them back to police on the domestic front. All across the US empire, US police officials help set up and train foreign police forces and experiment with new methods of interrogation, torture, biometric surveillance and human mapping, and then bring this expertise home with them…

As an especially active frontier of colonization and occupation over a protracted period, Israel has come to play a special role as a laboratory for policing – a role that comes to greater prominence as the US repackages its own police apparatus under the aegis of ‘counterterrorism.’”

 The innovation here is not the analysis alone, but its correlation with a detailed, locally-derived index of collaborative institutions that, with various degrees of visibility, either directly participate in or help refine and support the violence work of colonial policing across borders.


But since debuting on June 3, the project has been hit with significant backlash. Unsurprisingly, Zionist institutions have initiated their usual manufactured outrage machine to falsely portray the project as antisemitic. Some of this backlash has shown in real-time how Zionism’s strategic deployment of weaponized charges of antisemitism are in and of themselves often the precursor to the threat of racialized policing and surveillance being enacted against supporters of Palestinian liberation.   

What is surprising is the resistance to a project dedicated to tracking the material overlap between US state violence and oppression and the ongoing Zionist colonization of Palestine also shown among supporters of the Palestinian cause.

Individual liberals have sought to condescendingly throw the project under the bus by misrepresenting their political disagreement with the project as a criticism of the Mapping Project’s strategy.

And on June 22, the BDS Movement formally distanced itself from BDS Boston on Twitter for the latter group’s support of the mapping project. The BDS Movement’s statement (which was also posted to their website) even went so far as to claim that “endorsement of this project by any group affiliated with the BDS movement conflicts with this affiliation.”  

This official move to disinherit BDS Boston and the Mapping Project from BDS efforts not only publicly abandons grassroots activists to fight the vicious onslaught of Zionist repression alone—it is also ultimately an abdicated opportunity to continue formalizing new and vital forms of BDS campaigns that can strike all the more effectively at the beating hearts that pump the lifeblood of our shared oppression across the imperialized globe.

Statements of Support: The Struggle Continues

Fortunately, this disavowal has not meant complete abandonment. Palestinian figures such as Susan Abulhawa and Steven Salaita have spoken out in support of the project. And on June 23, a statement co-signed by 21 organizations including the Palestinian Youth Movement, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, Within Our Lifetime, and Al-Awda, the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition was released.

In it, organizers firmly rejected the Zionist smear campaigns and harassment to which the Mapping Project and its supporters have been subjected, as well as the possibility of any echelon of the broader Palestinian struggle to arbitrate the tactical boundaries of resistance and dissent.

“We reject any attempts to isolate or ostracize segments of our movement that are doing this critical work, especially in the face of backlash and repression,” the statement reads.

“The work to uncover the relationships between policing, Zionism, and imperialism is critical movement work that should be uplifted.”

Just as Kanafani observed decades prior, the ongoing fight for total liberation and return necessitates a ruthless comprehension of how local systems of violence realize global dimensions.

The Mapping Project is a vital new tool conceived in this spirit, and as such deserves the support of all who fight for a free Palestine and a truly liberated world.

(This article reflects the views of Omar Zahzah’s only and not any of his professional affiliations)

Omar Zahzah is the Education and Advocacy Coordinator for Eyewitness Palestine as well as a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). Omar is also an independent scholar, writer and poet and holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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