By Benay Blend
In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd there have been massive protests in major American cities. Their demands have ranged from reforming the police to dismantling the institution altogether.
In Palestine, too, response to the shooting of Iyad Halak, an unarmed, autistic man on his way to work in Jerusalem, has sparked dissent. Their calls run the gamut from liberals who refuse to denounce the Zionist state to those who understand that the system needs undoing.
In both cases, the underlying problems are systemic. Indeed, the Ramallah-based Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy tweeted the above drawing of Halak and Floyd with “Palestine Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter” written above them. “[Iyad] and George were victims of similar systems of supremacy and oppression. They must be dismantled,” the advocacy group said.
In “Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment” (2018), Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz provides the historical context for the origins of policing in America. Rooted in slave patrols, the original “patrollers” hunted down escaped slaves to avert their owner’s loss, and also to discourage slave revolts through insurrection.
Early militias had other missions, equally racist as well as grounded in the protection of private property. According to Dunbar-Ortiz, the Virginia force was founded for a specific purpose: “To kill Indians, take their land, drive them out, wipe them out.” Moreover, militias went after indentured European servants who had thoughts of fleeing before their contracts expired.
With so much emphasis on the sanctity of private property, it’s no wonder that coverage of the recent protests in America focused on what the media described as “looters,” the “breaking of windows, burning of property, and stealing of goods” that in some cases accompanied the calls for change. Significantly, in an article published several years ago, Raven Rakia explains that the difference between “riots” and “protests” depends on skin color. In America, that distinction makes sense, given the origins of the police as protectors of private property.
“One cannot discuss the immorality of damaging property,” Rakia continues, “without devaluing the rage that brought protesters to this point. You, too, have to decide which one you value more: human life or property.” Given the “historical racialization of property,” along with the devaluing of Black lives, Rakia cautions against paying too much attention to mainstream media. Instead, she proposes that “our survival is dependent on our persistence,” i.e. “working on building and existing in the type of world we’d like to see.”
Just like the media, Rakia writes, is “part of what we’re up against,” so are the police, at least in the form that they exist at this moment. Calling for reform of the police is a liberal measure that has shown time and again that it does not work.
From the ‘Palestinian Chair’, and other forms of torture methods used by the US army to the militarization of the American police and the massive ‘security apparatus’ used to spy on and monitor ordinary Americans, Israel’s war technology is now part and parcel of the everyday American life.In this episode of Palestine Chronicle TV, editors Ramzy Baroud and Romana Rubeo discuss the Israeli involvement in shaping state-sponsored violence, which is currently at full display in American streets. From crowd control tactics to the knee-on-neck hold, which killed African American man George Floyd on May 25, PC editors will provide a range of evidence that implicates Israel in the routine violence meted out against US citizens.Join us Wednesday, June 10 @ 12 pm PST (10 pm Palestine time) and be part of the discussion.
Posted by The Palestine Chronicle on Wednesday, June 10, 2020
For example, Campaign Zero’s Can’t Wait Campaign proposes a set of eight reforms that they assert would reduce police killings by 72 %. In response, a coalition of police and prison abolitionists charge that the program is both “dangerous and irresponsible,” posing a set of reforms that has already been proven ineffective. Moreover, it coopted the movement by diverting attention away from the goal of police and prison abolition with a slate of reforms that do not reflect the demands of criminalized communities.
In the end, as the abolitionist organization Critical Resistance recently tweeted, 8 Can’t Wait will simply “improve policing’s war” on the poor rather than abate it. Given the racist history of policing in America it seems that efforts aimed merely at reform might be as likely to succeed as diversity training would have been for the owners of chattel slaves.
Similarly, Zionism has its roots in the founding of Israel in 1948, an event that for Palestinians is commemorated yearly as the Nakba. In the introduction to A Map of Absence: An Anthology of Palestinian Writing on the Nakba (2019), Atef Alshaer relates that for Palestinians, May 15th is a day darkened by the memory of replacing their homeland with displacement and uncertainty.
Given that history, there is no way to reform a colonialist regime in which racism was embedded from the start. “To be truly pro-Palestinian,” writes Rima Najjar, “one must be anti-Israel, anti-Zionist.” Like American police officers who took a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but before had not supported former quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he did the same, Israeli Zionists are adept at “camouflaging” what Najjar terms a “new kind of colonialism”—more “benevolent,” more “philanthropic,” a system made more appealing by offering economic “aid.”
In both countries, the structures that have upheld racism and colonialism have got to go. There is no acceptable reform. In America, as Bill Ayers writes: “Policing, surveillance and prison are the last entitlements, while every social need and priority is hollowed out or eliminated, and the occupying police forces are brought in to manage the predictable crisis.”
In a better world, defunding the police, continues Ayers, would reflect the “people’s priorities,” financed by funds formerly allocated to the departments. Gone would be military equipment and weaponry, training with Israeli forces, and all other accouterments appropriate only for an occupying army. In its place, operations would be under community control, a democratically chosen review board to whom police forces would be held accountable.
Defunding the police is only one facet of what needs to be done to bring about a world in which the people want to live. In Israel, the end-game in the best possible scenario will be one democratic state with equal rights for all. The One State Foundation offers one blueprint, an initiative that would grant equal rights regardless of religion, as well as recognition and repair,
“of past and present injustice and wrongdoings, including the acknowledgment of the Palestinian Nakba to take place. UN resolution 194 on the right of return or reparation for Palestinian refugees and their descendants provides a firm basis for a first step, but recognition and repair go beyond that, since injustice and dispossession after 1948 would also need to be addressed in the process.”
“We must resist,” claims Robert Jones, Jr., “even if defeat is imminent.” Jones warns that “superficial and incremental reforms” will not lead to liberation. Instead, he calls for a “reevaluation, a dismantling,” a process that might require fire. He cautions, though, that “if James Baldwin was correct,” that the “rainbow was…a promise,” then “what have we to lose” that hasn’t been lost already?
The same holds true for Palestinians, particularly as Israel’s plans for annexation move forward. On the other hand, as one after another disaster unfolds, writes Alshaer, so do the efforts of Palestinians to become agents of their history.
“They inhabit their own stories,” Alshaer contends, “not only as victims of a major historical injustice, but also as agents of the development of Palestine—the idea and the living reality” (p. xviii). In this way, by making clear the historical context on which liberation rests, the movement to make both Palestinian and Black Lives Matter will make headway.
– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.