No Air

There is no air between the treatment of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation, and the treatment of Black or indigenous people in the United States. There is shared history, shared ideology, shared methods, and a shared path to liberation. When I look at the recent resurgence of violence by ultra-nationalist settlers and by the state of Israel, and particularly of the horrific consequences of that violence upon the Palestinian people I truly understand what it means to say that no one is free until all of us are free.

In the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah I am reminded of days last December I spent behind barricades at the Red House, here in Portland, defending a Black family from eviction by the police. I remember chanting “Land Back!” with my fellow protectors and listening at night to speeches by the fire from members of the Warm Springs tribe showing us the connections between the gentrification of Black neighborhoods, and forced removal of Native Americans.

Photo credit: Ahmad Gharabli

In the rampage of the Jewish supremacist group Lehava through East Jerusalem I am reminded of Proud Boys and other white supremacist gangs taking to the streets to assault bystanders in our country, knowing that it’s those that stand against fascism who will end up blamed in the news reports. I see the old routine of colonizers committing vandalism and vigilante violence while the state looks the other way, or actively aids and abets in the crimes. I can’t help but think of the hundreds of white citizens who were deputized in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 in order to loot, murder, and raze the black neighborhood of Greenwood. I see the media today, as then, reporting this violence as “clashes”, crossing their fingers that we can’t tell who the antagonists really are.

In the renewed bombing of Gaza on the flimsiest of pretexts I see echoes of Sand Creek, and Wounded Knee, and the Dakota War of 1862 when the United States Army set up the first modern concentration camps, outdoor prisons that looked a lot like that strip of land along Palestine’s southern shore looks today. I see the historical antecedents that bind our peoples together in infamy. I see and I know that we Americans aren’t just funding the occupation, we laid the blueprints for genocide which continues on our own soil, while reverberating in the West Bank among other places.

There is no air between these struggles at all, and we dare not allow ourselves to put imaginary distance between Palestinian suffering and oppression in America. A knee on the neck in Sheikh Jarrah, is the same as a knee on the neck in Minneapolis. If we long for freedom here, then our vow to Palestinians should be the one that Ruth made to Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Rev. Aric Clark is the co-moderator of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.