the right of return

August 28, 2009 § 9 Comments

Her Jewish-ass be travelling to Palestine and so be her friends when Palestinian people be waiting for their birthright trip: Ilana has travelled to Palestine supported by Detroit Summer in promoting her “activism”, music and “artistry” while Palestinians that she is supposed to be in solidarity with are denied the right of return.

phyre asked me to retweet this article. and i did.  but i also wanted to respond.  but frankly it is not an easy response.

this is not because of some personal loyalties.  i know phyrecracker through her blogs and twitter but we dont have convos or anything.  i know adrienne maree through her blog and twitter as well. and i have mad respect for the media they produce.  and i know invincible d through her music.  simple as that.

maybe this is not an easy response because of personal loyalties.  but it is not personal loyalties to the women who had this exchange.  no my personal loyalties, the ones that tug at me, when i read phyre’s critique, are much closer to home.

its me.  and its mine.

so let me start by saying i have a strong and sustained critique of internationals who do palestinian solidarity work in the west bank, gaza, or the refugee camps.  you want to hear some seriously seriously fucked up stories about things i did in the west bank…sit down and grab a beer or more like a six pack…we are going to be here for a while.

and it is really really fucked up that palestinian refugee diaspora cannot return to palestine.  and you know, when i was palestine, i felt a certain amount of resentment toward jewish american activists in palestine.  they readily admitted that they had jewish privilege.  and how they used it was…well…complicated.  but frankly being a black american woman in the west bank gave me an interesting perspective about citizenship, right of return, genocide, and racism.

i had a good friend who was jewish american,  who had a certain amount of activist fame for the work she had done in gaza around the death of rachel corrie.  after returning from gaza.  she got a book agent who wanted her to write her incredible story: whats a good upper middle class jewish american girl doing living in gaza?  you see it was her race class ethnicity citizenship all of that…that was her fame and she lived off it for years.

i mean who’s ever heard of getting an agent when you’ve never written anything before?

ok.  whatever.

but i have another good friend.  and he is this white upper middle class boy who worked in gaza and the west bank.  and he made a ‘hip hop album’.  oh god.  oh fucking god.  his ‘hip hop’ was about the struggle of the palestinian people.  and how we as good westerners have to pay attention and help them.  he also liked to reference the black liberation struggle.  he made bank off this ‘hip hop’ album.  and its follow up album…his audiences are primarily white.  his version of ‘hip hop’ is also pretty white.  and before he made his first album.  he had never participated in hip hop before.  and he financed his album through the support of a christian peacemaking teams. (in which we were both working) (an organization that only allows christian to join. and kept a presence in palestine for 15 years, and yet has only had a palestinian member of that organization, for the past 3.  many pal’s have asked to join.  but of course none of them were christian enough.)

his second album was financed primarily by his family.  that second album tour he made enough money by implying that the money was going to the palestinian struggle to live off for nearly the next year.  furthermore, he had bought palestinian pins, necklaces, and other handicrafts in bulk from west bank palestinians and then sold those palestinian goods at a significant profit and then lived off that money in the midwest being a full time activist star.

who has ever heard of going on a two month long profitable hip hop tour when you’ve never stepped into a cipher?  and dont know who rakim is?

but that is me looking outside of myself.  because i am not innocent in this.  would i be able to fundraise as well if i had not worked in palestine.  nope.  because i worked in palestine.  i have some arabic language skills.  i understand intimately the palestinian resistance struggle.  i gained a lot from working there.  life long friendships. including my partnership with habibi.  hell, aza was conceived in occupied bethlehem.  and was in utero when i was getting denied to re enter the west bank the first time.

this is not personal about invincible d.  i dont know her.  i barely know her music.  this is about something that i have been contemplating for a long time about jewish american involvement in pro palestinian activism//

1. the state of israel has no right to exist.  i know. i know.  thats extreme language for some.

2. its all an occupation.  48, 67, 09 palestinians.  territories.  it is all an occupation.

3. palestinians, as all displaced peoples do, deserve the right of return at a minimum.

4. jewish americans are a significant portion of the occupying forces in palestine.  because of the ‘right of return’.

5.  i have had jewish american pro palestinian activist women tell me that only jews and palestinians should be allowed to travel and live in palestine.  bull shit.  and ive never heard a palestinian say this.

6. i take issue with jews throughout the diaspora claiming a strip a land about the size of small new england state as their only and original homeland.  i take issue with this as an african american woman who can make no such claims to a homeland.  no such protected rights.  our holocaust doesn’t deserve a capital letter.  has no national museum.  i take issue with the requirement that palestinians are meant to give up a part of their land to jewish immigration.

7. i am not a huge fan of boycotts in general.  i dislike the historical inaccuracy that white folks in the us boycotted south african companies is what made apartheid fall.  it is a historical inaccuracy that is repeated ad nauseum.  just because it sounds good.  (white folks is always wanting to take credit for the party when they the one who came late, insisted on playing the sucky music, and ate up all the chicken…ahem…) so i barely blink at bds.

8. on the whole i have found white jewish american pro palestinian activists to be extremely condescending to me.  not just them.  ok let me back up a little.  i have found on the whole almost every white pro palestine activists to be incredibly condescending.  and the condescension has gotten ten fold since i became a mama.  and i admit.  i expected better from the white jewish american women i have met in the pro palestine movement.  and been sorely disappointed.

the attitude comes across like this: oh look.  you are a little black mama.  and you think you are an activist on my level.  oh that is cute.  but it is obvious you are too crazy.  irrelevant.  unstable.  etc.  for me to talk to.  maybe i can talk to you later if i stop being as important as i am. oh but probably not.

last year at amc.  one of these women.  started lecturing to me how difficult it would be for african american women to travel to palestine.  this was after i had told her that i had been to the west bank several times.

9.  i have a problem with the ease that jewish americans can travel to and from the west bank.  they are financially supported often by the israeli govt and pro zionist organizations to fly to israel and to travel through israel.

i have a problem with jewish americans who learn hebrew for free in israel.  and then use that hebrew to communicate with palestinians, and often not bother to learn arabic.  thus meetings with palestinians communities end up being spoken in hebrew and shuts out palestinians and others who dont speak hebrew.

10.  and i am tired of being told by jewish americans that i couldnt understand how important it is to have a homeland.  and how everyone deserves that.  and that is why israel must exist.  i am tired of being told that palestine isnt really my issue.  because im not jewish.  i am tired of hearing these same activists skip over me to hang out with my partner because he fits their image of what a ‘real activist’ looks like.


but lets keep it real:  my partner is a white middle class boy who worked for two years as a human rights solidarity activist in the west bank.  and i love him.  i have learned a lot from him.


but here is the thing.  i know what it feels like to give a critique of systems of oppression.  and have someone take it personal.  if it aint about you dont make it about you.  and then attack you claiming that you attacked them.  its a fucked up process. and it wears you out emotionally.  ostracizes you from community.  and leaves you looking like the attacker. and it breaks my heart that ppl who are supposed to be allies and sisters put that on phyre.


i wish it was all so much simpler.  but it isnt.  we all deserve the right of return.  by any means necessary.



§ 9 Responses to the right of return

  • NaksibendiMuslimah says:

    thank you for so fully articulating what i certainly could not have because i haven’t been to Palestine, i certainly can’t say i see things from a Black perspective, and i have intentionally avoided just the sort of activists that you describe. to me, i see the Palestinian issue from the lens of being a Native American in occupied and colonized territory. i identify very much with the Palestinian people because of a similar (not the same) situation, and then add to that how i share a religion with a significant portion of the Palestinian population. but pretty much, what you have said is articulating what is in my brain.

    • mama says:

      oh do you know of the snag delegation to palestine…i think it may be over now…or almost…when i first heard of their delegation i wanted to cry…although it is organized by the same woman who at amc last year was sooooo condescending when i mentioned working with her…explaining to me about how difficult it would be for black women to travel…

      • NaksibendiMuslimah says:

        i remember there being something about trips to Palestine, and something about a solidarity thing for Native students to go over there. i don’t know if you are referring to that (i have no clue what SNAG means) but i think i first heard about the program to send Native students thru you. and as a Native, i feel very close affinity to the Palestinian cause so i think it’s great if other Natives connect to Palestinians in meaningful ways and if we support each others’ work and activism. but i also remember thinking that it is a little screwy that there is the attempt to organize for Native students to go (i mean, alhamdulAllah, because i’ve never known a privileged Native student and so few of us ever get to go anywhere at all) but that i personally know Palestinian youth and not-exactly-youth-anymore people who have no way at all to go, there is no organization or funding or effort to send them there to connect with their own people, culture, history, and to support them in their activism on behalf of their own extended family, you know? And i guess that makes me wonder too who is behind sending Native students and what their motivation really is and all that.

        Also, thru Twitter, i know of a Native guy who just recently travelled over there, and he says it was in solidarity with Palestinians and he took photos and wrote blog posts about it. And it’s good to see, i even linked to his photo essay on it, but i noticed in all his tweets he kept referring to his trip to “Israel” and to hanging out & such. which really rubs me the wrong way. and maybe he just doesn’t know any better, maybe he is clueless somehow, or maybe it’s just honesty that he really spent most of his time in Israel. But then in other tweets he specifically refers to “Lakotas in Palestine” (he’s from Pine Ridge even, which means he’s probably not particularly priviledged by most standards) and plays that up. Here’s a part of his last blog post on the subject, and i think you can see why i want to support his having gone but at the same time would like to see him take a clearer stand and not be so wishy-washy, because if someone went to Pine Ridge and said “it’s a complicated matter, and i wanna hear the U.S. gov’t’s side too because it’s valid and they feel put upon by ya’ll” i just don’t for a minute believe he’d be happy with that person. i’m 100% down with visitors not telling ppl what they really need, allowing the ppl to make autonomous decisions. but you also have to support the oppressed and stop making excuses for the oppressors.

        “I have no conclusions and the complexities of the issues are profound and startling. The Palestinians I met want one thing, ‘Do not add or take away, but tell everything you see. Tell our story.’ The refrain from the Israelis I met was, ‘Things are complex. Don’t judge until you understand. There are two sides in every story.’

        I feel like Palestine and Israel are battling for moral high ground and whoever is the bigger underdog or victim wins.

        So often, we get visitors who come to our Rez and, after a week here, feel they know what ‘those Indians need to do.’ I think that comes from a place of privilege and righteousness that is not meant to be hurtful at all, and means well. But, ultimately, it is not very helpful.”

        That line about moral high ground really offends me. because what Palestinians are trying to project that they are the bigger victim and therefore “win”? not the average Palestinian, i don’t think. fact is they ARE the victim, there is no battle. how can an NDN not see and understand that? and i guess i’m a little afraid if that is going to be the outcome of youth delegations to Palestine – they go, they smoke a lot of hookah, they party with the Israelis, they visit a refugee camp but don’t connect it to their own reservation, don’t draw the parallel to their own history, and at the same time, saying stupid ish about how the Palestinians still have it better than the NDNs, like this:

        “The commerce is so amazing here compared to the rez. They don’t even know how amazing it is. They have three construction companies — IN THE REFUGEE CAMP”

        yeah, this from a dude who owns his own “health food” company and produces a health food bar. so i’m like “whatever”.

        Anyhoo, if you wanna check out his blog (and pictures) some more –

  • jeffbbz says:

    “but i have another good friend. and he is this white upper middle class boy who worked in gaza and the west bank. and he made a ‘hip hop album’. oh god. oh fucking god.”

    hahahaha, I’m pretty sure I know who you are talking about and that I have that album somewhere in a box at my parent’s house. “oh god. oh fucking god.” would accurately describe it.

    “i have found on the whole almost every white pro palestine activists to be incredibly condescending…
    the attitude comes across like this: oh look. you are a little black mama. and you think you are an activist on my level. oh that is cute. but it is obvious you are too crazy. irrelevant. unstable. etc. for me to talk to. maybe i can talk to you later if i stop being as important as i am. oh but probably not.”

    Change “white pro palestinian” to “white activist/ngo worker/human in Afghanistan/Pakistan” or really just plain “white humans doing anything” and I’m right there with you. The level of condescension towards east Asians, particularly small east Asian women is outrageous. These people are also usually the same people who think that your level of English speaking ability is akin to your level of intelligence and all other abilities. If your organization/community is not based in Europe/North America you are automatically a second class group, incapable of doing “the serious work” with “the big boys,” and if you can’t speak English fluently then I can’t understand you well so you must be an idoit and how could you possibly understand the situation because god knows all good sources of media are in English and of course that’s what all the locals speak…

    • mama says:

      oh i think you know who i am talking about….;)
      oh we should sit down one day and share stories of intl work. i have more than once had europeans (whose first language is not english) compliment me on how good my english was…
      oh god. oh fucking god.

  • ana_au_ says:

    Wow, thankyou for these thoughts.
    Like jeffbbz I sense entwinements like this in other registers of solidarity activism too… it came up around action in Oaxaca for example, and again around the death of a white, northern international:
    Makes me think – from my whitey activist vantage point – of the right of _movement_: the freedom that privileged internationals have to move in and out of solidarity, physically or otherwise. The freedom to _be_ “internationals”, solidaridist@s, activists-at-large.

    • mama says:

      @ana and paco
      yes! i have written about this before. solidarity activism. white privilege. us privilege. ‘the freedom that privileged internationals have to move in and out of solidarity’….yes! and in many ways. it is that choice. that is the most pernicious of international solidarity privilege. or maybe that is what haunts me. because no matter what. i. can. always. leave. i need to think about this some more.
      but i was in chiapas in the fall winter of 2007-2008 and srsly? the white activists there…oh god…i mean at least most of them spoke spanish… but their assumption about their own importance.
      i mean i had a guy who had done about 3 months of solidarity work in toto in his life. a week or two in the west bank… that guy told me that i would not be able to do solidarity work in the ezln communities with my daughter. he was sure that the intl org. wouldnt allow it. and i was like: oh maybe that is the communities’ choice. not the intl org. maybe ezln communities should get to decide if they think that babies are so unusual and weird…or just an everyday part of life…this convo happened while we were at a women’s ezln encuentro…with my daughter in my lap nursing…after i had spent two days at the ezln community feeling embraced by the ezln women who made it a point to come and talk to me and my baby…
      and i have years of experience of solidarity work. and my spanish was better than his. oh and i wasnt a jerk. and my kid was really sociable, easy going, adaptable.
      but he knew more than i did. b/c a black mama with a kid in a rebozo hanging out with ezln women claiming to be a solidarity activist? oh noes.
      white boy with a trust fund? as radical as his torn t shirt.
      hmmm….this has me thinking of another project…an anthology of intl solidarity activists/aid workers/ngo worker’s deconstructing the work from an anti-oppressive perspective…like…sharing the fucked up stories…because i always feel so grateful when i read or hear that i am not the only one who thinks that there might be something fucked up with the system of how we do solidarity…
      you know?

  • ana australiana says:

    Oh whoa… he clearly had no idea how generous folks were being to him! I was in Chiapas then too, just before the women’s encuentro… I did some talking with other solidarity gring@s about the way they viewed their solidarity and their privilege…. a small number seem to have listened more carefully to the ezln discourse on the subject, like here:
    There are also good reflections here I think:
    An anthology, yes!! I don’t know of anything like that out there, specifically telling the fucked up stories and imagining a solidarity that might not foster more of them…..

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