Ferguson and Palestine: Different Issues, Same Problem

Last week was inspiring. Since coming to New York two years ago, I have been working to build a community for myself. In many ways I have succeeded — I found people that I am honored to call friends, I have good neighbors, and I enjoy the community of my school. But last week was different. Last week, I felt part of a larger community, a community that “gets it,” a community that I share many values with, and a community that inspires me to action.

Since the announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, there have been demonstrations in many cities in America. The demonstrators march under the banners of “Justice for Mike Brown,” “Hands Up Don’t Shoot,” and “No Justice, No Peace.” The night after the announcement, there were hundreds of demonstrations all over New York City, and there was a feeling in the air that this time things might change. Or at least, this time the people won’t take it anymore.

The story of Mike Brown is incredibly sad, but even sadder is the fact that his death is not a new story. In the past few weeks alone, Tamir Rice, 12-years-old and unarmed, was shot by a police officer in Cleveland and Akai Gurley, 28-years-old and unarmed, was shot by a police officer in Brooklyn. I don’t even need to mention the color of the victims’ skin. This is what is so outraging — the assumption that a black man is a threat just because he is black. And in a time where a few thousand kilometers away in Israel, a prominent rabbi has said, “every car of an Arab man is a terror institution,” doesn’t all of this sound awfully familiar?

A blog post titled “And Now They Blame Ferguson On The Jews” is circulating online as a reaction to a banner from a demonstration in Seattle reading, “Occupation is a crime, Ferguson to Palestine, Resist U.S. Racism, Boycott Israel.” The post implies that this group is essentially anti-Semitic, and will jump on any occasion to hate Israel. But no one is blaming the Jews for the death of Mike Brown. These struggles are intertwined, and the core of the issues is very similar. It is the distorted view by the majority of a population that other people are a threat. When George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen, his defense was basically that Martin was wearing a hoodie, and a black man wearing a hoodie at night must be a threat. That argument sounds very similar to the Israeli who argues that peace is impossible because living side by side with a Palestinian community is a security threat for the Jews.

Jews are the ruling class in Israel. There is no doubt about it. There is an ongoing debate in Israel about the Jewish Homeland National Law, which will change Israel’s Basic Law to say that Israel is the Homeland of the Jewish people, thereby making the Arabs in Israel second-class citizens. But this is not a big change from the reality on the ground. The Arab citizens of Israel need to prove themselves on a daily basis, their loyalty to Israel is constantly put in question. Judging by Israel’s culture, national symbols, and national heroes, it is evident that one people is ruling over another (and this is even before we start talking about the West Bank and Gaza). Imagine living in a country where when you hear the national anthem, a song that is suppose to be your own anthem, you can’t sing it because you are not a part of the ruling class’s religion. This is the case with Israel’s Hatikva, which is about Jews’ longing for Zion. At the same time, imagine walking down the street and seeing a police officer, someone who is supposed to protect you, and knowing that he sees you as a threat. In these societies, no true progress can be made until this paradigm changes.

Last week, I demonstrated with the Israelis For a Sustainable Future in front of the Israeli consulate in New York City, in solidarity with those who are demonstrating in Israel against the Jewish Homeland National Law. I see this stand as a direct continuation of the demonstrations in Ferguson. We might not have chanted “Justice For Mike Brown,” but the reason we demonstrated is exactly “No Justice, No Peace.” No individual should be treated differently than anyone else in their community, not in Ferguson, not in Palestine, and not anywhere else. And until we reach that, I hope the new community that has been built in New York City, of people from all of these supposedly different causes, will walk hand in hand until we have justice and peace.