The Ferguson-Palestine Connection Grows

30 November 2014
Published in Blog

By Dean Obeidallah

November 30, 2014

Ferguson, Missouri is over 6,000 miles from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet increasingly people are seeing similarities between the two. For example, shortly after the grand jury decision was announced Monday that the police officer who killed Michael Brown would not be indicted, the NFL’s Reggie Bush posted a photo on Instagram of a Palestinian man holding up a sign that read: “The Palestinian people know what mean to be shot while unarmed because of your ethnicity #Ferguson #justice.”  

Next to the photo, Bush added: “No matter who are you are, what color skin you have, where you live, we are in this together. This isn’t a Ferguson Problem, it’s a Global Problem... #JusticeforMike Brown.

In addition, one of the visible fixtures in the Ferguson protests has been Palestinian-American Bassem Masri who has been continuously live streaming the protests. That is until he was arrested a few days ago in connection with the protests. (He was released Saturday on bail.)

Social media has also been filled with Palestinians expressing solidarity for the Ferguson protesters and echoing their calls for justice. Some Palestinians even offered the Ferguson protesters tips on how to deal with the tear gas being shot at them based on their own experiences with the Israeli security forces.

Even on the Israeli side the similarities have been noted by some. For example, a “Times of Israel” op-ed penned by Robert Wilkes, a self described leader of the pro-Israel community in the United States, set forth what he viewed as “nine parallels between Palestine and Ferguson.” However, he saw the overlap of interests as being horribly negative.

For example, he wrote that US blacks and Palestinians “both wish to undermine the state’s moral authority by provoking violent reactions, then portraying themselves as victims of oppression.” He also opined, “both have perfectly wretched leaders. Black leaders in America are con artists and a disgrace,” going as far as calling them “race hustlers.”

Blacks being killed by the police in disproportionately high numbers is tragically nothing new. As Pro Publica recently noted, blacks age 15 to 19 have a 21 times greater change of being killed by the police than white teens. In fact the police have killed six African American teens since Michael Brown and that doesn’t even include Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed last week by the Cleveland police.

And more broadly, blacks of all ages are between three and four times more likely to be killed when they encounter the police than whites. Adding to the frustration is that it's rare that the police will be charged with a crime when they kill unarmed people. For example, between 2004 and 2008, Oakland police officers shot and killed 37 people, all black. And despite the fact that 40 percent of those killed were unarmed, not one police officer was charged with a crime.

In Israel, we see an unsettling similarity. As Sarit Michaeli, a spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group B’tselem recently told a reporter for McClatchy, it’s “extremely rare” for charges to be brought against Israeli border police or soldiers for killing Palestinians.

Two recent cases in Israel have caused even greater outrage than usual because they were caught on video. The most recent incident occurred in early November in the Israeli town of Kfar Kani, which is home to mostly Arabs. Khair al-din Hamdan, a 22 year old “Israeli Arab” was seen in a surveillance video carrying what has been described as a knife, which he used to bang on the window of a parked Israeli police car.

After a few moments, the four Israeli officers exited the vehicle, causing Hamdan to turn and walk away quickly. As can be seen in the video, one Israeli police officer then shot Hamdan several times in the back. After the shooting, the police can be seen dragging Hamdan’s limp body in the street to the police vehicle. Hamdan died a short time later.  An investigation into the shooting is under way but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have publicly defended the killing of Hamdan.

And in May, two Palestinian teenagers were killed during protests when live bullets were shot at the protesters. Initially Israeli authorities denied that its forces had shot the bullets at issue. But a surveillance video was made public soon thereafter showing that one of the two teens was indeed shot by an Israeli border patrol officer.

Surprisingly, last week that border patrol officer was indicted for the killing of the one teen seen in the video. (But no charges were filled in the case of the other teen killed who was not depicted in the surveillance footage.) No doubt the video was the key.

Will the officer be convicted? Unlikely since per the Israeli paper Haaretz, in the past two years, 18 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli security forces and only one was convicted. In that case the Israeli officer was sentenced to just seven months of jail after being found guilty of killing an unarmed Palestinian.

And as the Israeli NGO Yesh Din has documented, that penalty is actually on the high end. Among the 18 members of the Israeli security forces convicted of wrongdoing in the killings of Palestinians since 2000, most received a few months in jail or even simply a suspended sentence. (The exception being an eight year prison sentence handed out to one Israeli but that was in connection with the wrongful killing of a British citizen, not a Palestinian.)

I truly wish I could say that in the future we will see less black and Palestinian teenagers die at the hands of the police in their respective countries. But I can’t with any certainty. Tragically these stories will continue until a fundamental change in police tactics is implemented. The question is how many innocent people have to die before that happens?

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Dean Obeidallah is the editor of The Dean's Report. He is also is a former lawyer, turned political comedian/writer and a columnist for The Daily Beast.  He co-directed the recently released comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!"  You can follow Dean on Twitter

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Michael Brown, Gaza, and Muslim Americans

20 August 2014
Published in Blog

By Dean Obeidallah

August 20, 2014

The Muslim-American community of which I’m part hasn’t been great in standing up with and for African Americans. A lack of empathy and racism are the main culprits. What makes this especially astonishing is that 30 percent of the Muslim-American population is African-American. You would think that there would be natural alliances, but that hasn’t been the case. At least not up until now.

The shooting of Michael Brown and the heavy-handed response by the police that followed has struck a nerve among Muslims. It has motivated American-Muslim leaders to speak out publicly in ways we hadn’t seen before on police misconduct directed against African Americans. 

Why? A few reasons. But one that can’t be discounted is Gaza. More specifically, young Palestinians who commented on Twitter about the shooting of Michael Brown drew direct connections between the two.

For example, Inas Safadi, a Palestinian living in Gaza, tweeted: “Revolution of#Ferguson, can’t be prouder of these people who won’t let their son’s blood go for nothing #MikeBrown.” Another tweeted a photo of himself holding a sign that read, “The Palestinian people know what means to be shot while unarmed for your ethnicity” #Ferguson #justice.”

Other Palestinians, including a doctor, even offered advice via Twitter to the protesters in Ferguson on how to deal with the tear gas being fired at them based on their own experiences with Israeli security forces. Comments included, “Don’t keep much distance from the police, if you’re close to them they can’t tear gas. To#Ferguson from #Palestine.” Another tweeted: “Always make sure to run against the wind/to keep calm when you’re teargased, the pain will pass, don’t rub your eyes! #Ferguson Solidarity.”

The support by Palestinians for Brown and the protesters is not surprising. Oppressed people often stand together in solidarity. That’s why it has amazed me and so many other Muslim Americans that we don’t see broad support in our community for the broader struggles of African Americans. Instead, I have personally heard, from Muslim friends who are black, tales of racism directed toward them by other Muslims, such as being made to feel unwelcome when visiting a new mosque or not having more leadership positions in national Muslim organizations.

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