Black and African solidarity with Palestine

On Tuesday last week, protesters from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement occupied the runway at London City airport and used the media attention that followed to highlight their concern: Climate change is a racist issue.

"Black British Africans are 28 percent more likely than their white counterparts to be exposed to air pollution", wrote BLM member Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert in the Guardian. Britain is one of the least vulnerable countries to climate change despite being one of the biggest contributors per capita to global temperature change, unlike sub-Saharan Africa where seven of the ten most vulnerable countries are located.

Rather than acknowledging the central issue of white privilege in the UK, the mainstream media attempted instead to discredit BLM. Most dangerously they imagined a scenario where it was terrorists and not activists who crossed the Thames and made it onto the runway; most bizarrely they showed images of white people at the protests and asked why they were present at a black-led movement.

The non-violent Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists - who call for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians - are familiar with smear campaigns that divert attention away from real concerns at the heart of their movement. 

In fact, the black community and Palestinians share in a long list of grievances: Both have been subject to state-sanctioned segregation, both suffer racism, oppression, state-sanctioned violence and discrimination whilst those responsible for perpetrating this are rarely held to account. Both are economically underprivileged and politically disadvantaged.

Baaba Maal has argued that it is world leaders, not artists, who should bear the responsibility for securing equal rights

The two communities also share a history of solidarity in trying to achieve equal rights, demonstrated most recently in August this year when BLM publically endorsed BDS and described Israel as an "apartheid state" that perpetrates "genocide" against the Palestinian people. 

In response, the BDS pledged to stand in solidarity with their black brothers and sisters.

With this in mind, the fact that internationally renowned Senegalese singer Baaba Maal will play at a festival in occupied East Jerusalem on 20 September has angered many activists, who have lobbied him to withdraw and reminded him that the BDS movement was inspired by efforts to boycott apartheid South Africa.

In response, Baaba Maal has argued that it is world leaders, not artists, who should bear the responsibility for securing equal rights and bringing about change for Palestinians.  

During the civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s, organisations pledged solidarity with Palestinians

African governments do have a history of supporting the fight for justice in Palestine. Earlier this year at the International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem held in Dakar, Senegal, Babacar Diop - Professor of History and Member of the Senegalese Palestine Association, reminded delegates that Senegal was the first African state to open a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) office. 

The PLO was established around the same time many African countries gained their own independence, which meant supporting others who were suffering under colonialism was top of their agenda.

As well as supporting the PLO, African countries did make ties with Israel, but they began to sour throughout the 1967 Six Day War. Hostilities reached a head in 1973 when some 25 African countries broke off diplomatic relations during the Yom Kippur War and embassies closed across the continent.

The question which still remains, though, is how effective were these years? Many of these countries have since not only re-established relations with Israel but also deepened them, through arms treaties, economic ties and trade deals in agriculture, precious stones and information technology.

Many African countries have since not only re-established relations with Israel but also deepened them

Over 40 African countries have ties with Israel today, which is more than in the years before 1967. Far fewer refuse to recognise the country or are yet to establish diplomatic ties.

While political alliances come and go, grassroots support has remained steady over the years. As far back as the 1948 Nakba, when Palestinians were displaced to make way for the creation of Israel, a number of Africans from Senegal, Chad, Sudan and Nigeria fought against British and Israeli colonialism. 

During the civil rights movement in the 60s and 70s, organisations pledged solidarity with Palestinians and declared their support for liberation, likewise during the 2014 war on Gaza. BLM are the most recent manifestation of this support. 

What Baaba Maal overlooked is that world leaders have collectively failed to reach a political solution for the Palestinians for decades - or to establish equality between whites and blacks - because they often lack the political will to do so. Meanwhile, grassroots movements like BLM and BDS pass the baton between them and work hard to bring issues of inequality to the forefront of the debate. 

Sadly, all of these organisations have been subject to smear campaigns but for the people who are genuinely concerned with human rights, and are willing to listen, they play a vital role in bringing about dialogue and change.

This piece was first published in The New Arab.

Written by Amelia Smith

Published in The New Arab