Dr. Johnny Eric Williams: Parallels in Black and Palestinian Struggles

Johnny E. Williams specializes in social movements, political sociology, cultural sociology, racism, science and religion. Professor Williams’ primary area of research investigates how culture (i.e., shared beliefs, values and meaning systems) sustains and challenges social order.


My recent visit to Palestine clarified how Palestinian and black oppression is an integral part of an integrated global politico-economic structure of white racism that shares similar subjugating techniques such as criminalization, extrajudicial killings, and mass imprisonment. Black folks and Palestinians are struggling against the same systems of “interlocking oppression” in what sociologist Patricia Hill Collins terms the “matrix of domination.” From reading Noura Erakat (“Whiteness as Property in Israel”), Alex Lubin (Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro-Arab Political Imaginary), and Sami Chertrit (Intra-Jewish Conflict in Israel) I knew beforehand, in an intellectual sense, about the structural brutality of Israeli apartheid and occupation, but I was caught off guard by its unconcealed cruelty and inhumanity.

In Israel, especially within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, no pretense exists to conceal the virulent practices of white racism as an individual rather than systemic problem. Instead, Israel deploys the more direct U.S. tactic of structurally vilifying and criminalizing the racially oppressed to justify their collective punishment and dispossession. Like its American counterpart, Israeli white racism manifests itself as highly institutionalized social conditions and practices rather than something that exists solely within the minds of racial bigots. For example, to condition and resign Palestinians within Israel’s 1948 borders to their oppression, segregated Palestinian Israeli schools are forced to teach an Israeli curriculum in Hebrew, rather than in Arabic, that excludes Palestinian history and culture. This is akin to what occurred/occurs in segregated public schools in the United States to black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian students yet in more subtle ideological ways that tacitly acknowledges some history but without any intention of enhancing racially oppressed students’ sense of self and agency to effect change.

Second, Israel also deploys the creation of a Palestinian ‘mis-leadership’ class, as occurs in the U.S., in an effort to quell rebellion. These ‘mis-leadership’ types are paid government operatives, aligning themselves with Israel’s interests or parrot the narratives of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. They are an actual and aspirational class who view their interests as wedded to Israeli systemic racism/apartheid, imperialism, settler colonialism, and militarism. Folks of this ilk receive remuneration from the State of Israel and its corporate controlled benefactor, the U.S., to resist change that undermines Israel’s oppression and dispossession of Palestinians. This deplorable behavior is evident in Palestine among the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas officials who regularly shut down major outlets for Palestinian dissent in the West Bank and Gaza on behalf of Israel, which controls Palestinian tax revenue and other income sources. In addition, the PA does business with Israel, works on joint projects with Israel, and many of the people it represents work in Israel and for Israelis. For the love of money not the people, folks like Mahmoud Abbas and Yahya Sinwar sow conflict among Palestinians and arrest those actively working to undermine the Israeli Occupation.

The black ‘mis-leadership’ class operates in all sectors of U.S. society as collaborators who help to maintain the apparatus practicality of racial oppression. Like their Palestinian courtiers, the black ‘mis-leadership’ class supports laws criminalizing resistance to state violence, racial exploitation and domination. In the U.S. “stand your ground” laws are the mechanism of state-sponsored extrajudicial killing of black folks, while Israel’s “right to defend itself” rhetoric legitimates the murder of defenseless Palestinians. The black ‘mis-leadership’ class would rather accommodate systemic white racism, even if this means subjugating its own humanity and that of the black masses for the approval of U.S. power wielders and a tenuous grip on prestige and power.

By examining these and other similarities that exist between U.S. and Israeli regimes/structures of violent, one can identify and reveal how the black and Palestinian liberation struggles are inextricably linked efforts. Similar to Palestinians, black folks in the U.S. are under siege via state sanctioned oppression and violence in policing, education, employment, incarceration, and indeed in all other areas of life. I felt and witnessed this familiarity during my stay in Palestine. Familiarity with fighting against a common oppressive system and oppressors who want both black folks and Palestinians not to see our similarities magnified my solidarity with Palestinians in the struggle against the global politico-economic structure of racial capitalism and empire. The struggle for black and Palestinian liberation must include fighting against systemic white racism, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, U.S. Empire, and Zionism. It is resistance against the same systemic matrix of oppression. By connecting black and Palestinian liberation struggles, we move one-step closer to effectively ridding the world of the global matrix of interlocking systems of oppression.

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