<   Report Four: Memories of Mississippi and The Playbook of Liberation   >  

July 27, 2011
Bil'in, Jerusalem and environs


This delegation traveled concurrently with the
Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders Delegation> > >

We invite delegation participants to comment on and react to the experiences they have during our Israel/Palestine delegations in written Trip Reports
Individual delegates contribute pieces to these reports.

Reports are not comprehensive accounts of every meeting or experience, but impressions of those things that most impact individuals.  Trip reports to not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Peace-Builders, trip leaders, or delegation partner organizations.  We hope you enjoy reading and we encourage you to share these reports with others.


African Palestinians: The Playbook of Liberation

Late last week our African American delegation met with representatives of the African Palestinian community who have a small district in the Old City of Jerusalem. 

Our host, Mahmoud Jiddah, gave us a short history of the community (view the delegation slideshow for photos from our visit).  African Muslims making their pilgrimage to Mecca from Senegal and North Africa would often add a trip to Palestine to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Over time, some of these Africans stayed and built up a community here. 

These African brothers and sisters welcomed us into their community and told us of their double burden of fighting against the Israeli occupation and against racism.  They were careful to distinguish between the prejudice they can sometimes receive from their Arab Palestinian brothers and sisters, and the institutional racism that is perpetrated against them from the Israeli state. 

Members of this African Palestinian community live very close to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and have become some of its primary caretakers. That is why when Arial Sharon and his Israeli security forces entered the grounds of the Mosque in 2000, these African Palestinians played an important role in the second Intifada (click here to watch a video featuring Mahmoud’s brother Ali). 

Mahmoud spent over a decade in an Israeli prison for his involvement with the Palestinian resistance.  He told us a moving story of a successful hunger strike the prisoners organized just to get a basketball so they could have some recreation.  My thoughts immediately strayed back to the United States where Pelican Bay State prisoners have inspired inmates across California to conduct a hunger strike for their rights.

As Mark, a member of the African Heritage Delegation, has repeated often on our trip, "Oppression uses the same playbook the world over, and so does liberation."

- Jesse Hagopian

a version of this report appears here on Jesse Hagopian's blog


I have finally experienced what it feels like to be stopped at a checkpoint and be harassed by Israeli soldiers.

Two young Israeli soldiers who appeared to be teenagers boarded our bus with automatic weapons. As one soldier checked my passport, the barrel of his automatic weapon rested on the side of my thigh with his finger pressed toward the trigger. This was a potentially traumatizing experience. The soldiers’ presence gave me a sense of intimidation versus a sense of security.

These are the kinds of situations the Palestinian people experience on a daily basis.

- Michael W. Nettles


The Black Panther Party of Israel

After all I have learned from my teacher and friend Aaron Dixon, the founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party, I was especially intrigued and exited to learn about the Black Panther Party of Israel (I will refer to it as BPP-I).

We were met by a young European Israeli who introduced us to the history of the BPP-I and showed us a short film about the founding of the party.  Later we got a walking tour from Reuven Abergil, an original founder of the Israeli Black Panthers (view the delegation slideshow for photos). 

The BPP-I was formed in the early 1970s by Mizrahi Jews — Jews of North African and Middle Eastern decent who faced severe racism in Israeli society. According to Abergil, Mizrahi Jews were publicly spoken of by Israeli politicians as animals, denied access to proper education and housing, barred from jobs, etc. 

The founders originally thought about naming their organization the Roaring Lions, but they decided it would put more fear in the Israeli government to associate themselves with the militancy of the Black Panthers — and it worked. The Israeli government freaked out, and many Mizrahi Jews began joining the BPP-I. 

Critically, the Black Panther Party of Israel did not limit their political activity to defending Mizrahi Jews, but also joined in solidarity with Palestinians struggling for their rights in an important showing of solidarity across religions in the struggle for social justice. 

- Jesse Hagopian

a version of this report appears here on Jesse Hagopian's blog


The Beauty of Bil’in

Bil’in is one of the many treasures of the Palestinian community. The tremendous accomplishments of this small village, nestled in the mountains of the occupied territories, are often not reported outside of Palestine/israel. For years, the residents of Bil’in have protested the occupation of Israeli soldiers on the borders of the village, the unchecked growth of a neighboring Israeli settlement, the establishment of the Apartheid Wall, and a state mandated curfew on the village.

We met with the leaders of the village Popular Committee to discuss their strategies to resist this oppression. The people of Bil’in challenged these measures by holding weekly non-violent demonstrations for many years. Rubber bullets, tear gas, and violence at the hands of the Israeli soldiers were no match for the residents’ desire to demolish years of injustice. Today in Bil’in soldiers no longer surround the village, the Apartheid Wall has been rerouted to put more of the village’s lands back in the people’s hands, and the curfews have ceased!

We, the members of the African Heritage Delegation, spent an evening with host families in the village of Bil’in.  My host family was incredible. I instantly felt as though I was a part of the family. I had the opportunity to practice my Arabic, as well as learn new vocabulary, as we exchanged life stories with one another.  I took a photo with my host parents, and my host mother instantly wrapped her arms around me (check out the photo in the slideshow). The host family’s extended family and friends also came over to visit with us. We ate delicious food, sang, danced, and held discussions until the early hours of the morning.

In the midst of the excitement, I took a moment to reflect on my surroundings. There was no television, no video games, no internet access in the family’s home. We were able to get to know another on a deeper level without the distractions of everyday technology. I even did without many everyday conveniences common in America. I slept on the floor and like most bathrooms here in Palestine there’s no toilet paper or an actual bathtub.

The reality is this: I enjoyed my experience in Bil’in because of the wonderful sense of community established by the residents of the village. This is the very same solidarity the Israeli government sought to destroy. As a result of the courageous men and women who participated in the non-violent protests against the Israeli soldiers, myself and others can enjoy the beauty of Bil’in.

- Sterling Pack


Memories of Mississippi

Seeing dimensions of discrimination and oppression in Israel/Palestine (e.g., walls, murder scenes, unequal funding for education, class/race separation, hiring practices, gender inequity, etc.) has caused me to have major flashbacks about growing up and teaching in the state of Mississippi where “White” was right. As it relates to Israel/Palestine, Jews are “right.” Despite Biblical references to Jews being a chosen people, I know that is not how God works and I still cannot understand how Jews believe they have the right to oppress others who are attempting to remain on the land they ought to be able to rightfully claim.

I see the walls constricting Palestinians here and am reminded of the “White Only” signs of my youth - just knowing there were places I could not go. One specific example is the underpinning of why I never learned to swim. The White children in my Mississippi community had access to a beautiful swimming pool that African American children could only experience in passing. In order for me to learn to swim, it would have been necessary for me to brave the murky waters in concert with water moccasins, black runners, rattle snakes, and “you name the snake.” As much as I wanted to learn to swim, I did not want to be the main course that assorted reptiles would enjoy for dinner.

Another example of a wall in Mississippi was when I was among 22 African American teachers selected to deliver instruction in an all-White school during court-ordered desegregation.  The experience was horrific; two weeks of non-violent attempts to enter the school passed before we could walk through the doors of the all-white DeKalb High School. Day after day, we arrived and were turned back by the KKK in full regalia, mounted on horses, with shotguns drawn. With the help of civil rights lawyers, I was able to file affidavits almost daily to report the wrong-doings in this school (i.e., whites-only bells to change classes, whites-only bells for lunch, white faculty meetings, no faculty meetings for African Americans, and having to teach only African American children, among others). I loved the African American children for many of them were my cousins or neighbors. The pain in my soul had to do with the fact that illegal makeshift solutions were emerging in the name of integration of schools in compliance with the recent court order to desegregate within 48 hours.

I heard several Palestinians talk about bloodshed and profiling. Those acts reminded me of the civil rights workers who were killed in Mississippi just a few miles from my home. I was reminded of a young man who went to the “Bottom” (a nightclub) on a Saturday night. He had an altercation with a police officer in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and was killed. No one was ever charged for his murder. I am also reminded of my uncles coming home from Cleveland, New York, and other places. They knew that at some point, they would be ticketed for having the wrong “paint job” (black skin/driving a decent car.)

Finally, despite all the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people, they are extremely friendly and giving. At every Palestinian door, I am welcomed with open arms. I want the Palestinian people to know that our struggles are similar. Treatment of African Americans in Mississippi is much better today. Many African Americans are attorneys, engineers, hold political offices, are educators held in high esteem, and are distinguished citizens.

I urge the Palestinians to keep up the non-violent fight, for I believe a brighter day is just on the horizon.

- Gloria Brown, PhD


The Greening of Israel

The Greening of Israel is a systematic approach to eliminating the history, culture, and people of the Palestinian territories. For example, subsequent to the destruction of local Palestinian villages, the Jewish National Fund developed Canada Park. The park serves as a recreational and ecological center for use by Israeli citizens.

The Jewish National Fund sought the support of the black community, environmental activists, and the gay and lesbian community to fund the resources necessary to maintain the park.  After learning this information, I was hurt, sad, and frustrated. I was upset with the idea the cultural contributions of a people were quickly erased by the bulldozers of the Israeli government. This knowledge has further influenced by desire to speak out against Palestinian oppression.

I will end my trip report with a prayer….

Dear God,
Thank you for this land. Thank you for the people. May this holy people know peace, mercy, and justice.

- Carolyn Boyd

Media interested in interviewing the participants when they return, and groups wanting information about speaking engagements, should contact Interfaith Peace-Builders at media[a]ifpb.org or 415.240.4607.

This delegation is traveling concurrently with the "Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders" Delegation > > >



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