“The Palestinians remain so specialized a people as to serve essentially as a synonym for trouble—rootless, mindless, gratuitous trouble. They will not go away as they ought to, they will not accept the fate of other refugees […] they cause trouble.”

Edward W. Said, The Question of Palestine [1]

What do Palestinians have in common with First Nations in Australia, or with Native Americans or African Americans in the United States, or with people in Kashmir or Hong Kong rising up for their rights? Why should anyone other than the Palestinians care about Palestinians? Are we doing Palestinians a favor if we join their cause?

The answer to these and other similar questions is not predicated on specific national struggles for freedom—many nations have had similar experiences. Solidarity cannot be predicated solely on one-to-one correspondence between one national liberation movement and another. Native Americans or African Americans are fighting for their rights, and then they see Palestinians doing the same, so they identify with them. Such comparative calculations of struggle would be much limited in convictions and could soon dissipate and degenerate into pitting one nation against another. In recent protests in Iran, some were chanting “Neither Gaza Nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran!”—as if freedom in Gaza and Lebanon was at the cost of freedom in Iran! The answer to such flawed arguments must be predicated on a more principled, more structural, and more global understanding of colonial domination, localized tyrannies, and emancipatory uprisings.

Palestinians are the return of the repressed, as the Israeli occupation of Palestine is the open secret of European colonialism coming back to haunt its attempt to forget its murderous history. President Emmanuel Macron, and other custodians of French racist history, are now up in arms protesting against anyone who remind them of their criminal colonial history. They deny the terror they have perpetrated in their colonial history. But what Israelis are doing in Palestine today is what the French did in Algeria, the British did in India, the Belgians in Congo, the Spaniards in Latin America, and the list goes on. Zionism is the extension of the very logic of European colonialism around the globe. The French too thought they had every right to be in Algeria. They too thought this was their God-given right to cultivate, colonize, and “civilize” the people they conquered.

Have you read Sven Lindqvist’s “Exterminate All the Brutes”: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide?[2] You should read this book if you have not. It is the story of all forms of colonialism, including Israel. While you are at it, also read King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild.[3] We need a global conception of what has happened to this earth if we are to understand what solidarity with Palestinians means. Today, the British, the French, and the rest of European colonialists, are put in a difficult position to acknowledge the terror they have perpetrated around the globe. For the best of them, Israel is an embarrassment. It stages for the whole world to see what they are doing their best to forget and repress in their own history.

In the context of this global configuration of the will to conquer and the will to resist domination, the key question for both Palestinians and non-Palestinians to ask themselves is: What has their prolonged battle against annihilation by their Zionist occupiers taught the world at large? The issue is not between Palestinians and non-Palestinians, and even less between Arabs and non-Arabs. There are Palestinians who collaborate with their Zionist enemies. There are leaders of Arab countries like United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco who could not care less about Palestinians and have established diplomatic relationship with Israel. So, the support and solidarity of the native nations, or African Americans, or any other people, has a logic other than ethnicity and/or nationhood.

Palestine and the Palestinian cause have emerged as an acid test for all other liberation movements around the globe, including the Black liberation movement in the US. Israelis built a garrison state as Zionists, and Zionism is the contemporary extension and the most brutal manifestation of European colonialism, the British colonialism in particular. You cannot be aware and oppose European savagery around the globe while still turn a blind eye to Zionist brutalities in Palestine. You cannot read the history of European barbarities in the New World, or transatlantic slavery, and remain quiet about what Israelis are doing to Palestinians in their own homeland.

Without Palestine and the Palestinian cause, the African American cause would be trapped inside the sustained course of Zionist propaganda machinery that had entrapped even the most brilliant among the leading Black intellectuals. If Angela Davis today represents the most public example of how the Palestinian cause has liberated African Americans from nativism, Ta-Nehisi Coates represents the exact opposite—that is, the continued entrapment of Black liberation in Zionism.

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ belated conflation of the colonial project of Zionism and African American antiracist nationalism is an embarrassment—in this time and age still to see Israel as a model of liberation! Every single word Ta-Nehisi Coates utters on behalf of African American suffering sounds hollow and vacuous in light of his admiration for Israel, and his total disregard for the suffering and the struggles of Palestinians! It makes little to no difference if Coates is plain ignorant or a calculating careerist. The result is the same. All you have to do is read the brilliant essay of Pankaj Mishra on Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Why do white people like what I write?[4]”(2018), to see what happens when the defense of the cause of Black Americans loses reason and consistency if it abandons the Palestinian cause and actively sides with the Zionists. It is truly appalling.

Solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement is a touchstone of all other national liberation movements and represents how dangerously close to nativism they might be. For people like Coates, Palestinians simply do not exist. Read his laudatory praise for Zionism The Negro Sings of Zionism to notice that everything is about Blacks and Jews (which he callously conflates with Zionists).[5]Not just Palestinians, to him, the world at large does not exist. It is just him and his Zionist supporters he seeks to appease.

Palestinian struggle for national liberation is primarily a Palestinian issue. They have fought for their liberation from colonial occupation and theft of their homeland entirely independent of anyone’s solidarity or careerist Zionism. Neither of the two positions will have the slightest effect on the truth and power of the Palestinian cause. What does matter is what the solidarity of someone like Davis or the careerism of someone like Coates tells us about the moral fiber of these two vastly different public figures. Palestine is a threshold that Coates fails to reach, and Davis passes with flying colors, not for the cause of Palestine, but for the cause of Black liberation in the US.

“The trouble” that Palestinians cause, in Edward Said’s powerful sarcastic voice, is a good trouble. May the world never be devoid of such good troubles! It exposes corruption and hypocrisy. It keeps the flame of hope for humanity at large bold and bright. No one does Palestinians any favors by being in solidary with them. Anyone who does so has an internal barometer of her or his own truth, and the veracity of her or his own cause.

[1] Edward W. Said, The Question of Palestine (New York: Times Book, 1979).

[2] Sven Lindqvist, “Exterminate All the Brutes”: One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide, Joan Tate (trans.) (New York: The New Press, 1997).

[3] Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Barbara Kingsolver (Foreword) (Boston: Mariner Books, 1999).

[4] Pankaj Mishra, “Why Do White People Like What I Write?,” London Review of Books, vol. 40, no. 4, 22/2/2018, accessed on 10/3/2021, at: https://bit.ly/3c8uLPB

[5] Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Negro Sings of Zionism,” The Atlantic, 13/5/2008, accessed on 17/3/2021, at: http://bit.ly/2P2f0Aw

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