I have deliberately avoided watching the video of the murder of George Floyd simply because I’ve seen so many similar images before on the streets of Palestine under Israel’s brutal military occupation. The similarities do not end with such brutality. It has often been said that if Palestinians were black, their treatment at the hands — and knees — of apartheid Israel would have ended years ago. Former US President Jimmy Carter called his 2006 book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid in recognition of the racist system imposed on the Palestinians by Israel.
However, the race and ethnicity of oppressed people rarely matters in the eyes of the oppressors; this has been true throughout history. The mindset of colonial occupiers and the self-satisfied sense of supremacy felt by ruling elites means that they care little about injustice, inequality, discrimination, fear and abuse as long as their control of the masses — whoever they are — remains undiminished.
In this age of instant news, social media and the omnipresent smart phone cameras it is no surprise that gruesome crimes like the Floyd killing — which was far from being an isolated incident — are picked up and publicised with great ease. What is surprising is that those with the power and privilege still feel confident enough to embolden their lackeys in uniform to continue to kneel on necks, shoot in the back and generally oppress ordinary folks going about their increasingly difficult lives.
The mindset of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who knew that he was being filmed while George Floyd pleaded for his life and gasped that he couldn’t breathe was no different to that of Colonel Yisrael Shomer who shot and killed 17-year-old Mohammed Kasbeh in the occupied West Bank on 3 July 2015. The boy was shot in the back apparently after hitting Shomer’s car with a stone. Nobody was hurt, but the Israeli soldier shot Kasbeh anyway, in the back as he fled. Nothing was said when the colonel approached the dying youth, turned his body over with his foot, got back into his car and sped away. It didn’t even occur to him to call an ambulance for the unarmed teenager.
Both men obviously thought that they could get away with murder, but Chauvin has now been charged over the killing of the African-American Floyd. However, while his killing has triggered protests across the US and, indeed, Europe and elsewhere, Shomer is regarded as a hero by Israelis. Indeed, the naked cowardice of the Binyamin Brigade commander has done nothing to harm his career. Just last month, to the consternation of Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, Shomer read the Yizkor prayer on the eve of Memorial Day during a ceremony at the Western Wall plaza.
However — and I almost hesitate to say this — I truly believe that this is not one of those global #MeToo moments in which all victims of injustice should rush into line with the Black Lives Matter campaign. That may cause anger among Palestinians, Kashmiris, Rohingya, Uighur and countless other victims of injustice in the world today, but something amazing is happening which could, ultimately, prove beneficial to all who have felt the oppressors’ collective knee on their necks.
The issue was explained perfectly by Jerusalem-born Palestinian Christian George Zeidan, a co-founder of Right to Movement Palestine, an initiative to illustrate the reality of Palestinian life through sports. “As a believer in ending all kinds of oppressions and occupation,” he wrote, “I believe in the importance of developing alliances between the oppressed, such as the Palestinian cause and the Black American struggle. But at this specific moment, I hesitate to reference the Palestinian cause and tie it to the Black Lives Matter protests. It is not because our lives are not of equal value, but out of respect for this watershed moment in Black American history.”
He is, of course, right, because the BLM movement must be allowed to reach a conclusion in what has now become a global protest with many ramifications. Hopefully, campaigners will secure a great victory which will then be used to develop a solid intersectional injustice campaign able to give everyone a voice from Palestine to Kashmir; from the Rohingya to the Uighur; in fact to all who continue to suffer from racism, gender discrimination, bigotry and hate.
Every now and again history is punctuated by people power and when ordinary people take the lead, as BLM and its supporters have, then seismic changes can result. Today the focus is on black communities and it is crucial that attention should not be diverted away from the legacy of colonialism, slavery and oppression against which they are railing.
Black people in the US, Europe, South Africa and many other countries have endured centuries of the most inhumane forms of enslavement and racial oppression. The time has come now for them to seize the moment and tear down the racist barriers imposed by ruling elites and paramilitary police departments around the world, many of which have been trained by their Israeli counterparts, including those in Minneapolis.
The ultimate goal is to end the indiscriminate, extrajudicial murder of black people on their own streets, in their own homes and in police custody; to rid the world of the destructive prisons and detention centres wherein injustice abounds and migrants and asylum seekers face inhumane treatment across America and Australia, Europe and the Arab world. This is a battle which can be won, despite the vigorous attempts by the elites and their compliant media to discredit Black Lives Matter and confuse its message.
That is why the focus must remain on BLM right now, for only when the movement gets to the table and demands what it expects from the ruling classes can it then invite others to join the wider collective struggle against injustice. This strategy has been endorsed by the largest civil rights organisation of its kind in the US, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which released a statement recently acknowledging that the liberation of all marginalised groups is tied to the success of BLM.
The enduring spirit of black people around the world has created and led to this watershed moment following centuries of suffering. By giving our support and ensuring their victory, #BlackLivesMatter can result in a revolution to usher in change for everyone in the 21st century. The movement can help to deliver justice for the Palestinians, Kashmiris, Rohingya, Uighur and others, but it must have its own moment in the spotlight before that can happen. Black Americans deserve this moment, and deserve our support. Let’s give it willingly and wholeheartedly, for everyone’s sake.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.