Jamal Juma’ is the coordinator of the Palestinian grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (Stop the Wall) and secretariat member of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC)
As I put together my thoughts to write this, I read the news about Bhanubhai Vankar, a Dalit activist from the Indian state of Gujarat immolating himself as the authorities refuse to answer the legitimate demand of land rights for Dalits in the state. What must have led him to this, what despair and anguish is painful to imagine. And yet, struggling for land, dignity, justice and equality- sometimes till death- is the reality of people like us everywhere. Dalits in India, people of color, sons and daughters of centuries of slavery, indigenous people across the world, us Palestinians: People whose lives are inevitably the stories of resistance.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to meet with oppressed people resisting injustice across the world and it has taught me how important it is for our daily effort to build hope and resilience to know that our struggles are not isolated but global and interconnected. In Palestine, we have had little chance to meet with India’s Dalit movements but from the little we know, from the little I have seen of India, there is a distinct impression that the Dalit and Palestinian struggles share a common ground, both unique and yet united.
It appears to me that Dalits as much as Palestinians know what it means to lose your home, to not be able to till your own soil, to not be allowed to access water from your wells and rivers. You may know as well as us that any man in uniform may point a gun at you, menace and threaten, at complete whim. You may know what it feels to look at mainstream media and academic discourses, erasing your history, erasing your languages, denying that you and your ancestors were here before these regimes came to build walls, to dispossess and to establish illegitimate structures of oppression.
‘To exist is to resist’
70 years ago, Israel established itself by killing Palestinians and ethnically cleansing their lands. From the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe) till today, there are 7.5 million Palestinian refugees who cannot return to their homes. Palestinian citizens of Israel live as second-class citizens. Israel’s regime reserves 93% of the land for Jewish citizens only. Many Palestinian villages are simply not recognized, don’t appear on any map and don’t receive any services or basic infrastructures. Jewish Israeli towns instead have vetting committees to bar Palestinians from moving in. Palestinians in occupied territories cannot access their lands, are being further dispossessed through illegal Israeli settlements, ghettoized behind an 8-meter-high cement wall, passing through checkpoints and humiliating searches every day. While this is the situation in occupied West Bank, Gaza has been under a brutal siege since 2006. People have been living in a devastated economy, under a blockade and with deteriorating health, electricity and water services, which may all be uninhabitable by 2020, according to the United Nations. Along with imposing this siege, Israel regularly inflicts air strikes and periodic massacres.
Dalits in India may understand what these conditions mean, as they know what living through massacres and threats of violence and humiliation mean.
It is not only our oppression but as well our resistance that speaks to each other in multiple ways. Writings of leaders of the Dalit movement, such as Ambedkar, who have perhaps articulated the universalist, humanist values of justice and equality in most compelling ways, are an inspiration for all oppressed. The determination and resilience to build grassroots struggle to demolish the centuries-old caste system, the use of songs of resistance, the efforts to build knowledge from a Dalit standpoint to the fundamental effort to access education as a tool within the struggle when the basic right to education is denied – these forms of struggle of the Dalit movement both reflect our own, and are an inspiration to us and movements across the world.
Mural courtesy: Street ArtSF, Oakland, California
At the time Israel implemented its colonial project establishing itself on our land, explicitly on the expulsion and exclusion of our people, India gained freedom from colonialism and built a constitution, drafted by a Dalit, that officially abolished untouchability.
Nevertheless, the caste system is still alive. The dominant upper caste Hindu community holds power over resources and state structure just as Jewish Israelis hold the grip over Palestinians, whether they are formally citizens or not.
As much as the concreteness of our shared lived experience ties us together, the US black movement in solidarity with Palestine in the introduction to their moving “When I see them, I see us” video state rightly: ” […] solidarity is neither a guarantee nor a requirement – it is a choice. We choose to build with one another in a shoulder to shoulder struggle against state-sanctioned violence. […] We choose to join one another in resistance not because our struggles are the same but because we each struggle against the formidable forces of structural racism and the carceral and lethal technologies deployed to maintain them.”
It is the commonality of our oppressors, their structures, and regimes, that today are more unified than ever. Solidarity, then, is not only an ideal but a concrete aspect of forwarding our struggles.
The apartheid state of Israel and India are deepening their collaborations every day. The Israeli agricultural agencies and corporations, that have dispossessed our farmers for decades are now coming to impose corporate, unsustainable technology on Indian farmers. With great support from the Indian state, agro-development based on Israeli technology dispossesses and exploits Indian agricultural labour. Israeli weapons that brutalize us are being imported by India, at the expense of state spending on health, education and other basics, to brutalize the marginalized and all those dissenting government policies.
While Indo-Israeli ties have been officially established two decades ago, the Modi regime takes the alliance with Israel a step further, building it explicitly on ideological grounds. It is the affinity of supremacist, exclusivist and Islamophobic ideologies of Zionism and Hindutva. The same hindutva forces that in India are calling Israel a ‘model’ and clamour for ever closer Indo-Israeli relations mobilise in India for a Hindu supremacist India, based on solid cast structures of oppression. And to be clear, this isn’t only an alliance. This is complicity.
Perhaps more than the similarities of our lived experience and resistance, what brings us together is the necessity to resist solidly interconnected systems of oppression.
Since 2005, Palestinian civil society works to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to cut ties of complicity – at economic, military, political and cultural level. This call for BDS has grown over the last decade into a global movement which, with growing force, pressurizes Israel through these methods till it respects Palestinian rights and complies with international law. Formed by a coalition of political parties, women’s groups, refugee networks, trade unions and civil society groups, the movement has grown in Palestine and across the world through grassroots organizing.
This is an invitation for a dialogue and a choice of solidarity of common struggle against casteism and Israeli apartheid by joining our hands to end the growing collaboration of Hindutva and Israel, two exclusionist, and supremacist regimes, that must be resisted. When India’s establishment pays for Israel’s colonization, occupation, and apartheid against Palestinian lands and people, in exchange for the technology of repression and dispossession, this harms us all.
Jamal Juma’ was born in Jerusalem and attended Birzeit University, where he became politically active. Since the first Intifada, he has focused on grassroots activism. Jamal is since 2002 the coordinator of the Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign and since 2012 the coordinator of the Land Defense Coalition, a network of Palestinian grassroots movements. He is as well a member of the secretariat of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), the broadest Palestinian civil society coalition that works to lead and support the BDS movement for Palestinian rights. Jamal Juma’ has been invited to address numerous civil society and UN conferences, where he has spoken on the issue of Palestine and the Apartheid Wall. His articles and interviews are widely disseminated and translated into several languages.
Images courtesy: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)