Jim Crow in Palestine

SocialistWorker.org contributor Jesse Hagopian is part of the first African Heritage delegation to Palestine. The delegation, sponsored by the Interfaith Peace Builders (IFPB), aims to bring African Americans with firsthand experiences of racism in the U.S. to Palestine in order to express solidarity with the struggle for liberation there. Jesse will be writing articles for a blog during his trip. Here, we reprint two of his initial entries.

A Palestinian woman waits to pass through an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank (Rusty Stewart)A Palestinian woman waits to pass through an Israeli checkpoint in the occupied West Bank (Rusty Stewart)

July 17, 2011
"As a people who survived the Middle Passage and Jim Crow segregation--and organized successful struggles against those forms of oppression--we have a responsibility to speak out about the occupation of Palestine and share with Palestinians the lessons of our struggles."

My dad and trip leader, Gerald, powerfully expressed the reasoning underpinning our African Heritage delegation to Palestine during our orientation today with IFPB.

And one after another, each of the Black activists who explained why they had chosen to participate in this delegation proceeded to electrify the room with their stories of how they had become politically active and dedicated to Palestinian liberation. Several of the delegates grew up in the Jim Crow South and participated in the Black freedom struggle there.

Gloria, for example, grew up in Mississippi, led some of the sit-ins and was one of the first Black teachers to integrate a formerly white school in the state. Mark, the final speaker, told a moving story of a time when he was faced with a life-threatening trip to the intensive care unit. After surviving that experience, he was searching for what his purpose in life was.

He concluded with a description of a conference he attended called "The Jamestown Summit for Atoning for the Legacy of Slavery and Genocide," where the question was asked at the end of the conference that has come to define his purpose: "Where in the world is reconciliation peace and justice needed most?" He is answering that question by joining our delegation.

Today, we leave on the first African heritage delegation to Palestine. I can't express how fortunate I am to be traveling to this land of apartheid and resistance with people who helped win the Black freedom struggle that brought down the Jim Crow system.

This experience will surely change my life.

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July 18, 2011
Today, the historic African Heritage delegation of IFPB stepped on to Palestinian soil. We are joined by the "Today's Youth, Tomorrow's Leaders" young peoples' delegation co-sponsored by IFPB and the American Friends Service Committee. We arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, and in general, we didn't have an inordinate amount of obstacles to entering the country.

At the same time, a few of us were targeted for special questioning that made for a very tense atmosphere. Given that Palestinian solidarity activists had conducted a "Flytilla" civil disobedience delegation to Israel last week, we knew that the security would be heightened.

Avery, a member of our delegation, realized he was being observed on our flight from the UK to Tel Aviv. A man sat next to him and asked him a lot of questions about our trip and our reasoning for coming to Israel. When Avery asked this man if he had any suggestions for where to go, he replied, "Ask your trip leader," making it clear that his questions weren't friendly airplane chatter.

Then as soon as I got off the plane, an airport security agent pulled me aside and grilled me: "What is the purpose of your trip? Where are you going? What is the purpose of your stay? Which locations are you going to? Why are you here?" If I had answered, "To help bring about peace and justice," I would have surely been deported. So I just said, "To see the Holy Land," over and over again. She eventually let me go join up with the rest of the delegation.

When I got to passport control, the first question the woman asked me was, "What religion are you?" After a few questions, she decided I needed further interrogation. She pulled me out of line, took my passport and proceeded to a back room.

She emerged a few minutes later with a man who approached me speaking in Arabic. I told him I didn't understand what he was saying, and he replied, "Are you sure?" Once it was established that I didn't speak Arabic, the woman then began going through the questions again--why are you here, where are you going, how long are you going to be here, and so on.

Fortunately, the Jewish leader of the youth delegation was by my side during this round of questioning. She explained that the purpose of our trip was to see the Holy Land. Then when she explained that she had studied in Israel and knew my father, they ceased questioning me and allowed me to pass.

Getting on our tour bus was a relief, but I could feel the tension in the group grow again as our tour guide began to explain what we were seeing out of the window. He explained that Israeli license plates were all yellow and Palestinian license plates were green and white. He told us that we wouldn't see any of the green and white plates on the road we were taking because Palestinians would be subject to relentless harassment by the IDF if they were to travel on this road.

He then proceeded to point out roads nearby that disappeared into a hill and told us that Palestinians have to use a separate highway network in the region that is largely underground. This network of roads often greatly increases travel times. The apartheid apparatus began to come into focus as we passed through two check points on our way from the airport in Tel Aviv, saw barbed wire fences lining the highways and heard the explanation from our guide about the different legal statuses that Palestinians live under, depending on their location.

We made it to the Holy Land Hotel, and I am going to crash soon...We have a tour of the Old City early tomorrow morning.