Educating Palestine activists

NEARLY 100 people participated in a December 8 Mobilize for Palestine Teach-in and organizing workshop at the Oakland Islamic Cultural Center. The coalition effort was initiated by Bay Area Palestinian activists in response to Israel's most recent offensive against Gaza that killed more than 150 Palestinians.

The goal of activists was to educate people in order to more effectively turn outrage and emergency protests into sustained local action and political organization. Organizers envision coalition efforts to mount a series of events in the coming year to commemorate several Palestinian dates of remembrance as well as an active campaign to build the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in the Bay Area. Topics discussed included Palestine and the politics of the wider region, Zionism and the intersections of struggle, and building BDS and 2013 commemorations.

Activists also debated crucial questions in the present struggle for Palestine, such as the successful bid for UN-recognized statehood and the relationship between Palestine and the Arab revolutions.

"The statehood project is not the main form of resistance," said UC Berkeley Professor Samera Esmeir, expressing skepticism that UN recognition of Palestine's statehood will produce significant results. "Drones can stay in the air, ready to strike around the clock, holding a population under terror. Gazans only have a thin, small surface of the earth." She went on to point out how UN recognition only partially addresses the demands of the Palestinian movement, because it leaves out the Palestinian refugee population and the question of their right of return.

Palestinian activist Eyad Kishawi spoke about the necessity of Palestinian liberation in connection with the wider struggle in the entire Arab region. "Israel is in essence an extension of the United States," said Kishawi. "The 300 million Arab people cannot have independence as long as the colonial settler state of Israel exists."

Both the international dynamic of the Palestinian struggle and the political centrality of the Palestinian right of return motivated many activists' support for building the BDS movement. "We can't separate out struggles for liberation," said Jess Ghannam of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. "When we fight for one, we fight for all...Israel is a brand, we must make the brand morally untenable."

Other speakers addressed present projects of the racist Israeli propaganda machine such as "pink-washing" and the efforts of Israel to partner with historically black universities. "Israel shares 'best practices' in repressive policing and has trained the Oakland Police Department and LAPD," noted Sanyika Bryant of the Malcolm X Grassroots movement in addressing the organic political links between the struggle for Palestine and the contemporary movement against police brutality,

By equipping activists to challenge the myths of Zionism with actual Palestinian history, the teach-in represented an important political step forward towards building an active, broad-based Bay Area movement that is capable of launching effective BDS campaigns to chip away at the material and social support for Israel's colonial settler state.