Sporadic drum beats introduce a poetic, captivating voice from a video with the line, “Every 28 hours a black life is stolen by police or vigilantes in the U.S.”
A new voice fills the room: “Every two hours a Palestinian child was killed in Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer.”
From #PalestineToFerguson, featuring the Rev. Graylan Hagler, brought black and Palestinian lives together in solidarity Monday at 6 p.m. in the Special Events room of McKeldin Library, where a diverse group of about 70 people showed up.
The opening video, titled When I See Them I See Us, introduced the conversations to come about the oppression of black and Palestinian people.
Hagler, a senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., and longtime activist, spoke strongly about his experiences as a black man growing up in the Jim Crow era and of Palestine and his visits there, uniting the struggles of the two people.
Hagler said he visited Palestine in January 2014 and remarked on the fact that there was now a wall restricting his movements and the movements of others throughout Israel and Palestine.
“There is no mistake about it,” he said. “It looks like, it feels like, and it is a prison wall.”
When he visited in 1974, not long after the Six-Day War in 1967, Hagler said he could take a bus into Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other destinations “with a relative degree of freedom.”
The wall Hagler condemned is known as the West Bank Barrier that separates the West Bank from the rest of Israel and began construction in 2002. He compared it to a wall at a maximum security prison where he once volunteered.
“Every time we got to a checkpoint somebody came on with an automatic weapon and made the Palestinians get off the bus and go through a checkpoint,” he said about his 2014 trip. “The fact is it’s dehumanizing, and it’s very clear that you’re talking about separate and unequal societies.”
Hagler said that the marginalization of Palestinians is similar to what he experienced in the Jim Crow era, “when you had to deal with the fact that there were separate accommodations in places.”
“It’s not the same thing when we talk about what goes on in Palestine and what happens in the black community,” he said. “The systems of oppression, they are always very similar to each other.”
“All oppressions look the same,” said Rachel Smith, a junior sociology major.
“As [Hagler] was a black activist in the U.S. going to Palestine and seeing the same system of oppression,” she said. “I think that’s really important for people here to understand, and even for other marginalized communities.”
Those who led the delegation Hagler was a part of around Palestine — as part of the Jimmy Carter Center, along with activist Bill Fletcher and hip-hop and other cultural artists — tried to explain the occupation of Palestine by the Israel Defense Forces, but Hagler said the group understood the occupation the Palestinians were facing.
“People had experienced it in Baltimore, and New York and Pittsburgh and Chicago, it was the same dynamic over and over again,” he said. “Where you had police that were occupying a community.”
“We have to challenge racism wherever it is,” he said. “Wherever it manifests itself, not just in the United States of America, but in paradigms that are practiced all over the world. Sometimes we give it terms like colonialism.”
Manar Dajani, the co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine and a speaker at the event said the purpose of her organization is to give the Palestinian people a voice. She said the group illustrates and drives BDS, a movement that stands and calls for the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel so that it complies with international law and human rights principles.
“Their demands are to have their self respect, their human rights and to hold Israel accountable for all the laws they’ve been breaking,” Dajani said.
Khadija Mehter, a 30-year-old organizer with the American Women Muslim’s Policy Forum and resident of Washington, D.C., attended the event and said she appreciated the Hagler’s advice to talk to family and community members about Palestine and to continue moving forward with the Palestinian cause.
“At the end of the day true solidarity is being there for people and continuing their fight and amplifying the voices of the oppressed no matter what,” she said. “We have a lot of Palestinian people and people of color supporting Black Lives Matter, and I support that.”
Featured Photo Credit: Reverend Graylan Scott Hagler, a long-time activist in D.C. speaking at From #Palestine2Ferguson in the Special Events Room at McKeldin Library. The Reverend spoke on oppression saying, “What I’ve learned in my 61 years of life is that the systems of oppression are always similar to each other. (Cassie Osvatics/Bloc Reporter)
Alex Carolan is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.