‘Palestinian lives matter’: Activists draw parallels between Israel, US killings

Social media users, politicians compare cases of George Floyd and Iyad Halak; PLO releases cartoon suggesting Israeli support for American police violence

Israeli and American soldiers support each other as they kneel on a Palestinian and a black man, choking them (Al-Hayat al-Jadida screenshot)
Israeli and American soldiers support each other as they kneel on a Palestinian and a black man, choking them (Al-Hayat al-Jadida screenshot)

Palestinian activists and their supporters have in recent days increasingly sought to draw connections between Israeli authorities’ treatment of Palestinians and US police brutality toward African Americans.

They have specifically compared the killing of an autistic Palestinian man at the hands of Israeli Border Police to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis after a police officer kneeled on his neck for long minutes. Both cases have drawn international attention as a new wave of protests against police violence erupted in cities worldwide.

Floyd, a black man, died in police custody in Minneapolis last week. Videos showed police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring Floyd’s pleas that he was choking as well as those of bystanders shouting at him to get off his neck.

Iyad Halak was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, while on his way Halak had been on his way to a special needs educational institute in the Old City where he studied. His family has said he was autistic.

Police claimed he had appeared to be holding a gun and ordered him to halt and be searched. Halak seemed not to understand.

“He didn’t even know what a police officer was,” Halak’s cousin, Hatem Awiwi, told the Haaretz newspaper.

Halak fled with two police officers in pursuit. He tried to hide and was shot. The suspicious item he was carrying — which police officers thought was a gun — is reported to have been his phone.

The two policemen involved were questioned under caution on Saturday. One officer was placed under house arrest and his commander was released from custody under restrictive conditions.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana told the Halak family that he “shared their pain,” but urged refraining from a rush to judgment against the police officers who killed him, saying they “are required to make life and death decisions in seconds, in an area that has seen numerous terrorist attacks, and are frequently in mortal danger.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed sorrow over the incident, which he said would be promptly investigated.

In the United States, Palestinian solidarity activists released statements directly comparing the two killings.

“When Palestinians see George Floyd, we see Eyad al-Halak,” said Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr in a post on his Facebook page.

On Instagram another user published illustrations comparing the two cases, under the headline “Two countries, similar system.”

The Palestinian Authority has sought to exploit popular antipathy to police brutality in the United States to advance its message about the conduct of Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

Halak’s killing was “a crime that will be met with impunity unless the world stops treating Israel as a state above the law &@IntlCrimCourt fulfills its mandate #ICantBreath #PalestineWillBeFree,” Saeb Erakat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a tweet.

The hashtag #ICantBreath was a reference to the dying words of both Floyd and Eric Garner, a black man and resident of New York City who died in July 2017 after police officers placed him in a chokehold. The officers involved in the latter case were never indicted or faced federal charges. The slogan became a central theme of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States, which seeks to advance black civil rights and opposes police violence against African Americans.

The campaign on Twitter has gained its own hashtag — #PalestinianLivesMatter — a reference to #BlackLivesMatter. The hashtag has gained thousands of mentions on Twitter and Instagram since Halak was killed on Saturday.

“The teargas shot at us in Minneapolis, Palestine or Israel will never change the fact that #blacklivesmatter and #palestinianlivesmatter,” wrote Ayman Odeh, chairman of Israel’s Joint List Knesset alliance of predominantly Arab parties.

Israeli protesters in Tel Aviv over the weekend also held signs comparing the two cases.

The official Fatah Facebook page uploaded numerous photos of Israeli soldiers pinning down Palestinians, often with the soldiers’ legs on their necks. The Palestine Liberation Organization official newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida published a cartoon showing an Israeli soldier and an American cop kneeling on the necks of a Palestinian and a black man, respectively. The two soldiers support each other bodily, while the Israeli soldier has his gun pointed in the black man’s face.

Palestinian Media Watch, a nonprofit that tracks “incitement against Israel and Jews” in Palestinian Authority media, called the cartoon “libelous.”

“This tragedy was exploited by the PA and Fatah to again launch its libel that Israel intentionally executes Palestinians,” it said in a statement.

Liberal organization J Street, which lobbies for the two-state solution, refrained from directly comparing the circumstances of the two killings, but said that the two cases were symptomatic of deep injustices in American and Israeli societies.

“True justice in the long run requires dismantling the systemic racism that led to these killings in the first place,” J Street said in a statement.

Demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, near the White House in Washington, June 1, 2020. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Connections between black activism and the Palestinian national movement have deep historical roots. In 1967, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a well-known civil rights organization, denounced Zionism and embraced Black Power. SNCC organizers accused Israel of “imitating their Nazi oppressors, committing some of the same atrocities against the Arabs,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported at the time.

Prominent African-American civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., criticized SNCC at the time. King said he was opposed to anti-Semitism and “anything that does not signify my concern for humanity for the Jewish people.”

In the summer of 2014, black-Palestinian solidarity activism again rose to prominence. In Ferguson, Missouri, protests following the killing of Michael Brown by police took place at the same time Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

Law enforcement officers watch on during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 18, 2014. (AFP/Michael B. Thomas)

“When we see the images today in Ferguson, we see another emerging Intifada [or popular struggle] in the long line of Intifada and struggle that has been carried out by Black people in the US and internationally,” Khaled Barakat, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, wrote at the time in the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper.

Black for Palestine, an organization that aims to advance black-Palestinian solidarity work, was founded in the aftermath of what its founder, Kristen Bailey Davis, calls “the Ferguson-Gaza moment.”

Davis also helped produce a widely shared video comparing the two events called “When I See Them, I See Us.”

In 2016, the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of left-wing groups, released a platform that accused Israel of committing “genocide” against Palestinians.

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