The Message

Nakba 2021: The Cost of Indifference

Published May 25, 2021

By Imam Khalid Griggs

On May 25, 2020 much of the world was riveted watching the slow agonizing death of George Floyd as he was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Darnella Frazier, a 17-year-old girl, courageously captured on her cell phone video camera Chauvin pressing his knee to the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds until Floyd’s handcuffed body was lifeless. After years of public outcry over police officers across the country killing unarmed African Americans with impunity, the Floyd murder was a tipping point. For the first time in modern United States history, massive demonstrations were continuously held in multiple cities in all 50 states, including Hawaii and Alaska. Protests were also held in countries around the world. Unlike past demonstrations in the U.S. against police brutality, these demonstrations included an unprecedented number of Whites and Latinos.

Bills have been introduced in federal, state, and local legislatures, often for the first time, calling for the repeal of qualified immunity, the legal principle that grants immunity to police officers and other designated government officials from civil suits unless they have violated a person’s “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.” Critics of the doctrine argue that it opens the door to the use of excessive force by police officers. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is under consideration. The bill increases accountability for law enforcement misconduct, restricts the use of certain policing practices, enhances transparency and data collection, and establishes best practices and training requirements. City Councils and County Commissions across the country have held hearings with some agreeing to compensate African Americans for centuries of unpaid labor by their ancestors.

A Militarized Police Force

Now, in a land half the globe away, troubled by egregious policing practices against an oppressed marginalized population, Israeli police violated the sanctity of the third most sacred site in Islam, Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. On May 7, during Islam’s holiest month of Ramadan, within the last 10most revered days of the month, Israeli police invaded the sanctuary of Al-Aqsa Mosque. They used excessive force to dislodge a few protestors who had non-violently demonstrated their opposition to Israeli plans to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The plan for evictions spurred violent hordes of Israeli extremists storming through the neighborhood and forcibly removing and assaulting residents.

The police entered Al-Aqsa firing stun guns, tear gas grenades, and rubber bullets. “Rubber bullets” are more accurately described as relatively large metal pellets thinly encased in rubber. It was reported that at least six people were permanently blinded during the assaults. In the resulting melee, 330 Muslim worshippers were injured, and centuries-old windows and wooden doors were damaged or destroyed. Recent increased tensions in the area surrounding the mosque have been fueled by Israeli police allowing radical Israeli settlers to storm the Al-Aqsa compound while loudly chanting slogans and taunts, interrupting Muslim worshippers in prayer and contemplation. “Violations of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) prohibitions on allowing non-Muslim access to worship inside the historic mosques have been increasingly violated over the years with the cooperation of Israeli police.

The militarization of policing in the U.S. exhibits practices similar to those used in Israel. This is not coincidental. Top law enforcement officials in police departments across the United States have gone to Israel for training in the use of surveillance and aggressive techniques and methods for crowd control. After numerous public demonstrations and successful political mobilizations, the city of Durham, in North Carolina, prohibited its police departments from training in Israel. Alameda County in California has done the same, and departments in Vermont and Massachusetts withdrew from a planned training trip to Israel in 2018.Over the past two decades, police departments across the U.S. have secured military-grade weapons including armed personnel carriers, tanks, predator drones, and other military equipment. Begun in 1997 by the Clinton administration to ostensibly fight the “war on drugs,” a Defense Department program called 1033 provides excess or outdated military equipment to local police departments at no cost to them other than shipping. While Israel routinely unleashes deadly force on Palestinians, one incident stands out in the U.S. On May 13, 1985,Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode authorized the dropping of a bomb from a State Police helicopter on a house occupied by members of MOVE, a Black separatist group. The fire was then allowed to burn completely out of control, destroying 61 homes in the middle-class African American neighborhood. Five children and six adults died in the fire. The bombing was widely condemned, and the MOVE survivors were later awarded a $1.5 million settlement in 1996.

The Ongoing Catastrophe

Seventy-three years ago, Palestinians experienced what they refer to as a “Nakba” (catastrophe, disaster). The specific reference is to the ethnic cleansing by Zionist paramilitary gangs including Irgun, Haganah, and the Stern Gang. Their terrorist activities resulted in destruction of 400-600 Palestinian villages and over 300,000 men, women, and children expelled or fleeing the terror campaign and ending up in refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. Christian Palestinians, while discriminated against by the policies of the Israeli government, are not forced to live in resource-starved camps like their Muslim counterparts, under the watchful and intimidating eyes of the Israeli military.

At the end of the 1947-49 Palestine War, the United Nations adopted Resolution 194 that resolved that Palestinian refugees had the right to return to their properties and live at peace with their neighbors at the earliest possible time, and those choosing not to return should be given compensation for their properties. The government of Israel has defied this UN Resolution and many others for over 70 years while giving Palestinian homes and property to American and European Jewish settlers. After the 2006election of Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group, as the governing authority for Gaza, Israel imposed a land, air, and sea blockade over the area, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Two million Gazans have been unable to secure adequate life-sustaining goods and supplies including food, baby formula, medicine, concrete for rebuilding structures destroyed by Israeli bombs or bulldozers, and other essential items. Gaza is often referred to as the world’s largest outdoor prison due to the restrictions imposed on its citizens. Water is unnecessarily and indiscriminately shut off by the Israeli government. The food supply allowed into Gaza is based on Israel’s calculations of Palestinians’ caloric needs and the objective is revealed by a statement made by Dov Weisglass, the spokesman for former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. In 2006, Weisglass stated, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.”

The State of Palestine is recognized by 138 nations but, sadly, the world is witnessing Nakba 2021 for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. It is not the first time that the Israeli military has relentlessly attacked Gaza, but it is the most destructive and deadly. Civilian housing is being targeted and destroyed by sophisticated missiles, most of which were supplied by the United States. In the short span of less than two weeks, more than 200 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 60 children and more than 35 women, three of whom were pregnant. Roads leading to Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City have been targeted by missiles, making it virtually impossible to get to the hospital for treatment. Palestinian doctors and other health professionals are being targeted for murder. Critical infrastructure, housing, and markets have been destroyed, complicating an already subsistence existence. Since the start of vaccinations for the Covid-19 global pandemic, Israel has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Yet, Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have had only one percent of their population receiving the vaccine protection.

Setting Right What is Wrong

With notable exceptions, most Muslim-majority nations have entered pacts and alliances with Israel that seem to preclude their assisting the Palestinians or even condemning Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people. Ironically, some of these same nations appear to have little compunction in acting treacherously or even warring against other Muslims. Conversely, the Black Freedom Struggle in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s recognized the intersectionality of the liberation struggles of all peoples against oppression, including Palestinians. For this reason, Imam Jamil Al-Amin(formerly H. Rap Brown), Kwame Ture (formerly Stokely Carmichael), Muhammad Ahmad (formerly Max Stanford), Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Dhoruba bin Wahad, and other leaders of the Black Panther Party, SNCC, and other organizations embraced the struggle of the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation. Leaders of some African nations during this same period identified with, and wholeheartedly supported, the struggles of the Palestinian people. Leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Sekou Toure, Patrice Lumumba, and many others supported the Palestinian cause.

The images of young Palestinians standing firm during their violent arrests by Israeli police for protesting the occupation — those images are vital. They demonstrate a willingness to confront with stones the heavily armed Goliaths, encouraging reminders that believers must have patience and put our trust in Allah, the Most High. Prophet Muhammad has reminded us that Allah is on the side of the oppressed and that there is no barrier between the supplications of the oppressed and Allah. Pray for Palestine and work to liberate it from the knee on its neck. The Israeli bombing on May 15 of the building that housed the AP, Al-Jazeera, and other media outlets will not stop the world from watching and witnessing. The injustices are being recorded; the setting right of what is wrong is inevitable.

Imam Khalid GriggsAuthor Imam Khalid Fattah Griggs is the Imam of the Community Mosque in Winston-Salem, NC. and ICNA Vice President for Social Justice and Civic Engagement.

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