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Black Lives Matter and Palestine

A transcript of a panel discussion

We are proud to publish a transcript of this Black Lives Matter and Palestine Solidarity Teach-In held in Seattle last month. It has been slightly edited for readability and in coordination with the panel’s sponsors.

On February 1, around 100 people attended the Black Lives Matter and Palestine Solidarity Teach-In on Zoom. The event was sponsored by Black Lives Matter at School, Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN), and the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (SCORE).

For educators and youth in the Seattle area, the Teach-In helped kickoff the local Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action which officially took place February 5-9. Participants felt the need to connect this year’s BLM at School Week to organizing to stop the ongoing genocide of Palestinians. The issue grew in urgency when the following information was leaked by Seattle Public Schools (SPS) district staff in early January. According to the leak:

SPS is planning to scrub BLM@S (Black Lives Matter at School) title and language from communication and publications for the week of action in February and instead are calling it ‘Black Excellence in Schools Week of Action’… the rationale being because SPS senior leadership raised red flags about BLM@S supporting pro-Palestinian resistance movements and organizing.

Seattle Public Schools’ “red flags” referred to the national Black Lives Matter at School publishing a Palestine solidarity statement on October 17 called “The Only Lasting Peace is a Free Palestine.”

Seattle area educators and youth couldn’t allow SPS to betray both movements. In addition to the Teach-in, more than ten educators, members of the Seattle Education Association and part of the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, some who are anti-Zionist Jews and activists in Jewish Voices for Peace, organized and spoke at a Seattle School Board meeting in early January. They made crucial connections and stood up for both Palestine and Black Lives Matter at School while calling for SPS to reverse its decision.

On January 29, the local BLM at School coalition held a press conference at the downtown Seattle Public Library. Among other issues, educators and youth spoke powerfully in solidarity with Palestine and urged the district to change its stance.

Finally, due to all the organized pressure, the district relented and changed course. Less than a week before February 5, the district released BLM at School curriculum (unsurprisingly without reference to Palestine or the organizing around it) to principals around the district. However, it was up to each individual principal to decide whether they would forward it along to the educators in their building. Then on February 7, at the end of the third day of BLM at School Week, the Superintendent of SPS read a public proclamation in support of BLM at School at the Seattle School Board meeting.

This victory for both BLM at School and Palestine solidarity should be celebrated, especially considering the BLM at School movement started in Seattle back in 2016. It would have been a huge setback for the district to end its support for BLM at School given that history. Despite this victory, youth and educators know the struggle must continue to make sure the district doesn’t try this ever again and because the genocide of Palestinians by Israel continues to this day.

Lena Jones: I really, really deeply thank y’all for being here on your Thursday evening. I know most, if not all, of us have come from work and a lot of extra stuff today, so thank you for your time.

As we’re getting started, I’ll introduce myself a little bit and our speakers. My name is Lena and I am an educator in Seattle Public Schools. I have the deep honor and privilege to teach both Black Studies and ELA (English Language Arts). I also serve my school’s Black Student Union and on our Racial Equity Team.

We’ll get started tonight with some background information. These are things that I think, hopefully, are widely known within this group of people. Soon after October 7, 2023, Israel began a genocidal bombing campaign and an invasion of the Gaza Strip in Palestine.

Since then, Israel has killed over 25,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them have been women and minors. Over 62,000 have been injured. According to the Health Ministry (in the Gaza Strip), 85 percent of Gaza’s residents have been displaced, some 1.9 million people, according to the UN. And as of mid-December, The Guardian reported that 352 school buildings have been damaged, more than 70 percent of Gaza’s educational infrastructure.

That is a big part of why we are here tonight. The other piece that we are all holding in space and in community tonight is that on October 17, the National Black Lives Matter at School’s organization released a statement that read:

We open our hearts to the anger, the fear, and the rage that many are feeling.
We feel grief alongside and with you and are committed to the responsibility we have to education and young people. We remain steadfast in our commitment to nurturing a shared vision, to collectively love and care for one another as global and extended intergenerational families. BLM at School wants to be clear in our recognition that this unfolding loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives is the direct result of decades of Israeli settler colonialism, land dispossession, occupation, blockade, apartheid, and attempted genocide of millions of Palestinians. Palestinians are reminding us that decolonization is not a metaphor or abstraction.

It requires real daily struggle. Education should be wielded in service of struggle. The ongoing fight to #TeachTruth in the U.S must include Palestinian existence, resistance, culture, global contributions, and the ongoing struggle. To realize a free Palestine, it also must directly name the ways that U.S imperialism has fueled and supported apartheid and war crimes.

Educators need resources, support, and protection that honor the enduring struggle for realizing Palestinian justice. This is our offering at this time.

In the wake of that statement, information was leaked that Seattle Public Schools were planning to scrub the Black Lives Matter at School title and language from communications and were instead gonna call it the Black Excellence in Schools Week of Action.

And specifically, the rationale being Seattle Public Schools (SPS) senior leadership had raised some red flags about BLM at School supporting a pro-Palestinian resistance movement and organizing. We are all here tonight in community because we are not going to allow that to happen.

We cannot allow SPS to betray both movements, the Black Lives Matter at School work and the incredible need, call, and urgency around Palestinian resistance and mobilization. We’re really happy that you are here with us tonight to hear from some leaders and voices, to share your thoughts, your questions, your expertise, your wisdom, your experience, and stand in solidarity together with Black Lives Matter at Schools and with our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Tonight’s event is sponsored by WAESN (Washington Ethnic Studies Now), by the Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, and by Black Lives Matter at School. There’s been a lot of work by a lot of really incredible people who I’m really proud to be in community with and to be organizing with.

Thanks to everyone and especially our panelists for your time and all the organizing that’s gone on behind the scenes for this. It’s a labor of love and I really appreciate y’all.

Tonight we are going to hear from Jesse Hagopian, Wafa´ Safi, Diana Fakhoury, Miriam, and Emma Klein.

I will start off passing it to Jesse.

Jesse Hagopian: Thank you so much. Always good to be with you. Really appreciate everybody who helped organize this panel. You know, I began teaching in 2001 in Washington DC, and I would drive by the White House every day on my way to school.

I would cross the Anacostia River, and a few minutes later I would be in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods, most segregated neighborhoods in the nation. The first assignment I ever gave my students was to research someone from history they admired that had helped create a better world. They worked on those projects. They turned in their posters on a Friday.

Then, on the Monday, we went to present the posters. But when we came into the classroom, we saw the posters had been destroyed because it had rained into my classroom. The hole in the ceiling had allowed the posters to be waterlogged and the students weren’t able to present.

2001 was the beginning of my career. It also coincided with the 9-11 attacks. We could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon from our classroom window. It was very scary.

But I’ll tell you something that was even more terrifying. How quickly the U.S. government could mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars to go bomb people all over the Middle East, kill people in Afghanistan and in Iraq, but didn’t have the money to fix the hole in the ceiling of my classroom in a school that served 100 percent Black students.

That really taught me everything I needed to know about the American Empire and its priorities. Since October 7, the 625,000 children enrolled in schools across Gaza have been denied an education because of Israel’s genocidal attack that’s already damaged over 436 schools. Every single university in Gaza has been bombed.

You remember early on there was a controversy about whether they bombed a hospital or not? Now it’s just routine. We see them bombing hospitals or raiding hospitals in violation of international law. Clear war crimes on a regular basis, killing over 10,000 children. One out of every 100 children in Gaza is dead because of Israeli bombs that were bought and supplied by our own government, by U.S. taxpayer funds.

It isn’t just the recent attacks that have devastated Palestinian children in education. It’s the ongoing occupation. Israel is apparently inspired by the American system of schooling and policing that has contributed to the fact that more Black people are incarcerated or under the jurisdiction of the legal system today than were enslaved on plantations in 1850.

Israel is inspired by that level of inequality because it created its own particularly vicious form of the school-to-prison pipeline. Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children on average are prosecuted in military courts. It’s the only country that puts children in military courts. And since 2000, more than 12,000 youth have been detained. Since August of 2019, there has just been a massive escalation in Palestinian students being subjected to prolonged and arbitrary military detention, and denying them the right to assemble, free expression and association.

But I want to say this, in addition to targeting students and schools for destruction, Israel is actively pursuing the destruction of historical knowledge and education. That is because it is difficult to perpetuate genocide and ethnic cleansing while simultaneously purporting to be a democracy, right, without also controlling a population’s collective memory and whitewashing the brutality from its historical record.

I think we need to not only talk about genocide this evening, but I think we also need to talk about epistemicide, right? The destruction of ways of knowing and understanding the world is a practice that sociologist Bonaventura de Sousa Santos called epistemicide. This includes destroying cultural knowledge and anti-racist ideas and frameworks for understanding how to challenge oppression and colonization.

Israel has clearly studied the long and violent history of the U.S. government because it has seen the way the U.S. attacks colonized people and also the way that colonized people struggle for access to systems of knowledge that can help them get free. There are so many examples of epistemicide in the United States.

We can talk about the anti-literacy laws that were imposed on enslaved African people. We can talk about the Native American boarding schools that took indigenous children and put them into schools designed to strip them of their culture and deny them the truth about how they were dispossessed of their land.

We can talk about the laws today in the U.S. Right now, almost half of children in the U.S. are in a school district where there is legislation that denies them learning the truth about U.S. history and systemic racism. I went to Israel and Palestine in 2011. That was the same year that Israel passed the Al-Nakba law that made it illegal to teach about Al-Nakba in the schools. Doing so, results in the school’s money being revoked.

When we were in Israel, we went to Sderot which borders Gaza. Our guide took us to the top of a hill where she said that Israelis would gather to cheer the bombing of Gaza every time Israel launched attacks. I was on a delegation with African Americans, Black people who were veterans of the Civil Rights Movement. These veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, when they saw that apartheid wall they said, “separate will never be equal.”

And they broke into song adapting an old Black freedom struggle song, singing, “Like an olive tree, standing by the water, we shall not be moved.” It was an extremely moving experience for me to see Israeli apartheid through the eyes of civil rights activists. One teacher, a woman named Gloria, who was a veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, described how when she went to integrate the school in Mississippi in the 60s, the school was surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan on horseback with shotguns.

When she talked about those stories, they really connected with what the Palestinian activists had been describing to us. And when the civil rights activists that I was on the delegation with said that the apartheid they saw in Israel was harsher than what they experienced during the Jim Crow South, I really understood what we are up against.

I’ll just end by saying that the best tradition of the Black Freedom Struggle has always stood with Palestinian Liberation. You can talk about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that put out a statement in solidarity with Palestinians. You can talk about Malcolm X, who did the same, the Black Panther party who did the same.

And we need to stand in that same tradition. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the Black Lives Matter at School movement that is demanding the right of educators to be able to teach the truth about Palestinian liberation. Thank you for having me.

Image by Zinn Education Project

Lena Jones: Thanks so much, Jesse. We appreciate all of the diverse connections that your various experiences are able to bring to this space. The next speaker I have the privilege to introduce is Emma Klein.

Emma Klein: Thank you, Lena. I feel really honored to be on a panel with all these incredible thinkers and speakers and activists. So just a little update on where we are at as far as curriculum distribution and the proclamation in Seattle in support of Black Lives Matter at School Week. Yesterday, after the school day ended, principals received resources to support educators in teaching during Black History Month and Black Lives Matter at School Week.

Those resources are distributed at the whim of the principal. Our principal immediately sent it out to us. I was actually in a meeting with her talking about what to do now that we are moments away from February 1st and just days away from Black Lives Matter at School Week without any resources or direction or proclamation from the district.

I have to say that providing educators with resources the day before Black History month and five days before Black Lives Matter at School Week sends a resounding message to families and staff. The district still hasn’t released a proclamation that typically comes at the beginning of January in support of Black Lives Matter at School.

What we have received is too little, too late. As a parent, I want my child’s Jewish heritage and culture to be taught and honored alongside the Movement for Black Lives, as well as that of Arab, Palestinians, Indigenous, Latinx, Pacific Islander, and other marginalized groups.

This is the kind of pluralistic, inclusive educational environment that I believe supports my child’s academic, social, and emotional development, and one that prepares them to engage with complex and dynamic realities of our world. As educators, we have an ethical responsibility to teach the truth and engage students to think critically about the world around them.

Removing curriculum, or even flagging it because it includes resources about Palestinian existence and its ongoing struggle for liberation, contributes to the erasure of Palestinian narrative from curricula. Given the current climate and silencing of educational institutions that uplift marginalized histories and identities, it is necessary that we draw attention and raise our voices.

This is the moment for public schools to embrace the power of education and its potential to combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Blackness, all of which are intimately interconnected. This is not a moment to shy away from critical conversations, nor is it a time to withdraw support from movements that fight for racial equity and justice.

White supremacy and white supremacist culture are at the core of oppressive systems that impact Black and Palestinian people from Seattle to Gaza. As documented by multiple international and Israeli organizations, including Amnesty International and B’Tselem, Palestinians are living under an apartheid regime.

So, as Jesse said, this is not just about genocide that has been going on since October 7. This is a decades-long intentional ethnic cleansing and ongoing genocide and, according to Israeli institutions, Israeli organizations, and international  organizations, is apartheid.

And currently, according to the International Criminal Court as well as U.S. courts, there’s indication and I quote, “that the ongoing military siege in Gaza is intended to eradicate a whole people and therefore, plausibly falls within the international prohibition against genocide.” We can all take issue with the word plausible, but despite the international and national acknowledgement that there is potential genocide going on in Palestine, U.S. media consistently portrays the Palestinian narrative in a negative and a dismissive light.

The profound horrors of internationally recognized genocide and ethnic cleansing are disproportionately covered compared to the experience that Israelis have had, which was tragic, but compared to what is happening in Gaza, quite a different situation.

I wanted to throw out just some information about how this news is being reported. According to a January 9th The Intercept survey of coverage of major U.S. publications, highly emotive language such as “slaughter,” “massacre,” and “horrific” were reserved exclusively for Israelis who are killed by Palestinians rather than the other way round. The term “slaughter” was used by editors and reporters to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 60 to one.

And “massacre” was used to describe the killing of Israelis versus Palestinians 125 to two, despite the disproportionate number of Palestinian deaths, at least a third of which are children. The population in Gaza is being tortured and slaughtered. Over 11,000 children have been massacred. This is horrific and we need to say that. We need our media to say that.

We can draw parallels to the language used to describe Black children by our media. In schools, the adultification of Black children perpetuates a false perception that Black children are more angry or more deviant than White peers, which is leading to higher rates of discipline for Black students compared to White students who have participated in the same behaviors. This reality may feel terrifying to White Jewish Americans who struggle to acknowledge their whiteness and the role it plays in the creation and ongoing western support for Zionism in Israel.

Let me be clear. Criticizing Zionist policy and actions is not antisemitic. Israel is a nation, and Zionism is a political movement distinct from religious and secular Judaism. I, like many Jews, do not share the perspective of the state of Israel, and that does not make me any less Jewish. In fact, Zionism is at odds with my Judaism.

It is not antisemitic to affirm the value of Palestinian life. It is one of the key tenets of my Jewishness to hold all life as equally precious and worthy of freedom and liberation from oppression and hate. It is from this place that I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

Like many movements for liberation from Anti-Apartheid in South Africa to the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. to the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott, Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction has been a powerful non-violent tool to resist. And as Lena explained, in a SEA Representative Assembly voted to approve a resolution joining the Palestinian BDS call. The assembly voted 90 percent in favor.

And this resolution is still in place. I just wanna close by saying that our public schools must commit to helping students learn to navigate difficult topics with care, curiosity, and respect for one another. As a Jewish anti-racist educator, anti-Zionist educator and parent, I feel strongly that we must support educators who teach about the interconnectedness of movements of marginalized groups for liberation.

From Black Lives Matter to the Palestinian fight for freedom from occupation and Israeli apartheid, there’s essential learning that our community desperately needs. Thank you.

Protester holding a hand made sign of the Palestinian flag with hand written message across the flag that reads: Black Lives Matter at the top, and “Free Palestine” at the bottom.
Protesting AIPAC and Israeli Treatment of the Palestinians Chicago, Illinois, May 30, 2019. Photo by Charles Edward Miller.

Lena Jones: Thank you so much. There’s so much resonance in the chat and also in my heart. There’s so many things that are common points of struggle and that intersect with multiple identities that I hold that you also hold in there.

Just so much appreciation for the work and the ability to see common humanity and work from that place that I think all of us can do so much more to benefit from. I’m really excited to introduce our next speaker, Diana Fakhoury.

Diana Fakhoury: Thank you so much. I’m really honored to be here. Thank you to all the panelists. I’m very touched by what everyone has been saying and the solidarity. I feel like I wanna cry.

I really appreciate everybody being here and everyone in the audience as well. I do have a little presentation, so let me see here if I could share my screen. I wanna talk to you about my personal experience growing up in the U.S. as a Palestinian immigrant and the need to teach about Palestine.

Just to tell you a little bit about my personal history. All of my ancestry dates back to Palestine. My father was born in 1947, just a year before the Nakba. My paternal grandfather was a prosperous farmer at that time, but due to the Nakba, almost all of his farmland was stolen. He was left with just a rocky hillside that was not arable.

My father and all of his siblings grew up in abject poverty and famine. He would tell us stories of when he was a child sharing one egg between all of his family of 11, and each person taking a bite. Everybody inspecting the bite to see that it wasn’t too big so that they could all have something to eat. And many, many stories like that. To see what’s happening in Gaza right now, given the intergenerational trauma and the trauma that the survivors of the Nakba are facing, is just a re-traumatizing experience.

My family immigrated to Kuwait due to the lack of economic opportunities in Palestine. That’s where I was born.

That’s where my mom actually was born and my sisters and most of my extended family. As Lena mentioned, in 1990 we were here for a summer vacation and the Gulf War started. My family lost everything. We stayed in the U.S. as illegal immigrants. My dad went back to Kuwait to try to obtain some of his assets from his business that was being looted by Iraqi forces at the time. When he came back to the U.S., although he had a valid visa, he was denied entry by a racist customs official at the Atlanta airport. We couldn’t see my father for another two years.

I’m explaining all of this just to illustrate that all Palestinians in the diaspora have [a] similar history of forced displacement from their indigenous homeland. And then oftentimes continued displacement beyond that. I also have to acknowledge that my story is like a fairy tale compared to what Palestinians are experiencing in our homeland and in refugee camps around the world.

Growing up here in the U.S., I came here when I was in second grade. It was a challenge. I didn’t have the language to understand our displacement or how to process the microaggressions and the racism that we were facing. We, very early on, kind of figured out that we shouldn’t mention that we’re Palestinian. We would just say we’re Arab or Middle Eastern just to try to avoid the confusion and distaste that we would see from people just by mentioning the word Palestine.

Mostly, I did my best to just assimilate and not draw too much attention to my otherness, except from close friends who would come to my house, which was undeniably very Palestinian. My education in public schools in North Carolina was, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear, very colonialist in nature, very Eurocentric. Aside from hearing problematic statements like Palestine does not exist, there was rarely a mention of Palestine in school.

Even though I grew up in a Palestinian household, I think my elders did not have the bandwidth or the language to synthesize our struggle in an age-appropriate way. And so not until I became an adult did I really understand the history of settler colonialism, forced displacement, and the ongoing occupation and apartheid that Palestinians are subjected to.

Obviously, we need to teach about Palestine. I think everybody here knows that. I’ve come to learn more so now by what’s happening and by talking to Americans, that Americans are Zionists by default, unless you have sought out information about Palestine. We are dealing with decades of dehumanization and propaganda about Palestinians. That is the narrative that people know.

I’m seeing very clearly right now that there is a lack of understanding and empathy with the Palestinian people in the general public. Right now in Washington State, there is a bill making its way through our State Legislature that would mandate Holocaust and other genocide education where all of the proposed funding would be going to the Holocaust Center for Humanity.

I know that Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN) has convened a multi-ethnic work group of genocide survivors, descendants, and other concerned parents and educators to make the bill more inclusive and to receive some funding to develop the curriculum. If anyone is interested in joining that work group, please reach out to WAESN about that.

You know Palestinians and allies are facing censorship and erasure right now. I’ll just tell you a little bit about what I’ve been facing. I have been trying to speak to my son’s school about teaching about Palestine for a few years. Mostly, I’ve been dismissed, but recently given the situation, I wanted to go into his classroom.

It’s a third grade class, so I just hoped to read a couple books about Palestine, a couple kids’ books, and put them into context with the genocide, the ethnic cleansing. I saw this as my effort at cultural preservation. But the school has denied me that access. They have told me to develop a curriculum and that they will see if they can get it approved by the district.

I think that this is further dismissal of my story. And to me, I just saw it as a racist double standard given that I know that the school talked about the Ukraine-Russia conflict. I know that parents of other cultures have gone in and spoken about their cultures and their holidays and stuff like that.

Palestinian students deserve representation. Similar to the BLM demand to “Mandate Black History and Ethnic Studies,” I think students of all marginalized communities should not have to bear the burden of living and understanding their oppression in a vacuum.

Their peers need to develop this awareness and empathy as well. This is a little bit of a shameless plug, but I am part of a Palestinian-led group that is working on advocacy at the state level. I would love it if you all could sign our petition. I could drop the link in the chat as well or follow us on Instagram.

We’re gonna be talking to legislators on February 20th for an advocacy day. And we really need our allies to show support. I so appreciate that. And that’s it for me. Thank you.

Lena Jones: Thank you so much, Diana, for sharing your story and speaking so cogently, being able to tie your family’s personal story to our broader shared political struggle and the importance of language to describe reality. Sharing stories can be an important active resistance, a way to speak truth to power.

I thank you for doing it. I can only assume your children are doing it as well, learning from their powerful mother. Thank you so much.

Our next speaker is Miriam.

Miriam: Hello. I’m so excited to be here. Everyone that has spoken before me was so eloquent. They had such important things to say. I feel so honored to share the stage with all of you.

I’m Miriam. I am an Arab and SWANA (Southwest Asian and North African) person. Just a couple things about me. My father immigrated to the U.S. in the 80s from Jordan. My mother grew up in poverty here in the U.S. I grew up in the greater Seattle area. I went to school in Bellevue. Went to college at the Evergreen States College in Olympia.

Now I live and organize within Seattle proper. I thought that I would open up with a personal story about my family back home in Jordan right now. I went and visited them over the holidays. I was there not too long ago. After being in this country since October 7th and beyond, it felt really validating to be surrounded by people who did not question the genocide that’s going on so close to them.

Jordan is extremely geographically close to Palestine. They share a border. So my family is racially, religiously, and geographically tied to what’s going on right now. I was lucky enough to catch a story that my uncles were telling about prior to 1967; they would travel with each other from their home in Jordan over to Al-Quds or Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa.

Then they would go over to a family member’s house in Nablus to have msakhan, and then would drive all the way back to Jordan within the day. That just really solidified how rough it is to kind of create these fake borders and displace people from land that once was theirs and is ancestrally still theirs.

I’m gonna talk a little bit about Palestine as a feminist issue. As most of us know, hopefully, women and gender expansive people are on the front lines of all liberation struggles. This is because we are the most impacted by our oppressors. The systems of patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism, all work together to steal our labor, our power, and our bodily autonomy.

Some examples of how and why Palestine is a feminist issue. Palestinian women are forced to give birth to stillborn babies at checkpoints because the ambulances aren’t allowed to pass through. This is a very common occurrence. Israeli soldiers talk about Palestinian women being targets for killing as they did specifically in the 2009 war on Gaza.

Also, Palestinians, men, women, and gender expansive folks experienced sexualized torture, rape, castration, all under interrogation, which is clearly a human rights violation. In Gaza, currently women are using tents and clothing scraps as period products because of the lack of humanitarian aid and supplies that are not allowed into Gaza.

Right now, 52,000 women in Gaza are pregnant, and the rate for miscarriages has increased 300 percent. Pregnant women are getting C-sections without anesthesia, and every hour, two mothers in Gaza are killed by the Zionist regime. 20,000 babies have been born since the start of this genocide. And one child is killed every 15 minutes by Israeli airstrikes.

Six percent of Gaza’s population is dead, wounded, or under rubble. Maybe some of you have seen the videos posted live on the grounds. There are some videos of people stuck under rubble and you can hear their screams from under and without anyone being able to save them. A lot of these people are children who are stuck and still alive.

Palestine is a feminist issue because Zionism seeks to destroy Palestinian life, love, joy, freedom, and our lands. But we know that true feminism is liberation through life, love, joy, freedom and the land. So therefore, Zionism and feminism are inherently different.

The opposite of the feminism that I know, and that a lot of my fellow panelists I’m sure know, is imperial feminism. Imperial feminism, or colonial feminism, attempts to weaponize the language of women’s rights in order to shut down the Palestinian liberation struggle. This looks like IDF soldiers that are also TikTok influencers dancing on bombed homes in Gaza.

And it can also look like women within the UN and within the U.S. government refusing to humanize Palestinians who are under violent siege. Another word for this is purple washing, where the state of Israel strategically uses fake imperial feminist tropes to make it seem like they are a woke, and forward, and legitimate state.

Going off of that, this is one of the reasons why intersectional organizing is so important. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality, for those of us who don’t know, as a metaphor to understand the ways that multiple forms of inequalities compound themselves. Intersectionality challenges the mainstream and liberal rhetoric that oppression only affects one identity at a time.

In terms of intersectional organizing, all of our struggles overlap in more ways than they don’t. Our struggles often face common enemies. Some common enemies, Western imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, they all work together. If we were to all work together across oceans and false borders, to collectively take down these systems and their consequences, in my eyes, that would be the first step to true liberation.

A very important and stark example of this is the Deadly Exchange. The Deadly Exchange is when U.S. police travel to Israel, and they train with the Israeli military. Different U.S. police departments, state, federal, and otherwise, travel to Israel and basically learn their tactics. And of course, the consequences of these exchanges are felt deeply in the Black communities that are already feeling the repression of state violence every day.

And some of the U.S. police departments that are at fault for some pretty high-profile murders of unarmed Black men, including the Minneapolis Police Department, the Chicago Police Department, Baltimore, and St. Louis have all participated in these police exchanges including the Seattle Police Department. This is why our organizing must be intersectional. If our work is only focused on the liberation of one identity, there will be no true liberation. A movement that only works to undo the harm against one type of person will always fall short.

Another example of this is Israel is a settler colonial and a white supremacist project. This might be a hot take, but here we are. I know I’m at time, but I’m gonna get into this. The Zionist State of Israel asserts their genocidal racism against their own Black citizens, some of which are Jewish themselves.

There are nearly 170,000 Jewish citizens of Ethiopian heritage in addition to a lot of Sudanese and African nationals who are refugees. In 2019, Israeli police shot and killed two different Ethiopian Jews under the age of 25 within six months, and a politician under Netanyahu’s political party called Sudanese refugees cancer.

This is another great example of why our movements are always intertwined and why a united front isn’t only a good idea, it’s a requirement for a healthy and successful movement. A lot of us know a very prominent common enemy is white supremacy. If we work to dismantle that system here, we can and will dismantle it worldwide.

Lena Jones: I mean, go off though, sis. Seriously, thank you for making such important intersectional connections between the racial, ethnic, and religious and gender identities–speaking about the world with complexity and nuance. I also really appreciate you bringing the language of love into our conversation about struggle. Thank you so much for your powerful testimony and your work.

The next speaker is Wafá Safi.

Wafá Safi: Thank you so much for having me here. I kind of feel like I’m in the wrong place right now. It’s been amazing listening to everybody who’s spoken thus far.

I wanted to just quickly share. I’m gonna cut down a lot of what I’ve said because a lot of the speakers here have already mirrored the things that I’ve wanted to say, but a little bit about my Palestinian story.

My father is from Al-Haditha, which, unfortunately, is no longer in existence. That star (on her slideshow), unfortunately, has moved. My grandfather was a person who was very knowledgeable in creating economic centers or bringing businesses or connecting businesses together.

That was my grandfather from my father’s side. My grandfather from my mother’s side is from Jenin (Arabi), that area there is sectioned off for you on the right side of the screen; it is also currently in Nablus where a lot of the settlers are coming in and just doing whatever they want to the people there.

When we were at the RA last year, the Representative Assembly for NEA, my mom was overseas and I will never forget this day. A few days after the RA was finished, she called me and she was crying, saying, ‘I love you’, pretty much saying her goodbyes. Because in that time, that is when things were starting to ramp up to what we’re seeing today, which is a continuous onslaught of just continuous attacks, unfortunately.

I don’t wish that on anybody. I’m incredibly saddened all the time, just trying to live our lives, just trying to be the teacher, be the positive person, be the mom, be the wife, be everything for everybody.

You have this sadness going in a constant loop, that generational trauma that we all experience. And it’s not just us. I see it with my Black students. I see it with my Black colleagues. I see it with everybody. It’s one of those things that you just can’t shake.

In my high school years, I found my voice. I grew up in Kentucky. I don’t know why Kentucky, how Kentucky. All my dad said was “Your uncle came here before. He bought land and my father was in construction.”

Just to back up real quick, both of my parents’ families lived and stayed during the Nakba. They left shortly afterwards. My father’s side of the family stayed. My dad left in 1967. In 1952-1953, my mother’s side of the family left.

They went to Kuwait. My mom grew up in Kuwait. My dad in 1967 went to Egypt. He went to Alexandria to get his education. Then he came here and worked with my uncle. They had a construction company in Kentucky of all states because land was cheap. Where I grew up in Kentucky though, ’cause this is where I found my voice, if you were not wealthy enough to purchase land, then you were not allowed to rent an apartment.

This was their way of keeping Brown and Black people out of the area. In my whole high school of 2,000 kids, there were 11 of us Brown and Black kids. We hung together. The struggles that we went through and the things that we saw were ridiculous because the Ku Klux Klan was also very strong.

They had chapters in almost every city in our county. And it was definitely a place where either you tried to put your head down and keep going in your life and still be harassed or you stand up and fight. The day for me, for standing up and fighting, was when Halloween my sophomore year came around and a group of kids decided that they wanted to wear blackface; something in me broke.

I couldn’t handle it. I called the principal. Principal ignored me. I went to the Vice-Principal. The counselor told me I was making a big deal out of nothing. So I called my cousin, who was very active and still is in Ann Arbor. She’s an educator. She came down. We had a meeting with the Superintendent. It was from there that I found my voice because a lot of policies started to change because my cousin gave me that strength to come in there and talk about what it felt like, how it was wrong, all of these things that were happening there.

We never once had non-discrimination policy. We don’t discriminate against sex, religion. That was never anywhere in the terminology where I grew up. In my high school years, that is literally where I found my voice. Finding your voice is incredibly empowering.

I know I’m speaking to people who are using their voice all the time. As an adult, it still felt very lonely. In literally almost every building I’ve been in, with the exception of my years in Arizona, here in Indiana, I’ve always been the only educator of color in a building.

And so, again, being dismissed, being dismissed, being dismissed, but I found regained strength. I never stopped talking. Right. But it wasn’t until I went to the NEA RA where some of the people who are here in attendance of this session were there. I was so in awe of the new business items (NBI) that they put out.

They’re talking about Palestine. When I was going to school, when I wanted to write a book report on Palestine, I was told it didn’t exist. Well, because I’m the stubborn child that I was, I still went ahead and wrote it. I got an F, but it was okay. I died on that hill and I’m all right with it, right?

But it all started with that NBI and it kept going and kept going. Then in 2022, the Arab American Educator Caucus was born. In 2023, we had a table and our membership just bloomed. And the beautiful thing about our caucus is it’s not just Arab American educators. It is our Jewish allies. It is our Black allies. It was people from all of the caucuses that we have within the NEA.

And thank you, Merrie. I’m seeing some of the comments here, are the people who have been there and the people who are going back again. But we are doing a lot to amplify our voices and to bring the issues that are happening right now.

We’ve been dehumanized for so long that I don’t think that it’s fair that we have to constantly keep trying to prove our humanity, but with all of that said because of the work of the people in the NEA, all of our allies, we have the Educators for Palestine, and we are putting strong demands on our President of NEA to rescind our support for President Biden.

We are demanding a permanent ceasefire. We want to demand stopping the spending of military funding and equipment, intelligence to Israel and demilitarizing the U.S. border. Stopping all further building of the border wall.  Permanently closing the open-air detention centers.

Which then leads us to the next slide, which is our protest that we are going to be holding, ‘Education Solidarity Rally for Palestine, and that’s gonna be on February 10th. We have educators coming from all around the United States that will be there to amplify our voices, to bring light to the struggle which is very real, and we’re still seeing it.

The Black Lives Matter movement with Black History Month in my own building, I’m practically begging teachers to join in. Let’s do the lessons. Let’s work with the BSU (Black Student Union). Let’s do this. Nobody wants to. And yet again, we keep doing this, we keep repeating this kind of vicious cycle, and it’s time to break that cycle in education.

We need to continue to raise our voices. Even though you don’t think anybody’s hearing you, trust me they’re hearing you. Continue to use your voice. People are hearing you, I promise you.

Lena Jones: Thank you so much. You are definitely in the right space. Your voice is so needed. I really appreciate you uplifting the work of yourself and your family. Bringing community, providing resources from Palestine to Kentucky to Seattle, you’re everywhere. It’s a repeated refrain in Black organizing spaces that we keep us safe.

Featured image credit: teachingforchange; modified by Tempest.

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Diana Fakhoury, Jesse Hagopian, Lena Jones, Emma Klein, Miriam, and Wafá Safi View All

Diana Fakhoury is a Palestinian multidisciplinary designer, entrepreneur, and mother of two. She was born in Kuwait, but due to the Gulf War became a child refugee when her family was unexpectedly displaced during a vacation in the U.S. She spent the rest of her childhood in Asheville, North Carolina. Diana received a Bachelors of Art and Design from North Carolina State University and recently completed a User-Centered Design program at the University of Washington. She has lived and worked in Ballard since 2009.

Jesse Hagopian’s African ancestors endured the middle passage and enslavement on plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana. His Armenian ancestors were killed in the genocide of 1915 by the Turkish government. Jesse is an educator and the author of the forthcoming book, Teach Truth: The Attack on Critical Race Theory and the Struggle for Antiracist Education. In 2011, Jesse participated in the Interfaith Peace Builder's first African Heritage delegation that brought 14 African Americans ages 28-70 years old to Israel and Palestine to meet with civil society organizations, human rights groups, and grassroots activists. Jesse’s article, “Israel’s War on Gaza Is Also a War on History,” was recently published in The Progressive.

Lena Jones is an educator in the Seattle Public Schools who teaches both Black Studies and English Language Arts and serves on her school's Black Student Union and its Racial Equity Team.

Emma Klein is a Jewish Seattle Public Schools educator and parent. Her ancestors fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe and immigrated to New York shortly before the Holocaust. Emma was raised in a secular Ashkenazi Jewish community in Boston. She's been a member of Jewish Voices for Peace for almost two decades and has traveled to the West Bank and East Jerusalem twice with U.S. Jews for A Just Peace Health and Human Rights delegations.

Emma organized with other Seattle Education Association rank-and-file members to pass a resolution endorsing the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions call in 2021, which passed the representative assembly with a 90% vote in favor.

Miriam is a diasporic Palestinian living and organizing at the intersections of gender justice and anti-colonialism in so-called Seattle. Miriam is a core organizer with multiple grassroots Palestinian liberation organizations, who continues to fight for a liberated Palestine, so we can all one day return to our homeland.

Wafá Safi is a first generation Palestinian-American. She has been in education for over 23 years. She is currently a middle school science teacher and served as an equity coach in her district. She is the co-chair for the Racial Affairs Committee in her State Affiliate, Indiana State Teachers Association and is the Vice-President of Secondary Education in her local, Hamilton Southeastern Education Association. She has served on various Social and Racial Justice committees at the National Education Association (NEA) and is currently the Secretary for the NEA Arab American Caucus. She’s made it her life’s work to amplify the voices of students and educators of color and to bring awareness to the issues that affect them.