Years before Carmen Perez became a nationally-known co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, she was part of a delegation of black liberation activists who promoted a Palestinian-led drive targeting the State of Israel.
In January 2015, the group went on a ten-day trip to the region, including the West Bank.
While in Nazareth, commonly known as “the Arab capital of Israel,” Perez participated in a solidarity demonstration calling for the boycott, divestment and sanctions against that country. A video documenting the flash mob-style spectacle shows her performing the dabke – a traditional Palestinian folk dance – along with Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors and other allies which Perez described as “my revolutionary freedom fighters.”
The ceremony began with participants being smudged with sage to rid the space of negative energy followed by a monologue from Marc Lamont Hill – a former CNN pundit who was let go by the network in November after making controversial comments about Israel.
“We came here to Palestine to stand in love and revolutionary struggle with our brothers and sisters,” Hill said in the video. “We come to a land that has been stolen by greed and destroyed by hate. We come here, and we learn laws that have been co-signed in ink but written in the blood of the innocent, and we stand next to people who continue to courageously struggle and resist the occupation.”
After the dance, participants broke into chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “They know that we will win” before concluding with a group hug.
Perez represented a task force she co-founded in 2013 called Justice League NYC. It is part of The Gathering of Justice network, where Perez serves as executive director. Fellow Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour were also part of that organization.
Cherrell Brown, another Justice League NYC organizer who accompanied Perez on the pilgrimage, told Ebony: “I want us to take back things we can do in the now, as Americans, to raise awareness and action around Palestinian liberation. I want us to reimagine what society could and will look like when we’ve dismantled this white-supremacist patriarchal and capitalist society.”
The delegation was co-organized by Ahmad Abuznaid, an American citizen who was born in East Jerusalem. He wanted members to “see first hand the occupation, ethnic cleansing and brutality Israel has levied against Palestinians” and “build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation” in the spirit of counterculture icons such as Angela Davis – a former Communist Party U.S.A. leader who was once a member of the Black Panthers.
“As a Palestinian who has learned a great deal about struggle, movement, militancy and liberation from African Americans in the U.S., I dreamt of the day where I could bring that power back to my people in Palestine,” Abuznaid continued.
Like the Women’s March, efforts to strengthen solidarity between black Americans and Palestinian communities abroad are based, in part, on the concept of intersectionality. The theory maintains that systems of oppression intersect and overlap, institutionally dehumanizing marginalized groups. Many progressive activists believe a U.S.-Israel alliance perpetuates such persecution.
“So many parallels exist between how the U.S. polices, incarcerates, and perpetuates violence on the black community and how the Zionist state that exists in Israel perpetuates the same on Palestinians,” Brown said.
“This is not to say there aren’t vast differences and nuances that need to always be named, but our oppressors are literally collaborating together, learning from one another – and as oppressed people we have to do the same.”
Perez, along with other Women’s March leaders, has faced recent criticism for alleged anti-Semitism that dates back to the event’s formation. They have been accused of excluding Jewish women from the march’s intersectional foundation to appease groups like Black Lives Matter. According to The New York Times, “Women’s March activists are grappling with how they treat Jews – and whether they should be counted as privileged white Americans or ‘marginalized’ minorities,” and that “charges of anti-Semitism are now roiling the movement and overshadowing plans” for marches throughout the country scheduled to take place later this month.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.