Intersectionality: Comparing Gaza to Ferguson
Oh how some people just love the term, intersectionality! You can take roads going hither and thither and somehow find a way to make them intersect. It seems to me that without the word, intersectionality, there would be little justification for what some people have to say. Take James R. Thomas, for example. He compares Ferguson to Gaza in an article in a special issue of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies entitled: “The Intersection of Palestine with Ferguson, Missouri“.
Now, that is a pretty long road from the USA to the Palestinian Authority, but somehow he still manages to find an intersection. I wonder why he feels the need to bolster up his ideas of racially based oppression in the USA with what he thinks he understands goes on in a part of the world in which he engages in ‘victimology’ tourism only.
His abstract begins with:
Is there intersectionality between the battles waged against state-sponsored violence and oppression on the streets of Gaza and the streets of Ferguson, Missouri? This essay examines and compares events in Gaza called Operation Protective Edge to a police crackdown on protest movements in Ferguson, both occurring in 2014. The military action in Gaza launched by the Israel Defense Forces was a reaction to the murder of three teens in Hebron. In Ferguson 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson.
and it ends with:
The end game of policing in Gaza and Ferguson is the same. The objective is to suppress the right to free assembly, expression, and association. The mission is to stop unarmed people from protesting against their oppression.
Thomas compares war against Gaza to suppression of protests in the USA. Yet, by suggesting that Operation Protective Edge was embarked upon because of the kidnap-murder of three Jewish teens, he ignores the context of that time. The report of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the war provides that context:
The threat to Israel again reached a critical point in the summer of 2014 when, starting in June, Hamas and other terrorist organisations intensified their rocket launches towards Israel, firing on an almost daily basis. In June and July 2014, Israeli security services uncovered additional cross-border tunnels constructed by Hamas for the purpose of perpetrating terrorist attacks on Israeli soil.
Moreover, these events coincided with Hamas’s efforts to destabilise the West Bank by means of incitement to violence and increased terrorist activity, including the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. While the IDF sought to locate the kidnapped teenagers and to reduce Hamas’s military capabilities in the West Bank, Israel tried to avoid escalation in the Gaza Strip.
When Hamas and other terrorist organisations fired over 60 rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip on July 7 [alone], Israel was left with no choice but to launch a measured aerial campaign called Operation Protective Edge… [page 11]
Keep in mind that the boys were kidnapped on June 12 and their bodies were only discovered on June 30. If the war was in response to either the kidnapping or to knowledge of the murder, then why did it not break out on June 12 or June 30? In fact:
… between June 12 and July 7, 2014, Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip fired approximately 300 rockets and mortars at Israeli population centres.
I am not going to go into what happened in Ferguson because that is beside the point for me. The point is Thomas’ misrepresentation of Israel and what seems to me to be his willful misrepresentation of that situation. He seems to be claiming that Israel launched a full-scale war against Gaza because of the abduction-murder of three teenagers, ignoring the enormous threat of constant missile barrage coming out of Gaza before, during and after the kidnapping incident.
Finding evidence for intersectionality in Hebron
Thomas starts his paper by describing his trip to Hebron. He arrived on July 3 and he writes that on July 8:
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (Hebr., Mivtsa Tzuk Eitan) in Gaza…
Does he think that putting the Hebrew name for the war in brackets makes him seem balanced and knowledgeable regarding the Israeli point of view?
He complains about the proliferation of checkpoints he must pass through while walking through the Old City of Jerusalem and later in Hebron:
I reasoned that the passport checks were to ensure that I understood the omnipotence of Israeli authority.
Yup! That must be the reason.
Nothing to do with making sure that terrorists do not wander around looking to do harm during a particularly volatile period of time. Also, perhaps, wanting to protect Arabs from Jewish retaliation for the three murders — unfortunately unsuccessfully in one instance and a young innocent Mohammad al-Khadeir was brutally murdered. Why can Thomas not suppose that our soldiers seek to prevent such horrors as this as well as preventing attacks against Jews?
While he does not seem to get that these checkpoints seek to prevent all violence, he once more complains about Israeli soldiers:
The majority of Palestinians killed in clashes with soldiers in Jerusalem, often wielding kitchen knives, die when fired on with live rounds or rubber-coated bullets. Israeli soldiers generally survive these deadly confrontations.
(I wonder if he wishes that Israeli soldiers generally would not survive.) May I suggest that there are fewer attempts at ‘kitchen-knife’ terror attacks when soldiers are patrolling the streets and stopping people at multiple checkpoints and that would obviously mean fewer Arab deaths as well as Jewish. Furthermore, for some reason, Thomas seems to think that knife-wielding or rock-throwing youth are not dangerous:
As I recollect brave young boys hurling rocks and bricks at Israeli soldiers in the market area of baba-Zeweyya [sp. Bab al-Zawiya] and the military response with teargas, rubber bullets, and real bullets, I am reminded of Ferguson, Missouri.
Yes of course he is! What this shows me is that Thomas sees everything through the filter of his personal experience and cannot seem to come out of that frame of reference in order to verify whether or not something that reminds him of Ferguson is actually like Ferguson.
Regarding rocks: Just last week, an Israeli soldier was killed when a rock was thrown on his helmetted head, belying the suggestion that rocks are not dangerous. On their website, and without any relation to the goings on in Israel, a California law firm determined that a rock can be considered a deadly weapon.
Let us see how the situation in Hebron reminded Thomas of Ferguson, Missouri:
Michael [Brown, who was killed in Ferguson] was about the same age as some of these young men [in the Hebron protest]. The protests were similar. Protesters in baba-Zeweyya [Bab al-Zawiya] were met by Israeli soldiers who no doubt saw the stone-tossing youth as marginal.
No. They were not seen as marginal; they were seen as dangerously threatening the lives of others. Remember, rocks can kill. They were not “tossing” stones onto the water to try to make them skip across the surface — what a stupid term to use here, tossing. He goes on:
While the Palestinians did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others, live ammunition was used against them.
If a rock can be a deadly weapon, then the Palestinians throwing them did pose an “imminent threat of death or serious injury”.
Admitting that Ferguson is not Hebron
Ferguson is not Hebron, but I observed something that looked the same in both cities. … [Quoting the chairperson of Faith Strategies:] “It’s not the same thing when we talk about what goes on in Palestine and what happens in the black community,” he says. “But one thing that I’ve learned . . . in my 61 years of life is: The systems of oppression, they’re always very similar to each other. They may be tweaked, they may be changed just a little bit, but we find out that the paradigm is the same, it looks the same, it feels the same, it is the same.”
and Thomas tells us how the paradigm is supposedly the same:
What Palestine and Ferguson have in common is that they lay bare the reality of racism, the systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group. Racism in Palestine and Ferguson are two interrelated, mutually supporting systems of domination. Their relationship is essential to understanding the subordination of minorities by majorities.
Again, I will leave Americans or students of American history or sociology to relate to what he says about Ferguson, but he is so wrong about Israel. I also will not touch the issue of racism here because Jews and Arabs are of the same race, for want of a better word for it — we are all Semites in origin. Granted, there are now Black African Jews and pale-coloured Jews and brown Jews from India, etc. Likewise, the Arab population comes in a variety of skin colours. So race is not the issue.
It would be more accurate to use the term ‘social groups’ rather than ‘race’.
Thomas talks about “the systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful group…” and he conveniently forgets that the history of the conflict began before 1967, before 1948 and before the turn of the previous century. The more powerful social group that was doing the subjugating before 1967, before 1948, and before the turn of the century was the social group of Muslims, first the Arabs, then the Ottomans and then the Arabs once again.
It was the Muslims who, before evicting the Jews from Hebron in 1948, did not allow them to enter the halls of the Cave of the Patriarchs (that Muslims renamed the Ibrahimi Mosque). Jews were allowed to climb the first seven steps only and had to pray from there while Muslims worshipped before the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Yitzhak and Leah inside. It is the Muslims who cannot countenance Jews praying on the Temple Mount, that Muslims renamed Haram al-Sharif.
It is the Muslims who are the majority in the Middle East and not the Jews. It is the Muslims who dominate the Middle East and not the Jews. How convenient to forget that demographic fact when you want Israel — Jews — to bow down to Muslim demands rather than protect themselves. And you allow yourself to get away with this by calling the Arabs Palestinians, thus artificially separating them from the larger social group that has declared war against us Jews since we dared to stand up tall in the land of our forefathers and mothers.
You should not be comparing the Black protestors in Ferguson to the Palestinian Arabs who seek to wipe Israel off the map (Don’t believe me? Just look at the map of the Middle East on Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s t-shirt or in her office, for example). You should be comparing them to the Israelis. If you really need to talk about intersectionality, that is. It is all a matter of punctuation.
I thought this article was about Gaza and not Hebron!
In his abstract, Thomas gives the impression that he knows what goes on in the streets of Gaza. But Thomas was not in Gaza. (Oh well.) And I suppose he has no idea of the differences between the leaderships and populations of Gaza and Hebron. He wrote the bulk of his article about Hebron, a place he thinks he knows but from his writing, it becomes clear that he only knows the propaganda. For someone who purports to write an academic article, there was no evidence of scholarly curiousity. Next time he visits Israel and/or the Palestinian Authority, I invite him to contact me and I will get him in touch with Jews and Arabs who can broaden his perspective beyond propaganda bytes.
Who Is James R. Thomas?
He was in Hebron as a member of the:
… Christian Peace Maker Teams. CPT resides in the midst of all the trouble in Hebron as it seeks to assist as a mediator among settlers, Palestinians, and soldiers. CPT Palestine is a faith-based organization that supports Palestinian-led, nonviolent, grassroots resistance to the Israeli occupation and the unjust structures that uphold it.
And as part of his ‘balanced’ view of the situation, he talks in his article about Shuhada Street being closed to Palestinian Arabs but does not mention that 97% of Hebron is closed to Israeli Jews. To do otherwise would make it hard to justify his ‘Palestinians–good / Israelis–bad’ attitude. Just look at this CPT Facebook post:
Look how, when referring to Israel’s Defense Minister, they put the word, Defense, in scare quotes. With this show of lack of respect they consider themselves mediators? They call the Palestinian Arab residents of Hebron community members and the Jewish residents settlers, triggering associations with colonialism. They refer to the Israeli army as the “Israeli Occupying Forces”. And they consider themselves mediators?
Also: they accuse Israel of “confiscating land surrounding the Ibrahimi Mosque” when what was appropriated was a square piece of land that could accomodate an elevator, making the prayer halls accessible to disabled Jews, Muslims and Christians who find the stairs a prohibitive barrier to climb. The Hebron Municipality refused invitations to participate in this humanitarian project, forcing Israel to take it on herself. Will the PA forbid Muslims from using the completed elevator? Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face? And then somehow turning this around to be another blame-Israel propaganda tool?
Seeing the language Thomas and the CPT use, it is clear that any mediation that CPT would offer Israel would be total capitulation and appeasement to the Palestinian Authority. In view of this, it becomes clear that Thomas’ article is nothing more than an anti-Israeli propaganda piece under cover of an academic article supposedly about intersectionality and pretending to be concerned with racism in the USA from a faith perspective. I have not read the rest of the articles in the special issue in which it appears so I cannot guess whether or not the editors would condone such a thing had they more understanding of the long history of Israel within the overwhelmingly Muslim Middle East.
I won’t even tell you what he says about Jesus at the end of his article. If you are curious, you can read it yourself. The article is open-access.
Feature Image Credit: pixabay