VIDEO & TRANSCRIPT
“The theme of Israeli Apartheid Week this year is Unite Against Racism. This is an important mandate because we are increasingly recognizing that the struggle against racism is global and this acknowledgement makes us recognize that racism is far more complicated than was previously assumed, particularly during the era when the only consistent purveyors of official racism were understood to be the United States and South Africa, of course.”
Published on Uoftdivest, June 25, 2020
English transcript below. Video includes closed captioning.
It is hard to imagine a more fitting time to share her radical, anti-imperialist vision of abolition and internationalism than in this moment when the movement for Black Lives is pushing forward, at great sacrifice, the program of defunding the police and ending the prison-industrial complex and state-sanctioned violence. Dr. Davis explores the connections between movements and struggles in the Global South and how we can build towards liberation based on her experience in the struggle over many decades. Her words inspire us, as do the social uprisings against anti-Black racism now taking place globally.
On this occasion, we affirm our unwavering solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle for Black liberation worldwide. We join the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), Faculty for Palestine and Palestinian civil society in supporting the “righteous struggle for justice, and for an abolitionist approach to police reform, reparation, and liberation.” We also join our fellow UofT groups, the Black Students Association, the Carribean Studies Student Union, the Black Faculty Group, CUPE 3902, the Graduate Student Union Executive Committee and its Race & Ethnicity Caucus, the Indigenous Education Network, the Faculty List and others in demanding effective representation and support at the University of Toronto for Black students, Faculty, staff and communities, and for the defunding of on-campus policing. We reiterate our long-standing call for the University of Toronto to divest and boycott companies that run and profit from the military, security and prison infrastructures that are devastating the lives of Black, Indigenous and racialized people in Canada and around the world. These include G4S, Lockeed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Hewlett Packard.
While today we remember the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, and Rayshard Brooks, we also recognize that, tragically, these are only a few of the most recent Black people who have lost their lives to centuries-old racist, state-sanctioned violence. The recent deaths in Canada of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and of Chantel Moore are another reminder that the North American settler states are all cut from the same cloth. We express our love and solidarity with their families, friends and loved ones, and the communities and nations who mourn their loss. Their names and lives will be remembered long after their murderers have been forgotten.
If you are able, please contribute financially to these Black-led causes:
Black Lives Matter-Toronto — Freedom School
Black Lives Matter-Toronto — COVID-19 Black Emergency Support Fund
Black Visions Collective (Minnesota)
Baltimore Safe Haven (Maryland)
- Canadian Union Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902 Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) Committee
- CUPE 3902 Racialised Workers’ Caucus
- UofT OPIRG’s Students Against Israeli Apartheid
- UofT’s Independent Jewish Voices
- UofT’s Graduate Student Union’s BDS Committee
Thank you to our generous sponsors:
- New College Initiatives Fund; Youth, Activism and Community Initiative (Equity Studies), New College
- CUPE Ontario
- CUPE Local 3902
- CUPE Ontario International Solidarity Committee
- CUPE Local 1281
- OPIRG Toronto
- CUPE Ontario District Council – Toronto, Local 9103
- Palestine Youth Movement
- CUPE Ontario District Council – Toronto, Local 9103
- Caribbean Solidarity Network
- Casa Salvador Allende
- Latin American & Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN)
- Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu
- Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, CUPE Local 1281
- OPIRG Toronto
- Faculty for Palestine (F4P, University of Toronto)
- Students for Justice in Palestine (Ryerson University)
- Palestine Solidarity Collective (York University)
- No One Is Illegal
- UofT Leap
- Upping the Anti
- Vegans for BDS
- International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network-Canada (IJAN-Canada)
- Women in Solidarity with Palestine (WSP)
Sincere thanks to P.S. for the excellent videography.
First, let me also acknowledge the history of the land on which we are convening and emphasize the point that we are gathering on colonized land. I think that this recognition reminds us that as we deliberate on the importance of solidarity with the Palestinian people who have been subjected to the violence of settler colonialism, we also acknowledge the fact that here in the Americas, here on Turtle Island especially, there is a related history of settler colonialism and therefore we honour those whose land was stolen. Those who were subjected to an unthinkable genocide and who were subsequently subjected to a genocidal erasure to epistemic violence that is responsible for the fact that many people believe that it is alright to ignore the continued struggles of Indigenous people for sovereign control over their land and their languages and their cultures. Some of the few really bizarre exceptions to this erasure can be found in sports teams that continue to refuse to change their derogatory names; and of course, in the U.S. in 2020 there is still sports teams that call themselves the Kansas City chiefs or the Atlanta Braves or the Cleveland Indians and I can go on and on. This process of ideologically belittling Indigenous people of course leads to historical amnesia and there is no place on Turtle Island, there is no place in all of the Americas that is without a history preceding the invasion by Europeans [audience cheer].
The colonizers were conquerors whose purpose was to settle on the land they found but the presence of people was an obstacle and therefore they set about destroying them or converting them. This colonization process constitutes the foundational racism of our histories. In the U.S., slavery cannot be accurately understood except in relation to Settler Colonialism. The histories of the U.S and Canada are settler colonial histories but if we look at Israel, we do discover a difference because the state of Israel is the only settler colonial nation that continues to try to expand. More recent developments such as, and we’ve heard about this, the plans to further annex the Jewish settlements of the West Bank remind us that possibilities of self determination and sovereignty in Palestine have been severely curtailed. The important activism and advocacy of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Students for Justice in Palestine, BDS activism and others throughout this region are helping to transform the landscape of the campaign for solidarity with Palestine and, in the process, is strengthening our struggles against racism and our overall quest for social justice. These organizations, these and other organizations and activists, are a part of a strong global community of people who understand that their stance against the occupation of Palestine is linked to progressive movements against racism, misogyny, xenophobia, assault on the environment and all efforts to make this planet a better place for us all.
I am very happy that my participation in Israeli Apartheid Week here at the University of Toronto coincides with International Women’s Day. It gives us the opportunity to very specifically reflect on the role of Palestinian women and the ongoing resistance to Israeli apartheid. And in this context I would like to evoke Leila Khaled and Rasmeah Odeh. [loud crowd applause] Yes, with both of whom I have had the opportunity to speak at events designed to further generate solidarity with Palestine. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, when people are gathering and are marching and are protesting and resisting all over the world, I want us to take note of the fact that there are currently 43 Palestinian women in Israeli prisons. According to Addameer—which is the prisoner support and human rights organization in Palestine—since the beginning of the occupation, over 10,000 Palestinian women have been arrested and I want to read a short passage from Addameer’s statement on the occasion of International Women’s Day: “in the past year and just like previous years, Palestinian women and girls are routinely arrested from the streets, from Israeli military checkpoints and during violent night raids on their homes. Those military incursions are accompanied by the presence of Israeli soldiers, intelligence officers, and police dogs, during which destruction of household items and property damage takes place. They are blindfolded and handcuffed, and they are forcibly taken to military jeeps. Women also continue to suffer torture and ill-treatment in interrogation centers, in addition to difficult and deteriorating detention conditions at Damon prison which was once a stable for horses and a storage for tobacco.”
If you visit the Addameer website you will discover descriptions of quite a number of women who are political prisoners, including students. For example, at Birzeit university, I’ll mention one young woman whose name is Mais Abu Gush and she’s 23 years old. She’s a 4thyear university student and her house was raided by Israeli occupation forces. They were escorted by security dogs. Abu Gush was then transferred to al-Mascobiyya interrogation centre where she was subject to severe physical and psychological torture and ill treatment for at least a month. She was then transferred to Damon prison and provided with a list of charges. What’s important is that the charges included participating in University activities and coordinating a summer camp and she is still awaiting her trial. As I indicated, if you go to the website of Addameer there is an enormous amount of information about prisoners, Palestinian prisoners in general, but specifically descriptions of Palestinian women who are behind bars.
The theme of Israeli Apartheid Week this year is Unite Against Racism. This is an important mandate because we are increasingly recognizing that the struggle against racism is global and this acknowledgement makes us recognize that racism is far more complicated than was previously assumed, particularly during the era when the only consistent purveyors of official racism were understood to be the United States and? [pause] [audience member says “Canada”] [audience laughter] What was the other? [audience members say “South Africa”] South Africa, of course. And, well, yeah we know about the histories of racism in Canada but unfortunately Canada was not globally recognized as a purveyor of racism. [audience chatter] Maybe it is. But the point that I want to make is precisely because of the work that we have done here in Canada, in the United States over the last period to develop solidarity with the Palestinian people, we have expanded and deepened our understanding of the global dimensions of racism and how it is necessary to redefine the anti-Indigenous, the anti-Black, the anti-Latinx and other racisms that we challenge in this part of the world. Of course, we are aware that Israel trains police departments all over the world and of course some years ago during the Ferguson protests it was recognized that this very tiny police department in Ferguson whose name no one knew, it’s a small municipality outside of St. Louis, but the Ferguson police had been trained by the Israeli army. Israel is in part responsible for the increased militarization of police throughout this area and throughout the world. Under the mandate of the indivisibility of justice, which is a concept utilized by Dr. Martin Luther King during his lifetime, we have succeeded in bringing the question of ending the occupation and the strategy of boycott, divestment, and sanction onto the agendas of many social justice movements across the world, around the world and I should point out that this is especially true of anti-racist social justice movements. As someone who has been involved in activist efforts to generate solidarity with Palestine for at least 50 years, actually longer [audience laughter] because I was an undergraduate student between the years 1961-1965 at a Jewish university, Brandeis University, and it was there that I became familiar with the Palestinian struggles. I always point out that it was my Jewish classmates who introduced me when I was quite young to the struggle for solidarity with Palestine.
Having been involved for all of these years, more than 50, you can do the math [audience laughter] I told you when I was a student, I can remember periods during which this work, as difficult as it may be today, was far more difficult. I can remember when people were literally afraid, and of course this is still the case in some places, to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Even today we take into consideration the vast influence of the Israel lobby, the Zionist lobby and Israel’s allies especially the government that is [pause] well [audience laughter] the government that is currently occupied by someone who shall not be named for this gathering [audience laughter and applause]. But not only the U.S., Brazil and India and other countries whose political leadership has become what you might call proto-fascist
[audience sound in agreement] and it is important to point out that while we vigorously resist efforts to turn the political clock back to a more regressive period, we forcefully push forward despite these obstacles. We don’t have to assume that our work comes to a standstill because of the backwardness and interjacence of the current political leadership in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s true that the election three and a half years ago alerted right wing populace all over the planet, including in Israel, and the passage of the law barring proponents of BDS from traveling to Israel was clearly related to the retrograde position of the person who shall remain unnamed. His retrograde position in support of Israel and his specific efforts to institute travels bans and of course attacks against BDS activists attacks, against Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace, and other proponents of justice in Palestine have clearly multiplied. As I said before, we cannot allow the rising repression to prevent us from apprehending the rising resistance.
I want to talk for a moment about the recent U.N. report entitled Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid which was published in 2017 and written by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. This was at the request of eighteen Arab countries. The fact that the report was quickly singled out, was immediately denounced by the secretary general of the United Nations and removed from the website of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia is an indication of the reverberations of this ultra-conservatism—the reverberations of this ultra-conservatism within the United Nations. The term ‘apartheid’ has been used in connection with Israeli practices and occupied Palestine for a very long time and I would like to thank University of Toronto students and those here who have insisted on making the connections between the historical systems of apartheid and the current situation in the occupied territories. I understand that Israeli Apartheid Week was created here on this campus, right? [audience cheer and applause] In 2005, am I correct? [audience member: 16 years ago] There you go, 16 years ago. But now all over the country and especially on campuses of colleges and universities, Israeli Apartheid Week is observed and I understand that the markers of Israeli Apartheid Week are International Women’s Day on March 8th and the International Day of Eliminating Racism and Discrimination that is on March 21st which of course marks the Sharpeville uprising in South Africa. So thank you. Thank you, University of Toronto, not the administration [audience cheer and applause]. I wish you much success in the campaign to compel the University of Toronto to divest.
So back to the report that was co-authored by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley, it should be perhaps pointed out that they don’t use the concept of apartheid for purposes of castigation or revilement. The term apartheid is used in that report as a legal concept that has standing in international law and in the various conventions and instruments of the United Nations. The apartheid convention of the United Nations and I am quoting from the report: “sets forth that the crime of apartheid consists of discreet inhuman acts but that such acts acquire the status of crimes against humanity if they intentionally serve the core purpose of racial domination”. The report further points out that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court specifies in its definition that the presence of a “institutionalized regime” serving the “intention of racial domination constitutes apartheid” and I think the analysis presented by the report should be taken seriously and the report is still available online. It was removed from the United Nations’ page but you can find it elsewhere. I am quoting again from the report “this report finds that the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime. It first examines how the history of war, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and prolonged occupation in Palestine has led to the Palestinian people being divided into different geographic regions administered by distinct sets of laws and there is of course, A, B and C if you know about this geographical division] This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians, an attempt to weaken the will and capacity of Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance. Different methods are employed based on where Palestinians live. This is the core means by which Israel enforces apartheid and at the same time impedes international recognition of how the system works as a complimentary whole to comprise an apartheid regime.” And so, I encourage you to read the report and take seriously the analysis that is presented by Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley.
The question I want to pose now is this: why do we think it is so important to engage in public critiques of the state of Israel?
For the very same reasons that we think it is important to criticize the government and state in Canada, the government and state in the United States, people demonstrate against the U.S. in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Latin America, in Australia, have every right to engage in public criticism. I thought this was how we attempted to encourage democratic communities? Maybe I am wrong. [audience laughter] For centuries, Black people inside the U.S have been encouraged by, have benefited from and have relied on public criticism that emanated beyond the borders of the U.S. Two years ago I was in Northern Ireland and as a matter of fact it was International Women’s Day, exactly two years ago. And I was really surprised to hear that Frederic Douglas, who made a trip to Belfast in 1845, was still being evoked. There were images, murals and people were talking about his visit to Belfast, to Dublin, to Cork, to Limerick and of course Irish solidarity in the struggle against slavery represented the willingness of people there to stand up against the institution of slavery. I could give you many other examples of criticism of the U.S. government. I could talk about my own case when I was facing the death penalty on three different charges and it was only because people all over the world were willing to stand up and say no to the U.S. government that I was eventually released. And of course, more recently, we have witnessed this outpouring of public criticism and solidarity in connection with the Black Lives Matter movement. The names of Black youth killed by racist police have reverberated all over the world.
So, if it’s okay to criticize the government of the United States of America, if it’s okay to criticize the government of Canada, why is it not okay to criticize the state of Israel? The government that…now what I want to say is that I remember in my own political education, a primary aspect of that education consisted in being able to distinguish between institutions and individuals, and governments and people. In other words, even when de jure racism was the legal arena for the south, I can remember that my mother taught me not to assume that every person simply because they were white was racist.
Today we more clearly recognize the extent to which structures that produce ideologies that reproduce ideologies of racism are far more important to a clear understanding of racism than manifestations in visual ideas and attitudes; that we recognize that individuals often do the work of the state by unconsciously internalizing those ideologies and then mistaking them for their own individual thoughts or their own individual emotions. So, the point that I am making is that we do not conflate the state of Israel, its ethnic cleansing policies, its strategies of demographic engineering with all of the people who live in Israel and certainly not with all Jews. And I am make this point because we should not fear the strategies of hurling accusations of anti-Semitism at anyone who disagrees with the policies of the state of Israel. Rather we should point out the affinity of racism and antisemitism and that in standing up against the racism of the state of Israel we passionately say no to anti-Semitism as well [crowd applause].
You heard during the introduction that last year I was scheduled to receive this major human rights award in the city where I grew up, Birmingham, Alabama, from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. And before I managed to go to Birmingham to participate in the big Gala that they had organized around the award, I received a call and was told that the award would be retracted and I said: oh yes? [audience laughter] so why is that? The people who called me were afraid to reveal that it was because of my activism and advocacy around Palestinian justice, they simply told me that it was because of my public statements and my public statements were a matter of record. So I was actually kind of confused for a while. Well I don’t know some of you may have followed that story. So I did not get the award, not yet, I’ll tell you: last year, people in the community including the mayor of Birmingham, who was a young black man, protested the decision of the civil rights institute and they indicated that they wanted to organize the gathering themselves and so this time last year there was a gathering that was far larger than anything the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute would have organized and it included vast numbers of Black people but also white people of Birmingham but also Jewish people who came. As a matter of fact, there was a Shabbat the night before I spoke that emphasized the importance of recognizing that justice is indivisible. And so finally they did contact me again and they indicated that they wanted to offer me the civil rights prize again—[audience laughter] the human rights award—and I said well what has changed? [audience laughter] And they indicated that they had gotten rid of a bunch of members of board of directors. [audience applause] So, this was an indication where their project completely backfired because it provided an occasion for people all over the country and other parts of the world who were aware of this to think seriously about this notion that everybody in the world deserves justice except the Palestinian people, and so as a matter of fact I received many statements from Jewish organizations and a large group of Jewish Rabbis wrote a statement protesting the action. That’s a good thing and it made many of us realize that there’s actually been progress over the last period. Because one could not have imagined that kind of outpouring of support say 10-15 years ago. [pause] Sorry I just lost my timer, there we go.
I want to talk a little bit about international solidarity and how important it is and how every pivotal movement in our recent history has had a clear relationship to global events, the Vietnam war in the 60s and 70s, the anti-apartheid movement in the 80s and 90s, the effort to stave off the Islamophobia and the anti-Arab racism of the Otts and the Tins, is that the way you say it? The Otts and the Tins? And of course, leading up to the present. So thinking about that period, it seems to me that this is precisely the era, this is supposed to be the era of the dismantling of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. [audience applause] Now why do I say this? I say this because there was an important momentum that took place in the 60s, the late 60s, the early 70s, that led in 1975, to the passage of the United Nations Resolution 3379. And of course this was the resolution that recognized Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination. This was supposed to be, this was supposed to be the beginning of, or at least an important conjuncture in the trajectory towards Palestinian freedom. For those of us struggling against racism in this part of the world, and against apartheid in South Africa, this was a pivotal moment it allowed us to recognize the inter-relationality of these contexts and these struggles. It meant that all three struggles were intertwined. The struggle against racism in the U.S., the struggle against apartheid in south Africa and the struggle against the occupation of Palestine. It wasn’t until 1991 that the U.N. revoked this resolution and if we had time, we can talk about the historical transformations, and the sort of retrograde conditions that were responsible for the revocation of the resolution. But if they thought that this would destroy the movement for justice in Palestine, they were wrong and as a matter of fact Palestinians have taught us about the longevity of struggle. Year before last month was the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. This struggle has already spanned three or four generations, and people have not given up.
I see parallels between the struggle against anti-Black racism and the Palestinian struggle for sovereignty and justice and freedom, and particularly the ways in which those struggles and that impulse towards freedom has been passed down from one generation to the next. Of course, when one thinks about Black struggles we have to go back 500 years or so and it’s kind of amazing that people have not given up and what’s another parallel I see between the struggles is the ways in which Palestinian people and Black people in this part of the world have managed not only to continue to fight back but they have created beauty in the process and held on. [audience applause] They have held on to democratic ideas and as a matter of fact if one wants to point to the force in this part of the world that is responsible for the enlargement of democracy or that which has been responsible for continually challenging the government of the United States, it’s Black struggle. [audience applause] It’s so bizarre that people often refer to Black liberation struggles as special interest [audience laughter] or as identity politics that don’t really matter after all but it seems to me that the very heart of the struggle for democracy–and when I say the struggle for democracy because we clearly have not achieved democracy in any sense [audience applause]–in 2014 when the Ferguson protests occurred and Black Lives Matter was crafted into a network and then an overall movement, it was with the assistance of Palestinian solidarity. And as a matter of fact, one can argue that because Palestinians who are involved in on the ground resistance in Palestine, when Palestinians offered solidarity to Ferguson protestors, it was not only important in the sense that it gave the Ferguson protestors encouragement but that it served as the first step in creating global solidarity with the Ferguson protests and one might argue that we would not be where we are today in terms of finally, finally being able to challenge racism.
I mean there was a time, I remember, not that long ago when I would talk about racism people would look at me like I was a dinosaur. [audience laughter] Right? Didn’t you know that we have a Black president [audience laughter] and that’s obviously the last barrier produced by racism, don’t you know this is a post-racial era? [audience laughter] And now of course we are at least able to publicly speak about racism and white supremacy. What I am saying is that all of these developments are very much related to that move by Palestinians offering solidarity to the Ferguson protestors but at the same time as many people are not aware of the fact that the Ferguson protesters weren’t all Black. There were Palestinian-American protestors who were on the line in Ferguson, as there were Latinx protestors. Oftentimes we think too simplistically, we assume that just because the struggle is called a Black struggle or struggle for Black liberation that all the actors involved in that struggle are Black. But that has never been the case. As a matter of fact, the first slave uprisings, the first uprisings by enslaved Africans in this part of the world were assisted by Indigenous people [audience applause] and therefore they are just a part of that struggle as anyone who was African. As a consequence of this forging of a global solidarity with the Ferguson protestors, people involved in the movement against state violence learned fundamental lessons about racism and about the police. We learn that we cannot simply point to individual perpetrators of racist police violence and demand simply that they be made individually accountable. Black people in the U.S. can also be U.S.-centric and we learned about the ideological work that happens on all of us. We discovered as a result of that offer of solidarity from Palestinians that the Israeli army gets its tear gas from the U.S. and we learned that police forces get their training and anti-terrorism from the Israeli army; and therefore, racism acquires aspects of the so-called anti-terrorist strategies. This is why the important demand for demilitarization of the police began to replace the simple call for the prosecution for the arrest and prosecution of the individual police officer. You know, because we can constitute individuals all we want and the structure will remain intact and people who do not understand that often argue: well that wasn’t an act of racist police violence because the policeman or woman is Black. Well of course around the same time as Ferguson happened, we saw Assata Shakur named one of 10 most dangerous terrorists in the world and she still remains on the FBI’s list of the most dangerous terrorists in the world and there is a 2-million-dollar reward on her head to this day.
The point that I am making is that we have learned to develop more complicated more intersectional approaches in our struggle against racism which brings us to the question of how Palestine solidarity helps to nourish and further feminist approaches to social justice and what we have begun to call abolition feminism. Certainly, we can talk about Palestinian women’s contribution to the struggle and I’ve already evoked Leila Khaled, we can talk about Rasmeah Odeh’s struggle and the sexual abuse she endured and the fact that she was deported from the U.S. which was her adopted home. We can talk about the important work of women’s organizations such as the General Union of Palestinian Women which is a part of the coalition of Palestinian civil society organizations that called for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. We can talk about feminist academics at Birzeit University, and perhaps about the fact that one of our foremost feminist philosophers Judith Butler is also one of the most outspoken supporters of the Palestinian struggle. But, I want to focus on the way that the Palestinian struggle has provided practical lessons regarding the interconnections of race and gender and sexuality and ability. For example, the analysis of Pink washing which had been so helpful to us. Israel likes to represent itself as the paragon of democracy in the region and its arrogance is that it is a haven, or likes to think of itself as a haven for LGBTQ communities but Israel does not say that it is welcoming to queer Palestinians who call for justice for their people even as they recognize how important it is to challenge homophobia and transphobia within the struggle. And likewise, it is counterproductive to assume that one should oppose transphobia, for example, only when it becomes trendy to do so. [crowd snapping.] When one gets to talk about bathroom use for example and pronouns and I am not belittling that because I think that’s very important but at the same time, we should focus on the incredible violence that is inflicted on trans people, especially trans women, and especially trans women of colour, black trans women and women of colour. And of course, the Trans movement has had a powerful impact on our struggles for prison abolition.
If we reach the conclusion that no qualitative change will ever result from the reform of prisoners, as a matter of fact the entire history of the institution of the prison has been a history of reform. Yes, and reform has only created more repressive, more powerful, more permanent systems of imprisonment. So, long ago theorists and activists reached the conclusion that prison should be abolished and when that discussion about the abolition of prisons goes all the way back to the invention of prisons as imprisonment as a mode of punishment. Back in the late 1700s, there were debates about whether prisons were undemocratic. They’re actually quite “democratic” because imprisonment consists precisely in the divestment of democratic rights and as a matter of fact prison as punishment could have only emerged in a quote “democratic”, when I saw democratic I should say capitalist democracy and bourgeois democracy. [audience applause]Recently we’ve come to recognize that prisons are gendered institutions and in the first place its gender structure is a binary structure which reflects the ideology of gender in the larger society; and therefore, the abolition of the prison would also have to entail the abolition of gender policing which leads me to further reflect on what we in the abolitionist movements have learned from the Palestinian struggle. If I were to venture general critique of the prison reform movement which spans the decade from the early the late 1700s early 1800s to the present, I would say that many reformists, as important and as passionate as they have been about eliminating cruel and inhumane punishment, they fail to recognize that punishment can only be transformed if the social context, if the larger society is radically transformed. When one looks at Palestine, this is self evident. It is impossible to address the problem of imprisonment without looking at the larger society. And of course we use the term ‘mass incarceration’ which can sometimes be misleading because there are those particularly in the current government in the right wing circles who say that they’re opposed to mass incarceration. What they want to do is get as many people as possible outside of the prisons using electronic bracelets and so forth and so on that it doesn’t cost so much. When one looks at Palestine, one sees that it’s impossible to address the problem of imprisonment without looking at the occupation, without looking at the larger society and currently there are over 5 thousand Palestinian prisons. But over the years, virtually every family in Palestine has been affected by political imprisonment and during my visit approximately 10 years ago, I was struck by the fact that almost everybody I met had either been in prison or had relatives in prison.
Since the occupation began in 1976, more than 80,000 Palestinians from the West bank and Gaza have been imprisoned. 40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank have gone to jail at one time or another. You know we have a habit of calling the U.S. a prison nation and there are so many books with that title but Palestine under Israeli occupation is certainly the worst possible example of a carceral society or maybe I should say the best example of a carceral society. So, here, in this part of the world we have learned not to trust reform strategies that call for ankle bracelets and someone the other day told me we should not use that term ‘ankle bracelets’ because they’re shackles. House arrest, for example, and the extension of other carceral strategies into the larger society and of course wherever we went people said Palestine is the largest open-air prison in the world. So insights that have emanated from the struggle against the Israeli occupation of Palestine have helped us to understand that prison abolition which targets the most dramatic example of structural racism in the U.S. is an essential aspect of the struggle against racism; but also, as Mariame Kaba has emphasized, prison is not feminist. At least not feminist when you think about anti-racist anti-capitalist feminists because there is also carceral feminists and we recognize that carceral feminism does not represent the best interests of Black people, Muslims and people of colour etcetera.
So, we are united against racism in the U.S. We are uniting against racism in Canada. We are uniting against racism in Palestine and Israel, and let me conclude by emphasizing once more that justice is indeed indivisible and the struggle for freedom continues. A luta continua. Thank you. [loud applause]
2020سيتم إصدار الترجمات باللغتين العربية والإسبانية في 7 يوليو
Las traducciones en árabe y español estarán disponibles el martes 7 de julio de 2020.
The Arabic and Spanish translations will be available by Tuesday, July 7, 2020.