Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2002, page 91

African-American Activism

Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembered in Calls for Peace and Justice

Black Voices for Peace (BVFP), formed by longtime anti-apartheid activist Damu Smith as a forum for African Americans to vocalize their concerns following the national crisis of the 9/11 attacks, held a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day teach-in and workshop Jan. 21 at the AME Metropolitan Church in Washington, DC. As victims of racial profiling themselves, members of BVFP are critical of racial and religious-based profiling. Additional causes of concern include the use of secret U.S. military tribunals, the war on Afghanistan, the PATRIOT act assault on civil liberties, and foreign policies that create a climate for terrorism.

BVFP also seeks to ensure that communities and workers adversely affected by the 9/11 attacks will receive adequate support, and that postal workers affected by anthrax will receive as much attention as congressional or television personnel. As part of its platform, BVFP calls on the U.S. government to end all financial and military support for Israel until the Jewish state ceases its policies of “illegal settlements, occupation, and violence against the Palestinian people.” Moreover, BVFP urges the implementation of an international monitoring force in Palestine, and an end to sanctions on Iraq.

A bevy of speakers educated the audience of about 500 people on a range of topics, including the importance of youth involvement in politics, education, and the often precarious situation of peoples of color around the world. Throughout, speakers stressed King’s commitment to nonviolent action to bring about change.

Muslim activist Mauri’ Saalakhan,director of operations for The Peace and Justice Foundation, told the audience that the tears of a Palestinian mother are just as relevant as the tears of an Israeli mother. He further asked that the audience take a page from King’s philosophy and not ask if an action is safe or popular, but rather if it is right. Popular radio activist Matsimella Mphumo reminded his listeners that 11 years earlier, on King’s birthday, George Bush, Sr. started the war on Iraq. Thirty-four years ago, he added, King had said that war was wrong, and that must be said again today. Mphumo stressed that those opposed to the war were not opposed to those who had died, but to the foreign policy that caused their deaths. He demanded that the principles of the U.N. Conference on Racism be followed.

BVFP founder Smith stirred the audience with an impassioned denunciation of the double standard the U.S. uses with regard to Palestine and Israel. When Israeli military bulldozers roust Palestinians from their beds at 3:00 a.m. to demolish their homes, he pointed out, or when Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children, or stop Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, it’s considered a necessary military action. When Palestinians resist, however, it’s called terrorism. Although both sides participate in violence, Smith reiterated, Israel is the occupier and Palestine the occupied, and to have peace there must also be justice.

Regarding Afghanistan, Smith discussed the deaths of innocent people of color, pointing out that there also were people of color among Americans who had died fighting in Afghanistan, including the first female American casualty. Smith also announced a follow-up meeting Feb. 16 at Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, DC, and a plan to commemorate King’s April 4, 1968 assassination with an inquiry into FBI and CIA sponsorship of terrorism.

American Civil Liberties Union activist Laura Murphy informed the audience of provisions of the PATRIOT act such as the government’s ability to detain individuals indefinitely and without probable cause, the allowing of “sneak-and-peek” warrants that may be executed without the knowledge of those under investigation, and the fact that these measures were available to any criminal investigation whatsoever. She asked the audience to speak up and speak out, as King would have done.

Dr. Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, exhorted the audience to fight for the freedom and liberation of all people, and reiterated that there would never be a successful fight against terrorism until the Palestinians had a homeland. Larry Holmes of ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) urged his listeners to use the 9/11 attacks as an opportunity to change the world.

Joshua Reuben of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI) said that King’s nonviolent approach inspired his organization, and saluted BVFP for taking up the issue of Palestine. Imam Sheikh Latif Ali, chairman of the Imams Council of New York, observed that “the action plan Islam proposes is the same as that King proposed.”

Many other activists spoke, and the audience was both entertained and informed by a variety of artists, including singers SELAM and Al McCray, Milwaukee poets Kwabana and Ms. Jazzi, hiphop artist M1 of Dead Prez, and the Malcolm X Dancers. The diversity, strength, beauty, and numbers of those participating did homage to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. BVFP may be contacted at 1(800) 820-BVFP or online at <www.bvfp.org>.

Sara Powell

BVFP Call For End to Israel’s Occupation of Palestine

Black activists launched a national effort to challenge U.S.-Israeli policy in the Middle East at the National Press Cub on Jan. 15, the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrated nationally the following Monday. Black Voices for Peace (BVFP), the newly formed national network of black community peace activists, was joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Arab and other Americans to call for an end to U.S. financial and military support for Israel’s occupation, settlements and violence.

Only justice will provide a solution to the war on terrorism and violence throughout the world, noted many of the speakers. Rev. Hagler said that black voices of conscience need to enter this debate. Hagler recognized that people of color all over the world must work for peace and justice. People must be respectful of Palestinians who are working for self-determination, he said.

When America spends millions of dollars on war abroad, said Damu Smith, it is not spending money on slums and education at home. Safa Al-Ahmed noted that Americans can’t turn their back on Palestinians because of a boat load of guns and ammunition, when the U.S. supplies billions of dollars of weaponry to Israel each year.

Ruby Sales said that many black people remember when the world was silent about apartheid in South Africa. “We believe that Palestinians, like South Africans, deserve the right to their homeland,” she said, adding that the Palestinian children who were shot for throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers reminded her of Emmitt Louis Till,the 14-year-old black child who was murdered by a white mob in the ’50s which threw his body in the Tallahatchie River for whistling at a white woman. She suggested that both sides “lay down their weapons and study war no more.”

Mahdi Bray said that an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. He recalled his grandfather, whose home was attacked by Klansmen opposed to his work for voter registration. “The Palestinian issue is the same soup in a different bowl,” observed Bray.

Hussain Ibish described the pass cards, curfews, checkpoints and squalor Palestinians suffer each day, comparing their lot to the luxury and swimming pools enjoyed by Jewish settlers. “Would you live under those circumstances?”Ibishasked. “You pay for it and support it.”

Black men and women understand civil rights abuse and terrorism better than many in the United States, Eric Toure Mohammed said. “We have the opportunity to save the Palestinian nation.

Blacks, Jews, Muslims and Christians worked for civil rights in South Africa and America, observed Imam Johari. “Something happened to this precious relationship. Let us work together again, for the struggle isn’t over yet. Let freedom reign in Palestine.”

Khalid Turaani said that Martin Luther King’s legacy must continue. Something is upside down in Washington, DC, he noted, when there is a memorial for a Holocaust the United States did not commit but no slavery memorial in this city, although this nation was responsible. It’s upside down, he said, when the worst bomb in the world is called a “Daisy” bomb, and it’s upside down when Israel’s finance minister asks the U.S. for extra aid for settlements and, simultaneously, a freeze on financial assets for an organization that provides relief services to Palestinians.

Each Israeli who lives in the illegal settlement Ras Al Amoud already gets a $11,235 down payment gift for a new house, Turaani said. Does the U.S. give that kind of a gift to its own people who want homes? It’s upside down, he concluded, when a boat with 50 tons of weapons creates an uproar, when thousands of tons of weapons are shipped legally by our government each year to Israel.

Damu Smith concluded the news conference, which was not covered by the print media, by declaring that not another dime of Americans’ paychecks should finance this cycle of violence. Instead, he said, it’s time to raise black voices for peace.

—Delinda C. Hanley

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