“Shared Solidarity: Palestinians and African Americans in the 1960s and Today”

Dr. Maha Nassar shares parallels of Palestinian and Africans American struggles for freedom
By Nabiha Asim

Freedom is an ongoing struggle despite the era and despite the amount of progress made. This struggle was documented by African Americans and Palestinians in the 1960’s alike through various forms of literature. Through observing literary works, Maha Nassar, Ph.D., C97, English Language and Literature, assistant professor in the School of Middle Eastern North African Studies at the University of Arizona, shared her new research of how Palestinians view their own struggle in the context of parallels they see for the African American struggle for freedom.
Thursday, February 4, Nassar visited Benedictine University to explain how writing was used a political tool for both Palestinians and Africans Americans in the 1960’s, and how they used the power of the pen to foster political change.
“My initial thought about the program was nice. I liked how it talked a little bit about the Palestinian struggles for Freedom living under Israeli occupation. I feel like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets very little attention in American schools and it’s nice to see the topic being discussed and help raise more awareness on the issue,” said junior Bisan Khattom.
Going through literary writings including poetry, short stories, essays and journalistic writings of the Arabian intellectuals, Nassar noticed many themes that were similar to the writings of African Americans. Her research found how Palestinians saw direct parallels of the situation in America to blacks.
“Palestinian activist and intellectuals in Israel considered coverage of the civil rights movement, not merely as interesting news, but they drew upon the experiences of African Americans in order to help them make sense of their own struggle,” said Nassar.
Nassar was particularly struck by an essay by Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestenian poet, written when he was an aspiring poet and a citizen of Israel. Darwish’s essay called, “A letter to a Negro”, according to Nassar, reflected a sense of connection with the personal struggles of James Baldwin, an African American novelist. In the letter, Darwish wrote that he felt James was writing about him personally.
“[Darwish] voiced his sense of comradery with black Americans who affirmed his own humanity,” said Nassar.
Nassar discussed the struggles for liberation for both African Americans and Palestinians comparing change movements such as Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Black Power Movement in context of their histories. The presentation included discussions of the situations of the four groups of Palestinians struggling for liberation who have turned to the experiences and for inspiration and support. These groups include: Palestinian 5citizens of Israel, Palestinians in exile, and Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian Americans.
“Being a Palestinian American, I feel like the people that struggle and suffer the most for freedom would be the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because they’re the ones experiencing everything first hand on a daily basis putting up with the harassment by Israeli authorities on a daily basis and live under various restrictions and have very limited access to resources,” said Khattom.
In the end, Nassar reminded us all of the great work that’s being done to bridge the gaps between various communities in which much of the work being done by millennials of our generation.
“As we also take stalk of the ongoing efforts of people of good will, of all faiths, ethnicities, races and backgrounds, we will soon hopefully see a day where we will be closer to the point where we can have true liberty and justice for all,” said Nassar.