Being black, being Palestinian

It is hard for me to see Ferguson through anything other than Palestinian eyes.

The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, as he was unarmed and reportedly surrendering, has triggered protests in Missouri against aggressive police action.  The protests have been met, quite expectedly, with aggressive police action.  This aggressive police action will be met with more protests, and on and on we go.  Sound familiar?

The similiarities between Ferguson and Palestine are stark.  Shared experiences, sentiments, and anger abound.  As it turns out, being black here and being Palestinian over there aren’t really that different.

As black Americans filled the streets of Ferguson to decry what they saw as the unjustified killing of one of their young men, they were met by an over-militarized police presence looking to crush them.  Sound familiar?

Their protests were welcomed with tear gas and rubber bullets.  Sound familiar?

Well, it sounds familiar to us, so familiar that many Palestinians took to Twitter to advise their American counterparts in Ferguson on how to deal with such attacks.  We saw tweets like, “Remember to not touch your face when tear-gassed or put water on it.” And, “Always make sure to run against the wind /to keep calm when you’re teargassed, the pain will pass, don’t rub your eyes!” And my personal favorite, “Don’t keep much distance from the police, if you’re close to them they can’t tear gas.”  Yes, we Palestinians are very creative when it comes to anti-anti-protesting. We are professional protestors.

Something interesting happened on CNN on Friday. As Don Lemon was reporting from a crowd of Ferguson’s black citizens (who make up 67% of the city’s population), he went from individual to individual, taking opinions and testimony.  As the mic was being passed around, the overwhelming sentiments expressed were those of suspicion, mistrust, and skepticism of the police.  Citizen after citizen expressed anger at how the police pointed to Brown’s alleged criminal activity, dehumanizing him in a way that seemed like it was tailored to somehow justify the actions of a police officer who shot an unarmed citizen who was reportedly surrendering, with his hands up.  It got even more bizarre when, a few hours later, the police then announced that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, had no idea that the young black man he had stopped had any possible connection to a crime.  Blaming the victim, justifying excessive force, and outright lying are things a Palestinian sees from the Israeli government on a daily basis.

But what seemed most familiar to me was how the black residents there lacked a particular emotion regarding a white police officer killing a young black citizen, leaving his body laying in the street for hours.  They weren’t shocked, not even a little bit.  They clearly felt sad, angry, and disenfranchised.  But they weren’t shocked or surprised.  I know how that feels.  Or how it doesn’t feel.

Above all, the most obvious and discernible resemblance between Palestine and Ferguson is the one that is the most chilling of all.  On the night after Brown’s death, black protesters filled the streets of Ferguson.  A local officer was caught on tape, bellowing at the citizens flowing onto the streets, “Bring it… all you f—ing animals, bring it.”  Similarly, Israeli soldiers have been known to pass time by placing Palestinian children in their crosshairs and boast about how many more they have killed.  In Ferguson, there is at least one too many officers who sees black protestors as animals, and in Israel, there are least two too many soldiers who see Palestinians in the same way.

As one Palestinian put it on Twitter, “The Palestinian people know what it means to be shot while unarmed because of your ethnicity.”

It’s bad enough when someone sees you as a creature unworthy of the most basic of human protections.  It’s infinitely worse when that someone is also pointing a gun at you.  There is nothing scarier than that.  If you’re wondering what that might feel like, ask a black American… or a Palestinian.  Either way, you’ll get the same answer.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. Police acted in self-defense because Ferguson was anti-white-supremacy and he was terrorizing the police with the color of his skin!

  2. Brilliant analogy. Blacks and Palestinians are second class citizens in their their own land. They are ‘different’ than those in power and easily isolated and discriminated against. Riots and rebellions stem from injustice, and a police state is just to maintain the status quo.
    But I’m surprised you didn’t address the issue that Israel is training our police.

  3. Thank you for this, Amer. It is also why the ANC, and humanitarian leaders in South Africa, have been such stalwart supporters of Palestinian rights. Too many parallels to be drawn.

  4. I thought the story was going to be about Blacks in Palestine and how they are treated by their white citizens and authorities. But it was about all the stories that I have read in the past – Israel and it war on Palestine. There is nothing wrong with that, but don’t mislead or beat me over the head with your agendas!

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