Category Archives: Black Palestinian solidarity

Stand proud. Fearlessly. Together.

Dear friends and supporters,

During these first weeks of the Trump presidency I am reminded, more than ever, of the importance of resistance that is grounded in the values I hold most dear. Community. Equity. Love. Human Dignity. Freedom. Justice.

This short video embodies those values:

The video shows scenes from my play about the police killing of a Palestinian teenager interspersed with the reactions of audience members at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, drawing parallels between structures of oppression in Israel and here in the U.S.–and linking the struggles for liberation and equality.

The connections revealed in the video are profound.  The sense of possibility expressed in communal joint struggle is deeply inspiring. This inspiration is reflected in the words that audience members called out after post-play discussions:
“Stand Proud.”
“Fearlessly.”
“Together.”

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Participants in a community residency in Gainesville, FL rehearse for a staged reading of There Is A Field

I hope you will take a moment to watch–and share! I would love to hear your responses if you do!

In solidarity, in struggle, and in community,
Jen Marlowe
Playwright/Producer, There Is A Field
Founder, Donkeysaddle Projects
donkeysaddle@gmail.com

[Donkeysaddle Projects is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Donkeysaddle Projects must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.}

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Filed under Asel Asleh, Black Palestinian solidarity, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel

Activism, movement building, and fighting structural inequality

Dear friends,

Below, please find a blog post that I wrote for Hedgebrook, a phenomenal women’s writing residency and community of women writers that I have been a part of since 2010.

Activism, movement building, and fighting structural inequality

The play ended and my colleague Carlton Mackey (founder of 50 Shades of Black) invited the audience to share one-word reflections on their experiences. The students at Bowie State University, an historically Black institution in Bowie, MD sat in silence for several moments before their words came pouring out:

 “Familiar.”

“Discrimination.”

“Baltimore.”

“Relatable.”

“Ferguson.”

“Reality.”

 The play, called There Is A Field, tells the story of a 17-year old boy who had been killed by the police.

But it was not situated in America. The play was about Aseel Asleh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was killed by Israeli police on October 2, 2000, one of 12 unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel killed by Israeli security forces at the start of the Second Intifada.

Read the rest here.

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Students at Bowie State University watching There Is A Field

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“Ideals are our north stars:” Reflections on THERE IS A FIELD from death row

(Dear friends, 
I sent a copy of my play “There Is A Field” to my friend George Wilkerson, who is on North Carolina’s death row. George is part of a drama group that is considering performing the play. With his permission, I am posting here his reflections upon reading the play, which are both on the play itself and the larger Palestinian/Israeli conflict. If anyone has comments or responses for George, please post and I will send them to him!)

Hey Jen,

I finished reading There Is A Field. It’s very poignant. You have a gift of making people relatable–of finding the common humanity in everyone. I thought it was clever of you to  begin the play with the emails. It allowed me to view their intimate exchanges without asking anything of me, without arguing for/against anything. It had the effect of drawing me in, of investing emotionally with the sibling relationship; I have 3 brothers and one sister. That shared experience gave me a framework for understanding.

I identify with Aseel, in that people tell me I’m an idealist. The way it’s said is as if6idealism is disconnected from reality. Like I’m just a dreamer. However, to me, idealism is what shapes reality. Ideals are our north stars. They guide us, give us direction,  provide a point of reference. Ideals have practical applications. They are governing principles…

One thing I see [in the world] is reactionism. There’s a temptation to demonize the oppressors and lionize the oppressed, but the issue isn’t so clearly defined. Just to be clear, oppression is wrong. Period. However, it doesn’t justify the reverse racism or prejudice that is common amongst the oppressed. I believe Gandhi said it well: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” Think: If I allow your treatment of me to determine my behavior and beliefs and how I treat you (and others of your race), then I don’t stand for anything. I am a puppet in your hands. Then, if you allow my treatment of you to determine your behavior, etc, then where are we? We are trapped in a vicious feedback loop. Dr King recognized this, so did Gandhi, which is why they advocated nonviolence. They said, stand firm, adhere to our beliefs. Do not compromise your integrity. Someone must break the cycle. Someone must take the first step. Someone must set the example. It says, “Do unto others as you want done unto you,” not “Do unto others as is done to you.” You know?

I won’t pretend to know a lot about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. As I read your play, and now your book, having connected with your real-life characters, I see a temptation within me to only see their side of the story. However, I recognize that there are more sides to every story. I sympathize and am moved to compassion for their (the Palestinians’) struggles. But if their roles were reversed, would they do the Jews any differently? I see Christians persecuted and martyred in Muslim-controlled countries, run out of their homes, their families slaughtered. None of it is okay. None of it is justifiable. Killing Jews because they killed Palestinians because they killed Jews because they killed Palestinians is not okay.

I know it’s not politically correct to speak like this, but every party involved is in violation. Christians persecute Muslims; Muslims kill Christians; Jews kill Muslims; Gays hate Christians, saying they are “intolerant” even while they themselves are being intolerant of Christians, as if Christians’ intolerance justifies their own. It’s madness. Where does it end?

Picking sides only furthers it. I am a Christian, but I believe Christianity is about LOVE. I may disagree with others’ beliefs and behaviors, but I love/accept them nevertheless. I’m not anyone’s judge.

I believe this is the place Aseel had reached. Beyond the rights or wrongs of any one religion, there is a field. We are that field: humanity. Without the religions, the biases, the prejudices, there is a law written in every heart which tells us how we ought to treat one another. It is woven into the very nature of us. This begs the question of why we hurt each other, then, if it is within our nature to love. This is a question, the answer to which determines everything that follows. Sin. The entrance of sin corrupted our nature. But I’m not here to preach. I’m here to tear down the veils, and to demonstrate humanity as God designed us, ie, to live a life governed by love.

The way I give people my friendship immediately is because I believe in love. Sure, people have hurt me and no doubt will again. But I heal, and quickly, because I forgive. Refusal to forgive is what keeps wounds open. The more people hurt me and I forgive, the stronger I get.

–George T. Wilkerson

 

 

 

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Filed under Asel Asleh, Black Palestinian solidarity, Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, Palestine/Israel

Justice would have served us all–reflections from Kenneth Foster, serving a life sentence in TX

(Below, please find reflections from my friend Kenneth Foster, who is currently serving a life sentence in Texas and had previously been in Texas’s death row. Spoiler alert: my favorite quote is at the end: “Remembering and forgetting are both political acts”)

Imperialism is a word that many of us are familiar with. While the word itself may not be ancient, its ideology has been around for eons. And while we may think of wars over-seas, armies encroaching other territories, war ships when we think of Imperialism—what happens when it becomes local? Domesticated? How do we recognize it? How do we see it upon ourselves as we see it inflicted upon other places?

The average citizen does not realize the stretch of the U.S. military which executes Imperialism to precision, and affords its allies to do the same. Does the average citizen know that there’s only around 46 countries (if not less by now) with NO U.S. military presence? Thus making it around 156 countries with U.S. troops. Then 63 countries (give or take a few) with U.S. military bases and troops? How about the fact that the Pentagon currently rents, or owns, around 702 over-seas bases in about 130 countries and has at least another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. That doesn’t even scratch the surface.

But what happens when this mentality turns in? It is no longer extended outwards, but is focused inwards? This is not just a nod towards the advancements in technology which brings more surveillance, but brings a force that crashes down on the heads of its every day citizens. What we are seeing in the news every day—unarmed citizens being gunned down with no charges being brought, more police presence, more laws attacking citizens’ rights to organize, exercise free speech, vote —is not just being “tough on crime,” but is an unavoidable manifestation of what has been practiced years upon years by this government.

There’s two places I see these behaviors being carried out on a daily basis, though they are two places to have unlikely similarities: Palestine and the American prison system. Before you shake that off, understand that there are five main institutions in the world: mental, educational, religious, military and penal. All of which share commonalities that might put a shiver in your spine. The educational, however, separates itself from the other four because it is an institution that has become a social vehicle used to publicly establish rank and class. Yet, the other four possess a dark side that dabbles in the physical (and sometimes violent) which seeks to bend the mind and spirit. Especially the latter two institutions.

The military and penal institutions are ones that mirror each other with a chilling effect. They both are built on bringing in a person, breaking them down from their old self, making them the same as everyone else, instilling brutal discipline and order, and even more brutal punishment if there is any deviation from protocol. These behaviors have become the breath of the American society. Is it that hard to believe when America possesses the most military bases in the world AND the most prisoners?

Prisons have become breeding grounds for the Imperialistic mentality. Prisoners-by law-are deemed non-citizens, therefore they are nothing to be respected. We see these same attacks being carried out in places like Palestine, on the West Bank, where homes are bulldozed, people are brutalized. How vile is it that prison authorities carry somewhat the same mentality towards its prisoners that Zionists did of Palestinian people, that it is “a land without people for a people without land.”

When people are viewed in such a scope, they are no longer people. This is why we see such indoctrination inside the military and penal institutions, because if you extend to a person the basic elements of humanity (compassion, empathy, sympathy) than they can pull themselves from under any rock.

Prisons, too, are becoming more technologically advanced with cameras filling the prisons, X-ray machines, metal detectors, urine analysis, K-9 dogs trained to sniff out narcotics and cell phones. Prisons are even filled with check points where prisoners must show ID and/or a pass to go from one part of the unit to the other. Accompanying it is orders barked at them to stay in proper uniform, stay on certain sides of the walkways, no talking! A form of control used to destroy moral, free thinking, happiness. Not much different from the military.

Now these tactics go into the neighborhoods where youths can’t go to certain areas without scrutiny. Methods like ‘stop and frisk’ are deployed to attack the every day citizen. But it’s gone from red and blue colors to who is wearing the kuffiyeh, the hijab, who is the dissident? Woe to the Arab-American who is the new nigger of the U.S.A.

As settlements rise in Palestine, American prisons continue to boom. Like twins they continue to sprout side by side. Tactics to destroy the undesired people continue to bloom—more restrictions, more oppression, more violence, more crooked laws. Kinda hard to tell which group I’m speaking of, isn’t it?

And that is my point! Imperialism is an entity without a face. It is a “thing” that can be used in any border, in any institution and by any person/group with heart cold enough to carry its flag.

We are lost in a sea of rockets, troops and machinery. We are drowning under bars, walls and batons. In a world of wars with rapid firing bullets, the only thing we may have that can keep up is words. Which means we have to fire off 1,000 words to very 100 bullets. This is why plays like “There Is A Field” and books like “I Am Troy Davis” become essential. REMEMBERING is key to humanity’s survival, because remembering and forgetting are both political acts. It’s an act that the penal and military figures know well, because when they can erase what you once were and make you something new, something trained, something robotic, then they can reign in your non-existence. Where we lack the tanks and bullets, we have to remember the power of the core of humanity. We live those on through art, poetry, music. Memory and documentation require imagination which rejects amnesia. A spirit in opposition, rather than in accommodation.

Recognizing the ailments is the first step to treatment. When people think fanatics, it’s not just people who blow themselves up. It’s also people that murder and destroy under the guise of technology or in the name of a better God.

So, as we face the same apparent inevitable Armageddon, what are we to say in the face of all we’ve done? Probably—“Mercy!”

When all along “Justice” would have saved us all.

–Kenneth Foster Jr

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Coming soon: THERE IS A FIELD

Dear friends,

It is with great excitement that I announce:
the Land Day Tour of my new play There Is A Field!

There Is A Field is a play about Aseel Asleh, a 17-year old Palestinian citizen of Israel killed by police in October 2000. Based on interviews and primary sources collected over 15 years, the play offers a uniquely personal lens for understanding inequality as the root of state violence and impunity. Audiences throughout the United States will find particular resonance with themes raised by Aseel’s life and murder, and post-play discussions and actions will create space to further explore connections and build solidarity across universal struggles for liberation and equality.

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The play emerges at a critical juncture of unprecedented mobilization for the rights of Palestinians, for Black-Palestinian solidarity, and for transnational movement-building against supremacy and state-sanctioned violence. Aseel’s life and murder, which highlights both entrenched inequality and the impunity of the State of Israel, contributes to the vital and growing national conversation around the systematic devaluation of Black life in the United States.

The Land Day Tour of There Is A Field is a professional production of the play, cast and rehearsed out of NYC, that will travel to 20 schools across ten states in March and April!  The tour coincides with the 40th anniversary of Land Day, an annual commemoration of land dispossessions and the killings of Palestinian citizens of Israel in 1976.

Check out the tour schedule here, and make plans to attend a performance at a university near you! If you don’t live near a city hosting the tour, you can still participate in the Land Day Tour by organizing your own reading of the play!

And, please consider supporting the Land Day Tour with a contribution today!

Towards justice!

Jen Marlowe
Playwright/Producer, There Is A Field

on behalf of the Land Day Tour partner organizations:
50 Shades of Black, Adalah, Code Pink, Donkeysaddle Projects, Dream Defenders, Hands Up United, Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine-National, and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

[Donkeysaddle Projects is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Donkeysaddle Projects must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.}

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Reading of an earlier version of There Is A Field in Derry, Northern Ireland

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Radical kinship: Black and Palestinian prisoners

There is an amazing history of “radical kinship” between the Black and Palestinian prisoners experience (as evidenced by a new exhibit called “George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine” which includes letter of solidarity between Palestinian and American prisoners among other artifacts). Some of the same spirit that motivated this exhibit was why I reached out to Black prisoners in the U.S., and invited them to read and respond to “The Hour of Sunlight“–the book I co-authored with my brother and former colleague Sami Al Jundi, who spent 10 years in an Israeli prison for militant anti-occupation activities as a teenager. Below is the response from Kenneth Foster Jr, previously on Texas death row, now serving a life sentence without parole:

“First and foremost, I have read “Sunlight” and it’s a fabulous book. It was really touching for me in a lot of ways. Mainly from the prisoner perspective, but also just through the literary expression of the struggle and familyhood. I greatly enjoyed it.

I have already begun working on the questions (that you sent me.) However, I just don’t feel my answers are adequate. I felt this need to go into a greater dialog. This reminds of this “dissertation” of sorts that I wrote about the Irish struggle for independence from the British. The book emphasized great meaning to the Irish people learning the language. It creates identity. And bond. And as descendants of Africans, we know the language is the first thing to go when an oppressor is seeking to subdue a people. So, I spoke about how Black leaders tried to institute Swahili, but it didn’t catch. I wrote about the unfortunate nature of that and how I think it greatly affected our position here in this country. When I get on books like this it instills that kind of feeling in me.

The reality of my life is that I grew up in prison. I came to prison in 1997 at the age of 20. At the time of this writing I am 39, which means in 1 more year I will have spent the equal amount of time inside that I did outside.

Therefore, any experience that I shared with Sami Al Jundi has been that of a prisoner of book coverconscience. While Sami’s motivations were different from mine–his being politically motivated and mine being criminally motivated–we shared one similar thing entering prison: REGRET! I, too, suffered “the nightmares within nightmares” for the decisions I made. And in the same token, while the nightmares continued, “it’s done. I instructed my brain to convince the rest of me. It’s time to turn the page.”

That is often the hardest part about prison and conversion–changing. There is an enlightenment that falls upon a chosen few of us, and once that page is turned there is no turning back. It’s these ties that bind ones like Sami and I. He, as I, realized–“I had the power to determine the size of my universe.”

Then, the most emotional thing that stood out to me was the criticism and aggression that Sami faced as he sought to be a peacemaker. For one who has had the street gang experience, and then grown out of it, I can deeply relate to those that seek to change the ways of their life. I have come to see (personally and educationally) that it usually takes something tragic in one’s life to turn that page. Sami’s was a bomb and prison. Mine was death row. Like Sami, “I came to realize that war is a holocaust for all human beings.”

From our different sides of the world, Sami and I now fight for the beauty that we KNOW resides within humanity, and it is summed up well in the story of Mazdak and Mani:

“Humans have both a dark side and a light side. But they don’t coexist separately, like oil and water; they’re mixed together like water and wine. You can’t distinguish them easily. It is only through our actions that we can hope to free our light. Our responsibility is to behave in ways that will help us find our light. WE HAVE TO SRVE THE LIGHT.”

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” followed by American lawyer Clarence Darrow– “As long as the world shall last there will be wrong, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.”

There’s two things the Palestinians and Blacks in America have in common–they are targeted and they are oppressed. Both are a people who struggle for identity and a place to call home without attack. Both are a people who roots in a land and have been repeatedly sought for uprooting.

Such targeting comes with many effects–mentally, physically, and spiritually. For a people to be under constant bombardment can not only alter the natural state of one’s personality, but will also put a people in a state of desperation. These are the pains of wanting to be heard. Therefore, we see the misdirected and tainted actions of suicide bombers in the East and gang violence in the West. However, they are actions that can be changed with the efforts of peace, love and respect.

When those things are lacking, human beings turn from the best that is within them and tap into the worst. In both cases you have a people that face off against entities that seek to subjugate them. And what is more desirable than the pursuit of happiness? For Biblical believers–Muslims, Jews, and Gentiles alike–it’s said from the beginning to “Be fruitful and multiply.” It’s in people’s genetics to want to thrive. And as long as the core of a people’s identity, integrity and dignity is under attacked we shall wallow in the annals of destruction and never prosperity.

There is most definitely a history of organized activities inside U.S. prisoners, unfortunately, it is one that was waned over the years due to token concessions that have been gained inside and outside the walls.

The 60’s and the 70’s gave birth to prison movements as the Black Power and Civil Rights movements were going at full steam. Along with that came cultural education. As concessions grew, the passion for advancing these struggles (culturally and politically) decreased. However, they do still exist across this land. From state to state it may vary, because each state in the U.S. has its own history of oppression and resistance. Therefore, the level of activism and outside support networks differ. But, I feel confident in saying that we have lost the steam that the trendsetters had.

What will always separate the level of struggle between Palestinian and American prisoners is the Palestinian people identify as ONE people; just as the Irish people who founded the IRA did when fighting for independence against the British. Identity is the soul of a people’s struggle. This will always be the greatest ailment for American prisoners, because American prisoners are so multi-cultured, therefore the Rights I seek may not be neighbor’s want/need. Only when the fingers on the hand close into a fist can a  hard blow be struck. Until then any strike will be mediocre at best.

However, there is always the calling to HUMAN Rights. When we move past religion, sexual preferences, etc, we all have a desire, and Right, to be free of abuse and afforded the opportunity to better our lives, be it inside or out. The men of influence inside American prisons are not tapping into that the way Palestinian prisoners did when they held large weekly meetings in the courtyard for all the movements of the PLO. If every prison group focused on the Universal Rights due to us all we would be a force to be reckoned with.

While I don’t know the state of organization currently in prisons for Palestinian political prisoners, I do know that they–like the Irish Republic prisoners–possess the blueprint to righteous struggle and it’s something American prisoners could learn from very much!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Black Palestinian solidarity, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel