I found myself thinking about the notorious Dred Scott decision (1857) by the US Supreme Court while traveling the streets of Occupied Palestine this past January. I was there leading a small delegation of African Americans who were trying to better understand the nature of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
There are many ways that the conditions of Palestinians have been described over time. Most recently the system of Israeli domination of the Palestinians (both internal to the state of Israel and externally through the occupation of Palestinian territories) has been characterized as an “apartheid system,” based on the criteria and analysis of apartheid that the United Nations established in the early 1970s. While I absolutely agree that apartheid describes the system in place, it was the Dred Scott decision that reverberated in my brain as I explored the reality of the conditions facing Palestinians.
As you will remember, the Dred Scott decision concerned the legitimacy of an African American slave’s assertion of freedom once he was in a non-slave state. In this famous decision the Court argued, among other things, that blacks had no rights that a white person was bound to respect. While walking through Occupied Palestine I found myself confronting the reality that Palestinians have no rights that the Israeli authorities feel bound to respect.
In the interest of time and space, let me provide two examples. The first is land. Since 1948 there has been a systematic seizure of land owned by Palestinians, first in what is now known as the state of Israel, and later in the Occupied Territories. Rationales have ranged from alleging security concerns to the discovery of archaeological relics. Regardless of the rationale, once removed from the land, the Palestinians do not get it back. More than likely it is turned over to an Israeli settler in flagrant violation of international law, and sometimes even Israeli law.
The second example concerns checkpoints and roads. There are roads in the Occupied Territories that Palestinians are forbidden to travel unless they receive special permission. There are checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territories that Palestinians must walk through, in an atmosphere of humiliation, to be inspected, questioned, etc. Additionally, Israeli security personnel can feel free to stop any Palestinian, including in territory nominally controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and interrogate them and/or seize them.
In each case, protests by Palestinians rarely result in anything approaching justice. If Palestinians are attacked by settlers in the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians have come to expect little or no justice from Israeli authorities. If, on the other hand, a Palestinian attacks an Israeli, they can expect retribution from the Israeli authorities and the settlers.
If you have any questions as to why the tide seems to be turning in favor of a rethinking of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and why growing numbers of people recognize the profound injustice in the treatment of the Palestinians, just remember the name “Dred Scott.” At that point it will all come together.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. For more on his recent trip, see the interview Tavis Smiley held with him at: http://www.tavissmileyradio.com/bill-fletcher-jr-traveling-through-palestine.