“Colonization and imperialism do not take a break”: Webinar on Security, Racism and Solidarity in the Time of Global Pandemics

Khury Petersen-Smith and Rebecca Vilkomerson discussed racism and security, and how the coronavirus pandemic gives us an opportunity to redefine security.

On Thursday April 2nd, Rebecca Vilkomerson, former Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, and Khury Petersen-Smith, Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow from Institute Policy Studies, joined a webinar organised by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). The event was part of a series of webinars organised for Israeli Apartheid Week which this year was held around March 21st, commemorating the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, and organized under the theme United Against Racism.

Over 200 people from over 25 different countries participated in the event, and the video has already been watched over 3,000 times.

Khury Petersen-Smith started the event highlighting how important it is in moments like the current one to see which systems fail and which continue to operate. While governments state that there is not enough funding for health systems, the US has increased sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, showing that colonization and imperialism don't take a break even during a global pandemic. Khury also highlighted that, while healthcare workers and service providers work in deteriorating conditions, security forces and military action are given top priority. 

Israel has responded to the pandemic by increasing surveillance, including tracking of phones, but has not suspended colonization. Clear examples of this are videos of soldiers with masks and protective gear, breaking into homes and spitting on cars - all are actions which are cruel, but especially so now. 

Khury’s first intervention ended by stating that “solidarity will be the only way to survive this crisis” and that this will mean advocating for people. It would mean teaching each other how to survive, something that Palestinians can do. For example, in 2014, when Israel’s massacre in Gaza and US police violence in Ferguson took place over the same summer, Palestinians shared knowledge with Black protesters on how to survive the assault. 

Rebecca Vilkomerson stated that “the advantage of this moment is the renewed questioning of the government and systems”. She said, we should also question what is security, who gets it and who deserves it, what models of security exist, what they should be and what they should entail. These issues have been reflected heavily in Israel and Palestine over the years, in the way in which US administrations defend Israel while absolutely erasing Palestinians and their basic rights.

Rebecca added that  “security is the expression of racialized fears of the oppressor, who is scared of the challenge, the uprising, that the oppressed will inevitably mount”. Rebecca also added: “we have the chance to reform and reconceive what is safety and security. This is reflected in how Palestinians are building mutual aid networks in Israel and the West Bank in the face of criminal neglect and hostility. This is a chance to build a new model, to reimagine belonging and redefine safety to include everyone.”

Rebecca explained regarding the US political context, “Over the years, there has been a shift in the discourse on Israel Palestine, integrating the Palestinain agenda into the mainstream. This reflects in the positions taken by US congresswomen like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, etc.. This has been the result of years of grassroots work.”

The question of ways of building solidarity during this crisis came up often. One of the questions directed to Rebecca was about actions of solidarity that we could imagine across the world which is so entrenched in the security paradigm and the racism inherent in it, as Rebecca had detailed.

Recent instances of collective action like the JVP virtual rally for Gaza, and a recent car protest in front of an ICE facility that took place in the US were some of the examples Rebecca shared.

A related point was that from hereon, physical gatherings will be clamped down upon by authoritarian governments even in the post-coronavirus context, and we have to be prepared for that.

Khury also affirmed that the connection between the Black population in the US and the Palestinian people is so relevant and important. Khury said: “There have been conversations in this space about how the conditions for these two communities resonate, but they are not exactly the same. However, both the US and Israel are colonial states, who have these ‘others’: Blacks and indigneous for the former and Palestinians for the latter. If the foundations of these states are so similar, their rulers are definitely aligned. If our enemies work together, why don't we? There is a shared sense between Palestinians and Blacks of not being full citizens. As we come in more awareness of this pandemic, intersections and solidarities are bound to flourish.”



The event ended with Rebecca stating that “The right is ascendant, but so is the left. Our shared values are more in solidarity and connection than ever before. This moment magnifies that truth. Old structures were falling already, and corona has rushed that moment and we have the responsibility to grab on to it because this is a tipping point. And we need to do our creative and determined best right now.”



To which Khury added “As long as anybody is vulnerable, everybody is vulnerable... our fates are really tied together.. We should keep that in mind as we envision and fight for new worlds."




If you missed the webinar you can still watch it here.




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