Talk highlights parallels between human rights violations at home, abroad

Adithi Iyengar, Staff Reporter

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What are the similarities between Gaza and Ferguson? On Nov. 20, Rhonda Williams, associate professor of history and director of the Social Justice Institute, and Noura Erakat, assistant professor at George Mason University, tried to answer that question in a discussion called “From Gaza to Ferguson: Human Rights and the Question of Palestine.”

On Aug. 9, a series of protests ensued in London and other cities around the world to call for the end of Israeli military action in Gaza. The talk compared these protests to the protests that erupted in Ferguson, Missouri following the Aug. 14 shooting of unarmed 18-year-old African American Michael Brown by a white police officer. The protests in Ferguson received national attention because of the forceful police reaction.

On Aug. 14, 2014 the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18 year-old black man, by a white police officer, led to a variety of protests and dissent from the people of Ferguson. Brown was unarmed during the time that he was shot down.

The discussion centered on the recent solidarity between the people in Gaza and the people in Ferguson. This included advice that protesters in Gaza gave to protesters in Ferguson about how to deal with tear gas and police force. According to Erakat and Williams, while the two situations differ in many ways, they still have significant similarities.

In both Gaza and Ferguson, the talk says, people were unable to resist oppression because a biased third party mediated the issue.

“In Ferguson, a city that has 64 percent black population, there is a white mayor, a white school board and a majority white city council and police force,” said Williams.

Similarly, in Palestine, the United States has served as a mediator in their relations with Israel. In the 1990’s, the U.S. helped to draft the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement between the two countries which took away much of Palestine’s say in what happened to their territories.

“Palestine was forced to have its eggs in one basket, also because of the fact that the United States holds 33 percent of its national budget,” said Erakat. Financial and political dependency on Israel has taken away most of the power from Gaza’s protesters.

Both also spoke of the reputation of democracy and how it can create a mask of legitimacy that allows the harm of civilians.

“Democracy has always been a question by folks engaged in black liberation struggles,” said Williams. “In fact, the whole idea of what democracy means and what the limits of democracy are are brought to the fore since the very founding of the country.”

Williams brought up the fact that women and blacks were disenfranchised under the guise of legitimacy and law, despite the fact that it promoted inequality.

Erakat focused on the use of violence on civilians.

“There is this concept that was used in World War II and also used today called morale bonding,” she said. “Morale bombing is the use of weapons and weapon technology to target civilians. The reason that it is not terrorism is because it is used by states, and it is targeting civilians for the purpose of reducing support for the war.”

For both Williams and Erakat, the main focus is bringing human rights to those who have had them stripped away, and getting rid of hate. Oppressive governments or organizations, whether legitimized or delegitimize, should not be allowed to target civilians or make them feel unsafe in any way, the two say.