As we prepare to march on the streets of New York on International Workers Day, an estimated 1,800 Palestinian prisoners are entering the third week of a mass hunger strike. While their demands — increased family visitation rights, proper medical care, and an end to indefinite detention and solitary confinement — reflect their fight for basic dignity, the heart and body of their struggle lie in the broader fight for national liberation to free Palestine from the river to the sea. The repression that has followed since the strike began on April 17 — israeli occupation prison officials quickly responding by placing strike leaders in solitary confinement, raiding prisoners’ cells, denying healthcare and arbitrarily transferring detainees — is a direct measure of just how fearful the zionist occupation forces are of the revitalization of the Palestinian prisoners movement and, more broadly, of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation.
To this end we stand firmly in support of all the heroic Palestinians participating in the mass hunger strike from inside the zionist prison walls and in support of their families, communities and comrades supporting and fighting for them on the outside. We recognize and reaffirm their right to resist mass incarceration, political imprisonment and settler colonial occupation by any means necessary. And ultimately we understand that the Palestinian struggle for liberation is part of a global struggle against US imperialism. As the Palestinian prisoner movement continues to resist from the depths of the zionist dungeons, a new chapter of prison labor strikes and hunger strikes is underway in the United States. It is no coincidence that the same week the Palestinian prison strike began more than 700 undocumented people incarcerated in a for-profit detention center contracted by ICE in Tacoma, Washington commenced a mass hunger strike resisting forced prison slave labor at $1 per day, medical neglect and poor food quality.
On International Workers’ Day last year, a group of men incarcerated in several Alabama prisons began a 10-day strike over unpaid labor and poor conditions. Months later in September 2016 on the 45th anniversary of the prison uprising at Attica, prisoners in 40 facilities across 24 states commenced a nationally coordinated strike led by organizers from the Free Alabama Movement in protest of long-term solitary confinement, inadequate health care, overcrowding, violent attacks and slave labor. As prison organizer Kinetick Justice from the Free Alabama Movement stated in response to the strike launched on May Day of last year, “These strikes are our methods of challenging mass incarceration, as we understand the prison system is a continuation of the slave system.” At the time he was serving his 28th month in solitary for organizing a similar protest in 2014.
The labor that prisoners in the United States produce is largely invisible. From manufacturing ikea furniture, military uniforms, test booklets, lingerie and blue jeans to baking bread to fighting forest fires, prison slave labor is far more present in our daily lives than many of us care to admit. And beyond production for export, prison slave labor is increasingly used by private corporations to subsidize their internal operations and increase profits. While the neoliberal privatization of the prison system has been underway since the Reagan era of the 1980s — the market for private prison companies has shifted in recent years from contracts with the Bureau of Prisons to contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigrant detention remains the fastest growing profit-generator for companies like CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and Geo Group.
On the U.S.-Mexico border the connective tissue between the US imperialist empire and the settler colonial state of israel is made plain. While we tend to focus on the fact that the U.S. funnels $4 billion a year in foreign military funding to the state of israel (over 50% of its total military aid budget), subsidizing the occupation, this figure doesn’t take into account U.S. government contracts granted to israeli weapons manufacturers in the private sector. Companies like Elbit Systems, israel’s largest publicly traded arms and security company, have scored major contracts post 9/11 from the Department of Homeland Security to supply drones and high-tech surveillance towers to U.S. Border Patrol. The same technologies used to occupy, surveil and bombard Palestinians now facilitate the mass incarceration and deportation of undocumented migrants from Central America and Mexico fleeing U.S.-backed death squads and neoliberal trade policies that have decimated their home countries.
One need not look as far as the militarization of the southern border, though, to see the collaborative efforts of the U.S. and israel. In April 2016 when over 700 law enforcement agents from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and NYPD raided the Eastchester Gardens housing project arresting 120 Black and Latinx youth in what was the largest police raid in New York history, the scene easily could have taken place in occupied Palestine. Today, the Eastchester 120 are locked away in federal prisons strewn throughout NYC awaiting trial. As the prison strike rages on in Palestine, the walls of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn where the majority of the Eastchester 120 are being held are shaking, the walls of the ICE detention center in Tacoma, Washington are cracking.
When communities are devastated by state violence, displaced by gentrification, and suffer the abduction of millions of Black, Indigenous, and Chicanx people, this too is imperialism. When a settler population is sustained and protected by the United States and given free reign to inflict colonial violence on the entire region, this too is imperialism. Our location is different, our struggle is different, but our enemy is the same, and the mutual response of these struggles has been, and will be, resistance. In New York, NYC SJP aims to participate in the construction of an anti-imperialist united front, in alliances like the International League of People’s Struggle and NY4Palestine, articulating the position that in order to play our part in stopping imperialism abroad, we must fight imperialism at home. In the words of former Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale, “The greatest care package we can send to liberation movements around the world is the work we do at home.”
The successes of anti-imperialist mass movements in places like the Black Belt and Aztlan have a direct impact on the growth of the revolutionary struggle in Palestine. While only the Palestinian people have the ability to free Palestine, we’ve said before that the “advances of one anti-imperialist revolutionary struggle both objectively strain the resources of oppressor nation(s), and subjectively inspire anti-imperialist struggles around the world by proving these struggles are possible in practice”. Thus, internationalism is not a moral platitude or a simple nod of the head, the liberation of all oppressed nations demands its existence.
To participate in the struggle for liberation necessitates both revolutionary defeatism and revolutionary optimism. To be anti-imperialist, and defeatist in the revolutionary sense is to hope that the US government loses and the Viet Cong wins. At the same time, we are revolutionary optimists: while the movement in the U.S. is at a low level of struggle, genuine resistance to imperialism is growing, and it is our task to support such resistance. U.S. global hegemony, like zionism, is in crisis: its fragility can been felt in its failed strategies in Syria and Afghanistan and the defeat of neoliberalism in the presidential elections. The arms dealers and oil executives’ fear of emergent, rival imperialist blocs and growing mass movements can be smelled in the dormant fires of Ferguson and the guerrilla zones of Mindanao, in the ruins of Mosul and the scorched olive groves of Palestine.
When we say it is right to resist, we mean it is justified for those who have nothing to rebel against those who have taken everything. This May Day, we march with the International League of People’s Struggle for the workers, for the immigrants, for the prisoners, and for all those who struggle against U.S. imperialism, wherever it rears its ugly head.