Connecting Human Rights Struggles, Building Power: Adalah Justice Project and Adalah in New Orleans

Connecting Human Rights Struggles: Adalah Justice Project in New Orleans

The Adalah Justice Project (AJP) and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, November 3-7, 2017 to build relationships with the local organizing community, to share legal and advocacy strategies to protect human rights, and to find stories of resonance with the long history of resistance in this extraordinary city. We were generously hosted and guided by the New Orleans Palestine Solidarity Committee.

1. Building Black-Palestinian Solidarity

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The opening night of the New Orleans Palestinian Film Festival drew a sold-out crowd to view three films exploring solidarity and connections between Black and Palestinian communities followed by a panel discussion including Sandra Tamari, AJP’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. The panel explored issues ranging from Zionism as a form of white supremacy to anti-Black racism in Arab communities. Ciara Taylor, who traveled to Palestine on a Dream Defenders delegation in 2015, remarked that the violence she witnessed in Palestine shocked her so much that she couldn’t immediately see the connection to her own struggles as a Black American. Taylor shared that only when a Palestinian artist pointed out that the Palestinian struggle was intimately linked to the human rights struggles of other marginalized people across the globe did the interconnections become clear. The panel reflected on how repression against marginalized communities takes many forms, and how it must be resisted together for collective liberation.

2. Freedom, Bound on the Road—Sharing Lessons from a Legacy of Solidarity

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Freedom, Bound is an artistic and historical account of the rich legacy of Black-Palestinian solidarity. The Adalah Justice Project brought an abbreviated exhibit of Freedom, Bound to the New Orleans Film Festival. The exhibit demonstrated lessons learned from solidarity both as shared lived reality, and as political choice made time and again throughout history. Visitors were invited to consider the inherent interconnectedness and timeless resonance of shared resistance to oppression. A full-color pamphlet on the exhibit was distributed to film attendees. More information at https://freedom-bound.org/

3.     Existence is Resistance: Connecting with Indigenous Struggles

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AJP and the New Orleans Palestine Solidarity Committee met with Jessi Parfait, archivist for the Houma Nation, an indigenous people of Louisiana. Parfait recounted the history of Native and Black solidarity in the region. The Houma gave sanctuary and kinship to escaped enslaved people, sharing knowledge about how to survive on the land. This history is celebrated and commemorated in both communities. The Houma are still struggling for federal recognition. Parfait expressed that she is inspired and informed by the Palestinian human rights struggle for freedom, equality and justice.

4. Presenting Adalah to an American Audience

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During a question and answer session at the New Orleans Film Festival, Fady Khoury, an attorney with Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, explained the use of impact litigation in the Israeli courts. Adalah takes cases to protect and defend the human rights of Palestinians, both citizens of Israel and residents of the OPT. He addressed the ongoing nature of the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe which Palestinians use to refer to the loss of the Palestinian homeland, the beginning of the Palestinian refugee crisis, and the establishment of the State of Israel. Tying to the themes of the films, he gave examples of Israeli policies and laws that continue to dispossess Palestinians from their land.

5. Reclaiming History from New Orleans to Palestine

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Together with partners from New Orleans, AJP organized a walking tour of the French Quarter with Leon Waters and Malcolm Suber of Hidden History Tours. The purpose of tour was to ground our experience of sharing Palestine/Israel with local organizers in a deep understanding of the historic and structural racism facing the city of New Orleans. We learned of efforts by local organizers in the Take ‘Em Down Coalition who have been working to remove city monuments and symbols honoring slaveholders, colonialism and white supremacy. The tour made clear that targeting the symptoms of racism is a necessary but insufficient method of transforming systems of oppression and fulfilling human rights ideals. In the same way, a critique of ongoing settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, for example, without an understanding of the underlying Zionist ideology of controlling the maximum amount of land with as few Palestinians as possible leads to incomplete analyses and solutions.

6.     Story of Resonance: Housing Covenants and Admissions Committees

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AJP Director, Nadia Ben-Youssef, and Fady Khoury, Adalah attorney, led a roundtable discussion with housing rights advocates in New Orleans, hosted at HousingNOLA. Partners included Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, the National Fair Housing Alliance, Jane's Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, and Blights Out. The discussion covered the state’s attempts to displace Palestinian Bedouin communities from their lands in the Naqab (Negev), the unwillingness of the Israeli courts to uphold Bedouin citizens’ rights to property, equality and dignity, and the use of admissions committees to segregate Jewish and Palestinian citizens’ communities inside Israel. The Admissions Committees Law in Israel allows for hundreds of small Israeli Jewish communities to reject applicants for residency based on the criteria of "social suitability". This law resonated with residents in New Orleans where housing covenants and ordinances were used after the devastation of hurricane Katrina to prevent Black residents from coming back to the city. More information about the Admissions Committee Law is on the Adalah website and analysis of how New Orleans housing covenants are used to to prop up racism is found in this article by Sefira Fialkoff.

7. Movement Lawyering--Adalah and AJP Teach-In at the Loyola College of Law

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The National Lawyers Guild chapter at the Loyola College of Law hosted Adalah and AJP for a teach in on “Movement Lawyering: Legal and Advocacy Strategies for Building a Global Justice Movement.” AJP’s Nadia Ben-Youssef described the theory underlying the work of movement lawyering as social and historical change, and emphasized the need to situate existing conditions and violations of human rights within political and historical realities. Nadia grounded the conversation of the legal struggle for Palestinian human rights within in the history of the Nakba, and described the Israeli legal regime as a regime of exclusion and subjugation of Palestinians. Attorney Fady Khoury of Adalah described Adalah’s legal strategy and offered that it is the role and responsibility of movement lawyers not to co-opt social movements for freedom, justice and equality, but to support and stand with the people. Sandra Tamari of AJP, who lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri, shared advocacy strategies for shifting American discourse and policy on Palestine/Israel, particularly the concept of “de-exceptionalizing” Palestine/Israel and linking with other social justice/human rights struggles.  


8. Community Comes Together to Share Legal and Advocacy Strategies in a Global Age of Repression

Local organizations focusing on workers’ rights, economic justice, and legal defense of political prisoners joined the AJP delegation for a community luncheon to exchange strategies on combating assaults on civil and political rights in a global age of repression. These organizations included BreakOUT!, Congreso, Louisiana National Lawyers Guild, National Police Accountability Project, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, Peace by Piece, Project Ishmael and Ubuntu Village.

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Fady Khoury of Adalah told participants that the space for human rights defenders in Israel is shrinking. Physical and virtual surveillance of Palestinians is the norm. Palestinians are arrested and/or serving jail time for social media posts considered by the state to constitute “incitement; frequently these posts simply criticize the State’s policies of occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Alfred Marshall of Stand with Dignity, a grassroots membership organization of Black workers and families dedicated to winning inclusion, opportunity, and racial equity in the New Orleans economy, remarked, “You don’t need to go to Jerusalem to see what’s going on. It’s happening here.” Tabitha Mustafa, a Palestinian organizer with the New Orleans Palestine Solidarity Committee warned that what happens in Palestine is a harbinger of what will happen to communities of color in the United States.