Statement from the SWANA DRUUMM Caucus

The statement below is from the Southwest Asian & North African Caucus of Diverse Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (SWANA DRUUMM Caucus).

We are Unitarian Universalists of Southwest Asian & North African, or SWANA, descent. We use this terminology in the place of “Arab” or “Middle Eastern” to better represent the diversity of our identities and to move away from the colonialist language that has been put upon us. 

As the DRUUMM SWANA caucus, we not only support this Action of Immediate Witness, but implore our fellow Unitarian Universalists to adopt it in solidarity and shared struggle with our lives. 

We are a small but steadfast caucus. You may have never even heard of us until this very moment. There is a reason for that.

For decades, Palestinian hearts and pain have been back-burnered by our association and its members. Time and time again, we, and especially our Palestinian members, have witnessed and experienced the discomfort of other members of our faith privileged above our own survival. We have listened as concerns about the departure of some members of our congregations have been treated as more valuable than the existence of our own bodies and lives. We have watched our ancestral lands and homelands be bombed and decimated by a government funded by our own tax dollars, and when we turn to our Unitarian Universalist faith for support in protecting our lives, we receive pushback that to do so will cause people to leave.

People have already left. We have already left. In the decades since the Israeli occupation and apartheid of Palestine began, our faith tradition has repeatedly failed and excluded us.

When we ask for our faith’s communities and members to listen to and support our needs, we are met with a consistent ignorance in tone from our fellow Unitarian Universalists. At times, it is even an infantilization of our being, marred in centuries long Orientalism and the disregard of principled UU values. We have witnessed the complete and utter disregard of the 1st Principle and 4th Principles, the abandonment of the values of equity & transformation, when we bring up even the possibility of discussing Palestinian life, sovereignty, self-determination, and inherent worth.  It has been oppressively solidified into our collective psyche that our principles and values only apply under specific circumstances, to a selective group of people. Time and time again, we have been reminded of our “inferiority” through the abnegation of the indigenous rights of Palestinians.

The cause of Palestine is at the very heart of what it means to be SWANA. They are the last vestige of a colonial struggle that has existed for 532 years among our peoples. The resilience of Palestinians serves as an inspiration in resisting the more insidious forms of neo-colonialism and imperialism ongoing and embedded in our home countries.

For us, Palestine has far reaching cultural significance. For thousands of years, Palestine has been a unique multicultural, multiethnic, and multireligious regional hub. Well before the Abrahamic faiths emerged on our planet, Palestine connected polytheistic traditions throughout the Mediterranean.  Ancient empires which once ruled our lands spoke of this place. Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans documented Palestine in their encyclopedias, letters, chronicles, on their coinage, and in their ‘world maps.’ Palestine became the first instance of cosmopolitanism, and as such, the country served as a catalyst for what it means to be of SWANA descent.

To come from these places is to be a part of a multicultural and dynamic space unlike any other. Palestine is central to the local psyche, collective historical memories, and cultural intricacies of those of us SWANA descent.

Growing up, the children of Southwest Asia and North Africa are told stories of our ancient roots.  The connections to the land and its people are embedded into our languages, identities, pride, and ultimately our very being. As a result we reject the myth-narratives which have been propped up by colonial empires for hundreds of years.

We reject the “divide and conquer” strategies present in the colonial persuasions. There is no binary between Jew or Arab, Palestinian or Israeli. There is no “us vs. them” in our view. This binary not only serves as a blatant disregard of other ethnic, racial, and ethno-religious groups in Palestine — such as Afro-Palestinians, Armenians, Druze, Samaritans, Ethiopian Jews, and Naqab Bedouin peoples — but also serves as a tool for the perpetrators of colonialism to stir the flames of division. No healing can occur if we continue to act as though there is an innate impasse to coexistence. For thousands of years, we coexisted, and it can be done for thousands of more years.

Palestinians live under a brutal military occupation. Novel armaments, tools of torture, and methods of psychological warfare are used on everyday Palestinians. They are the ‘guinea pigs’ for the West and dictatorial regime around the world. In the innovations of our global military industrial complex, Palestinian bodies are brutalized in the same way Black bodies are brutalized. When the murder of George Floyd was plastered in our memories, those of SWANA descent instantly drew connections to our years of watching Israeli soldiers placing their knees on the necks of adolescent Palestinians.  When we watched the St. Louis Police Department, after the killing of Michael Brown, lay siege upon Ferguson — we were immediately stunned by the identical tactics, militarized vehicles, and chemical warfare techniques that were used. Before the Atlanta Police Department (APD) killed 92-year old Kathyrn Johnson, they had just come from a joint training program with Israeli soldiers. For years, the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange program has trained, militarized, and emboldened the APD. And now through the APD building of “Cop City” we see that they are creating a mass surveillance network modeled after Israel. Time and time again, we watch Atlanta police chiefs draw comparisons to “struggles for justice” in Israel and Georgia. The APD has made it apparent to the public that they see Tel Aviv and Atlanta as “sister cities.” It was just a decade ago that the New York Police Department admitted to emulating their “Demographics Unit” (which spied on Muslim and Arab citizens), after Israel’s occupation tactics in the West Bank. Now dozens of “Cop City’s” are being erected around the United States, and thousands of officers are being trained by the Israeli military.  The generation of an overt police-state, akin to Israel, is apparent to us. History is repeating itself, because we did not act on these revelations quick enough. Our communities did have the tools to join together in solidarity. Now that is changing. Across the United States, the protest chant “APD, KKK, IDF: they’re all the same” is being popularized. Across the West Bank, the face of George Floyd has been painted on the same concrete walls which imprison Palestinians in their own home. It is in these intersections of justice, in which we recognize that freedom for everyone cannot occur without the freedom of the Palestinian people.

This intersectionality in the recognition of the basic humanity of all peoples is far-reaching. When we witness Indigenous struggles for self-determination in the Amazon jungle, we are inspired by their dedication. When we watch U.S. politicians and pundits call for the “eradication of transgenderism,” we are disgusted by their hatred. When we witness the ethnic cleansing of Darfuri peoples in Sudan, we are horrified by the cruelty. When we watch the decades long genocide in the Congo, being enabled by imperial entities, we are angered by their sheer disregard for human life.

The struggles of Palestinians encompasses the struggles of all peoples who’ve been the victims of colonialism, imperialism, slavery, white supremacy, capitalist greed, and ideological fascism.

We ask our faith community to vote in support of this AIW as one small move towards creating a new global narrative. One that says imperialism is not part of our languages of love and liberation. One that refuses to call resistance to white supremacy and colonialism evil.  One that refuses to stay silent in the face of genocide. One that says the potential of each human is worth feeding, and that all people deserve a world that affirms their dignity. A narrative rooted in the multiplicity of Unitarian Universalism as a model to save the world.

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