Black American Muslim Perspectives on Palestine

Black Scholars Call Attention to the Palestinian Struggle

By Sanaa Asif

May/Jun 2024

The illegal occupation of Palestine has persisted for decades, often overshadowed by political interests and historical narratives. As the current genocide in Gaza continues, Black scholars, religious leaders and civil rights activists are again calling attention to the ties and similarities between the Palestinian conflict and the Black struggle in the U.S. for sociopolitical equality and the right to self-determination. 

U.S. Role in the Holocaust

Jimmy Jones, Ph.D. (professor emeritus, Manhattanville College, Purchase, N.Y.; executive vice president, The Islamic Seminary of America) believes that the U.S. had a significant role in inspiring the Holocaust. “Americans set the framework for the Holocaust,” he says. 

“Historically speaking, the Nazis learned from racial segregation in the United States. And they felt that what we did in the United States was too radical in terms of racial segregation.” In fact, during the Holocaust, pro-Nazi movements were very popular in America. Groups such as the German American Bund (founded 1936; outlawed 1941) and the American fascist movements were gaining more support. Various public figures such as Henry Ford were even distributing pro-Hitler pamphlets.

He notes that after WW2 ended, Americans felt guilty about their treatment of the Jews and tried to reconcile it through many types of rhetoric, such as books and songs. Israelis took the American apology in stride, using it to their advantage to gain unchecked support, military prowess and political dominance. He mentions the post-victimization ethical exemption syndrome, which has created and defines as “the notion that because my people either are or have been oppressed, you shouldn’t be able to hold me to any ethical standards. I should be able to do whatever I wish.”

Jones explains how this syndrome became a major reason that enabled Israel to occupy so much of Palestine. Because the West felt guilty about the Holocaust, it allowed Israel to do whatever it wished. In his essay “Zionist Logic” (The Egyptian Gazette, Sept. 17, 1964), Malcolm X, who traveled from Egypt to Khan Younis, Gaza, on Sept. 5, 1964, argues, “Zionist logic is the same logic that brought Hitler and the Nazis into power… It is the same logic that says that because my grandfather came from Ireland, I have the right to go back to Ireland and take over the whole country.”

Racism Within Israel

Jones analogizes Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its widely criticized use of military tactics against Palestinians to the Americans’ invasion of Native American territory. During the 1800s and early 1900s, both Indigenous and African American individuals were targeted with legislation designed to reduce their civil rights and limit their representation in government. According to Jones, Israel is doing worse to Palestinians — reducing their civil rights by illegal occupation of their land and eliminating their representation in the government.

He emphasizes that Israel also discriminates against its own people — an example being the Ethiopian Jews. They make up more than 1 percent of the population, and yet are treated very harshly. For example, there are widely publicized reports of involuntary sterilization (Phoebe Greenwood, Feb. 28, 2013,; Alistair Dawber, Jan. 27, 2013, In addition, they experience much higher levels of poverty, police brutality, arrest rates and incarceration. 

“This is where you can take a good look at the racial relationships right there on the ground, when you look at how Ethiopians and other African immigrants are treated so harshly, very harshly, in Israel,” Jones says.

Voices Within the Black American Community

Black church leaders are among the loudest voices within the Black American community calling for Palestinian rights. “This [Palestinians] is a proud, resilient people who have suffered over at least 75 years and still walk proudly, still value education, still value their identity as Palestinians. And I think particularly for the leadership of the Black community, this really resonates for them because this is Black people, right? This is Black people having to be resilient, having to step up despite what people say about you, despite what they do to you,” Jones says. 

Malcolm X also drew significant parallels between the Palestinian struggle and the Black American fight for equality. After breaking away from the Black nationalist and separatist Nation of Islam, Malcolm X traveled abroad to meet and interact with African and Middle Eastern leaders. 

“I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance in realizing the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world,” he said upon his return. One of those causes was the Palestinian people’s struggle, about which he was most vocal during the last six months of his life, describing it “as a blistering battle for the most fundamental human rights” (

While on a trip to Gaza, he wrote one of his most famous and extensive essays on the Palestinian cause, “Zionist Logic,” in which he described Zionism as “a new form of colonialism” and warned African countries against being exploited by Israel.

Similarly, Muhammad Ali was an active proponent of Palestinian civil liberties, calling the occupation unjust and unsustainable. In January 1988, he participated in a pro-Palestine rally in Chicago during the first intifada. He condemned the annexation of Jerusalem and other Palestinian lands, and, after visiting multiple Palestinian refugee camps, declared, “In my name and the name of all Muslims in America, I declare support for the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland and oust the Zionist invaders” (“Ali Belts Zionism,” March 8, 1974, 

A significant activist in the Black liberation struggle, Ali also refused to fight in Vietnam to protest the lack of civil rights for Black Americans and wrote poetry in tribute of Black leaders in the Attica prison uprising. His activism represents a deep and meaningful legacy of resistance to Zionism, anti-Black imperialism and the struggle to free peoples ruled by the oppressive systems these ideologies create.

Recommended Reading

Jones recommends Mazen Qamsiyeh’s “Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle” (Pluto Press, 2004) for those wanting to learn more about the roots of the Palestinians’ resistance to Israeli settler colonialism. Written by a geneticist, it delves into the technicalities of who is indigenous and who a Jew really is and using genetics to back up his claims. He also recommends “I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity” by Eladim Abu-Laish, a world-renowned physician and academic (Bloomsbury USA, 2012) who recounts his experiences in a Jabali refugee camp in 2009, when his daughters and niece were killed by Israeli forces.

Sanaa Asif, a Hinsdale Central High School student, is an avid reader and loves to learn and write about other people’s stories.

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