Five months after canceling a scheduled concert in Israel, Grammy Award-winning artist Lauryn Hill appeared in a video on Wednesday with African-American and Palestinian activists, drawing comparisons between the struggles for justice in both communities.
The short video, titled “When I See Them I See Us,” was released by a range of African-American and Palestine-solidarity groups. In it, Hill holds a sign that reads “Free All Political Prisoners.”
Hill was set to perform in Tel-Aviv on May 7, but cancelled her concert just days before she was set to travel amid pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The BDS movement, modeled after a global campaign in the 1970s and 80s to isolate South Africa’s apartheid regime, aims to pressure Israel through economic and cultural boycotts to end its occupation of Palestinian territories and adhere to international law in its treatment of Palestinians.
Following the cancellation, the R&B legend and former Fugees member told her fans on Facebook that she would not perform for Israelis in Tel-Aviv because she was unable to also perform for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Noura Erakat, assistant professor at George Mason University and a human rights attorney who spearheaded the video’s production, told Al Jazeera that Hill does not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but “she believes in dignity for all sides.”
“She believes in liberation for all people and she respects the organic nature of the messaging on this movement,” Erakat said.
The video, which also includes Cornel West, Alice Walker, Danny Glover and dozens of other academics, activists and artists, juxtaposes high profile killings of unarmed African-Americans by police with Palestinians killed by Israeli forces and settlers.
Erakat was inspired to create the video in 2014, when Israel launched a war on Gaza, killing more than 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Around the same time, unarmed black teen Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking protests across the United States.
“Here were two groups of people dealing with completely different historical trajectories, but both which resulted in a process of dehumanization that criminalized them and that subject their bodies as expendable,” Erakat said. “Not only were their lives more vulnerable and disposable, but that even in their death, they were blamed for their own death.”
One of the authors of the video’s script, Mari Morales-Williams, an activist with Black Youth Project 100, told Al Jazeera it is crucial to connect the two movements to challenge the “perception that frames African-Americans and Palestinians as ‘dangerous.’”
“This has allowed [the United States and Israel] to strengthen their state power by convincing much of the public that uprisings in Ferguson and Gaza are signs of pathological criminality, as opposed to critical actions of resistance against state powers that actively engage in historical genocide,” Morales-Williams said.
The video’s release comes amid growing ties between the Black Lives Matter movement and Palestinian activists. In 2014, a contingent of Palestinian activists joined protests against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. Palestinians on Twitter also offered advice to black activists in Ferguson on how to protect themselves from tear gas, an experience that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation have become accustomed to.
In January, Dream Defenders, a youth-led social justice organization formed in reaction to the killing of Trayvon Martin, participated in a 10-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories with representatives from Ferguson and Black Lives Matter. Dream Defenders also co-sponsored the “When I See Them I See Us” video.
The goals of the trip “were primarily to allow for the group members to experience and see first hand the occupation, ethnic cleansing and brutality Israel has levied against Palestinians,” said Ahmad Abuznaid, Dream Defenders’ legal and policy director. “But also to build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation.”
Though there seems to be a closer bond between black and Palestinian activists over the past year, Erakat said recent efforts are merely “building on decades of legacy” of solidarity between the two communities, and hopes the video will continue to draw more support.
The primary audience of the video is Palestinians and black people in the U.S., Erakat added, “as a message of saying, ‘this is a choice to resist together’”
She added: “It’s really affirming the idea that none of us are free unless all of us are free.”