Adonis Diaries

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From Palestine to Ferguson: Reflections on shared grief and liberation

Formerly incarcerated women of color perform the story of a Palestinian teen killed by Israeli police in October 2000. The act of Black-Palestine solidarity highlights shared trauma, but also concrete ways toward liberation.

By Jen Marlowe and Je Naé Taylor. October 1, 2018

Black Lives Matter activists organize a die-in action outside Memorial Church in Harvard University on December 7, 2014 in Cambridge, Mass. (Tess Scheflan/

Black Lives Matter activists organize a die-in action outside Memorial Church in Harvard University on December 7, 2014 in Cambridge, Mass. (Tess Scheflan/


On October 2, 2000, Aseel Asleh, a 17-year old Palestinian citizen of Israel, was shot and killed by Israeli police at a demonstration outside his village in northern Israel.

On September 3, a staged reading of “There is a Field,” a documentary play of Aseel’s life and killing, was performed as part of the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival, produced by the Gildapapoose Collective, a D.C.-based direct action and arts organization that seeks Black liberation.

Taylor: So There is a Field really started for you as a tribute to Aseel. What connections does this play make for you now?

Marlowe: I finished an earlier version of the play in 2010, and then I put the script down. Several years later, I decided that I wanted to develop the script further, so in the summer of 2014, I picked it back up. This was just as protests against police brutality and racism erupted across the U.S., after police in Ferguson, Missouri killed an unarmed Black teenager.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Aseel’s story and the state violence that plays out on Black and Brown bodies here in the U.S. I wanted the play to provide a framework for those connections to be explored.

Taylor: The connections felt so clear to me. When I first saw the play at the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference, I felt like I was watching a story about the lived experiences of Black people.

An unarmed teenager is killed by the police, there’s dozens of eye-witnesses, it’s national news – and no police officer is indicted.

Just here in D.C., Terrence Sterling, Alonzo Smith, Javon Hall, Bobby Gross, Ralphael Briscoe, Mariam Carey, Relisha Rudd, are all lives stolen from us by police violence. The play talks about Palestine, but it’s so similar to the injustices at home.

Nardeen at her brother's funeral in October 2000.

Nardeen at her brother’s funeral in October 2000.


Marlowe: You raised $16,000 through readings of the play, and the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) Bail Out bailed out six mothers. You also have been able to offer the Mamas a paid theatre fellowship. How did you first conceive of using There is a Field to raise funds to bail out Black mamas?

Taylor: You and I were already brainstorming ways to use the play in D.C. to benefit folks most impacted by state violence. And this felt like a real, concrete way to do that.

Every Black person I know has been impacted by prison and cages. Either they’ve been locked up, they have someone locked up, or someone they know is a correctional officer, and these are all entry points to Palestine.

(Actually, over 60% of Palestinian youths have experienced administrative detention, extending to 6 months without trial)

Marlowe: Such a huge percentage of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons.

Taylor: Exactly. Aseel’s father was a prisoner. He chose early on to educate his children about his time in prison. Aseel’s parents politicized him at an early age. Aseel’s mother reminds me of the mothers I organize with in Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), a youth organization, who lead actions with their children at their hips.

Marlowe: There are so many ways you could have raised funds for the DMV Black Mama Bail Out. Why theatre?

Taylor: For me, theatre is liberation. Rehearsal is literally my church, it’s my spiritual practice. The stage gave me a sanctuary to move as big, as loud, as long as I wanted. I want to extend that gift to the people who receive it the least. Because if I believe that freedom is something that we all deserve, then we all deserve theatre.

Marlowe: I remember when I came down to D.C. for two of the fundraiser readings that you organized, and being profoundly moved watching the readings, seeing the concrete solidarity that was being enacted. It wasn’t only talk about Black-Palestinian solidarity.

Aseel’s story was literally, concretely part of bringing freedom to these Black mothers. A few months ago, when you emailed a link to the Page to Stage festival, saying you wanted to apply with There Is A Field, and that the mothers who the play bailed out would be the ones performing – I got chills up and down my spine.

Marlowe: What was it like for you to see the play at the Kennedy Center?

Taylor: It felt very significant to me. People who haven’t been a part of the theatre know the Kennedy Center. Part of the point was to offer a space for dignity to be restored. You just feel differently when you’ve been seen, validated, valued. From being in a cage in May, to being at the Kennedy Center in September! What was it like for you?

Marlowe: I was just totally struck by what the Mamas and the other performers shared in the post-play discussion. Qiana Johnson [who played Jamila, Aseel’s mother] talking about being locked away from her own children for two and a half years, and how the loss of that time with her sons allowed her to relate to Jamila’s trauma.

And how much it meant to Qiana that Kahari, her 14-year-old son, was in the audience watching her.

Qiana had never even seen a play before, much less performed in one. She told me afterwards how comforting it was to have Kahari come and watch his mother be part of this, and be a part of her healing, as he, too, heals.

Taylor: To know what Qiana and Andrea Nelson [who portrayed Hassan, Aseel’s father] endured inside of a cage, and to hear their actual voices outside and on stage – it’s poetry. This is what Jamila would sound like, this is what Hassan would sound like. It’s the voices of those who have struggled with some weighty things.

Marlowe: Was there any moment that particularly stood out to you?

Taylor: During the talk-back, Andrea thanked Gildapapoose for bailing her out and called us her angels. In that moment, I saw someone sitting in the audience who had hosted one of the readings of the play. We raised $2,000 that night, I remember seeing the donations fly in. At that one reading, we had raised most of what it took to bail out Andrea.

Marlowe: I was also really struck with what Alé shared [Alé Pablos, a Mexican woman who grew up in Arizona, spent 43 days inside an ICE detention center earlier this year, after having previously spent two years inside the same prison. Pablos portrayed Nardeen, Aseel’s sister]. She resonated so much with both Aseel and Nardeen, as an activist who has been physically attacked by police, and as a woman struggling to create a family in these conditions with man-made borders.

Taylor: Alé’s case opened me up to how difficult it is for people to live where they want to live, and that has everything to do with this play. People decided that they have a right to be here more than you have a right to be here, and you have to move. That happens over and over, time and again in America.

Someone coming and saying, you don’t deserve to be here, we have things bigger than yours, we are going to move you, to slaughter you, to rape you, to kill you.

Formerly incarcerated mothers, organizers and activists at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., after performing a play highlighting Black-Palestinian solidarity on September 3, 2018. (Will Johnson)

Formerly incarcerated mothers, organizers and activists at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., after performing a play highlighting Black-Palestinian solidarity on September 3, 2018. (Will Johnson)

Marlowe: Is this the kind of art you want to be creating?

Taylor: It’s difficult to feel gifted in this process in the same way as if it were a fictional story. Aseel’s story is something that’s very real. There’s so much grief and sorrow. But then there’s a gift to keeping Aseel alive through this storytelling, and that’s connected to how I feel about the beautiful performance at the Kennedy Center.

As glorious as it was, these women had to suffer for us to do this. If prison did not exist, if cages did not exist, I would not be making this type of theatre.

Taylor: What is your highest dream for this play?

Marlowe: I think we may have just achieved it. Knowing that Aseel’s words and story have been a part of bringing other people their freedom. The full-circle solidarity of the Mamas performing his story. Hearing Qiana say, “I am forever a part of Aseel’s living legacy.” I can’t imagine a higher purpose for this play.

What made the event unique: Black and Brown women directly impacted by incarceration led the performance. Even more unique: some of those women were bailed out due to funds raised through staged readings of the very same play. Here, the director and Gildapapoose founder, Je Naé Taylor, reflects on the process and performance with the playwright, Jen Marlowe.

Taylor: Why did you first write There is a Field?

Marlowe: Aseel was a friend of mine – he had been my camper in a peace organization that I was working for at the time. When he was murdered, I knew I had to do something to make sure that his life and how he was killed would be remembered. A few months after his killing, I asked his older sister Nardeen if she wanted to partner with me on writing a play, and that’s when we began.

Kafr Kanna isn’t Ferguson, it’s much worse

Imagine that at the peak of the Ferguson protests, President Obama — or any other American official — had issued a formal statement threatening to revoke the citizenship of African Americans who chose not to keep their mouths shut.

An existential threat is far worse than normal racist and apartheid behavior.

By Seraj Assi and Lawrence McMahon

Israeli police shot dead a young Arab citizen in the town of Kafr Kanna in the lower Galilee this past week.

Numerous reports have suggested that the victim, Kheir Hamdan, was shot simply because he was an Arab.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemingly conceded the same conclusion when, prior to any investigation whatsoever into the incident, he issued a statement scolding Arab youth.

In the meantime, local journalists rushed to compare Kafr Kanna to Ferguson, Missouri, invoking the shooting of African-American teenager Michael Brown as a parallel example of a racial divide.

Kafr Kanna, however, is not Ferguson, and here is why:

The conflict between the Palestinian minority of Israel and the State is not truly an American-style “civil rights” struggle.

Palestinians in Israel cannot be classified as second-class citizens when senior Israeli officials, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, continue to portray them as enemies from within, a demographic time bomb, and a fifth column population.

While the “Arabs” in Israel experience exclusion and brutality just as African Americans do, they also face — to use a popular phrase — an existential threat.

Arab youth clash with Israeli riot police in Kafr Kanna, Israel, November 8, 2014. The protests took place after an Arab man from the village was shot and killed by Israeli policemen. (Photo: Oren Ziv/

Arab youth clash with Israeli riot police in Kafr Kanna, Israel, November 8, 2014. The protests took place after a Palestinian man from the village was shot and killed by Israeli policemen. (Photo: Oren Ziv/

The so-called Liberman Plan, named after the foreign minister, proposes transferring territory in Israel populated by Arabs to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for territory in the West Bank populated by Israeli settlers.

Liberman grumbles that it makes no sense to create a Palestinian state devoid of Jews while Israel has turned into a bi-national state with over 20 percent Arabs.

In other words, the Israeli foreign minister wants an Israel completely devoid of Arabs.

This week, Netanyahu echoed the Liberman Plan.

In response to the shooting and the protests it sparked, the prime minister publicly challenged Palestinian protestors to go and live under Palestinian rule in the West Bank and Gaza. To justify his position, he invoked what he described as their lack of loyalty to the State of Israel.

In a radical move, Netanyahu also ordered his interior minister to look into whether Israel could strip citizenship from those Arabs who dared to speak out in support of a Palestinian state. Before Netanyahu, Liberman had already proposed loyalty tests for the Palestinian minority, threatening to deny citizenship to those who failed.

Of course, there is no chance whatsoever that similar statements would ever be directed at Jewish citizens.

Now imagine, for comparison, that at the peak of the Ferguson protests, U.S. President Barack Obama—or any other American official—had issued a formal statement threatening to revoke the citizenship of African Americans who chose not to keep their mouths shut.

There are plenty of reasons why such a scenario is unimaginable. Even at moments of great racial tension in America, nobody is going to threaten the citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

American history may be littered with both white-sponsored and black-sponsored “Back to Africa” movements, but in the year 2014, they don’t hold much sway in either the White House or Congress.

In Israel, though, these are the exact sort of measures that authorities are debating, right here and right now.

This brings us to the key difference, namely Israel’s self-definition as a “Jewish democratic state.”

Naturally, and regardless of what happened in Kafr Kanna, a state cannot be both Jewish and democratic, unless by “democracy” you mean an exclusively “Jewish democracy.” Israel’s basic laws and policies are predicated on Jewish exclusiveness and privilege.

In other words, Israel is a democracy, but it is a democracy for — if not exclusively of — its majority Jewish population.

(Just as the USA constitution was fundamentally meant to white males during and after independence)

It should come as no surprise, then, that many in the Arab community view their Israeli “citizenship” as a mere political fiction. And when the State of Israel kills its Arab citizens in cold blood, one is left to wonder exactly what moral mandate it has to demand their unconditional loyalty.

Seraj Assi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. He is currently a PhD candidate in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC.

Lawrence McMahon is a historian-cum-labor union staffer living in Baltimore. He is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Georgetown taking a hiatus from his dissertation, working as editorial assistant for the flagship quarterly publication of a major U.S. labor union.

Read also: The difference between Israel’s racist cops and America’s

Read also: Why are Palestinian citizens expected to be loyal to Israel?


Ferguson Protesters To Be Prosecuted? Like the Palestinians in Israel?

President Barack Obama strongly denounced violence that occurred during demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, and called for prosecutions against those committing “criminal acts” Tuesday night.

“Burning buildings, torching cars, destroying property, putting people at risk — that’s destructive and there’s no excuse for it. Those are criminal acts. And people should be prosecuted if they engage in criminal acts,” Obama said before giving a speech on immigration in Chicago, Illinois.

(Obama was upset because they were destroying their community).

Protesters stormed the streets of Ferguson Monday night, after a grand jury declined to indict the white police officer, Darren Wilson, who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown last August.

Wilson has said he acted in self-defense, but protesters disagree and argue the killing is part of a larger problem of police discrimination.

The demonstration quickly turned violent with numerous businesses and cars torched by the crowd. More than 60 protesters were arrested and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced he would deploy over  2,000 National Guard troops to keep order Tuesday evening.

Obama said it would be inappropriate for him to address the specifics of Wilson’s case.

However, as he did in a speech following the verdict, Obama spoke generally about his sympathies with the community’s broader frustrations. He said he ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to look into improving police training and diversity across the country.

The frustrations that people have generally, those are rooted in some hard truths that have to be addressed. And so those who are prepared to work constructively, your president will work with you. A lot of folks, I believe, in law enforcement, and a lot of people in city halls, and governors’ offices around the country want to work with you as a well,” Obama said.

While he noted he understands why many are upset by the situation, Obama said he has “no sympathy at all for destroying your own communities.”

“The bottom line is nothing of significance, nothing of benefit, results from destructive acts. I’ve never seen a civil rights law, or a healthcare law, or an immigration bill result because a car got burnt,” he said.

“Take the long-term, lasting route of working with me and governors and state officials to bring about some real change. And to those who think that what happened in Ferguson is an excuse for violence, I do not have any sympathy for that.”

Read more:

Note: The Palestinian youth in the West Bank are arrested administratively while in their home under no charges whatsoever and are incarcerated for over 6 months. These stone throwers are shot by live bullets, mostly in their backs and heads.




February 2023

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