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How the sun of Palestine reached a Black

Panther in jail

Professor and exhibition curator Greg Thomas says there is a radical kinship between Palestinians and
Black Americans. Rebecca Pierce

Rebecca Pierce-15 December

For George Jackson, like many Black revolutionaries, prison was a place of both
political captivity and radical education.
During the 11 years Jackson spent in prison following a one-year-to-life sentence for
his alleged role in a gas station robbery, he amassed a library of more than 99 books

with which he used to educate himself and which he shared among his fellow
Jackson, a Black Panther and an author, was one of the Soledad Brothers, three
African Americans charged with the murder of a white guard at Soledad
Prison, California, in 1970.
The incident occurred shortly after a marksman who had shot dead three Black men in
the prisons recreation yard was exonerated in a justifiable homicide ruling.
Less well-known is the fact that Jackson also turned to the Palestinian struggle for
inspiration during this time, and that the Palestinian prisoner writings that influenced
him would continue to have an impact in the US Black community for decades to
That encounter has now inspired a new exhibition in a Jerusalem museum that
highlights the historic and continuing kinship between the Palestinian and Black
American prisoners movements.
Curated by Tufts Universitys English and Africana studies professor Greg
Thomas, George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine features international book covers,
woodcuts, paintings, political posters and other works tied to Jacksons life and the US
prisoners movement.
Presented by Al-Quds Universitys Abu Jihad Museum in Abu Dis, the exhibition also
includes the coverage of Jacksons slaying by a prison guard and its aftermath by the
Black Panther Partys official newspaper and prints signed in solidarity with Palestine
by Emory Douglas, the former Black Panther minister of culture and graphic artist.
Thomas points to a common language shared by Black Americans and Palestinians, for
whom widespread incarceration of their communities is not an issue of crime and
punishment, but the result of a system designed to punish them for their very
Language of captivity
When Im reading [Palestinian] literature its not just the language of the prisoner
thats used, theres the language of the captive its understood as political captivity,
Thomas said in an interview with The Electronic Intifada. In George Jacksons
writing, hes writing about neo-slavery, and hes using the language of captivity.
The name of the Jerusalem exhibit is derived from Enemy of the Sun, a collection of
Palestinian poetry removed from Jacksons cell by prison authorities after his death.

The anthology, published by US Black radical printers Drum and Spear Press, was part
of a list of 99 books recovered among Jacksons possessions that was made public this
summer by the socialist paper Liberation News.
These books served as both a lending library for the prison population and part of what
Thomas calls Jacksons study of US colonial fascism while writing Blood in My Eye,
one of the two books of letters that saw him lauded as one of the most important Black
American voices of his generation.
Handwritten copies of two poems from the collection, Enemy of the Sun and I Defy
by Samih al-Qasim, were also found in Jacksons cell and were published as a single
poem under his name in the Black Panther Party newspaper.
Thomas ascribes this to a mistake of radical kinship and suggested Jackson handcopied these poems for the purpose of sharing as contraband among prisoners. They
have since had a long Black life and continue to be circulated under Jacksons name
to this day.
The exhibit is the first effort by the Abu Jihad Museum to highlight the struggle of
political prisoners outside of Palestine, and will be on display indefinitely. The
collection boasts a unique array of prisoner correspondences, including a previously
unpublished letter from Jackson to his lawyers expressing anger over what he
considered to be the watering down of his book Soledad Brother.
An additional display includes letters of solidarity between Palestinian and Black
American prisoners such asRasmea Odeh, Mumia Abu Jamal and California death row
prisoner and author Adisa Kamara.
The letters arent the only nod to the US prison movement. The exhibit showcases
photographs of Palestinian mural art from Israels wall around Bethlehem calling for
solidarity with the historic 2013 California prisoner hunger strikes against solitary
confinement, as well as a poster for Dying for Sunlight, an upcoming documentary film
on the strikes.
Deeper than solidarity
The 20 October opening of the exhibition included a symposium featuring Thomas;
Abu Jihad Museums Director Dr. Fayed Abu Al-Hajj; Sahar Francis, director of the
Palestinian prisoners advocacy group Addameerand Issa Qaraqa, head of
the Palestinian Authoritys committee on prisoners affairs.

Mahmoud Jiddah, an Afro-Palestinian community leader who attended the opening,

said that hed first heard of George Jackson during his time in an Israeli prison in the
1970s and 1980s.
Jiddah explained that the exhibit and broader solidarity efforts connecting Black
Americans and the Palestinian struggle have a special significance for his community.
As Black Palestinians we are discriminated against two times, once because we are
Palestinian, and another because of our color. So I believe it is a good idea to create
awareness between the two peoples, he said.
Addameers Sahar Francis said that the ongoing boycott campaign against the British
security firm G4S, which operates in both Israeli and US prisons, is a powerful
example of the ways in which this solidarity strengthens each others communities.
Thomas said a tour of Palestinian educational institutions had revealed to him how
readily the student body there connected with George Jacksons story. At Al-Quds
University, he recounted, one student had asked if Jacksons family ever received his
body, referencing Israels notorious graveyard of numbers where Palestinians
are imprisoned even after death.
According to Thomas, who is working on a Jackson biography, Jackson had considered
the possibility his body would not be returned to his family.
There are all these passages in Georges work that address that, where he says If
theres a choice between my dignity and my freedom from inside the prison, then the
hill can have my bones, he explained.
Thomas said this type of immediate identification with Jacksons life was common and
sees this as further evidence of the radical kinship between the two peoples.
Thats why I think the word solidarity is not quite enough, Thomas said. Because
when it goes beyond physical death and its still there, thats something so much
George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine is expected to travel in Palestine starting
with Birzeit University near the West Bank city of Ramallah. Thomas also hopes to
bring a version to the US with a focus on educating Americans about both Jacksons
revolutionary legacy and the Palestinian prisoners movement.

We want it to travel, Thomas said. We want the exhibit itself to have a diaspora.
Rebecca Pierce is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker with a focus
on militarization, borders, prisons and policing. Her work has appeared in The
Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, Alternet and The Nation.
Posted by Thavam