[Pnews] How the sun of Palestine reached a Black Panther in jail

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Dec 16 12:20:16 EST 2015

  How the sun of Palestine reached a Black Panther in jail

Rebecca Pierce <https://electronicintifada.net/people/rebecca-pierce> 15 
December 2015

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 prisoners.

Jackson, a Black Panther and an author, was one of the Soledad Brothers 
<http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/soledadbro.html>, three African 
Americans charged with the murder of a white guard at Soledad Prison, 
California <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/california>, in 1970. 
The incident occurred shortly after a marksman who had shot dead three 
Black men in the prison’s 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 come.

That encounter has now inspired a new exhibition in a Jerusalem 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/jerusalem> museum that highlights 
the historic and continuing kinship between the Palestinian and Black 
American prisoners’ movements.

Curated by Tufts University’s 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 Jackson’s life and the US prisoners movement.

Presented by Al-Quds University’s 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/al-quds-university> Abu Jihad 
Museum <http://www.aj-museum.alquds.edu/en/> in Abu Dis, the exhibition 
also includes the coverage of Jackson’s slaying by a prison guard and 
its aftermath by the Black Panther Party’s 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 presence.

    Language of captivity

“When I’m reading [Palestinian] literature it’s not just the language of 
the prisoner that’s used, there’s the language of the captive — it’s 
understood as political captivity,” Thomas said in an interview with The 
Electronic Intifada. “In George Jackson’s writing, he’s writing about 
neo-slavery, and he’s 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 Jackson’s 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 Jackson’s 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 Jackson’s “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 

Handwritten copies of two poems from the collection, “Enemy of the Sun” 
and “I Defy” by Samih al-Qasim 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/samih-al-qasim>, were also found in 
Jackson’s 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 hand-copied 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 Jackson’s 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 as Rasmea Odeh 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/rasmea-yousef-odeh>, Mumia Abu 
Jamal and California death row prisoner and author Adisa Kamara.

The letters aren’t the only nod to the US prison movement. The exhibit 
showcases photographs of Palestinian mural art from Israel’s wall 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/israels-wall-west-bank> around 
Bethlehem <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/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 Museum’s Director Dr. Fayed Abu Al-Hajj; Sahar Francis 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/sahar-francis>, director of the 
Palestinian prisoners advocacy group Addameer 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/addameer> and Issa Qaraqa 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/issa-qaraqa>, head of the 
Palestinian Authority’s 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestinian-authority> committee on 
prisoners affairs.

Mahmoud Jiddah <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/mahmoud-jiddah>, an 
Afro-Palestinian community leader who attended the opening, said that 
he’d 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.

Addameer’s Sahar Francis said that the ongoing boycott 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/bds> campaign against the British 
security firm G4S <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/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 
Jackson’s story. At Al-Quds University, he recounted, one student had 
asked if Jackson’s family ever received his body, referencing Israel’s 
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 George’s work that address that, where 
he says ‘If there’s 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 Jackson’s life 
was common and sees this as further evidence of the radical kinship 
between the two peoples.

“That’s why I think the word ‘solidarity’ is not quite enough,” Thomas 
said. “Because when it goes beyond physical death and it’s still there, 
that’s something so much deeper.”

/George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine/ is expected to travel in 
Palestine starting with Birzeit University 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/birzeit-university> near the West 
Bank city of Ramallah <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/ramallah>. 
Thomas also hopes to bring a version to the US with a focus on educating 
Americans about both Jackson’s 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 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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