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'Young lives taken too soon': activists dedicate memorial to Tamir Rice in Aida refugee camp

Dec. 3, 2016 1:03 A.M. (Updated: May 17, 2017 12:30 P.M.)
Memorial for Tamir Rice and Abd al-Rahman Ubeidallah in Aida refugee camp playground (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- In the span of one year, a 12- and a 13-year-old boy were shot and killed by armed authorities -- one in the occupied West Bank, and one in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States.

Their names were Abd al-Rahman Ubeidallah, 13, and Tamir Rice, 12, and on Friday, a memorial was unveiled in their honor in the Aida refugee camp -- where Ubeidallah was born, raised, and killed -- near the southern occupied West bank city of Bethlehem.

Tamir, an African-American child, was shot by local Ohio police on Nov. 22, 2014 while playing alone with his toy gun in a park in Cleveland.

Within seconds of arriving on the scene to reports of a juvenile playing with what the caller reported was “probably a fake gun,” police officers shot Tamir in the chest. He was pronounced dead a day later.

Almost one year later, on Oct. 5, 2015, Abd al-Rahman was shot in the chest by Israeli forces as he walked home from school during clashes in the Aida refugee camp.

He was taken to the hospital, but was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Israeli authorities later said his death was “a mistake.”

Neither the American police officers nor the Israeli soldiers who killed Rice and Ubeidallah were indicted for killing the boys.

“We are dedicating this memorial in honor of two young lives which have been snuffed out unjustly,” said Reverend Graylan Hagler, who came with members of his congregation from Washington D.C. to dedicate the memorial inside the Aida playground, built by the NGO Playgrounds for Palestine.

“We are here to make a statement,” continued Hagler -- a veteran social and economic justice activist and outspoken supporter of Palestinian human rights -- “as people of color, as people of conscience, as black people...we join with you in grief, and we join with you in solidarity.”

The memorial, which was built in the shape of a book, featured paintings depicting the young Abd al-Rahman and Tamir, and read “every child has the right to engage in play and recreational activities and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

In a statement released by Playgrounds for Palestine, the group said the memorial was “an affirmation of our [Palestinian] solidarity with the struggles of Black America.”

“It is a gesture of love, and a commitment to struggle for spaces of safety and dignity for our children in a world that views their lives with contempt and suspicion because of the pigment of their skin or the religion into which they are born,” the statement concluded.

As local children from Aida and volunteers from Aida’s Lajee Center (“Refugee Center”) gathered around the memorial in the cold winter rain, clergy members and ministers from DC, Illionois, California, and Maryland bowed their heads and said a prayer.

“We pray for justice for all the black girls and boys, and for all the Palestinian boys and girls to grow up with justice and freedom,” the group prayed.

“As we say at home, black lives matter. But i’m also here to say that Palestinian lives matter,” Reverend Graylan concluded to a round of applause.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is a social and racial justice and equality movement which began in the United States in response to numerous extrajudicial killings of black Americans by police officers and civilians, and aims to work "for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted for demise."

Many within the movement have found a common struggle with Palestinian resistance to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory and its human rights abuses against the Palestinians, particularly as Israel has been the target of widespread international condemnation for what has been labeled by critics as a “shoot-to-kill” policy against Palestinians.

Since a wave of unrest began last October, during which more than 241 Palestinians have been slain by Israelis, many, like Ubeidallah, were killed in apparent "extrajudicial executions" when they posed no threat.

In July, a group of BLM activists joined weekly protests in the Ramallah-area village of Bilin, where villagers have protested every Friday for 11 consecutive years, and are often met with tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and stun grenades from Israeli forces.

In a statement on the official Black Lives Matter Facebook page at the time, the group posted a picture of activists holding up Palestinian flags and signs of solidarity at the protest.

"In the fight for dignity, justice and freedom, the Movement for Black Lives is committed to the global shared struggle of oppressed people, namely the people of occupied Palestine and other indigenous communities who for decades have resisted the occupation of their land, the ethnic cleansing of their people, and the erasure of their history and experiences," the statement said.

The statement concluded with the Black Lives Matter activists committing to "global struggle, solidarity, and support of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement to fight for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinian people and to end international support of the occupation."

July’s protest was not the first time justice activists from the BLM movement visited Palestine or expressed solidarity with its people.

A group of activists, including prominent American journalist Marc Lamont Hill, from the movement released a video in January 2015, which was filmed in Nazareth in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against "Israeli apartheid."

The video was filmed at the conclusion of a ten-day tour by representatives of groups associated with Black rights and racial justice including the Dream Defenders, Black Youth Project 100, Black Lives Matter, and activists associated with the Ferguson movement against police brutality.

Referencing cities in the United States which have become the focal points of protests and justice movements after repeated shootings of unarmed black men, the activists performed song, dance, and spoken word.

“We come here and we learn laws that have been co signed in ink but written in the blood of the innocent and we stand next to people who continue to courageously struggle and resist the occupation, people continue to dream and fight for freedom, from Ferguson to Palestine the struggle for freedom continues," the activists said.

(MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
(MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
(MaanImages/Yumna Patel)
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