Soon after the murder of the two African Americans, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, at the hands of the police, we were walking one night in New York City and came across a demonstration. The protesters were chanting “Black Lives Matter.” At that time, December 2014, there were many similar street protests, against police brutality toward black people, especially young black men.
Black Lives Matter started on social media, in 2013, with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. It has turned into an international activist movement which campaigns against violence toward black people.
That motto became so powerful that in 2014 the American Dialect Society chose “Black Lives Matter” as “the words of the year.”
In spite of the grim circumstances, which brought about the demonstrations, and led to the emergence of this grassroots movement, the words Black Lives Matter have a constructive and hopeful message.
This motto does not choose to dwell on the past, it doesn’t seek revenge for crimes which were committed against the black community. Moreover, it doesn’t speak against police aggression or elaborate on the plight of the black victims.
Instead, this brilliant slogan, with only 3 simple words, focuses on life itself and emphasizes its value. But, it doesn’t refer only to the life of the individual, the existence of the Black collective depends on cherishing and saving those lives
If such a short motto chooses to emphasize that Black lives matter, it should remind everyone how fragile, even endangered, those lives are, and therefore should be filled with significance and handled with care.
The frustration and despair following the incidents of police brutality, and the general feeling that justice was not served, caused activists, within the black community, who had lost faith in the system, to look for another direction. Thus they came up with this message that could appeal to everyone inside and outside the black community.
This universal truth in this motto made me think that such a movement with a similar message could work in the Israeli Palestinian conflict as well.
Recently in the middle of the knives Intifada when we met with Palestinian people through the Narratives Projects of the Parents Circle, one of the Palestinian women, a mother in her thirties, admitted that the most she could do at this point was to make sure that her teenage son stayed at home, so he wouldn’t throw stones at soldiers and of course wouldn’t carry a knife.
It sounded familiar, I had heard it often before, on American radio, and on television, from mothers of kids growing up in poor areas in the US. They too professed that their ability to control or supervise their kids’ actions was limited and often they felt powerless.
But this motto Black Lives Matter could remind the kids, their parents, their families, teachers and the adults around them that they should be careful and cherish their lives.
Within Israeli society we also hear from Israeli parents about their inability to control their kids. One example is the extreme case of the Hill-Top Youth in the settlements. Only recently we were shocked to hear, from parents, the inside story of those youth who live outside society on the hills of the occupied territories and are engaged in risky behaviors and commit serious crimes against Palestinian.
Whether they are Black, Israelis or Palestinians young people would benefit from internalizing the message that life matters. Moreover, it is time to replace the old heroic motto with a new one which insists that it is preferable to live for our country than to die for it.