The Struggle for Palestinian Rights & Self-Determination Embraced by Indigenous Activists

Excerpt of speech by Salma Abu Ayyash, a Palestinian American engineer, educator and social justice activist, produced by Melinda Tuhus

The 54th annual indigenous National Day of Mourning was held again this year in Plymouth, Massachusetts on Nov. 23, when most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. The organizers of the event, United American Indians of New England, held a rally and march to celebrate indigenous lives, mourn what indigenous tribes and nations have lost through settler colonialism, and to support current struggles. This year the Palestinian fight for freedom and self-determination took center stage.

Almost every speaker referenced the ongoing Israel-Gaza war. One of the event’s featured speakers was Salma Abu Ayyash, a Palestinian American engineer, educator, and social justice activist who is a founding member of the Boston Palestine Film Festival and the Center for Arabic Culture in Boston.

After thanking the organizers of the event for inviting her and giving honor to her ancestors, she gave the following speech, produced and edited by Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus who attended the march and rally.

SALMA ABU AYYASH: Palestinians yearn for a land where Palestinians have self-determination, liberty, sovereignty over our lands, freedom of movement and to be free from the daily pogroms, killings and incarceration that has been going on for 75 years and more. A land, where anyone – whatever your relationship with the creator or lack thereof it – is welcome to participate in building a nation with equal rights for everyone.

Palestine was once such a place, before the state of Israel was created on 78 percent of its land, before European settler colonial invasion in the early 19th century destroyed our societies, alienated neighbors and turned Arab Jews and non-Jews against each other. Yes, we have a dream, and it will come true because anything short of this dream is accepting a system of genocide and oppression, continued aggression and settler expansion.

We Palestinians have all the power we need because you – indigenous people everywhere, Black and brown people, the wretched of the earth, people of conscience, Jewish people who have shed their fears and join this mass of love, working class people and all people who understand their privilege and the wrongs of their ancestors. We have all the power because we choose life for all.

Let us remember that indigenous people in our communities make visible what settler colonialism is, why land back is important. Let us be clear that young Black women and men and their elders, writers, artists, educators who taught us about anti-Blackness, structural racism, including exposing the U.S. carceral system. These same Black, young and not so young, are marching with us day in and day out, just like Palestinians marched with them in Ferguson and against the prison-industrial system and police brutality everywhere – a police that is trained in many U.S. states and towns by the Israeli army.

Palestinians will acknowledge you always and hold you in our hearts in gratitude and join you in your struggles even in this dark cloud of carnage, because it is one struggle; it is our collective liberation, and that is our power.

And now Gaza. I wonder, do we really understand what it means when 15,271 children, women and men are killed in 40 days. But maybe you don’t know what’s happening in the West Bank. I’m a Palestinian from a village north of Hebron. Settlers roam with their machine guns day and night. According to The New York Times even, there are over 200 killed by settler rampages and over 2,000 injured. Some 2,650 Palestinians have been detained by the army in the West Bank. What’s happening in Palestine today is a condensed, horrible version of what’s been happening to us on a daily basis for 75 years.

Every report from the media should remind you that Palestinians are a people who have been living under a brutal occupation. They should also remind you that people under conditions of occupation, transfer and continued colonization have the right to resist by any means possible. And that an occupying power has no right to defend itself against the people it occupies – certainly not inflict such horror, collective punishment on a whole population that has already been under siege for 16 years.

We reject a state that has no constitution or defined borders and has been deemed an apartheid state by two international organizations – Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International – and two Israeli human rights organizations. A state that has 65 racist laws discriminating against non-Jews, including a nation-state law of the Jewish people that declares the right to exercise national self-determination to be unique only to the Jewish people and that declares Jewish settlement as a national value, and that mandates that the state will labor to encourage and promote the establishment and development of Jewish settlement, because we oppose and resist a settler colonial state. Palestinians have lived with peaceful Arab Jewish people for centuries; our fight is against the white European settler project, not against our Jewish brothers and sisters.

CHANT: Free, free Palestine!

For more information, visit the United American Indians of New England at United American Indians of New England at

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