May 15th, 2017, marks 69 years of Nakba, or “catastrophe”, for Palestinians; 69 years since nearly 800,000 Palestinians were forced from their country to make way for the creation of Israel. Those who remained—or who later came under the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (now 50 years old)—have since been forced to live under the boot of a settler colonial regime which has denied them their rights, subjected them to wanton racism and simply treating them as undesirables. For those who became refugees, they have been unable to return simply because they do not belong to the right religious group. According to a recent UN report, and to countless anti-racism activists including South African leader Desmond Tutu, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians plainly constitutes apartheid.
As practitioners of the Afro-Brazilian artform of capoeira, we are inspired by the historic and present struggles of blacks in Brazil to resist slavery and ongoing racism. This history demands that we, as capoeiristas, continue this struggle wherever we are around the globe and that in addition to supporting efforts against anti-black racism in Brazil, we oppose oppression wherever and whenever we see it.
We are likewise inspired by growing cross-movement solidarity linking anti-racist movements such as Black Lives Matter in the US with the Palestine solidarity movement. Discussing her most recent book, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement, former Black Panther and lifelong activist Angela Davis suggests that making such connections is key to the effective creation of radical consciousness:
It’s about racism, but it’s also about homophobia, and it’s about transphobia, and it’s about addressing ableism. It’s about creating a sense of international solidarity. And the extent to which Palestine has become central to efforts against racism in this country is an indication of how important international solidarity has become.
For us, to play capoeira is to actively identify with all of these different struggles. In this sense, we acknowledge that capoeira is itself a political act, and that by practicing capoeira we are identifying with a set of values that rejects oppression no matter who it involves.
In the case of Palestine, the sense of responsibility to act is augmented by the widespread expansion of capoeira into illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. These capoeira groups not only exclude Palestinians but they contribute to the viability and naturalization of Israel’s colonial enterprise.
According to Mahmoud Nawajaa, representative of the Palestinian national committee to boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) Israel until it ends its assault on Palestinian rights, capoeira is being used to “normalize” Israel’s system of injustice:
While Capoeira is a symbol of the black struggle against slavery and racism in Brazil, today there are Brazilian capoeira groups developing activities in Israel and within illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Capoeira shouldn’t be used as tool to normalize Israeli apartheid, occupation and colonialism against the Palestinian people.
The BDS National Committee has commended our initiative to hold capoeira rodas around the world in solidarity with the Palestinian people. They call on capoeira groups and masters to join other cultural and sport leaders—including rapper Talib Kweli, writer Alice Walker, rock legend Roger Waters and American football stars Michael Bennet and Kenny Stills—to heed the Palestinian BDS call by denying invitations for “events in Israel, in its settlements or for those around the world sponsored by Israeli and complicit institutions.”
In 2015, nearly 20 capoeira rodas (circles) in solidarity with Palestinians were organized—in Brazil, Palestine, the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Italy, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon—with the participation of some of capoeira’s most influential leaders.
Yet again this year, capoeiristas around the world are showing their support for Palestinian liberation by organizing capoeira rodas on or around May 15 to kick out Israeli racism and apartheid.
Iê viva a liberdade!