One month ago, 24-year-old Chicago rapper Vic Mensa released a video for “We Could Be Free,” the last song on his debut full-length, The Autobiography. The clip brought scenes from Standing Rock, Charlottesville, and Ferguson—focal points of American injustice—together with footage from an occupied Palestinian village. Mensa travelled to Palestine for the video, and now he’s published an essay at TIME, recounting his experience and explicitly tying racism in America to the degradation of human rights in Palestine.
Mensa treads carefully in the piece. “I do not pretend to be familiar with every nuance of the longstanding turmoil that engulfs Israel and Palestine; it is no doubt as aged and tangled as the family trees ripped apart by its brutality,” he writes.
I can only speak to the experiences I had there, to the humiliating checkpoints where Palestinians were not only stripped of their possessions but of their dignity. Walking the ancient streets of the Old City, I watched a Palestinian boy thrown against the wall and frisked by Israeli soldiers in full military gear, carrying assault rifles with their fingers ever present on the trigger. Our guide tells us he’s likely been accused of throwing stones, a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of four years in prison. Take a moment to process that. Throwing stones. Punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence.
Injustices such as those, Mensa writes, felt familiar.
The parallels between the black American experience and the Palestinian experience are overwhelming. Staring into the worm-infested water tank on top of a dilapidated house in Aida refugee camp, I can’t help but think of Flint, Michigan, and the rust-colored lead-poisoned water that flows through their faucets. As I gaze over the 25-foot “separation wall,” the economic disparity is acutely transparent; the Israeli side of the wall looks like the Capitol in The Hunger Games, while the Palestinian side reads like a snapshot from a war photographer. It’s as if the South Side of Chicago’s most forgotten and disenfranchised neighborhoods were separated from the luxury of Downtown’s Gold Coast by a simple concrete wall. The sight alone is emotional, and many people in the group cried on that roof. Rage cannot describe how I feel thinking of the insects swimming in that water tank, while just across the wall is an Israeli settlement with an Olympic-size swimming pool.
You can read the piece in full at Time.
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