ARAB AND WORLD

Thu 22 Feb 2024 8:43 am - Jerusalem Time

When Malcolm X visited Gaza in September 1964

Civil rights icon spent time in Khan Younis refugee camp and listened to Palestinian poetry, inspiring him to write an essay about the Israeli occupation

By Rayhan Uddin

The human rights activist and Muslim preacher Malcolm X was killed 59 years ago today, on 21 February 1965. 

Though mainly known for his advocacy for the civil rights of Black communities in the United States, he also spent much of his life speaking on the struggles of peoples worldwide. 

Particularly during the latter years of his life - after breaking away from the Black nationalist and separatist Nation of Islam - Malcolm began to interact with leaders and organisers across the globe. 

During extensive travels in Africa and the Middle East in 1964, he met several postcolonial pan-African and pan-Arab leaders, including then-Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghanian Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, and Guinea President Ahmed Sekou Toure.

"I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance in realising the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world," Malcolm said upon his return to America in New York in December 1964.


Among those international causes was the struggle of the Palestinian people, which the civil rights figure was most vocal about in the final six months of his life. 

In 1948, in what came to be known as the Nakba (or catastrophe), 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes to make way for the newly created state of Israel. 

In the years that followed, displaced Palestinians were forced to live in refugee camps in Gaza, the West Bank, and neighbouring countries including Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

It was in that context that Malcolm visited Palestine twice. He went to Jerusalem in 1959 and then to Gaza for two days in September 1964.

Little is known about the first trip, however, his time spent in Gaza is well documented. 

Visit to Gaza

Malcolm travelled from Egypt to Gaza on 5 September 1964.

At the time, the Gaza Strip was under the control of Egypt (which took over the enclave in 1948) and therefore travel between the two territories was relatively smooth. 

According to his travel diaries, Malcolm visited the Khan Younis refugee camp, which was created in 1949 following the Nakba to house people displaced from other parts of Palestine. 

He also visited a local hospital and dined with religious leaders in Gaza. 

Later in the evening, the American preacher met renowned Palestinian poet Harun Hashem Rashid, who described to him how he narrowly escaped the Khan Younis massacre of 1956. 

During the massacre, which took place in the one-week war which came to be known as the Suez Crisis, Israeli forces went house-to-house executing a total of 275 Palestinians (the majority of whom were civilians) in southern Gaza.

Rashid went on to recite a poem about Palestinian refugees returning to their lands, which Malcolm copied into his diary, according to a 2019 paper on Malcolm and Palestine by Hamzah Baig. 

"At 8:25 pm we left for the mosque to pray with several religious leaders. The spirit of Allah was strong," Malcolm wrote in his diary.  

To conclude the trip, he visited Gaza's parliamentary building and held a press conference with the various local figures. 

“There they showered gifts upon me," he wrote, which included a picture of the Aswan High Dam taken down from a wall in the parliament building. 

He left Gaza on 6 September at noon and headed back to Cairo. 

On 15 September, in Cairo's Shepheard's Hotel, Malcolm met with members of the newly formed Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), including Ahmad al-Shukeiri, the group's first chairman.

'Zionist Logic' essay

Days after the trip to Gaza, Malcolm would pen his most extensive article on the Palestinian cause. 

On 17 September 1964, he published the essay, "Zionist Logic", in the Cairo-based newspaper, the Egyptian Gazette. 

In the piece, he describes Zionism as "a new form of colonialism" which appears to be "benevolent" and "philanthropic". He warned that newly-independent African countries in economic difficulty were being exploited by Israel through economic aid and assistance. 

He also accused the West of strategically attempting to divide Africans and Asians, through the creation of the state of Israel. 

"The ever-scheming European imperialists wisely placed Israel where she could geographically divide the Arab world, infiltrate and sow the seed of dissension among African leaders and also divide the Africans against the Asians," he wrote. 

"The continued low standard of living in the Arab world has been skillfully used by the Zionist propagandists to make it appear to the Africans that the Arab leaders are not intellectually or technically qualified to lift the living standard of their people. 

'[The] occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history' - Malcolm X

"Thus, indirectly inducing Africans to turn away from the Arabs and towards the Israelis for teachers and technical assistance."

In the essay's final section, he questioned Israel's justification of a state based on a "promised land". 

"If the 'religious' claim of the Zionists is true that they were to be led to the promised land by their messiah, and Israel's present occupation of Arab Palestine is the fulfillment of that prophesy: where is their messiah[?]" he asked. 

He then drew a comparison with Muslim rule over Spain, and whether that period would give Muslims the right to invade Iberia in the present day.

"Only a thousand years ago, the Moors lived in Spain. Would this give the Moors of today the legal and moral right to invade the Iberian Peninsula, drive out its Spanish citizens, and then set up a new Moroccan nation... where Spain used to be, as the European Zionists have done to our Arab brothers and sisters in Palestine?"

He concludes by stating that Israel's argument to justify its "present occupation of Arab Palestine has no intelligent or legal basis in history". 

Malcolm was assassinated on 21 February 1965, after being shot multiple times while delivering a speech in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom. 

His pro-Palestine approach was later continued by prominent Black-American activists, including Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis and other figures within the Black Panther movement, including Eldridge Cleaver.

In 1969, Cleaver would go on to meet Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO, and set up an international section of the Panther party in Algeria. 

 

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When Malcolm X visited Gaza in September 1964