Social Workers Can No Longer Remain Silent on Oppression of Palestinians

In October, the State of Israel criminalized six Palestinian human rights organizations, designating them as “terrorist groups,” which effectively outlawed their work, and put their workers (human rights defenders) at serious risk. These organizations — Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International-Palestine, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Union of Agricultural Work Committees and Bisan Center for Research and Development — all represent the best of what social and community work can look like: resistance to state oppression and struggle against political, legal and social norms that uphold racial/ethnic supremacy, all the while directly supporting those most harmed and providing vision for a more just society. These are organizations that fight for Palestinian human rights and social welfare. They have been successful in exposing Israeli military occupation and apartheid injustices. The State of Israel is trying delegitimize them.

Social work is often silent when oppression of marginalized groups is so obvious and the criminalization is so apparent. We are two social workers who are deeply involved in social movements and the well-being of all people. We believe that our field has an obligation as social workers to stand alongside oppressed people and fight alongside those on the margins. This is what makes us valuable and just. We see social work as encompassing many types of workers and approaches. This includes those with licenses and credentials. We also know that those and organizations most involved in professionalized social service are less likely to act when it’s not popular or convenient. We must fulfill our obligations and act even if it is risky in order to realize the social work we desire.

These six organizations have been fighting for the rights and lives of Palestinians across historic Palestine since long. These are not only the most prominent Palestinian human rights organisations, but they also reflect a wider array of organizations working for Palestinian people’s welfare. As the U.S. Social Work community continues to confront its complicity with colonization and white supremacy it can look to these organizations as an example of what kind of social service we should aim to cultivate. It is the social care that centers self-determination and solidarity as well as justice. It is the social worker that resists those in power, despite all the risks and inevitable attacks. It is social work that is criminalized because it threatens to disrupt the status quo. As social workers, it is our duty to stand with these organizations and with Palestinians against settler colonization and criminalization resistance.

Israel’s criminalization of Palestinian human rights defenders is an escalation in its longstanding occupation and expanding colonization of Palestine that clearly attempts to stifle a growing movement for Palestinian freedom. Israel’s claim that these six organizations were supporting and funding the armed activities of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was recently confirmed as being unfoundedBy several media outlets. Many European governments refuted these claims. However, governments across the globe are using this tactic to criminalize and denigrate social movements in order to maintain their power, even here in America. the Black PanthersTo the American Indian MovementTo Black Lives MatterThe FBI has long sought to use law to repress Black liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, and social justice in general. The legally codified and racialized use of the word “terrorist” to describe these organizations and individual Palestinian human rights defenders highlights how racialized criminalization is used as a primary tactic by governments and corporations to defend white supremacy and colonization. In condemning Israel’s decision, UN human rights experts declared it “a ​frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere.”

Despite this, transnational resistance against state oppression is still a growing phenomenon. This is especially true between Palestinians in the U.S. and social movements in the U.S. The Movement for Black Lives, which reenergized the historic Black-Palestinian solidarity effort and more than 300 social justice organisations in the US, has recently been reaffirmed. sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding that the Biden administration condemn Israel’s action. Social workers must join these movements and must stand in defense of Palestinian civil society, condemn Israel’s attempts to obstruct their crucial work, and struggle alongside all criminalized and oppressed peoples.

Our communities cannot afford to pay the high price of silence. It has been a burden for Palestinians. the continued expulsion of PalestiniansFrom their homeland the establishment of a system of apartheid. It has meant theft of land, mass criminalization, imprisonment, poverty, social, political, economic exclusion, and more for Black, Indigenous, or people of color in America. Yet, it is not difficult to understand our silence. Too often, social work has chosen to be professionalized, grow and partner with harmful state agencies rather than social justice, solidarity, and self-determination. Even more pressure is placed on Palestinian social workers to speak out.

Many powerful forces are at work to stop people and organisations from speaking out and showing solidarity with Palestine and Palestinians. There are many examples of individuals and organizations in the U.S. who have been punished for their support for Palestinians — from losing jobsTo suffer social sanctionsto be smeared as in the cases of justice movements such as Black Lives Matter. There are material consequences to standing up for and with the Palestinians. Social work must be able to meet our values and move towards a field that centers social justice. We must take risks and show solidarity with those who are marginalized in the most vulnerable times.

Social work in America often fails to see beyond its Western image and borders. This puts serious limitations on our efforts to build solidarity and sustain social justice. As social workers in the belly of the beast of empire, it is our responsibility to reject boundaries and respond to how U.S. imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, racism and sexism have impacted the Global South — the economic crises, forced migrations, and adverse effects on mental and physical health. It is essential that social workers as a profession and community adopt an internationalist and transnationalist approach in order to challenge the global systems of power and oppression, which maintain inequality and supremacy.

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council and Palestinian NGO Network speaks to the spirit of liberation work far and wide, across communities: “This appalling decision [to criminalize the six Palestinian civil society/human rights organizations]This is yet another failed Israeli attempt to control the Palestinian people over the decades. The oppressed, not intimidated, will always demand justice and accountability.”

We urge social workers not to be intimidated and to stand with Palestinians, all oppressed, and steadfast individuals, who are globally leading the way to freedom.

Social workers and anyone else who wants to participate in the Palestinian freedom struggle can find many ways to get involved. You can join the ranks of other social workers. signing an open letter asking the NASW to stand with Palestinian civil society and condemn Israel’s actions. You can financially support the six organizations by following them. Addameer? Al-Haq? Bisan Center for Research and Development? Defense for Children International — Palestine? The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. You can also support the U.S. solidarity organizations for Palestinians and Palestinians, including Adalah Justice Project? Palestine Legal, Palestinian Youth Movement? United States Palestine Community Network, Jewish Voice for Peace. You can support and join the Palestinian-led movements Boycott, Divestment and SanctionsThis initiative aims to end the occupation in Palestine, make it possible for Palestinian citizens to be equal with Israelis, and allow Palestinian refugees to return home under international protection. You can also study and organize with your community of social workers or any other community that you belong to. There are many study materials available. DecolonizePalestine? Institute for Middle East Understanding, Difficult Conversations about Israel and Palestine. Social work that is rooted strongly in solidarity and self determination can aid the struggle for Palestinian liberation. This stands strongly against state criminalization and repression.