Southern Synergy: from the South to the Global South
We work with southerners every day, supporting them with their abortion appointments, uplifting their stories, and helping them navigate the dangerous web of abortion bans, intentional misinformation, and reproductive oppression. When our callers express frustration with the many barriers they face, we affirm them and emphasize that they should not have to extend themselves to access essential healthcare, while supporting the logistics that make this care possible. We are supporting birthing people to make the best decisions possible for themselves and, more often than not, their already existing families.
We operate with the understanding that these barriers are deliberate, and target the most marginalized, especially when you consider that the majority of our callers — over 82% — are Black people in the South. We also know that anti-choice campaigns aggressively lie, intentionally misuse statistics, and manipulate narratives in order to push their agenda, with mainstream media often helping them to dispense these lies. Gestational limits, mandatory waiting periods and clinic closures are some of the many barriers to abortion care caused by this misinformation. The region our healthline serves also reflects some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the U.S., in addition to recently being the center of forced sterilizations by ICE, all within the part of the U.S. that has the highest population of Black people.
This context is all too similar with Israel’s own history of forced sterilizations of Ethiopian Jews and the stark disparity between Israeli and Palestinian maternal mortality rates. We know efforts to justify this type of reproductive control are also the force behind narratives of so-called ‘welfare queens’, anchor babies, and babies being used as human shields; all meant to dehumanize oppressed parents and children. Because we know all this to be true, we also know that our work is inherently tied to Palestinian liberation, and that Palestinian liberation is in fact an important component of reproductive justice. You cannot be Pro-Choice without being Pro-Palestine.
We see clear parallels between barriers faced by our callers and the deliberate obstacles to healthcare for Palestinians. Just as working class communities across the South are denied abortion access, Palestinians are denied both basic and life-saving maternal care every day. According to the World Health Organization, 10% of pregnant Palestinians were unable to reach maternity clinics due to Israeli checkpoints in 2015; in a four year period, at least 61 women were forced to give birth at Israeli checkpoints and 36 of their babies died as a result.
Moreover, through multi-million dollar state programs like the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange Program (GILEE), the oppression of Palestinians is reverberated to oppressed communities here in the U.S., by U.S. police traveling to occupied Palestine and learning from Israeli forces the tactics they use to repress Palestinians. Organizers, activists, and concerned residents have spent years calling for an end to these deadly police exchange programs, because we know that oppressors swapping notes can lead to nothing but further harm. Atlanta and the Southeast region we serve are known as hubs of the Civil Rights Movement. We know that at the same time of South African Apartheid, Black people in the U.S. experienced our struggles with violent racial segregation and discrimination, creating a strong solidarity link between us and those struggling against apartheid anywhere. In a statement delivered at the 1962 American Negro Leadership Conference, Martin Luther King Jr. declared: “Colonialism and segregation are nearly synonymous … because their common end is economic exploitation, political domination, and the debasing of human personality.”
As longtime reproductive justice advocates based in the U.S. South, we will not be silent about the oppression facing the Palestinian people. For over 75 years since its founding, Israel’s settler-colonial policies have systematically denied Palestinians control over their bodies, health, sexuality, families, and communities. This amounts to catastrophic violations of reproductive freedom, and in fact is the root cause for the escalating violence we have witnessed in previous weeks.
Settler-Colonial Occupation: Horrible For Health
Reproductive Justice reaffirms the belief that people have the right to parent their children in safe and healthy environments, free from oppression, exploitation, and state violence— the settler-colonial occupation makes this impossible. In two weeks, Israel has been responsible for the killings of more than 2000 Palestinian children, with thousands more injured. There are upwards of 80,0000 pregnant women currently in Gaza suffering daily attacks, even in spaces where attacks are prohibited by international law, such as Al-Ahli hospital and Saint Porphyrius Church, one of the oldest churches in the world. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Each year approximately 700 Palestinian children are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli forces; between 2003-2013, an estimated 7,000 Palestinian children went through the Israeli military detention system. Offenses as basic as throwing stones at the soldiers occupying your lands carry a potential 10 year sentence, and innocent children are routinely woken aggressively at night, tied up, blindfolded, and transported to settlements or interrogation centers without being informed of their rights.
Legally questionable military court trials rely heavily on coerced confessions as evidence, with Palestinians as young as 10 years old documented as experiencing violent interrogation fully in Hebrew — a language that most Palestinian children don’t speak. UNICEF, Amnesty International, and even some Israeli groups have condemned the mistreatment of Palestinian children under Israeli military law, which has a near 100% conviction rate against Palestinians.
The conditions of occupation, racial segregation, routine violence from Israeli police and settlers, restrictions to basic life necessities and healthcare take a heavy mental toll on children. Studies show that over 42% of Palestinian children suffer from moderate or acute PTSD; another study showed that over 55% of Palestinian youth have been exposed to at least one traumatic event in their life, and of these, almost 50% have experienced war-related trauma. Another study done by Save The Children placed the number in Gaza much higher, reporting that 95% of their sample in Gaza had depression, aggression, hyperactivity, and a preference for being alone.
The circumstances of Palestinians under the occupation are so dire and ongoing, that many professionals have stated that the Western concept of PTSD does not even adequately cover the experiences of Palestinians. Describing the impacts she sees on her Palestinian patients each day, Samah Jabr, the Chair of the mental health unit at the Palestinian Ministry of Health (one of less than 22 psychiatrists in Palestine) stated:
“PTSD better describes the experiences of an American soldier who goes to Iraq to bomb and go back to the safety of the United States. He’s having nightmares and fears related to the battlefield and his fears are imaginary. Whereas for a Palestinian in Gaza whose home was bombarded, the threat of having another bombardment is a very real one. It’s not imaginary. There’s no ‘post’ because the trauma is repetitive and ongoing and continuous. I think we need to be authentic about our experiences and not try to impose on ourselves experiences that are not ours.”
Understanding this important context, the numbers relating to mental illness in Palestinians are even more intense: 4 out of 5 children in Gaza suffer from depression, grief, and fear caused by the Israeli blockade, and at least 70% of these children exhibited symptoms of bedwetting, difficulty speaking, and difficulty concentrating.
All of these add up to catastrophic outcomes for birthing people and families. According to the National Maternal Mortality Report for 2020, the maternal mortality ratio in Palestine increased to 28.5 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020. While COVID-19 contributed to some of this rise, the primary drivers remain systemic issues under Israel’s occupation. For instance, 50% of direct maternal deaths in Gaza resulted from postpartum hemorrhage, indicating shortages in supplies, infrastructure and capacity to manage obstetric emergencies. Major disparities were also seen between Gaza and the West Bank – Gaza had higher maternal mortality from bleeding and sepsis, reflecting worse access to quality care. Preventable maternal deaths accounted for a troubling 78% of the total, with 29% of women deteriorating after hospital admission in apparently stable condition, and over 71% of Palestinian women classified as having severe or critical clinical conditions when they arrived at the health facility.
Overall, the data highlights severe inequities for Palestinian birthing people in accessing uninterrupted, quality reproductive healthcare under occupation. Palestinian mothers’ reproductive rights to parenthood are impeded on through these innumerable horrific violations.
Immediate international action is imperative to uphold women’s reproductive rights and autonomy. Within the health system, enhanced emergency obstetric training, care coordination, unrestricted access to clinics, and quality improvements — all of which could drastically save the lives of many Palestinian women, and all things that we similarly advocate for here within the U.S. South — remain far out of reach due to occupation.
Why Should RJ Care?
Some ask why a reproductive justice organization like ARC-Southeast would speak out on Palestine. To us, the answer is clear: our liberation is intertwined, and we believe in the intersecting of feminist struggles, not just the intersecting of identities. This line of integrity is not new for us and is the same reason we have strongly supported the movement to Stop Cop City. We cannot fight for reproductive autonomy at home while ignoring the struggles of marginalized people for bodily autonomy abroad, especially when the same government responsible for our reproductive oppression at home is sponsoring the reproductive oppression of Palestinians. As Black feminist scholar and Angela Davis teaches, “If we say we abolish the prison-industrial complex, as we do, we should also say abolish apartheid, and end the occupation of Palestine!”
So we are speaking out, because we know Israel’s apartheid regime represents the restricting of bodily autonomy at the highest level possible, and in countless ways:
- Bombing hospitals, cutting electricity and water, creating a humanitarian disaster in Gaza
- Detaining pregnant Palestinians at military checkpoints, causing miscarriages and lack of maternal care infrastructure
- Separating infants and children from parents through incarceration and detainment
- Sterilizing Ethiopian Jewish immigrants without consent, and treating Arabs and Jews of color as second-class citizens within Israel
- Systematically denying Palestinians access to essential reproductive healthcare
- Annual killing and displacement of hundreds of Palestinians
All of this amounts to racist reproductive violence targeting the Palestinian people, and the parallels to oppression of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people in the U.S. are clear. We also know that Palestinians have stood firmly with us during struggles against racist policing, mass incarceration, and other issues of state violence within the U.S.. One famous example is the solidarity expressed with Black protesters during the Ferguson uprisings of 2014, during which Palestinians gave invaluable information and support on how to deal with tear gas and other attacks from police. Police shootings of Black people in the U.S. was linked to worse mental health for the entire Black population in the state where that shooting had occurred for the next three months, demonstrating yet another connection between Black and Palestinian struggle.
Zionism relies on the oppression of Palestinians to uphold Jewish-Israeli supremacy, and was founded on the colonization of Palestinian land, forced removal and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and the erasure of Palestinian history and culture. At its core, Zionism denies Palestinians the right to exist, thrive, and have autonomy over their bodies, something that impacts Palestinians of all genders and ages. This racist ideology is incompatible with reproductive justice, because we know firmly that settler colonialism denies the core tenants of RJ. Zionism is a contradiction to Reproductive Justice.
Solidarity means recognizing that Palestinian liberation is core to the struggle for collective freedom. All people deserve reproductive autonomy – no exceptions.
We encourage reproductive justice allies to listen to Palestinian voices, learn about apartheid policies, take action to support Palestinian human rights, and support those who have. Especially considering our own tax dollars have been upholding this apartheid, with Israel receiving over $260 billion in U.S. aid. Just this past month, ARC-Southeast was denied a resolution in Fulton County to provide $300,000 to support reproductive justice; a little over a week later, Fulton County unanimously voted to have a “Stand With Israel Day”, and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp was able to find $10 million to support Israel. It is clear that, per usual, the side of justice lies with the people, not with the state and their politicians.
Just like the movement to expand abortion access, we know that being vocally supportive of our Palestinian siblings is crucial, because silence only supports the oppressors, especially at a time when islamophobia and anti-Palestinian sentiment is being encouraged and emboldened by the biases of our elected officials, and dozens are losing their jobs for simply expressing support for Palestinians. When we are silent, misinformation, lies, oppression, and repression are allowed to fester. True reproductive freedom requires the complete liberation of Palestine. We proudly stand in radical solidarity with Palestinians fighting for their human rights. Uplifting those denied dignity is at the heart of our mission for justice.
Palestinians have asked that advocates everywhere join them in demanding, as a bare minimum, an immediate ceasefire; the urgent restoration of water, food, fuel, medical supplies, and humanitarian aid; immediate protection of medical facilities and the reversal of the illegal and inhumane evacuation orders for hospitals; the facilitation of safe passage for casualties and critically ill individuals in need of medical treatment; and an end to the 75 years-long illegal occupation of Palestinian land. We urge all to amplify these demands that come directly from those impacted, and support these demands however possible.
If you are an RJ organization or advocate who would like to sign onto this letter, please click here.
For more information and political education on the topic, check out:
- Solidarity With Palestine – A Radical Black Feminist Mandate: A Reading List
- A historical framework for continued Black-Palestinian solidarity
- Jewish Voices for Peace: The Root of Violence Is Oppression
- Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
- Decolonize Palestine
- Abolish the GILEE program and Stop Cop City
- Palestine 101 with Abby Martin
- PALESTINE: A Reproductive Justice Issue
- This is why what’s happening in Gaza is a reproductive justice issue too
- Visualizing Palestine
- Ending Zionism is a feminist issue
- Ten Myths About Israel
- The War on Gaza and Israel’s Fascism Debate
- Cicada Collective
- Florida Access Network
- Indigenous Women Rising
- Buckle Bunnies Fund
- Sex Workers Educating & Empowering Texans (SWEET)
- Decolonial Feminist Collective
- Riotous Roots
- Bay Area Doula Project
- Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire
- Cornerstone Doula Trainings
- Orishé Midwifery
- Mountain Access Brigade
- Tampa Bay Abortion Fund
- Holistic Abortions
- Indy10/BLM Indy
- Abortion Defense Committee – Pittsburgh
- The Auto(nomous) Body Shop
- HEART to Grow
- West Fund
- National Network of Abortion Funds
- National Network of Abortion Funds Workers United (NNAFWU)
- Healthy and Free Tennessee
- Abortion Stories: An Interactive Arts Festival
- Yellowhammer Fund
- South Texans for Reproductive Justice
- Black Lives Matter Louisville
- Hydra Fund
- Abortion Care for Tennessee
- Hampton Roads Reproductive Justice League
- Kentucky Health Justice Network
- Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund
- Thank God For Abortion
- Ohio Women’s Alliance
- Palmetto State Abortion Fund
- Alliance for Choice Derry, Ireland
- NYC for Abortion Rights
- Endstate ATL
- Feminist Women’s Health Center
- Idaho Abortion Rights
- Tides for Reproductive Freedom
- The Green Network
- Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health
- South Asian SOAR
- Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice
- ACCESS REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE
- The Feminist Front
- Abortion Fund of Ohio
- Holler Health Justice
- Joy Channel
- Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition & Solidarity (MAMAS)
- Abortion Access Amarillo
- New York Abortion Access Fund
- Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project