We live in a binary world, unfortunately, where any criticism directed toward the state of Israel’s treatment of Palestine can be misinterpreted as anti-Semitism and used as propaganda against well-meaning artists. Rapper Vic Mensa, of all people, shouldn’t have to make this clear. He did anyway in a recent op-ed for Time, detailing a disturbing trip he took to Palestine last summer.
In it, Mensa writes about similarities between the situation in Palestine and American racism. “I am not anti-Semitic, and the views expressed in this essay are in no way an attack on people of the Jewish faith,” Mensa introduced the piece. “My words are a reflection of my experiences on my trip, and my criticism lies with the treatment of Palestinian civilians by the state of Israel, no more and no less.”
He parallels Palestinian and black American experiences through a few heartbreaking stories—images of people being incarcerated for minor offenses, of being disproportionately targeted by police and clear disparities in quality of living. (At one particularly disturbing moment, he mentions looking into worm-infested water in a refugee camp.) Criminal justice systems are stacked against Palestinians and black Americans from an early age; in Palestine, Mensa met children as young as 12 who had been detained in Israeli prisons.
Probably the most visceral moment comes when he meets people from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, who show him videos of Israeli soldiers cruelly responding to peaceful protests, blitzing elderly women and children with tear gas:
We sat in silence and watched a series of YouTube videos filmed by villagers of soldiers terrorizing the demonstrating civilians, primarily women and children. The videos show hundreds of metal tear-gas canisters raining on peaceful protests, elderly women punched in the face, children beaten and arrested, and even a villager who’s face was literally removed by a gas can at point blank range. “It’s our Palestinian 4th of July. You have fireworks, we have gas canisters,” jokes our host. It’s hard to find the strength to laugh.
As exhausting arguments ensue over whether or not artists should perform in or boycott Israel altogether, Mensa takes a different approach—by going to the contentious region and coming back with a gripping report of injustice. It’s worth reading in its entirety here.