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I Wish Americans Could See the Humanity of Palestinians as They Do With Israelis

As a Palestinian American, I am heartbroken to watch U.S.-backed war crimes unfolding in Gaza.

People extinguish a fire in the site of Israeli air strikes in Rafah on October 12, 2023.

Part of the Series

Part of being Palestinian American is having to watch Israel treated as the U.S.’s “special ally” and essentially the 51st state. This week, that feeling is particularly acute as the U.S. is planning to augment its aid to Israel with an additional $2 billion, even as Israeli officials call for genocidal acts, horrific human rights abuses and collective punishment in the Gaza Strip.

In these moments, Palestinian Americans like me face the constant guilt that our tax dollars are funding the oppression and apartheid conditions faced by our families and people in Israeli-occupied Palestine. For instance, U.S. funds help subsidize Israel’s illegal settlements across the West Bank. Israel has now placed Palestinian cities and villages in the West Bank under closure, and Israeli forces have just provided already heavily armed Israeli settlers with over 1,000 additional M16 rifles, which is terrifying given the history of settler violence.

While my family in the West Bank live in fear from soldiers and settlers, the reports from our friends and contacts in the Gaza Strip are nightmarish. Israeli officials are referring to Palestinians as “human animals” and confirmed having cut off access to water, electricity, food and medicine. Israeli bombardment has been underway for days now in preparation for a ground invasion in Gaza.

The past few days have been grueling on so many levels, particularly as Israeli officials — in what has been described as the most far right government in Israel’s history — call for and carry out atrocities against Palestinians with full backing from U.S. officials.

U.S. leaders have been inciting Israel to inflict large-scale assaults on Hamas without regard for civilian life in a besieged and impoverished territory where half the population are children and most are refugees. Already there are reports of Israel’s use of white phosphorus weapons and Israel’s bombardment killing women, children, men, journalists and medics, while Gazan hospitals are on the brink of losing power.

A core part of the Palestinian American experience in moments like these is our escalated experience of systemic racism and the silencing of our voices — not only in Palestine/Israel, but here in the U.S. as well. The campaigns of demonization of Palestinians and targeting of visible voices are in full force as we speak. Students and others in the U.S. who are attempting to raise awareness about the need for Palestinian rights and protection are being smeared, doxed and even fired by their employers.

As I worry about my own loved ones back home and try to keep up with the staggering statistics on the decimation of Palestinian lives and livelihoods, I also am grieving for Israeli civilians as they process the unprecedented scale of killing they experienced this past weekend. I know Palestinians and Israelis who have been killed, maimed and displaced, and who are missing, and my heart is broken in a million pieces.

It has also been painful to endure the barrage of accusations and suspicion. Palestinians, despite our immense heterogeneity like any other people, are writ large associated with Hamas. While some Palestinians support Hamas for political, religious or utilitarian reasons, others oppose Hamas on ideological or practical grounds.

Most Palestinians merely want to lead ordinary lives with dignity and now cannot think of anything beyond survival. I keenly experience how, as a Palestinian American, I am deemed guilty of support for “terrorism” until proven innocent. In the U.S., individuals overwhelmingly tend to assume that we are sympathetic to Hamas and to the massacres and war crimes they carried out this weekend that have resulted in over 1,300 Israeli deaths. Of course, I am unequivocally opposed to the targeting of Israeli civilians. But it’s demeaning for us to endure being asked to declare this so constantly. As a pacifist, I am deeply committed to nonviolent resistance, even as we are aware of Israel’s history of repression against nonviolent resistance. The expectation seems to be for Palestinians to acquiesce to our oppression and the theft of our ancestral homes, lands and natural resources.

It’s also surreal to be pressured to muzzle ourselves about the 75 years of Israeli state-sponsored terrorism against the Palestinian people. For my 39 years of existence on this planet, my homeland has always been under Israeli military occupation, with massive violations of international law. Within American academia, scholars such as myself, who specialize in the Middle East and are people of color, often face heightened surveillance from external organizations and internal forces that decontextualize our words and attempt to smear us as violent and antisemitic.

While my family in the West Bank live in fear from soldiers and settlers, the reports from our friends and contacts in the Gaza Strip are nightmarish.

Certainly, antisemitism must be named, condemned and combatted with moral clarity. Yet false accusations of antisemitism should not be leveled against individuals advancing informed criticisms of the Israeli state and its egregious human rights violations. The Palestinian freedom movement includes many Jewish and Israeli voices who are furthering solidarity between our communities and who are challenging the chilling of free speech on Palestine/Israel.

It is disheartening to witness political forces in the U.S., who are instrumentalizing compassion regarding Israeli suffering, to help channel further U.S. military support for Israeli violence against innocent Palestinians in Gaza. It is an upsetting experience to realize that many of the same folks justifiably expressing horror about the murder and abduction of Israeli women, men, children and the elderly have never uttered a word about the murder and disappearance of Palestinians, even though Palestinians have disproportionately shouldered the casualties of this conflict and settler colonialism.

I find the empathy and compassion that so many Americans have for Israeli life to be beautiful. Yet the extreme imbalance in recognizing the humanity of Israelis versus Palestinians has been relentlessly stoked by the biases of mainstream U.S. media, which have yielded a U.S. public that has largely never seen the countless images of Palestinian children being abducted from their beds and neighborhoods and taken to Israeli dungeons over decades now. I hope that one day we will get to the point that the sort of empathy that the majority of people in the U.S. so readily feel for Israelis can also be extended to the Palestinian people as well.

Moving forward, the global movement for Palestinian freedom continues, and the U.S. is a major part of this equation. Americans in solidarity with Palestine play an important role in lobbying their elected officials to push for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, and to provide humanitarian protection to all civilians. We also raise public awareness about the gross violations of human rights in the Occupied Territories.

Achieving sustainable peace necessitates addressing the root of the Gaza crisis: the ongoing displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people. As we embrace political rather than military solutions, we also call for an end to unconditional U.S. aid to Israel, and demand that international law be consistently applied to Israeli, Palestinian and American parties to the conflict. There are organizations on the ground worthy of our support, including Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, and Medical Aid for Palestinians.

I hope for an immediate end to the bloodshed, the return of Palestinian and Israeli detainees to their homes, and building peace and justice for all in Palestine/Israel.

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