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Palestinian Americans Worry Rhetoric Will Turn Into Islamophobic Legislation

Palestinians across the U.S. are speaking out about what it’s like seeing the country turn against them.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, part of a 'Flood Manhattan for Gaza' protest, march from Columbus Circle to Grand Central in New York City, on November 10, 2023.

In his initial remarks after the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7, President Joe Biden stated, “As long as the United States stands — and we will stand forever — we will not let [Israel] ever be alone.” Over the past month, the U.S. has maintained its position of unwaveringly backing the occupation State of Israel, even as casualties in Gaza rise to more than 10,000 and calls for a ceasefire mount. Congress, as a whole, has maintained a similar stance to the White House. The Senate and the House have introduced resolutions condemning the October 7 attacks, calling for the release of all hostages taken by Hamas, and “affirming the support of the United States for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself.” But some conservative lawmakers have taken even stronger anti-Gazan stances, calling for the redirection of humanitarian aid funds from Gaza to Israeli defense and characterizing all Palestinians in Gaza as antisemitic.

Some of this anti-Gazan sentiment has evolved into broader anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic sentiment with many Muslims and Muslim organizations comparing this rise in Islamophobia to post-9/11 levels. Violent hate crimes, such as the killing of 6-year-old Palestinian-American Wadea Al-Fayoume, the stabbing of Dr. Talat Jehan Khan, and the running over of an Arab-American student at Stanford University, are also on the rise.

“Hate crimes have increased dramatically since Oct. 7, and it is extremely concerning,” said Niala Mohammad, the director of policy and strategy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). “Our elected officials need to address the bullying and retaliation against Muslim families, students, and employees by providing them with the support and safety to ensure that the American Muslim and Arab communities are not treated as suspects nor continue to suffer from the collective trauma experienced since 9/11.”

She also pointed out that MPAC is “concerned that [Islamophobia] will amplify in conservative states where the great replacement theory narrative is echoed freely.” The “great replacement theory” is a xenophobic, white supremacist idea that white individuals are being replaced by immigrants and people of color, and some conservative lawmakers have espoused similar xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric in the wake of the October 7 attacks. Former President Donald Trump asserted that the “same people” who were attacking Israel were crossing into the U.S. through the southern border to commit attacks before calling for a reinstatement of the so-called “Muslim Ban.” Mohammad finds this particularly concerning, highlighting that “this ban garnered significant support from Trump followers, and we are concerned the current state of affairs will justify the proposition of similar executive orders.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s top opponent in the Republican primary, has promoted similar rhetoric, stating, “You have to recognize that if that can happen in Israel, what do you think can happen in our country with an open border where 7 million people at a minimum have come through illegally?” DeSantis has also stated on multiple occasions that the U.S. should take no Palestinian refugees, citing that Palestinians “are all antisemitic.”

In his home state, DeSantis has shut down chapters of the pro-Palestine organization Students for Justice in Palestine, citing their alleged support for a terrorist organization,” even as some argue that this is a violation of free speech. Haneen Jabbar, a Palestinian-American student at the University of Florida, told Prism, “The entire conservative state of Florida is very anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian … Whenever people speak about Palestine in Florida, it risks their future and education, and people are definitely being silenced. People are scared to speak up because of the repercussions.”

Republicans have already commenced immigration restrictions by introducing the Guaranteeing Aggressors Zero Admission Act (GAZA Act) “to make aliens who are holders of a passport issued by the Palestinian Authority ineligible for visas, admission, or parole into the United States.”

Noor Hamed, a Palestinian American from Wisconsin, told Prism, “I’m seeing my politicians not stand with me. I’m an American citizen; it’s sad to see.” A broader example of this new wave of restrictive immigration legislation is Florida Sen. Marco Rubios bill to cancel visas for foreign nationals who have “endorsed and espoused the actions of foreign terrorist organizations,” such as “pro-Hamas demonstrators.”

Both Hamed and Jabbar also say they feel “dehumanized” right now living in a country that is not backing them.

“It feels like no one really supports not just the Palestinian cause, but even cares about Palestinian lives in general,” Jabbar told Prism. Jabbar explained that for her mother, who was born in Palestine, the current situation in the U.S. has been affecting her mental health.

Hamed added that because of the response around her, she feels gaslit. “I look at what’s going on, and I feel for my people. Then I look up, and I feel insane. Nobody around me other than my close friends is supporting me. My politicians are not supporting me, and my peers are not supporting me … I feel like nobody else sees it, like I’m insane for seeing what I see.”

Both Hamed and Jabbar highlighted that misinformation and the rise in Islamophobia are particularly problematic as the Isreali genocide of Palestinians continues for the 32nd day, citing the rise in hate crimes and the suppression of Palestinian voices. Mohammad added that Islamophobic sentiment being pushed in general “under the guise of national security” is another concern. She cited the attorney general of Virginia’s announcement that his office is launching an investigation into the nonprofit American Muslims for Palestine for a possible violation of Virginia’s charitable solicitation laws based on accusations that the nonprofit is supporting terrorism. “We are treated as a suspect community for showing solidarity with Palestinians,” Mohammad said.

The increased suspicion likely fuels the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ report finding an 182 percent increase in reports of “bias incidents” against Muslims in the period from October 7 to October 24 compared to the same period last year.

Hamed said finding ways to show solidarity is the most helpful way people can show support for Palestinian Americans and Palestinians right now, including vocalizing support for Palestine and Palestinians on social media, attending protests, and educating oneself and others.

“I’ve had friends who have reached out to me and been like, ‘I hope everything is OK with you; I hope you’re doing fine,’” Hamed said. “I don’t want your condolences … I want people to stop being cowards. I want people to realize that there’s nothing to lose … You can do something. Everybody can do something. I want to see people care and use their privilege in a good way.”

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