Seventy-five years ago today, the Jewish state of Israel was established and the Palestinian state of despair and homelessness began. Palestinians refer to this day as “al-Nakba,” the catastrophe that resulted in the ethnic cleansing of nearly 750,000 natives and the destruction of more than 500 Palestinian villages and towns.
May 15, 1948, is a date forever etched in the collective memory of every Palestinian. No one can forget what happened in the lead-up to that fateful day. During that time, the world witnessed one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.
Today, Israel’s founding strategy of the forced removal of the Indigenous population continues. For decades, Palestinians have been prevented from exercising their rights to freedom, equality and self-determination. For decades, they have endured horrific conditions of apartheid and brutal military occupation; and after decades, the hope of recovering even a small portion of their historic homeland has slipped away. Palestinians know that with the newly elected extremist, far right government, the worst is yet to come.
I am a Palestinian from the Old City of Jerusalem. As I write these words on the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, my mind is consumed with thoughts of my family and friends in Palestine, who continue to suffer daily abuses under Israel’s apartheid regime and its most inhumane form of collective punishment, while the United States government remains tacitly supportive of Israel’s human rights violations, crimes against humanity and its ongoing oppression of Palestinians.
I am outraged, and my heart is aching. But outrage and heartache do not come close to describing what I am feeling right now for what my brothers and sisters in Gaza have been through recently. In its latest bombardment that killed 29 people, including six children, in Gaza, Israel did not exercise its “right to self-defense” as some of our elected officials and the mainstream media outlets would have you believe. It has committed mass murder and war crimes. It utilized its military might — one of the world’s most powerful and dangerously equipped army, air force and navy, with a large nuclear arsenal — against an occupied, crowded population under a suffocating siege for more than 15 years.
During the last decade and a half, Israel bombed Gaza eight times, each time causing death, destruction and a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions. Each time, Israel’s indiscriminate and criminal bombardment ended with a short-lived ceasefire, leaving the people of Gaza to live their lives in daily fear of the next round of aerial bombardment and missiles that could destroy their homes and rip their families apart. Just because the terror from the sky has temporarily halted does not mean that the terror on the ground has ended.
A friend in Gaza said to me recently, “What is worse than dying in Gaza is living [in Gaza].” The dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza — coupled with shortages of food, electricity, fuel and medical supplies — are leaving Palestinians without life-sustaining goods and services, and with endless misery and hardship.
The atrocities that occurred recently — the attacks on worshipers at the Al Aqsa Mosque that injured hundreds, the systematic raids on Jenin and Nablus that killed scores of civilians, the demolition of a school and threat of expulsion faced by more than 1,000 Palestinians after the Israeli High Court approved the razing of several villages in Masafer Yatta in the Hebron Hills — are only the latest in a series of crimes against humanity that Israel has committed since its inception. The ensuing Palestinian uproar over these crimes reflects pent-up rage against apartheid, racism, persecution, deadly force and occupation. The rightful outcry also condemns inaction from the international community — especially the U.S. — to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international and human rights laws.
Palestinians the world over will never forget the assassination of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh one year ago. Her murder by Israel Defense Forces (IDF), with a sniper bullet to the face while clearly wearing a PRESS vest, shook me to the core. Dedicating her life to reporting the truth and exposing the horrors of the ongoing Israeli occupation, Abu Akleh represents the best Palestine and humanity has ever produced. A new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, released last week to coincide with the anniversary of Abu Akleh’s death, found that since 2001, Israel has never charged or held anyone accountable for the killings of at least 20 journalists, 18 of whom were Palestinian.
Since taking office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has moved quickly — together with his racist, far right, anti-Palestinian partners — to implement new policies that have escalated the violence. These new policies include intensified military raids and targeted assassinations of so-called Palestinian “terrorists,” stepped-up demolitions of Palestinian homes and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land. It is quite alarming to think that Israel’s systemic oppression of Palestinians and its denial of Palestinian rights is about to get even worse. How much worse can it get?
Commenting on the recent elections, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in Haaretz that, “The aftermath of the elections have shown that Israeli society has become partly religious and largely racist, with hatred of Arabs being its main fuel, with no one to stand against it.”
While Israel continues invading Palestinian cities and killing Palestinians daily, here in the U.S., there is no outcry or condemnation from the Biden administration whatsoever. On the contrary, the U.S. rewards Israel with $3.8 billion in taxpayer dollars annually and demands zero accountability for its behavior in return. Congress’s overwhelming silence and fear of criticizing the Israeli government makes it complicit in the ongoing suffering of Palestinians. The U.S. has become the top enabler of Israel’s systematic segregation and discrimination against a population on the basis of race.
It was hardly surprising to learn that as Israel rained missiles on Gaza during “Operation Shield and Arrow,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan rushed to proclaim their support for Israel’s “right to defend itself.” Last month, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis all visited Israel to pledge allegiance to the Israeli state.
Before them, Blinken visited Israel and reaffirmed the U.S.’s “ironclad” support for the Israeli state, which recently voted in the most fascist, extremist, far right government in its history. In his speech, Blinken referred to the U.S.’s special relationship with Israel that is rooted in “shared values.” Similarly, during his last visit to Israel, President Joe Biden was eager to show “unshakable” support for the architects of this inhumane and cruel policy of apartheid and denial of Palestinian rights. All of these actions enable Israel’s crimes to go on without any recourse, punishment or accountability.
International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have issued extensive reports that concluded that Israel practices apartheid. United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Francesca Albanese has come under vicious attacks following her report highlighting Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid. Hagai El-Ad, director of B’Tselem, Israel’s oldest human rights organization, recently said, “Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it: It is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.” Yet, our elected officials disregard all of this, including the International Criminal Court’s labeling of apartheid as “a crime against humanity.”
We Palestinians ask: Why hasn’t the U.S. shown us the same empathy, compassion, support, and resolve that it has shown our brothers and sisters in Ukraine during their struggle to end the illegal occupation of their lands? I am very troubled by the fact that many fellow progressives who speak up against the Russian occupation of Ukraine and other injustices continue the tradition of silence when it comes to Israel.
The level of Palestinian despair is at an all time high. Palestinians continue to be colonized; Palestinian lands continue to be confiscated for illegal settlement building; Palestinian family members continue to be separated from one another by walls; Palestinian communities continue to be forcibly displaced; Palestinian homes continue to be demolished; Palestinian farmers’ olive trees continue to be uprooted; Palestinian children continue to be terrorized and killed by the IDF; Palestinian refugees continue to be exiled; and Palestinians living inside Israel continue to be discriminated against. With the complicity of its greatest ally, the U.S., Israel has not only continued but has intensified its inhumane policies and violations of international law.
The two-state solution promised to Palestinians during the Oslo Accords is no longer possible; the chances of a one-state solution with equal citizenship rights for everyone are even slimmer, since Zionists insist on keeping Israel a Jewish state with democratic rights for Jews only. What is left — and what many in the new extremist Israeli government are in favor of — is what I am calling the “out-of-state solution.” This strategy aims to transfer Palestinians — or keep oppressing them until they give up and leave — to neighboring Arab countries, dispossessing them of their homeland. But Palestinians are determined to keep their struggle alive, so this too will fail.
It is hard for Palestinians to not feel helpless when they are subjected to these massive injustices for so long. But they have shown tremendous resilience and are inspired by the collective support of people in the global community and the many gains achieved by the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The magnitude of global solidarity with Palestinians shows that people — especially the younger generation — are no longer looking away.
While fear and intimidation tactics by Israeli lobby groups have worked with elected officials, they have failed to gain support on the public level, especially among young Jews. Today, Palestinians have more support from people around the world than ever before, as we have seen exhibited during the FIFA World Cup and the scenes of the ever-present Palestinian flag held by supporters throughout the tournament.
But while the public discourse is changing, the opposite is taking place in the Republican-controlled Congress. Last week, House Speaker McCarthy blocked Rep. Rashida Tlaib from hosting an event at the Capitol commemorating the Nakba. Despite McCarthy’s attempts, the event went ahead anyway, moved to a Senate office room thanks to Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was able to secure a new venue in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where McCarthy has no jurisdiction.
The Nakba did not end in 1948; it continues to impact Palestinians everywhere daily. Al-Nakba Day 75 serves as an important reminder that until there is an end to the occupation; until Palestinians get justice, freedom and equal rights; and until Israel adheres to international law, there can be no hope for peace.