I’m disappointed that the US pulled out the racism conference in an effort to shield Israel from scrutiny. But mostly, as a Palestinian American, I’m disappointed that the Palestinian narrative seems to be missing in the US discourse over the current conflict.
Since the creation of the State of Israel, we have been a nation of stateless and excluded people. Nearly one third of us, over 3.2 million, are forced to teeter on the brink of humanity in squalid refugee camps while our homes are either empty or housing Jewish immigrants.
We are denied citizenship in nearly every Middle Eastern country. In Lebanon, we are not allowed to earn a living in most professional fields, including medical doctors and lawyers. That country recently passed a law that forbids Palestinians from owning property there. The law is retroactive. Palestinians who own homes, thus, cannot pass on property to their heirs, but instead, must sell it to a Lebanese.
Things are just as grim in Egypt, Saudia Arabia and other nations. Jordan, perhaps the poorest country in the Middle East, was the only nation in that region to give us full citizenship rights.
In the West, particularly the US, the melody of our surnames invokes suspicion and distrust, notably in airports. Since 1996, we have been the target of an unconstitutional law that allows INS to detain indefinitely or deport “suspects” based on “secret evidence” to which only the state is privy. At election time, some candidates try to outdo one another to pledge their undying support for Israel at our expense. Last year, a republican candidate earned the ire of Arab and Muslim Americans when he was reported as having declared that “Palestinians are lower than pond scum.” I can think of several examples where our campaign contributions were returned for fear of being associated with Arab money.
On our own land, we are herded into isolated Bantustans like cattle and caged mercilessly in our homes for months on end. Every aspect of Israeli rule in practice works to oppress and dehumanize us. The water is diverted beneath our feet to supply Jewish pools next door while we must ration cooking water. We cannot travel freely from one Palestinian town to another. We are checked constantly and slapped around at random.
Everywhere we go, we are hunted like dogs or excluded and marginalized as some odd form of human. Our children under occupation have no chance of a childhood. When we confront armed soldiers with rocks we are seen as the aggressors rather than brave defenders of our race.
Just days ago, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, on a visit to Israel financed by the Israeli lobby, told Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian spokesperson, that this is “our country” and that Palestinians are “war booty.” This is the racist mentality that not only dominates Israeli society but apparently also has roots in our government.
Haunted by images of tormented Palestinian children from a recent trip to Palestine, I founded a charity to build playgrounds for them. It is called Playgrounds for Palestine (www.playgroundsforpalestine.org). Some donors asked to remain anonymous for fear of being labeled anti-Semitic. We have become pariahs of the 20th century such that giving to our charities constitutes a risk to one’s reputation.
We have a country and we’re only asking for a small part of it back where we can come together again as a people. We don’t want a toothless Swiss cheese state that is controlled and patrolled by settlers and soldiers armed to the teeth. We do not want keep being forced to make concessions that translate into eternal apartheid where we are not much more than a cheap labor force living in ghettos or dealt with as a “demographic threat.” We want Israel to get out of what little remains of Palestine, namely all the occupied territories (22% of historic Palestine) and leave us alone. We want autonomy and independence. We want our heritage preserved and our dignity restored.
Some may believe that Israel was singled out unfairly, but the “others are doing it too” defense is hardly a convincing argument. Palestinians demanding that Israel be accountable for the misery of dispossession and occupation it has rained on our society are now being portrayed as irrational people picking on the Jewish state. These distortions must not be allowed to continue.
We are a proud but weak and humiliated people who have been stripped of everything. Those responsible for five decades of our dispossession and tormenting occupation must be held in the light of accountability. The Palestinian narrative must be given its day in the sun.