“There is no such a thing as Palestinian,” interrupted a gentleman in the audience at the Allen County Public Library during a presentation by Miko Peled titled “Beyond Zionism” in 2013.
Peled, a former Israeli soldier turned peace activist, was invited by the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace to offer his honest and powerful perspective on the atrocities of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. His story is especially poignant when one considers how deep his roots run in Israel.
His moving story of transformation and account of Israel’s crimes against Palestinians was met with jeers from some people and the aforementioned declaration from the gentleman in the audience that I, and more than 12 million other Palestinians, are just a figment of the world’s imagination.
The experience from about six years ago is not the first nor the last ugly reminder of what it means to be Palestinian, especially in America. I filed that incident in my mind as just that – ugly – because you get accustomed to this sad reality when your life is deemed less than, your own existence is denied, and your truth is challenged every day.
Hyperbole? I beg to differ.
Take, for example, Israel’s former deputy defense minister, Eli Ben-Dahan who, according to Times of Israel, referred to Palestinians as animals in 2013: “To me, they are like animals, they aren’t human.”
In March 2015, then-Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said, in reference to Arab citizens who are not loyal to the state of Israel, “Those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe.” Lieberman went on to become Israel’s defense minister in 2016, only to resign in late 2018 in protest of a truce in Gaza, calling it a “capitulation to terrorism.”
And Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current prime minister, posted on Instagram on March 10 that Israel is “not a state of all its citizens.” His government has been responsible for the worst violence in Gaza, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,000 and injured more than 10,000 Palestinians during the 2014 war. The life of a Palestinian is reduced to the price of the indiscriminate bullet that is fired callously toward him.
All of this happens under the watchful eyes and protection of our U.S. government, almost regardless of who is in power. Not only do we annually give $3.8 billion in foreign military financing to Israel, but also, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, the U.S. has used its veto power 44 times against draft U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to Israel since 1972.
Every time Israel is to be held accountable for its crimes against humanity or violations of international law, our government stands up and gives the rest of the world the middle finger by virtue of its veto power. How exactly are we an honest broker of peace?
Exaltation of Israel as “the only democratic state in the Mideast” and its protection from any and all forms of condemnation or discipline is the most bipartisan issue of all time. In response to peaceful calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel by Palestinians, a move inspired by South Africans’ response to apartheid, 27 states to date (including Indiana) have passed legislation making it illegal for any state-affiliated organization to do so.
And it does not look like that will stop at the governmental level as there is legislation being taken up that would consider any criticism of Israel anti-Semitic, further conflating a Zionist, militaristic, expansionist state with a beautiful religion. We have seen this with the recent backlash Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) received for merely questioning the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, on our politics.
So I ask: If I, as a Palestinian, am not allowed to speak of Israel’s occupation and subsequent ethnic cleansing of my land in June 1948*; and if I, as a Palestinian-American, am to watch my U.S. government unabashedly support my occupier militarily, politically and financially; and if I, as a Palestinian-American, am not to have the right to condemn, criticize or boycott my occupier; then what am I to do?
If every single part of who I am is under attack, fought, discredited, delegitimized and dehumanized, then what am I to do? How do I prove to you that I exist?
This op-ed first appeared in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette on March 13, 2019.
*My family originates from the Palestinian village of Yibna, which was located south of Tel Aviv. On June 5, 1948 the Israeli Defense Forces’ Givati Brigade took control of the village and expelled the last residents, shooting at them as they fled.