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Letter: Government is complicit in crimes against Palestinians

It has been relatively calm in Gaza and Israel in terms of bombardment and rocket firing due to the recent five day ceasefire that both sides had agreed on. I’m not interested in explaining the horrific destruction of Gaza and what people had to go through, because (according to the United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’tselem reports) if the death of more than 2,000 people (450 of them are children alone), bombardment of more than 120 health facilities, 141 schools, two churches, 63 mosques, and 20,000 homes won’t shake everyone’s humanity enough to at least question the policies of the government and the army that issued orders to repeatedly cause maximum damage of life and infrastructure to a civilian population, there is nothing that I would say here to challenge your narrative. Those are just numbers anyways; there are no words to bring us out of our comfort and privileged status to understand what oppression is and how people survive in an open air prison.

When I was preparing for my U.S. citizenship test early this year, I learned a lot about the U.S. Constitution and I was mostly fascinated by the Bill of Rights and the ways I can be an active U.S. citizen. We are encouraged in a lot of ways to petition our government, ask critical questions, and hold our politicians and decision makers accountable even though our accomplishments as people might seem small sometimes. Having rights and seen as a full citizen regardless of my race, religion or ethnic background, is still very overwhelming for me since I had never experienced it growing up in Palestine or felt safe at all.

One of the things that I am inspired by is how active and involved the community is in Morris. Many social and political issues are addressed through community events, and discussions are facilitated in town or at the University of Minnesota, Morris. We can organize, join or build community groups, raise our voices without any threats to our lives or family. If we do face threats, we have the resources and laws to protect us. I had quite the opposite experience living in Palestine and especially when I was a college student.

The Arab American University that I attended in Palestine was the only accessible academic institution and relatively open most of the year. Other universities and colleges were extremely hard to travel to and some of them were partially shut down by the Israeli army. When I walked on campus, there was only information about registration, classes and graduation. You could not find any activities, social and political events, not even discussions on political issues organized by students because being an active Palestinian student meant that the Israeli army might break into your dorm or shut down the campus for a day or two. Of course students expressed their political views and social interests mostly through closed groups and only among trusted friends but the consequences were still there. We had some days where the entire town where the university is located would be shut down by the Israeli army in the attempt to arrest student activists and military checkpoints were set up on the only main road to campus checking students’ IDs and bags.

One of these army raids that I remember very well is when the Israeli soldiers surrounded my apartment and then used me as a human shield to search the place. One soldier had his pistol pointing against my back with his other hand grabbing my belt from behind. When the search was done, I was interrogated in my room about my political affiliations and questioned if I knew the student they were looking for. That was not the first or last time where I had encountered such traumatizing experience. I still have some memories when I was six or seven years old when the Israeli army dragged me out of my parents’ house to clean some graffiti on the walls in my village and my mom ran after me screaming and carrying my shoes in her hand. Wall graffiti and even raising a Palestinian flag at the roof of your home was considered an act of disobedience to the Israeli military orders and the consequences were on everyone.

I could not sue the Israeli army and demand respect for Palestinians as human beings, because I didn’t have rights then and still don’t. I do not have any civil laws to protect me nor basic human rights in the Israeli law because only military orders apply to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, not just from a few months ago, but since 1948. We do have the Palestinian Authority representing Palestinians today, but the PA is absolutely powerless and doesn’t have control of even issuing civil certificates without a pre-approval from the Israeli military. The Israeli military’s control over Palestinian natural resources, economy, social life, freedom of movement and expression are not presented in the mainstream media and our U.S. Congress won’t dare to address them. What’s worse than ignoring the brutal Israeli military occupation, the dehumanization and the collective punishment of Palestinians for the past six decades, is considering these serious human rights violations an act of defense.

Unfortunately, my new government is complicit in the crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians and plays as third party of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, not as a breaker. I am outraged and ashamed that the U.S. government is still expressing the right of Israel to defend itself without holding any accountability or responsibility of Israeli army’s own actions even when entire neighborhoods in Gaza, like Shijaiyah, are leveled to the ground. I have heard and read many outrageous narratives about the conflict, it is absolutely disrespectful to ignore Palestinians as human beings and blame us for becoming refugees again in our own home. I will not ask anyone to be pro-Palestinian or chant slogans for Palestine; I will encourage you though, if you care about peace in Palestine and Israel, to be pro-human rights for all because why wouldn’t you?