Let’s talk about Palestine
I get it. You see the headline and you balk. You get uncomfortable and you back away, steering towards safer topics that we can all agree on — like how Trump sucks, or how Captain Marvel was a truly epic movie. Because really, in an America that is fiercely defensive of Israel, how do we even raise the issue of undeniable Palestinian suffering?
I’m uncomfortable too as I write this. Just raising the topic is an ordeal in itself. You have to be careful about the language you use, and the kinds of parallels your words might draw to racist and harmful stereotypes. As I write this, I’m remembering how Ilhan Omar’s comments on Israel in 2019 sparked both backlash and a chance for introspection. It’s incredibly important to be mindful of the words we use and the way they might infer harmful stereotypes.
But as we also saw with Ilhan Omar, when the issue was raised, the Palestinian perspective was once again sidelined, and once again, Israel dominated the discussion. What are Israel’s thoughts on the matter? Has Israel been attacked? Is Israel in danger?
And that’s wrong.
We’re so caught up in that kind of rhetoric that Americans — who pride themselves on values of justice and equality — never stop to even consider the other side of the coin.
When we ignore the plight of the occupied territories, we’re inherently committing a crime against the Palestinian people. By only focusing on Israel, Israel, Israel, we’re rendering an entire group of people invisible.
And invisibility leads to dehumanization, allowing powerful people like David Ochs of AIPAC to say things like, “We don’t ask a godd*mn thing about the f***ing Palestinians. You know why? ’Cause it’s a tiny issue. It’s a small, insignificant issue.”
Jewish people have suffered, and that should be acknowledged. They have struggled with marginalization, loss of land, and horrific genocide. But in our pushback against anti-Semitism, we often label every critic of Israeli policy as an enemy and anti-Jewish. Our narrative becomes dangerously one-sided.
I get it. This is a complex and sensitive topic, so let’s start slow. Let’s not talk about who’s right and who’s wrong. Let’s not debate who’s been more hostile and which side should take the most blame for starting the conflict to begin with.
Let’s just talk about Palestine.
Let’s talk about the men who wear turbaned keffiyehs and the women who wear embroidered dresses in every hue of the sunset. About how some Palestinians are dark-haired and brown eyed, and some are blue-eyed and near blonde. About how olive trees are symbols of Palestinian culture and are prized throughout the occupied lands. About Christmas songs ringing out in Bethlehem and Eid-al-Fitr sweets dripping syrup and stuffed with ground pistachios. About elaborate Palestinian weddings where everyone dances dabke to the beat of tabla drums, and how Palestinian hospitality means welcoming strangers into your home with sweet coffee and pastries.
Let’s talk about how Palestinians are humans who celebrate the births of their babies and prize their children’s education, who laugh during holidays and weep as they bury their dead.
Let’s talk about how one Palestinian woman has developed a brick made from literal ashes and rubble in order to help her people rebuild their homes.
Let’s talk about how no matter what year we look at in the 71-year-long history of the conflict, the number of Palestinian deaths compared to Israeli deaths is vastly higher by thousands and thousands of people.
Let’s talk about the fact that Palestinians are denied access to basic human rights. About how their water and electricity are fully controlled by Israel, with over 71 percent of the already-scarce water supply going to Israelis, leaving only 17 percent for Palestinians.
Let’s talk about how we in America value freedom of speech — but we shame and shut down those who even suggest that Israeli suffering is not the only suffering in the Middle East. Let’s talk about how we lashed out against critics Stephen Hawking, Whoopi Goldberg, Penélope Cruz, Selena Gomez, and Lupe Fiasco, forcing them to downplay or even take back statements calling attention to the suffering of Palestinians.
Nelson Mandela, the globally celebrated champion of human rights, once declared, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
How shameful is it if Americans — the self-declared guardians of world freedom — sit with their lips sewn shut on the topic of Palestine? And by extension, why — as Jewish activist Lara Friedman put it — do we hold Israel to a lower standard of democracy?
Ilhan Omar’s talking about it. Rashida Tlaib’s talking about it. Betty McCollum’s talking about it. Heck, even Bernie Sanders is talking about it.
It’s time to break the silence for good.