America’s Syrian Refugees: Hardship, Hope and Challenges

mai abdul rahman             December 18, 2015

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The plight of the Syrian refugees has moved some Americans, but is most acutely felt by Arab and Muslim Americans. While Syrians comprise many faiths, the vast majority of Americans assume that all are “Muslim” fanatical radicals. So far, 32 states have rejected the admission and relocation of the Syrian refugees into their states for fear that members of terrorist groups may use the refugee resettlement program to enter the country and harm innocent Americans.

Those who oppose the entry of immigrants whether from Syria or South America have forgotten that the United States, as we know it today, is the product of immigrants and refugees. After WWI, the US Refugee Resettlement program supported hundreds of thousands of German citizens, Russians, Italians, and Holocaust survivors. In recent history, the US welcomed more than 1.6 million refugees from Cuba, the Balkans, and Vietnam. The presence of these immigrants in local communities reduced American hostilities towards Catholics, Jews, Confucians, and Buddhists, paving the way for the full acceptance and inclusion of these minority groups into the social fabric of our country.

Never mind our core valuesnoble ideals, or the accurecy of commonly held assumptions, the US is directly responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. While the US is not the only nation contributing to the global Syrian refugee crisis, we bear much of the responsibility for fueling the flight of Syrian refugees throughout Europe and the Middle East, far more than most are willing to recognize.

According to a report published by the Congressional Research Service, since 2011, the US has committed more than $7.7 billion to the war in Syria. The US daily spends at least $3 Million to conduct air strikes in the Syrian territory. Whether we wish to acknowledge our role in the Syrian civil war or not, our daily air strikes are partly responsible for driving more than 4 million Syrians and Palestinian Syrian refugees into Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. We are equally responsible for the 232,000 desperate Syrians who made it to Europe on foot or by boat. Meanwhile, the US has only accepted 1,434 Syrian refugees. This accounts for less than 0.042 percent of the 4 million people who have fled the country to settle in the tent cities that spread across the Middle East, for the very conflict that the US is partly responsible for. IMG_5785

President Barack Obama intends to admit 10,000 Syrians by September 2016. While it is common sense to call on federal agencies to put the appropriate safeguards in place to ensure that immigration officials vet the Syrian refugees who enter this country, it is also important to remember that those who flee the war in Syria are by and large families, who desire a better future for their children.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of accepting more Syrian refugees requires federal agencies responsible for resettling the new arrivals to put in place the necessary support systems to ensure the families’ full integration, economic inclusion, and socialization in the US.

Nine U.S. Refugee Resettlement Agencies will be responsible for settling the 10,000 new Syrian refugees into local communities across the US. Except, for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), all are faith-based groups (8 Christian, 1 Jewish), and none are Arab or Muslim American. The vast majority of the resettlement agencies elicit the support of local church groups to help settle the new Syrian refugees regardless of their faith. The faith community involves thousands of private American citizens, who volunteer their time to help refugees resettle in the United States. By and large, their efforts are successful.

Not all refugee settlement programs are equal. Arab and Muslim Americans are concerned that many of the newly arrived Syrian refugees are being settled at Parkview Garden Apartments, an IRC refugee camp where hundreds of resettled refugee families from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia reside. Some live in rat infested homes, and all are without access to public transportation, or nearby job opportunities.

Before arriving to the US, the Syrian families were told they would settle in close proximity of Washington, DC, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Instead they were placed in Riverdale, Maryland. They are tucked away from the local community in a confined area that is inaccessible. They live in a community that is without the minimum infrastructure to support those willing to venture outside their closed compound by walking or biking to seek jobs in neighboring towns. According to a recent report, resettled refugees residing in Parkview Garden Apartments struggle to find permanent employment or pay for basic needs. Larry Bartlett, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the State Department, is quoted as saying that he is aware that many of the newly settled Iraqi and Afghani refugees have returned back to their war torn countries.

In fact, within a month of the arrival of a Syrian family of five, IRC informed them that if they are unable to secure rent by the end of December they will be evicted and risk becoming homeless. Apparently, becoming homeless is highly probable among newly resettled refugees. In 2009, a study concluded that a considerable number of recent refugees end up homeless.

IMG_5805According to IRC, the federal funds extended to the Syrian family were spent by program caseworkers on the purchases of two broken and used sofas, three beds, four chairs, three of which are broken, a small dining table, and few kitchen supplies. Meanwhile, the remaining $150 was given to the family of five courtesy of the US resettlement program.

IMG_5752There is no question that IRC has played an important role in advocating for the Syrian refugees and facilitating  their resettlement in the US. So, is it possible that IRC is underfunded and is unable to cover the full costs of resettling the Syrian refugees in the US as mandated by the standard cooperative agreement between the Department of State and IRC?

You, be the judge. According to IRC’s 2013 financial statement and 990 IRS tax form; IRC’s total revenues are $567,870,359, which is a considerable sum for a non-profit organization. More than 70% of IRC’s operating costs are derived from federal funds to cover the cost of settling 800 refugees in the US. Meanwhile, IRC’s CEO has a reported income of $332,778, IRC’s senior vice president’s reported income is $305,064, and IRC’s former CEO still receives $338,855. These salaries are slightly less than the salary of the president of the United States. In fact, IRC funds are huge by any measure. IRC’s total salaries account for $200 Million. If these salaries are solely used for covering the cost of settling the 800 refugees, each will receive a handsome sum of $250,000. Clearly funding is not an issue for IRC.

While most of us are pleased to hear of President Obama’s intent to bring larger numbers of Syrian refugees to the US, we are also concerned about the effectiveness of the US resettlement program. Simply stated: Are the structural supports, management oversight, and the necessary commitment in place to ensure that the Syrian refugees will not end up homeless soon after they arrive?IMG_5777-2

It cannot be understated that the Syrian families are grateful for the generosity of US agencies who made it possible for them to immigrate to the US. They are happy to be living in peace without fear of being deported, or harassed. They are thrilled for the opportunity to build a new life and realize their dreams. Nonetheless, they are also worried. Their concerns range from acquiring meaningful employment, securing rent, covering the cost of transportation to seek employment, and having adequate cash to meet their daily needs. They also worry that their children are wasting time while waiting to be enrolled in their neighborhood elementary school. For any family these are serious concerns. Especially for recent refugees who are struggling to understand their new landscape; are learning a new language, customs, and social norms, while navigating their surroundings in a hostile environment that does not approve of them or their status. The additional burden of calling attention to their needs, and the needs of their children has become overwhelming.

Many of the these concerns can be resolved, when these families are offered the right conduit to express their frustrations without being afraid that they may be offending their hosts. The Arab and Muslim American community are committed to the success of the new Syrian refugees, and their full social and economic inclusion. Nonetheless, this will depend on whether or not the US government is willing to meaningfully engage Arab and Muslim Americans in the US resettlement program and process.

Involving Arab and Muslim American organizations can help safeguard the emotional and financial stability of these families. For example, the Arab and Muslim American community can augment services not covered by organizations such as IRC. They can make available the services of local Arab speaking cross cultural therapists and trauma specialists to help support the Syrian children. When disputes arise members of the Arab and Muslim American community can help resolve disagreements in an amicable and orderly manner, and ascertain any issues of importance are addressed in an environment where the new Syrian families are comfortable to discuss their apprehensions without fear of being misunderstood, or ignored.

The inclusion of Arab and Muslim American organizations in the US resettlement program will speed the acculturation process of the newly settled Syrian families. Arab and Muslim Americans can play an important role in smoothing the transitions of these families. They can help guide the new Syrian immigrants to make sense of their new American experience, and buffer them from the poisonous US discourse on Islam and the Syrian conflict that has affected the best of us. They can bridge  the cultural competencies of the new refugees, help them better understand the US democratic process, and help their young assimilate in a manner that does not contradict with the organic traditions of their families. Above all they are mindful of the importance of leveraging the innate strengths and resiliency of the Syrian immigrants to help them overcome past hardships and realize their full potential.

Involving members of the American Arab and Muslim community and their organizations in the Refugee resettlement program will strengthen the overall objective of the program. It will also create the necessary structural support networks that will contribute to the success of the new Syrian immigrants and their full integration in their new communities.

Jews Must Accept and Recognize the Palestinian Nakba

mai abdul rahman               May 2015

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Although the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) has been substantiated and carefully documented by Israeli and Palestinian historians, to date most Israelis and Jews either deny it ever took place, or dismiss and ignore its relevance. Regardless, the Palestinian Nakba is directly connected to Israel’s history. The creation of Israel was made possible through the joint efforts of European colonial Jewish militants, Jewish agencies, and international Zionist organizations that planned, funded, and unleashed a deliberate campaign of terror on defenseless Palestinians. The Jewish funded campaign aimed to disconnect and displace Palestinians from their ancestral lands, homes, businesses, churches, mosques, and institutions. Dismissing the Nakba will not erase the mountain of evidence proving the nature and scale of this tragic Palestinian national calamity.

Jews world-wide have understood the necessity of correcting wrongs of the past whether by individuals, institutions, nations or others who may have committed them against innocent Jews. Diligently, Jews have called friend and foe to accept the Jewish history of suffering, loss, and pain committed against Jews. Since 1948, Jews have used every available means and venue to relentlessly press for the right of the Jewish Holocaust victims to be heard, their suffering acknowledged, and losses compensated. Jews have also asked the world to come to terms with the hardships endured by the European Jews who were forced out of their homes into the Jewish ghettos of Germany, Poland, Hungry, and Italy. Meanwhile, Palestinians were forced poor and homeless refugees to house European Jewish immigrants who have enjoyed and savored the fruit of Palestinian labor, groves, and trees.

In 1948, the Jewish Zionists were a small minority of European immigrants who settled in Palestine to escape the wrath of Europe’s anti Semitism and the horrors of the German Holocaust. Israel’s independence was established on 95% of the lands that the Palestinians owned. In a nutshell, Israel’s independence disenfranchised and displaced the Palestinians who were the majority owners of the lands, homes, and institutions that Jews acquired and claimed their own.

For sixty-seven Mays, Palestinians have commemorated their Nakba, and Israelis and Jews have celebrated the creation of the state of Israel. The end of the 1948 British Mandate of Palestine was supposed to fulfill two irreconcilable promises. The termination of the 1948 British Mandate of Palestine was meant to liberate and free the Palestinians. In fact, thousands of Palestinians fought alongside the British Allies in return for Britain’s promise to help usher Palestinian independence. Instead, the end of the British Mandate of Palestine was the impetus for Israel’s Declaration of Independence that promised equality and rights for all inhabitants regardless of faith or ethnicity-a pledge that remains unfulfilled.

Israelis and Jews who continue to deny the Palestinian Nakba are distorting historical evidence, which has far nakba1reaching implications for both Israelis and Palestinians. Today, Israel’s extreme right wing government may be assumed to be an isolated case and an aberration, but the evolution of Israel’s political landscape may be better understood when considering its early history. For example, Israel’s Declaration of Independence vowed that the state of Israel “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens; without distinction of race, creed, or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the shrines of Holy Places of all religions, and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Sixty- seven years and counting, Israel’s Declaration of Independence remains an abstract ideal and a suspended promise. In fact, Israel’s Declaration of Independence first signer and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion asserted a unique concept that has allowed Israel to suspend the civil rights of citizens and non-citizens. So, for those who are concerned about Israel’s fraying democracy, the genuine appraisal of historical facts rather than mythical assumptions could offer the opportunity to mend and correct Israel’s political far right bent.

Today, Palestinian refugees are dispersed in refugee camps (58) across the Middle East- including Israel. Many have endured the ravages of conflict and wars in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Meanwhile. most Israeli and Jews continue to deny the harm inflicted on millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants. The vast majority of Jews continue to claim that the Arab countries should shoulder the hardships experienced by generations of Palestinian refugees. They conveniently disregard the millions of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes and villages to nearby towns in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza that Israel continues to occupy, militarily control, and besiege. They also ignore addressing the significant number of Palestinians and their descendant who live in refugee camps and villages stone’s throw away from their ancestral homes and lands that are occupied and relished by Jews from far away lands. Avoiding responsibility and shifting blame will not refute historical evidence.

Israelis and Jews must face their history with genuine honesty, just as they have rightfully demanded others in every corner of the world to recognize and atone for their ill deeds towards innocent Jews. Many among Israel’s early Zionist leaders were directly responsible for the planning and execution of a brutal campaign that expelled Palestinian from their ancestral lands and properties to make room for the eventual influx of Jewish immigrants. The opposition of Israel’s leaders and government of any mention of the Palestinian Nakba or discussion of its historical significance to Israelis and Palestinians is understandable. Also understandable, is the general resistance to admit the large role that Israel’s past IDF soldiers, politicians, and generals who are honored as its protective leaders have played in this unfolding tragedy. While these truths are difficult and hard to come to terms with, nonetheless, many people have acknowledged the actions of their leaders who were once assumed to be beyond reproach- because it was morally correct and historically accurate.

Palestinians’ straightforward call for Jews to step up to the plate and acknowledge their role in this tragic and painful Palestinian history is not unique or novel. Countless of people and nations  have recognized their historical role in the painful experiences of a host of ethnic groups, faith communities, and populations. There is no escaping the truth, Jews and Israelis will have to reckon with their entire past- the good and the bad. So why not sooner than later- such a simple dignified act of humane recognition of the immense suffering that the Palestinians have endured will help change the social attitudes held by the Israeli society at large and affect the attitudes of the Palestinians that Israel has displaced. Embracing the Nakba will also help spur the good work of Palestinians and Israelis who aim to liberate both people from their hurtful past.

Without embracing Israel’s entire history supporters of Israel will continue to fail to understand the cause and consequences of Israel’s past actions that have influenced Israel’s national character and the Palestinian perspective. In short, as long as Jews, Israelis, and their supporters deny the Nakba, they will continue to deny the core reasons that shaped Israel’s right wing extremists.

Recognizing  the Nakba will also help shed light on the Palestinian perspective, which once fully understood could help encourage sincere dialogue based on truth and humility. More importantly, accepting the Palestinian Nakba will generate the necessary trust among Israelis and Palestinians, which is necessary to bring about the peace that both people desire and long for.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Cautions US Companies Operating in Israel’s Illegal Settlements

mai abdul rahman         April 11, 2015

On March 22nd, Saeb Erakat the chief Palestinian negotiator joined a large group of American Palestinian to commemorate the traditional forty days “Arba’een” communal mourning that marked the passing of three young Arab Americans who were senselessly killed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. At the end of the memorial service, Saeb Erakat addressed the group. The informal discussion inevitably focused on the Palestinian decision to join the International Criminal Court, and the legal liability of international and US companies operating in Israel’s illegal settlements, and profiting from Israel’s occupation policies.

palestinian-children

Erakat explained the pretext for joining the ICC. He said that for several decades the international community has failed to act, and most were unwilling to exert the necessary diplomatic pressure to stop or curb Israel’s counter productive policies and human rights abuses. Meanwhile, Palestinian have witnessed and suffered the unabated growth of Israel’s illegal settlements across the West Bank and, in particular, in and around East Jerusalem. He said the ICC is the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal, and is the court of “last resort for Palestinians.” According to Erakat the ICC membership would offer Palestinians protections that were not available to them in the past.

He also cited the decades long and repeated condemnations of Israel’s ongoing violations of international law in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza that were dismissed and ignored by the Israeli government. In short, the ICC would help shield Palestinians from future harm, and offers the prospect of holding Israel accountable for its international law violations and military actions.

Erakat said that for the time being Palestine is asking the ICC to investigate two specific cases. He also discussed the rationale for choosing this specific strategy. According the Erakat, the first case, which was lodged ad hoc, and formally commenced as of January 2015,  involves an ICC investigation of Israel’s recent war on Gaza, during the summer of 2014. In a span of 7 weeks, Israel’s military killed 2,100 Palestinians among them 504 children under the age of 16, orphaned countless of young Palestinian children, and rendered many more in an extended state of homelessness.

Palestinian children terrorized by Israeli missile attacks on their neighborhoods, in Gaza Strip, July 11, 2014 imemc

Erakat also explained the reasons behind the Palestinian decision to limit the timeline of the ICC Gaza inquiry, which focuses on 50 specific days during the summer of 2014. He said the decision was based on reviews of the customary legal practices and process that the ICC follows, which are “laborious and time consuming”. To avoid an open-ended time frame that could take the ICC several years to complete, the Palestinian legal team decided to limit the investigation to a narrow and specific period.

In regard to the second case, Erakat said the Palestinians are asking the ICC to investigate Israel’s settlement constructions, which are illegal under international law. Moreover, the illegality of Israel’s settlements has well-established legal precedence. It is substantiated by the Geneva Convention, documented in countless of UN resolutions and reports, and codified in international human rights law. In addition, the vast majority of the world nations including the European Union, China, Russia, and the US consider the continued growth of Israel’s settlements an intentional Israeli policy to “annex” Palestinian lands, and 135 countries (82% of the world nations) recognize the Palestinian state.

More significantly, Erakat said that ICC jurisdiction covers individuals that commit their alleged crimes on the territory of an ICC state party member- in this case Palestinian territory. Also, ICC’s legal authority is applicable to cases referred to it by member states that signed the Rome Statute.  So, while Israel has unsigned the Rome Statute, and withdrew its ICC membership, its citizens, and some of its officials could be indicted and tried for crimes committed on Palestinian lands. Accordingly, Israeli citizens are accountable for their actions within the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

Erakat was asked several questions regarding the scope of the ICC inquiry. More specifically, whether or not the ICC can address the complicity of international businesses and institutions in facilitating and supporting Israel’s illegal settlement enterprises. To put this in context, for decades Palestinians have witnessed countless of international corporations, and high earning pension funds profit from their painful displacement from their historical lands and homes- without the legal means to stop it. Understandably, Palestinians are anxious to know whether or not these international companies and organizations are accountable under international law for operating and supporting Israel’s illegal settlements, and for profiting from Israel’s occupation policies and wars.

Erakat’s answer was revealing. He said that his office has been initiating informational sessions with friendly countries that have publicly declared their support for an independent Palestinian state to warn them that their private and public institutions that “facilitate and support Israeli violations of international law and illegal Israeli settlements” could be open to ICC litigation. This was well noted by the European Union. In 2012, the EU urged its member states to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions, including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure, and services.”

So how does the Palestinian ICC membership impact US companies and organizations operating in Israel’s illegal settlements? His answer was unambiguous. US companies, organizations, and institutions that are importing and selling goods produced by companies operating in illegal Israeli settlements are violating international law. Also companies that are investing in Israel’s illegal settlements are “legally responsible for breaching international law.”

So, while some US institutions and their executives are falsely assuming that since the US is not a member of the ICC, or because the US government has not officially endorsed an independent Palestinian state they are absolved from legal liability for human rights violations- think again. Now that the Palestinians have joined the ICC and signed the Rome Stature, American institutions that are funding or profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine are obligated to abide by international and human rights laws. In fact, US institutions, corporations, and their executives could be implicated for a number of international law violations and are criminally liable for their complicit role in supporting Israel’s occupation policies and illegal settlements.

Under the Rome Statute “direct participation in the crime is not necessary to establish the criminal liability of corporate officers and managers”, rather “intermediary culpability” is sufficient to hold an institution for actions committed by others on its behalf. Both the ICC and international law hold corporations liable for “aiding and abetting” human-rights violations. Additionally, the ICC can impose individual criminal liability on a person who “aid[s] or abet[s] in the planning, preparation or execution” of crimes against humanity, or war crimes.” Likewise, criminal universal jurisdiction is applied to individuals, non- government agencies, and business enterprises. Furthermore, the development of international law since 1949, and the principles of Universal Jurisdiction “allows and requires” an ICC state member to “bring criminal proceedings in respect of certain crimes irrespective of the location of the crime and the nationality of the perpetrator.”

Meanwhile, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), established in 1948, obligates every social, faith, civil and business entity to respect and “observe human rights”. Based on the UDHR provisions, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1976, established a set of Guidelines on responsible business conduct. These guidelines were specifically tailored for Multinational Corporations, and include a list of protected human rights that corporations are legally required to respect and honor when operating in a conflict zone.

Corporate and individual complicity is generally established when a business enterprise, business partner, and non-state entities benefit from human right abuses committed by others directly or indirectly. Within the Palestinian territories actions that are considered human rights violations include extraction of Palestinian natural resources, destruction of Palestinian agricultural lands, and polluting their native environment and landscape. Also, institutions conducting business in Israel’s illegal settlements are also liable for their business driven actions that result in reducing Palestinian access to food and water, and for fostering tension and hostility among the Palestinians and the Israeli illegal settlers that lead to increased violence in the area they are operating from within. Again, in a nutshell, corporations and organizations that are profiting from Israel’s illegal settlements are liable for human rights violations and fall within ICC’s jurisdiction.

Moreover, Israel’s human rights violations are broad and comprehensive in scope. They include economic, social and cultural rights abuses. Also, Israel’s systematic employment of discriminatory policies that exclusively target one particular population for their ethnicity (Palestinians) and faith (Christians and Muslims), are considered to be “gross human rights violations”. Therefore, international organizations profiting from Israel’s occupation policies are legally accountable for obstructing the human rights of the native inhabitants- the Palestinians.

For decades, international and US organizations and corporations have profited from the systematic abuse and suffering of Palestinians. It is time to end these egregious business practices, if not for the obvious ethical and moral reasons, than for the legal implications of a costly litigation that could tarnish the reputation and standing of these institutions and organizations. More specifically, American companies should re-consider their investments in Israel’s illegal settlements, and re-assess their legal responsibility and role in Israel’s occupation scheme.

Meanwhile, Saeb Erakat, suggests that as of April 1st, US institution that are operating within Israel’s illegal settlements, or are directly and indirectly profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine are endangering their organizations and exposing their executives for possible ICC prosecution. However, without clear guidelines American institutions and their executives would remain unsure of the extent of their individual and collective liability under international law for operating, profiting, and supporting Israel’s illegal settlements and its occupation policies. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights urge states to provide information to help businesses avoid contributing to human rights abuses arising from conflict and to provide “adequate assistance to business enterprises to assess and address the heightened risks of abuses” in conflict areas.

So, how much longer should US companies and institutions wait before their government issues clear guidelines to alert them of the risks involved in investing in Israel’s illegal settlements? The US issuance of these case specific guidelines should not be viewed from the political prism that we have become accustomed to in the US- meaning whether or not they will ire Israel and its US supporters. Rather these guidelines should be developed for one simple reason- to protect American citizens and institutions.

Arab American Women and the US Gender Discourse

mai abdul Rahman                             March 2015

Arab American women and their daughters celebrate Women’s International Day (courtesy of the Anti Discrimination Committee-ADC).

Arab American women and their daughters celebrate Women’s International Day (courtesy of the Anti Discrimination Committee-ADC).

During the entire month of March, Americans celebrated the remarkable achievements of American women, and the important role the US feminist movement has played in shaping gender discourse in the US. No one can deny the relevance of the US feminist movement in advancing American women’s rights. Likewise, none can dispute that since the 1800′s Arab American women have continued to push the glass ceiling, yet few are aware of their significant contributions in the US. While the dominant Eurocentric influence on gender discourse in the US, heavily contributes to this glaring omission, however it is not the sole factor.

Arab American women joined the US labor force several decades before the emancipation of women in the US. In the late 18th and early 19th Century, Arab American women were business owners responsible for seeding numerous profitable business enterprises across the US. They were America’s first wholesale women entrepreneurs whose successful business ventures enriched their communities and their states’ tax coffers. And while their American experience was considerably more difficult than most American women, a considerable number of Arab American women were first to break the gender barrier. As a group they are highly educated, have higher labor force participation rates than most Americans, and earn higher incomes than average Americans. So what are the reasons that make it possible to ignore the contributions of Arab American women? And what are the specific factors that contribute to their omission from the US gender discourse? The answer is complex and multi fold.

Historically, the US feminist movement was largely shaped by the US colonial paradigm. From inception American feminists were dismissive of the role and contributions of other American women. Nonetheless, in recent years the US feminist movement embraced the gender narrative of African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinas, and Native Americans. The inclusion of these four distinct ethnic classifications are certainly a positive step. Notwithstanding, by design it excludes Arab American women.

The US feminist scheme, which adheres to four distinct racial identities (African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinas, and Native Americans), by design is narrow and limiting. Intentionally or unintentionally the US feminist movement overlooks Arab American women’s diverse racial identity and broad cultural affinity. Arab American women ancestral roots stretch from the Atlas Mountains of North Africa to the oldest inhabited cities along the Mediterranean Sea. Arab American women are White, Brown, Black and every shade and color in between. They are atheists, agnostics, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim.

Arab American women represent a rich ethnic mosaic, and a complex cultural and faith diversity. Accordingly, as a group Arab American women don’t neatly fit within the US feminists’ scheme. Furthermore, Arab American women’s fluid and unique ability to adopt overlapping ethnicities allows them to identify with a host of social and political struggles that are often neglected in the US.

Consequently, Arab American women are more aligned with the global feminist perspective that is committed to social justice as a means to advance women’s social, cultural, and political rights. Their view of gender equality encompasses the domestic and local domain, and includes the universal struggle for social justice, and equality- nationally and internationally.

So why are a swath of American women whose presence in the US predates the 19th Century remain an enigma? Some assume that the horrific 9/11 attack that violently killed thousands of Americans including Arab Americans is the reason for the recent rise in discriminatory attitudes towards Arab American women, but history shows these biases existed prior to 9/11.

Syrian Immigrants at Ellis Island, ca. 1906 .Courtesy of Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

Syrian Immigrants at Ellis Island, ca. 1906 (courtesy of Ellis Island Immigration Museum).

In fact, American negative attitudes towards Arab American women are rooted in common racial biases that our country has suffered since its inception. In July 16, 1901 Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette carried an article entitled  “Don’t Like Arabs,” where Arab Americans were collectively smeared and openly attacked. While it is true that during that period America’s middle class overall projected a patronizing attitudes towards most immigrants, nonetheless Arab American women suffered more disdain than most. Interestingly, the earliest Arab American women were Christian, but their Christian faith did not spare them. As a matter of fact, racial biases towards Arab American women were as common then as they are today of all Arab Americans whether Christian or Muslim.

Early Arab American women were viewed as part of the Eastern Christian culture of Bethlehem, imagesJerusalem, Damascus, and Beirut- their ancestral claim to these Biblical cities was of no help to them or their community. These first Arab American women were faced with two irreconcilable contradictory pressures. While they made every effort to live and raise their families within the folds of their new county, they lived in communities that stereotyped and shunned them, and ostracized their families. At the same time they were confronted with Americans of ‘good faith’ who wanted to ‘Americanize’ them and ‘free’ them from their cultural and ethnic bondage.

Afifa Karam (1883-1924) an Arab American feminist devoted many of her articles shedding light on the unique challenges that shaped Arab American women’s early experience in the US. Karam advocated for gender equity, defended the rights of women, and addressed the social and economic factors that delayed woman’s progress. Her writings were serialized and published in Al-Hoda magazine, an Arab American women’s magazine that was established in 1903. Her work sheds light on the evolution and structural prejudice practices that still influence a wide range of US social and political institutions that continue to vilify Arab American women, their families and community. In fact, a considerable number of Arab American women writers substantiate the structural biases that Arab American women and their community have endured since the early 1800′s.

Deeply rooted cultural stereotypical inferences of Arab American women are factors that also contribute to the historical failure of the US feminist movement from including Arab American women’s experiential narrative in the US gender discourse.  Intriguingly, while Arab American women are well represented in every professional sector, their collective contribution to community and country are glossed over and unappreciated. This collective failure is attributed to conscious and more often subconscious perception of archaic views of Arab American women, that falsely assume that women of Arab decent are docile and housebound.

Moreover, Arab American women’s decade long principled opposition to the Iraq war and Israel’s occupation policies were not aligned with the mainstream views of US feminists. As a matter of fact, Arab American women’s consistent objection to US policies in the Middle East was in contradiction with the publicly accepted position that characterized most Americans. Today, most Americans view the US occupation of Iraq as an unnecessary costly fete, and are well aware of Israel’s atrocities in Palestine. For decades Arab American women stood apart from the vast majority of Americans by calling attention to the human and financial cost of US policies in the Middle- East. Arab American women’s unique and long standing position on the US- Iraq invasion and war, and Israel’s military occupation of Palestine help explain their conspicuous absence from past and current US gender discourse.

Young Arab American women protesting Israel's war on Gaza, Washington DC, 2014.

Young Arab American women protesting Israel’s war on Gaza, Washington DC, 2014.

More specifically, the role of Arab American women organizations in speaking out against the US invasion of Iraq, consistent opposition to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, Israel’s decade long siege of Gaza, the use of US taxes to build and sustain Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, and Israel’s wars and incursions in Lebanon and Gaza were often misconstrued as illegitimate and erroneous, and in opposition to America’s Eurocentric values. Most troubling, some Americans still continue to malign Arab American women and label them anti Semitic despite their Semitic roots and justifiable reasons for calling on the US government to genuinely support policies that will bring an end to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, and Gaza siege.

In addition, Arab American women’s unanimous opposition to US surveillance tactics, the militarization of US police, and torture practices, contrasted with the vast majority of Americans who were more inclined to accept the use of these extreme measures. Understandably, the US feminist movement is influenced by the prevailing social and political structural confines held by most Americans. These inherent blind spots allow the continued disregard of Arab American women, and their important political and social contributions in the US. More significantly, while, Arab American women continue to play a crucial role in raising awareness of the most relevant issues that face our nation, their voice is muffled, and their historical role as social and political activists is misunderstood.

Furthermore, the dynamic inter-lapping nature of US mediums and institutions continue to reinforce disparaging views of Arab American women and their community across every sector including the media, arts, academia, civil society, political organizations, public policy, and American popular culture. Whether, consciously or unconsciously these negative attitudes have infiltrated and influenced US feminists’ views of Arab American women and their community.

While many still refuse to recognize Arab American women’s considerable accomplishments, no one can dispute that since the 1800′s, they have managed to ensure the educational and financial success of generations of well-adjusted Americans.

Young Arab American immigrants on Washington Street, New York City, 1916.

Young Arab American immigrants on Washington Street, New York City, 1916.

Undaunted, Arab American women continue to enrich America’s cultural tapestry and social perspective. They remain faithful to their role, rights and obligations as American citizens and members of the global community. Meanwhile, they struggle along side every American woman, and raise their voices in unison to call attention to the multitude of challenges that women face at home and abroad. After all, here at home American women have yet to be adequately represented, where the number of American women in government still lags behind many nations-including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So what next? Arab American women will continue to advance the rights of women in the US and globally, and remain committed to social justice and equality. Unperturbed, they will carry on defying commonly held stereotypes- just like their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts before them- well aware of their important role as transformative social agents capable of transcending the confines and limits of their parochial community here at home. Meanwhile, the global feminist movement will continue to appeal to Arab American women’s sensibilities for its interest and focus on promoting social justice and equality for all women.

The Shuddering Influence of the US War on Terror

mai abdul rahman                     January 23, 2015

Europeans are not less imperfect than Americans. Centuries old European Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities have endured their share of racial hatred. Yet, despite Europe’s many social problems and commonly held racist attitudes, Europe’s general understanding of their national identity whether German, French, or English is not shaken or threatened. European leaders are against casting a broad brush of condemnation of their Muslim citizens and European Arab communities. Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, warned against the urge for adopting exceptional US measures. The spiral of suspicion created in the United States by the Patriot Act and the enduring legitimization of torture or illegal detention has today caused that country to lose its moral compass,” he wrote in Le Monde. By in large, Europeans are critical of US counter terrorism measures, and the shallow quality of US terror experts.

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After the three-day terror rampage in Paris that took the lives of 16 French citizens, France confronted questions about balancing civil liberties and terrorism. The evolution of the French debate, which centered on preserving France’s national values and unity, highlighted the wide political-cultural divide between France and the US. The vast majority of French leaders mocked and ridiculed the US Patriot Act and surveillance tactics. French politicians warned of adopting US strategies, and most dismissed any suggestion of applying US anti terror tactics. More specifically, The French identity whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or non faith was not questioned or debated, instead it was evoked and assumed to be the unifying factor that bound French citizens to their common values and principles.

Following the Paris terror attacks the French president, Francois Hollande, addressed a grieving nation by calling the French to reaffirm their national ideals. While Hollande asserted France’s resolve to meet its security threat with vigilance, he also affirmed France’s democratic principles of “Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité” (liberty, equality and Fraternity). He said, “Unity is our best weapon” and called on the French to remain true to their values by acting as one ‘indivisible’ nation. President Holland, described what it meant to act as one unified society, by stating the following: “Not being divided means we must not paint people with a broad brush, we must reject facile (simple) thinking and eschew exaggerations.” Hollande concluded, “we must stand together as one… but always with concern for national unity.” French leaders insistence on preserving national unity generated an interesting landscape of responses that was not seen or exhibited here in the US during or after our own horrendous experiences with terrorism.

On Sunday, January 11th, during the Paris national Unity March, French people of every color and stripe honored those who were mercilessly murdered, and those who protected fellow citizens during the three-day terror rampage.

Ahmed Merabet, 40, was the second police officer killed during the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Ahmed Merabet, 40, was the second police officer killed during the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Many held signs to honor the Algerian born Mustapha Ourrad, the copy editor of Charlie Hebdo who was ruthlessly killed during the terror attack, and thousands paid tribute to the slain French Muslim police officer Ahmed Merabet using the rallying cry ‘JeSuisAhmed‘. Multitudes spoke in gratitude for the exemplary courage of the young Muslim immigrant who hid and protected Jewish shoppers from harm as he helped police enter the premises to free the hostages. On that same Sunday, French Jews, who suffered a deliberate malicious terror attack gathered at the Paris Grand Synagogue. In the presence of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and after he urged French Jews to immigrate to Israel they chanted in unison the French national anthem.

Fourteen years after 9/11, few in the US have acknowledged the large number of American Muslims and Arab Americans, who  lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Meanwhile, the US remains invested in flawed policies that have eroded our national character. Reflexively, whenever we are faced with a crisis, and with little debate we dust off and re-use old worn out policies to control American citizens, their communal discussions, and institutions. American leaders implore the public to accept and confer their government’s decision to re- institutionalize past ill guided policies —without credible cause arresting Japanese Americans, African Americans, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, and civil rights leaders. Each crisis we face, American leaders and policy makers classify a class of citizens as outsiders that should be monitored. These exclusionary measures create social dissonance, arrest and dilute our shared principles, and fray our national unity.

Since 9/11 American Muslims have become the designated fifth column, and few Americans question US disregard of their constitutional and privacy rights. Meanwhile, Arab American peace activists who call for the end of the Israel occupation of Palestine have also been swept into this tidal wave. Recent reports suggest that the US shares the personal data of American citizens with Israeli intelligence agencies, without regard to the potential risks this may impose on American citizens, their families, and associates.

The inclination to exclude and marginalize a class of American citizens and immigrants is not unique in US history. Nonetheless, Americans have also made the necessary effort to correct and mend hateful social attitudes. For example, Jewish Americans were once shunned in the US. However, we gradually created the safe space for Jewish Americans to honor and preserve their Jewish and American identity. Americans no longer question whether the Jewish faith contradicts with American values. By in large, Americans are respectful of the Jewish faith and deferential to Jewish American’s allegiance to Israel. In fact, while few young Jewish Americans serve in the US military, some choose to join and serve in the Israeli military. Today, Jewish Americans are fully embraced and no one questions their identity or loyalty.

Healthy societies are in perpetual evolution. It is high time Americans begin to re-evaluate the influence of US counter terrorism policies on our national fabric and Constitutional rights. Since 9/11, US policies and actions have severely curtailed the rights and freedoms of all Americans. Collectively we need to rebuild and save what we have managed to destroy and mangle. But, first we need to allow Americans including American Muslims and Arab Americans to freely express their opinions without fear of retribution. Understanding that freedom of speech does not mean the freedom to cause harm or malign the character and freedoms of others, the First Amendment protects the rights of average Americans to express their ideas and beliefs without unwarranted restrictions. Reaffirming America’s fundamental values will help rebuild the social contract that once was the corner stone of the American experiment.

Furthermore, we need to accept that our actions whether they are our torture practices of the guilty and not guilty in far away torture cells such as Guantanamo Bay, the cost of our ‘perpetual wars‘, the loss of life and limb of thousands of young American soldiersmilitary-graves-framed-dreamstime_xs_20078855, our policies regarding Israel and Palestine, and our relentless bombing of small villages by planes or drones will naturally generate a push back by some Americans including American Muslims and Arab Americans. These are acts that affect human beings and cause harm to many helpless women, children, old people, and families. In addition, the enormous costs of US wars and counter terrorism policies are diverting American treasure away from the pressing social problems we face here at home. American voices of dissent need an outlet—a safe space to speak and discuss the merits of our actions and national objectives without fear of being labeled and maligned as anti American. These voices, once included, will enrich our national dialogue and enhance our national character.

Institutionalizing censorship hurts our fundamental freedoms, while self-constructive censorship once funneled and positively directed can be helpful to our general understanding of the many complex issues that our nation is struggling to come to terms with. In addition, authentically engaging American Muslims and Arab Americans instead of the horde of terror experts who have little knowledge or understanding of Islam or Arabs can bridge the learning gap we are facing in dealing with Muslim and Arab countries and peoples.

Granted, humans are imperfect, and imperfect people driven by fear are more often suspect in formulating and endorsing imperfect policies. Yet, fear alone is not solely responsible for the many legislative initiatives that are feeding this hyper frenzy. Lucrative federal and private funding streams, poorly informed American terrorism experts, deliberate misinformation campaigns, disrespectful prejudice, and the general acceptance of careless racism have also contributed to this trend. Nonetheless, even imperfect societies can still aspire to attain noble humane ideals.

Not long ago, Americans were admired for their principled values. The cumulative impact of US counter terrorism practices are ridiculed by the world, and have raised serious questions about our claim and interest in spreading democracy. The US deliberate campaign of fear and suspicion has harmed our national character— and unfortunately, we are no safer today than we once assumed prior to 9/11. The formulation of these infringing policies were initially based on fear and gut reaction under the presumption that adopting such policies that disregard the privacy rights of Americans was necessary. As if bullying Americans into silence will rid us of terror and ill thoughts.

Few comprehend the cost of our actions and its impact on the national harmony and affinity of Americans. Identity and nationality are sentiments that hinge on a set of political and social conditions that strengthen or weaken citizens’ sense of belonging. Furthermore, identity is inherently fluid and interactive. It depends on outside factors that either embrace or repel and marginalize the individual from his or her country and community. Since our country’s inception, national identity has been shaped by a promise affirming the universal protections that the US Constitution affords all its citizens regardless of race, national origin, ethnicity, or political affiliation. But after 9/11 these protections have become less meaningful.

In spite of the inherent limits of human frailty, our shared American ideals are worth protecting, and deserve to be experienced and enjoyed by every American citizen. Americans’ acceptance and respect of fellow Muslim Americans and Arab Americans without mocking and insulting their faith and culture, will fortify young Americans from being lured by fanatical militants who are promising a humanistic utopia that already exists within the folds of the US Constitution. Instead of seeking a far-fetched utopia in the killing fields of Iraq and Syria, embrace them here at home as full American citizens. This proposition is not based on high moral ground or theoretical assumption, but rather it is a practical approach that can help our society rid itself of ideas and concepts that contradict with our values and threaten our national character.

Discard Failure: Recognize the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Makers

mai abdul Rahman        November 22, 2014

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Despite the current bleak political landscape in Palestine and Israel, it is important to note that since 1967, the peaceful Palestinian-Israeli non violent movement continues to offer a positive collaborative paradigm based on shared common goals and tangible outcomes. Palestinian- Israeli peace nicks are active transformative agents, who risk life and limb to liberate their societies from the yoke of the Israeli occupation that harms, scars, and victimizes both equally–the enforcers of the occupation, and the Palestinians that Israel occupies and besieges.

For decades, and with little recognition countless of secular and faith groups within Israel and Palestine have tirelessly worked to advance peace in the Holy Land. Their collaborative efforts share one common objective: to end Israel’s military occupation and Gaza Siege through non violent action. It is high time we start meaningfully engaging with Palestinian and Israeli visionary leaders, who have proven their interest in bringing about a just dignified peace for both people.

While most inaccurately assume that few within Israel are challenging Israel’s occupation or Israel’s current state of affairs, the Israeli and Palestinian peace movement daily document and report on the impact of Israel’s policies, military occupation, wars, and Siege on the Palestinians. Case in point, the recent acts of violence perpetrated by lone Palestinian individuals in East Jerusalem are a consequence of desperate frustration and hopelessness that permeates throughout the Palestinian society. Since then, Israeli and international journalists have committed few articles on the bleak conditions of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. This was also the case after each Israeli war on Gaza (Christmas 2008, October 2012, and July 2014), where Israelis and internationals devoted several columns on the condition and plight of Palestinians living under an Israeli mandated Siege. These efforts are certainly helpful. However, for several years and counting, the Palestinian and Israeli peace advocates have published countless of reports on the consequences of Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem. They have consistently warned that Israel’s human rights abuses, Siege, illegal settlement expansion policies, and Israel’s continued annexation of Palestinian homes and lands are pushing Palestinians to the brink. Furthermore, several Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations record and publish annual reports on the arduous living conditions of Palestinians.

What happens in Palestine and Israel affects the people within Israel’s illegal Separation Wall and beyond. The recent violence in the Palestinian Old City of East Jerusalem risks the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike; and has the potential of jeopardizing the peace treaties between Israel, Egypt and Jordan. Needless to say, preserving the status quo in Palestine and Israel is chipping away the prospect for peace that the two people deserve and desire.

First of all, why did the leaders of Palestine and Israel fail to deliver the peace their people crave? And how did consecutive US administrations contribute to the decades long succession of failed leadership in Palestine and Israel?

  • Despite their many years of negotiations, Palestinian leaders have miserably failed to alter Israel’s policies, loosen Israel’s strong military grip on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, never mind limiting or ending Israel’ seven years Gaza Siege.  Palestinian’s failures are a consequence of the Oslo Accords that have limited the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) ability to wrestle Israel’s hold on all matters Palestinian. Also Palestinian’s economic (private and public) and diplomatic (public) dependence on the international community, Israel, and the US compromises their ability to take independent decisions. For example, the PA depends on US funding with strings attached that limit the PA’s ability to pursue alternative options outside the US- Israeli peace negotiations framework. So in spite of their best efforts, Palestinians have yet to halt the building of one illegal settlement, persuade one Jewish settler from annexing a Palestinian home, convince one Israeli settler to cede a Palestinian home, or stop one Jewish family from settling on Palestinian lands
  • Israeli leaders fail to recognize the consequences of the volatile conditions they create on the ground. They are oblivious on the impact of following the same tired policies that demean the dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians. They also fail to consider how Israel’s policies pillage the rights and freedoms of Palestinians. For example, Israel’s failure to mitigate the recent events in East Jerusalem cannot be underestimated. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disregard to address the plight and concerns of the Palestinians; and his role in lowering the bar of civility within his coalition, and Israel’s extreme political and religious right have haplessly led Israel from one debacle to the next. Netanyahu has yet to recognize his role in radicalizing the Palestinian and Israeli societies.
  • Meanwhile, for decades the US has been wedded to a peace process that is more focused on an open-ended “process,” than concrete outcomes and deliverables. The US diplomatic process has produced a litany of start and stop incomplete diplomatic ventures that have yet to produce tangible outcomes. Also, despite public US frowning on Israel’s illegal settlement construction activities, the US in fact, funds and supports Israel’s settlement enterprise and its extremist leaders. The US offers tax-exempt provisions and tax shelters to a host of corporations, developers, and non-profit organizations who benefit from investing in the building and expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements. The Israeli settlements “violate the Geneva convention’s prohibition against an occupying power transferring its population into occupied territory.” Recently, the European Union outlined specific measures to stop Europe’s private and public sector from investing, profiting from, and perpetuating Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. Meanwhile, US companies continue to profit from Israel’s occupation and illegal settlements. Most disconcerting, US funding of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has weakened Israeli moderates, and Israel’s political parties that support the two-state solution. In short, contrary to US declared interest in advancing the two-state solution, the US is complicit in building concrete barriers to lasting peace.

Clearly, as it stands Palestinians have little leverage; nevertheless their leaders have one long record of successive failures to advance the peace the Palestinian people thirst and long for. Israel’s failure to adjust to the new world consensus in favor of an independent Palestinian state, and the global wide agreement on the two-state solution is perpetuating a system that is beholden to a bygone era. Israel’s political leaders’ failure to reckon with the overwhelming support for a Palestinian state is only serving to create unproductive disharmony and dysfunction among Israelis and Palestinians. Meanwhile, the US remains stuck in a worn out peace ‘process’, and a repetition of tired pleas, and old rehashed policies. Ample evidence suggests that despite US declared interest in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and US political influence and diplomatic might; and the billions of US tax monies appropriated to Israel and Palestine, the annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank continues on unabated.

No one disputes this simple fact: Palestinian and Israeli leaders, as well as several US administrations, time and again have demonstrated their failure to bring about peace to the Holy Land. The collective leadership failure (Palestinian, Israeli, and American) has far-reaching repercussions for both Palestinians and Israelis; and negatively compromise US international standing, diplomatic image and clout, and strategic interests.

Political leaders affect and shape the institutions and the people they lead. They influence actions that are reproduced through policies, practices, processes, and expectations. They impact the norms, climate, and culture of government and society. Consecutive and chronic failures become firmly grounded through the continuation of non-productive policies that promote toxic behavior across every political and social sector. Leadership failure once entrenched trickles down and manifests in the political discourse and the social attitudes and temperament of society.

Understandably, the pernicious political climate among Palestinians and Israelis is breeding a culture of hopelessness and frustration. It is also gravely manifesting among average Palestinians and Israelis who are succumbing to living under hellish conditions rather than aspire for the peace they yearn for. How are we to change the toxic sense of helplessness that has infected and polluted every potential or current political leader and party that has the means to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation? Give credence to those engaged in non violence and peaceful resistance- Palestinian and Israeli.

Since 2005, Palestinian villagers of Bil’in and Israeli peace activists have organized and participated in weekly peaceful demonstrations. Despite the risk involved hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis have stood shoulder to shoulder to protest Israel’s Separation Wall construction plans. Together they face IDF soldiers, who harass them in equal measure, shoot at, and detain them. They weekly document the unnecessary force the IDF employs against unarmed protesters that have resulted in the injury and death of Palestinian villagers, Israeli, and international peace activists. All was not lost. Israel had originally planned to divide and annex 50% of the fertile agricultural land of this small Palestinian village. As a consequence of this collaborative non-violent campaign Israel re-routed its Separation Wall construction plans, and reduced its land annexation of Bil’in to 25% – not an absolute success, but nonetheless a measurable improvement to Israel’s original plan that would have annexed half of the entire village.

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Palestinians and internationals breach Israel's illegal Separation Wall

On the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Palestinians and international peace protesters breached Israel’s illegal Separation Wall.

More recently, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Palestinians organized an “On to Jerusalem” peaceful march, where hundreds of Palestinians breached Israel’s Separation Wall. Palestinian organizers described their campaign as an act of peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation and its complex set of military measures that confines them and violates their freedoms and rights to worship. Their campaign featured a statement issued by the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Teselem), which clearly states that Israel’s Separation Wall is a source of suffering for the Palestinians that cuts social ties, isolates Palestinian villagers from their farmland, and affects their livelihood. The insertion of this simple statement illustrates the trust and respect B’Teselem has earned among Palestinians with its sincere forthright documentation of the impact of Israel’s military occupation on the lives of ordinary Palestinians.

The Palestinian and Israeli non violent peaceful movement has the potential of restraining the forces within their society that hinder the cultural and political change required to usher peace. Although the Israeli military occupation separates and cuts off the far majority of Palestinians and Israelis from one another, the Palestinian- Israeli peace movement works and collaborates across both communities. Furthermore, despite the difficulties these Palestinian-Israeli peace activists face they continue to successfully cultivate cooperative relationships based on their common objectives. They embrace a vision of great things to come and a better future free of fear. While their political leaders fail to articulate a clear vision or offer a sensible plan, the Palestinian-Israeli non violent movement offers clear reasoning as to why both societies will benefit from ending the occupation. Above all the Palestinian-Israeli non violent movement is capable of mending and healing their societies.

Albert Einstein described “insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So how are we to unlock the insane abyss the Palestinians and Israelis find themselves heading towards?

The Palestinian- Israeli peace movement is capable of changing the current morbid militant narrative Israelis and Palestinians have come to accept. Courageous Palestinians and Israelis and a whole lot of American faith and non-faith groups realize that the liberation of Palestine will also liberate Israelis. It’s time we support the growth of the peace movement in Israel and Palestine, recognize its potential, and highlight its credible successes across both societies. In turn they will liberate the US from investing our treasure and diplomatic clout in the continuation of failure. But first, the US should do its part by recognizing the Palestinian and Israeli non-violent movement as a legitimate credible political movement.

What will It Take to Bring Peace to the Holy Land?

mai abdul rahman                                  October 22, 2014

Palestinian children passing through an Israeli cattle steel gate

Palestinian children passing through an Israeli cattle steel gated check point

There is an emergence of recognition among Palestinians and Israelis that negotiating a peaceful end of Israel’s occupation and Siege of Palestinians has become almost impossible to achieve. This new emerging consensus is evident by Israel’s expedient rush to establish facts on the ground that reflect Israel’s consensus of creating “Greater Israel” that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. But what will it take to bring about peace with dignity that honors both Israelis and Palestinians? And what drives Israel to such extreme measures?

Palestinians have come to realize that the Jewish history of trauma is an impediment for building trust between Palestinians and Israelis. The question that Palestinians are grappling with is how to convince Israelis and Jews that it is in their self interest to end Israel’s military policies, and usher a humane political paradigm that respects the collective and individual dignity of Palestinians and Israelis. Before they can do so, Palestinians have to figure out how to untangle and separate the Palestinian- Israeli narrative from the Jewish historical narrative of pain and suffering.

The Palestinian perspective and experience with the Israelis suggests that the root obstacle to peace for both people rests on  the prevailing Jewish historical experience that is defined by a litany of atrocities. These horrendous atrocities are commemorated, and transmitted to the next generation at every Seder and Jewish ritual. The Jewish traumatic discourse is also affirmed and recounted in popular culture and literature where stories about historical violence committed on innocent Jews are described; it is circulated in the media, and the news; and it is retold and memorialized in movies and oral histories. These horrific accounts of the collective Jewish experience touches and pains readers, listeners and viewers even when they are not immediately affected or personally victimized.

The dread of violence and trauma is real and manifested by observant and non-observant Jews. It is also observed among Jews who have lived free of overt racism and prejudice. Jews raised on the Jewish traumatic narrative and history of anti-Semitism, may sympathize with Palestinians, but still fear the possibility of a cruel future that can potentially repeat- if they let their guard down.

It is the reason why most American Jews will still fund, support, and defend Israel’s actions and policies even when they feel implicated by the injustices that Israel perpetrates on the Palestinians. Traumatic violence has become an intangible threat that most Jews carry with them in every sphere. It is most pronounced in the manner by which Jews and Israelis relate to Palestinians. For example, Israeli leaders, Israel’s extremists, as well as US Jewish leaders justify and fiercely defend Israel’s military actions, policies, its Gaza Siege, and illegal settlers with words and invocations of the Holocaust. In addition, Palestinian leaders of all stripes are compared to Hitler. Meanwhile, Zionists and illegal Israeli settlers accuse Palestinians who propose Israel withdraws to pre-1967 green line as if they are proposing the final solution.

Furthermore, any criticism of the state of Israel, its occupation policies, or its Zionist militant character is considered anti-Semitic, and an attack on Jews, their faith and identity. Palestinians are compared to Nazis so often that it has become predictable to the point of a common clichés. In fact, Palestinians often say that while Germany may have lost the war, Hitler, his deeds and words are still daily invoked by Israelis and Jews.

There is no question or ambiguity about the shared horrific Jewish experience that millions of Jews have endured prior to 1948. The Holocaust has been the core of the Jewish identity, and Israel’s distinguished unifying historical experience. It has been the impetus for the creation of the state of Israel, and the raison d’être that provides Israelis and Jews worldwide the drive, and determination to support Israel with blood and treasure. Interestingly, while Palestinians had no hand in Israel’s collective and individual suffering that the Holocaust experience has imprinted on Israelis and Jews, Palestinians are the open wounds who pay the price for the Jewish peoples’ bitter memory.

Palestinian young girl is held in an arm lock by an Israeli soldier

Palestinian young girl is held in an arm lock by an Israeli soldier

Countless of Palestinian men, women, and children are well aware that they are the living scarred witnesses of the painful Jewish past. So, while Palestinians do not justify Israel’s actions and policies they have come to realize that the collective Jewish fear of persecution and victimization whether immediate, actual, or a past memory is the psychological and emotional barrier to peace between the two people.

Fear of anti-Semitism is real and it is difficult to get over and clearly no one- Jewish or sane Palestinian- should underestimate it. While Palestinians did not have a hand in the Jewish European experience of loss, trauma, and destitution, they intuitively and experientially recognize the powerful hold of the Holocaust on their daily life under Israel’s Siege and Occupation.

It is certainly difficult for Palestinians to rationalize why they are the ones chosen to pay the price of European crimes and atrocities. Nonetheless, Palestinians have an intimate knowledge of the impact of this large and formidable collective Jewish fear that harshly confines and imprisons Palestinians behind Israel’s dreadful separation Walls, check points, electric and barbed wire fences, steel cattle gates, and Siege; which also walls and cages the Israelis.

Fear is the reason why for seven decades the Israelis have maintained that the Palestinians are the aggressors, and Israel is a victim of its own militant actions and occupation. It is what motivates Jews to absolve the Israeli government, the IDF, and its illegal settlers from any legal or political responsibility for robbing Palestinians of their properties, polluting their environment, and uprooting their ancient Roman olive trees; and it is the reason that holds young under age Palestinian children in far away Israeli prisons.

Palestinians also recognize that the Jewish horrific past is the reason that drove Israel to become an army nation, where boundaries between its militant ideology and society are blurred. It is the reason why Israel is more like ancient Sparta, where mandatory military service provides its impressionable young with one unifying identity and one enemy- the Palestinians. Young Israelis and their Palestinian captive victims are the living tragedy of the “never again” and “never forget” Jewish motto that has provoked Israel to build a warrior society that is unique among nations.

While understanding the confining power of the Jewish narrative of trauma is necessary for Palestinians, Israelis, and their supporters, the crucial question for Palestinians is when will the Jews be able forgive those who committed the most heinous and horrific acts on their Jewish neighbors, friends, associates, and fellow citizens (Germans, Poles, Italians, Russians and so on). Yes, it is a tall order and most difficult considering the oppressive nature, and the psychological, emotional and physical damage that was inflicted on generations of Jews. Nonetheless, forgiveness has the potential to heal and liberate both people. Otherwise, the Jewish fear of recurring trauma will remain the invisible weight that keeps both people from the honorable just peace they deserve and desire.

Palestinians understand the power and utility of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a Palestinian social practice and the corner-stone of their communal tradition that has helped them resolve social conflict, and address family and community disputes in every town, village and tent. Across Palestinian society- in Palestine, Israel, and the Diaspora- conflict management, and conflict reduction and resolution are formally and ritually performed in the absence of state officials or a central government.

If and when Jews are able to forgive the world for the deep wounds that were inflicted on millions of Jews, then and only then will Jews be able to trust to forgive and be forgiven. Only when Jews are able to forgive the world for its cruelty and inhumane treatment of Jews; only then will Jews and Israelis allow themselves to forgive the Palestinians, and only then will they believe that the Palestinians who have been victimized by Israel will forgive them, too.

Jews must forgive to believe that the Palestinians are also capable of forgiving. In short, for peace to bud and grow among Israelis and Palestinians requires the commitment of Israelis and Jews to transform their society through deliberate action to change Israel’s national character, motives, behavior, and narrative.