Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are among the recently-elected members of Congress who will soon head to Washington after historic victories. After unseating 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley of New York’s 14th congressional district, Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib (a Palestinian-American) and Ilhan Omar (a Somali-American) became the first Muslim congresswomen. It’s also worth mentioning that Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib are members of Democratic Socialists of America.
In addition to their trailblazing achievements, these inspiring women of color share an extremely rare stance in American politics: concern for Palestinian human rights. This view is so unheard of that most left-leaning politicians could accurately be labeled “progressive except for Palestine.” A recent embodiment of this concept was the Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke. In an email correspondence, a member of O’Rourke’s campaign staff wrote,
“Beto is a proud advocate of Israel. He believes that Israel is critically important to the United States, because it is the home of the Jewish people, because it is an exemplary democracy that shares our values, and because it is a crucial contributor to our national security objectives in the region.”
On the topic, a Jerusalem Post article added, “O’Rourke has consistently supported a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and he has the voting record to prove it.”
What’s wrong with supporting Israel?
For starters, the Israeli military routinely slaughters civilians who are trapped in an open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip. This barbarism is often accomplished using billions of dollars in American “foreign aid.” In its most recent massacre, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) killed more than 110 Palestinians, including 14 children, and injured more than 3,700 with live ammunition. During these unimaginable atrocities, one Israeli soldier reportedly sustained “light injuries.”
The “Great March of Return” began on March 30, 2018, and involved almost exclusively peacefully protests aimed at Israel’s siege of Gaza, which began in 2006. However, the Israeli government attempted to justify its murderous assault by concocting various myths about the protests, including the claim that there were “violent mass incidents.” According to an Amnesty International report, “In most of the fatal cases […], some victims were shot from behind and in the upper body, including the head and the chest. Eyewitness testimonies, video and photographic evidence suggest that many were deliberately killed or injured while posing no immediate threat to the Israeli soldiers.”
In addition to the staggering death toll, the report added that “many have suffered extreme bone and tissue damage, as well as large exit wounds measuring between 10 and 15mm, and will likely face further complications, infections and some form of physical disability — such as paralysis or amputation.” According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, 2,200 people suffered leg injuries, 17 of which resulted in amputation.
As Jewish academic Norman Finkelstein has noted, any use of force by Israel against the people of Gaza — in addition to being senseless and sadistic — is completely illegal under international law.
Those unfamiliar with the dire situation in Gaza may find it strange that thousands are willing to risk life and limb simply to participate in political demonstrations. A 37-year-old Gazan woman elucidated this phenomenon by writing:
“Israel has been holding Gaza under blockade for more than ten years. Some of the young people participating in the protests and being wounded or even killed by soldiers, do not know what it’s like to have running water and a steady supply of electricity. They have never left Gaza and grew up in a prison.
You can’t visit us, Israel doesn’t allow anyone to see what’s going on here. There is no real life in Gaza. The whole place is clinically dead.
The younger generations are crushed by the hopelessness and death everywhere. The protests have given us all a spark of hope. They are our attempt to cry out to the world that it must wake up, that there are people here fighting for their most basic rights, which they are entitled to fulfill. We deserve to live, too.”
How did this all start?
Without getting into the complex history of Zionism, this conflict essentially began during the formation of the State of Israel. As Phyllis Bennis explained in her book, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict,
“When the British ended their Palestine Mandate in 1947, they turned control over to the United Nations. The U.N. Partition Agreement […] divided Palestine into sectors: 55 percent for a Jewish state and 45 percent for a Palestinian Arab state, with Jerusalem to be left under international control […]” (pg. 12)
“When Israel was created as a state in 1948, 750,000 indigenous Palestinians, whose families had lived in Palestine for hundreds of years, were forcibly expelled by, or fled in terror of, the powerful militias that would soon become the army of the State of Israel. […] Despite international law and specific U.N. resolutions, none of those forced into exile have been allowed to return.” (pg. 10)
“In the 1967 war, Israel took over the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the last 22 percent of historic Palestine. Those areas are now identified as the occupied territories.” (pg. 14)
Seven decades later, Palestinians still make up the world’s largest refugee population, with an estimated 4.3 million displaced. In addition to the initial horrors of the Nakba and the aforementioned mass murder in Gaza, Israel has implemented apartheid policies and built an array of illegal colonial settlements in the West Bank. In this occupied region, Palestinians live with segregated roads and buses, Arab-only military checkpoints, discriminatory distribution of water and other resources, forced evictions, and home demolitions.
Aside from consistent U.S. support, this ruthless occupation is also allowed to continue due to the systemic dehumanization of Arabs throughout Israeli society. School children are bombarded with negative stereotypes of Arabs and Palestinians in their textbooks, which often depict them as “bloodthirsty,” “tribal,” and “inferior.”
In a survey conducted by Israeli writer and researcher Adir Cohen, “seventy five percent of the children described the ‘Arab’ as a murderer, one who kidnaps children, a criminal and a terrorist. Eighty percent said they saw the Arab as someone dirty with a terrifying face.” Regarding popular Israeli children’s books, Cohen found that “sixty six percent […] refer to Arabs as violent; 52 percent as evil; 37 percent as liars; 31 percent as greedy; 28 percent as two-faced; 27 percent as traitors.”
How can we work to end Israeli aggression and apartheid?
When most people hear the term “apartheid,” they think of South Africa. South African apartheid was a brutal racial caste system that began in 1948 and was finally dismantled in the early 1990s. One of the key strategies in bringing an end to this injustice was an international divestment movement involving universities, companies, governments, and other organizations around the world.
On July 9, 2005, Palestinian civil society organizations called for similar measures aimed at ending the Israeli iteration of apartheid (along with its other human rights violations and war crimes). Specifically, this effort demands that Israel comply with international law by:
- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194
This movement, which is called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), has grown significantly in recent years, and now includes academic and cultural boycotts. Prominent political organizations like Democratic Socialists of America and Jewish Voice for Peace have endorsed BDS, and even cultural icons like Natalie Portman and Lana Del Rey have inadvertently participated. This effort is certainly gaining momentum, but we have a long way to go.
The truth is that Israel is a flagrantly genocidal colonial state that has murdered thousands and displaced millions. These horrific crimes have been committed with American weaponry, funding, and political complicity. Our freshman class of congresswomen is therefore very encouraging, and may pave the way to a change in the narrative, and in turn, a change in our policies.
The Palestinian people can’t wait; it’s time we heed their call.
*This article has also been published by Progressive Army.