Who Supports Palestinians in the U.S.?


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While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues most people think the most ardent advocates of Palestinians’ right to self-determination are Arabs and Muslims worldwide.

In the United States, the Arab-American and Muslim communities have leaders and representatives who educate the public on a regular basis. They devote their time and energy in educating the public about the Palestinian narrative not reported in U.S. mainstream media. Since U.S. media coverage filters through the U.S. Government and lobby groups vested in corporations that have political and financial interests in Israel, the American public forms their opinions from imbalanced news coverage based on pro-Israel perceptions.

However, the hard work of a few, dedicated people demonstrates the need for more active participation by the uninvolved, Arab-American and Muslim majority. After several years of steady, consistent attendance at Middle Eastern social, cultural and political functions within the States, the people I see facilitating and attending most of these events are not Arab-American and/or Muslim.

As a journalist living in the Midwest, I have written articles and reviews covering lectures, conferences, public debates, film screenings, film festivals, art exhibitions, and concerts that focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Anglo-Americans organized most of these functions. Although Arab-American and Muslim organizations may co-sponsor these events, which mean their organizations’ names are on the advertising flier to show they support it, the members of the host organization expend their time, energy and resources to make these events happen.

Some of the tasks involved in the logistical coordination of these educational, public functions are: booking speakers, finding locations, setting up media equipment, information tables and chairs. Donations from the audience help pay for expenses associated with these events.

With the exception of the Marcel Khalife benefit concert for Palestinians, the last U.S. tour of the dance troupe Ibdaa and the Chicago Palestine Film Festival, the scores of other events I attended had a majority of Anglo-Americans in the audience.

The average turnout of Arab-Americans and/or Muslims never exceeds ten per cent. Even in the three events mentioned above, the theaters were not packed. While opening night of the most recent CPFF was sold-out, it was only because Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia University gave a lecture after the film. For the remaining film screenings, the theaters were semi-full to almost empty.

When there is a lecture about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an average of 50 – 100 people attends it. I have not seen more than a handful of Arab-Americans and/or Muslims in the audience, if at all.

Some people might argue that Arab-Americans and Muslims do not need to be present at these events because they are knowledgeable about the conflict. In some cases, the conflict affected their lives to the point their families’ sought refuge in the U.S. after the Al-Nakba, the Catastrophe. At several events, I have listened to Palestinian-Americans’ tragic life stories about how they left Palestine because if they stayed it meant the difference between life and death. After living several years in exile they tried to visit dying relatives back home, but they are denied entry into Israel. Their life accounts are heart wrenching and I can only imagine the sadness and despair they experienced throughout their lives.

The Chicago land area has the largest, Palestinian population outside the Middle East. Yet, for these thousands of people living in exile who do not attend these events, does nonparticipation make the memories less painful or easier to forget? Moreover, what message is conveyed to the people in the audience? The people who participate in these functions possess a range of political and religious beliefs, and their attendance shows their interest in the issue. When participants see a few, if any, Arab-Americans and Muslims in the room, what goes through their minds?

For the people who have active roles in these functions consistently, both speakers and facilitators must be exhausted. The time and energy they spend planning and attending these events is time away from family, friends and other personal interests. When they give so much of themselves and no “rotation relief” exists, how do they maintain balance in their personal lives? What sacrifices are they making?

While Palestinians endure harsh and violent living conditions under military occupation; with checkpoints, curfews, home demolitions, land confiscations, the economic strangulation caused by Israel’s separation wall, high unemployment, malnourished children, and the torture of Palestinian prisoners, my initial conclusion is that Arabs and Muslims – who have family and friends back home – would attend these events in overwhelming numbers. It is the exact opposite.

Some people might argue that Arab-Americans and/or Muslims do not attend because they are busy working jobs to support their families back home. My response is that may be true, but not for the entire, uninvolved majority. The neighborhood where I live has a prominent Arab and Muslim community. Whenever I walk down the street I see people in daily life activities. They sit on their porches and in Middle Eastern restaurants with their families and friends. Basically, they are living normal lives in American society — except their relatives overseas are subjected to abuse and violence on a daily basis.

While I read news reports from alternative media sources about the violence against Palestinians and their high poverty rates, it is mind-boggling to see their relatives sitting here in the States, day after day, doing nothing constructive to help their blood relations who live in the concrete, metal and bullet-encased thick of the conflict. In the States, they have beautiful homes, drive nice cars and wear fashionable clothes, both Western and Muslim dress. They have enough gold on display as evidence that the local jewelry shops are thriving businesses. Certainly, they have a right and they deserve a high-quality standard of living. My point is they choose to ignore the Palestinian plight by living in America’s consumer bubble instead. As a result, they make conscious decisions to avoid personal involvement in political activities. Perhaps they fear deportment, which is a whole other problem.

When their conversations steer toward the struggle of their families living in the Middle East, how do their words change the Palestinians’ living conditions if they do not pick up the phone and call their U.S. Government representatives or they do not stand in a public demonstration for the local media? For the people offended by the audacity of my observations, how many people have taken action based on their beliefs relating to the conflict?

When it comes to giving money, the once-a-year charitable contribution helps people in need for the short-term, but long-term results come to fruition in the work people do throughout the year. It is just like exercise: working out for one month vigilantly has an effect, but the results pale in comparison to an exercise program four days a week year-round.

Setting aside the ethics and political tactics of the Jewish lobbying groups in the U.S., the American Zionists are a proactive, mobilizing force. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, along with their respective counterparts, flexes their political muscle in Washington. Modern Jewish history illustrates they did not succeed with leaps and bounds, but they capitalized on small gains through mass organization. Theodor Herzl got the ball rolling for the Belfour Declaration, which laid the foundation for a Zionist program that could run the political marathon. Once the ideology was set in motion, they lobbied the U.S. Government until they molded the legislative, executive and judicial branches for the Zionist’s colonial enterprise: the State of Israel.

Even the Jewish peace organizations in the U.S. put their beliefs into consistent, concrete action. One example is the Jewish organization Not In My Name, whose members stand against the occupation with their voices, posters and pamphlets in downtown Chicago. For the last, four years they have had this weekly vigil. I know of no other organization – Jewish or Muslim – that exhibits this level of commitment. The point I want to emphasize is that the Arab-American and Muslim populations need to mobilize within this country if they want to have a positive impact on the Palestinian condition.

Granted, Arabs and Muslims are under attack worldwide, but these unfortunate times should motivate people to engage in activities that will resolve societal problems and help Middle East affairs. When there is change in civil society, then individual lives improve also. Since civil society can not rely on government leaders to create a fair and just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, then it is up to America’s civil society to step up to the plate and end the American and Israeli Government’s political game of terrorizing the Palestinians, abusing U.S. taxpayer dollars and violating international law.

As we say in the U.S. this is where the rubber meets the road (U.S. involvement with Middle East oil is a slippery slope for address in another article). When the rubber meets the road it is the drivers for change who determine the direction, set the pace and spread the word. Political conflicts are not resolved unless people are moving to influence their country’s government and corporate involvement in geopolitical landscapes.

People, regardless of their citizenship, do not have to declare they are human rights activists in order to participate in a global, civil rights movement that will improve Palestinians’ lives now and for future generations. Moreover, the potential accomplishments of Palestinians living in the Diaspora may impact their right to return to their homeland, so they have a stake in the final outcome.

The Palestinians do not need the world’s tears – they need people in organizations to stand up to the government and corporate leaders oiling the Zionist machine that violates Palestinians’ human right to self-determination in an independent, viable, Palestinian state. But sitting on the bench has no benefit unless it involves punching a keyboard or pumping the iron that will free Palestinians and Israelis from the shackles of occupation.

Remaining silent is a disservice to humanity…half the battle is just showing up.

-Sonia Nettnin is a journalist who writes about social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Her focus is the Middle East.

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