When Palestine comes up in restaurant

What I imagined was going to be a fine evening with a good friend for her birthday ended up reverting back to Palestine and the occupation.

Now, I know it sounds crazy. In a dimly lit, cramped restaurant, with waitresses flying around and serving multiple tables at once, who’d expect a conversation about Palestine? I certainly didn’t. As I was sitting across from my lady friend, a gentleman and his family were not even a foot away from us. The tables were, to describe it bluntly, uncomfortably close. If I extended my arm, I would have knocked him in the shoulder. Talk about needing some personal space. Anyway, this peculiar gentleman began joking with my friend and I. It started off as small talk.

“I guess that’s my hint to leave you alone,” he said, as I was speaking to our waitress about changing our order.

“You’re okay. I would have said something,” I replied. But then I felt bad. Most of the time, I view our world as cold and unrelenting. I don’t want to be the person that shatters another’s kindness with indifference. I want to be someone who encourages others to go out into this world, shake hands with people of different races, and invite them over to learn more.

So I apologized.

“I’m sorry, sir! I hope I didn’t come off as rude while you were speaking and joking with us. I was just busy ordering our food.” I tried softened the mood.

“No, no! You’re fine, man. My wife always yells at me for talking too much.”

We laughed. It was a friendly engagement. It was me trying to spread kindness (the way I always do), and him enjoying the pleasantries. His family members’ eyes lit up as they chuckled and enjoyed the conversation.

Then the interesting part happened. He spoke about falafel. Ah, my Palestinian pride roared within me. We always love it when others indulge in our culture. It’s a reminder that we’re not fading. We’re here to stay, and our legacies are cemented in this world.

“Falafel?! That stuff’s awesome! We are the originators!” My voice rose with joy.

“Oh, you guys are Middle Eastern?!” He asked.

“Yeah — Palestinian!” I blurt, my gratification urging me on.

He said it was cool. I didn’t think anything of it. Then, he told me how his daughter was going to school in Israel. Ah, that rival word. My insides dropped and I clenched my jaw in surprise.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where are you guys from?” my curiosity compelled me.

“Well, we’re Canadian, but we’re Jewish.”

As he admitted his faith, I could feel he and his family’s disquiet. It was a weight that now sat on my back. I felt like they were watching my every move, expecting to see glimpses of hatred and disgust in my eyes. But I showed neither, mainly because I didn’t feel it.

I told him, “That’s cool, and it’s nice to have a good conversation with him, because back home, that doesn’t happen often.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” he said. “We need peace. All we want is the war to end.”

I agreed. But I had to throw in the fact that I’m against the occupation. I told him that it wasn’t right for people to be deprived of basic human rights, and how despicable Israeli treatment is towards Palestinians who want to return or visit family.

“Yeah, but it’s also hard for the people there (referring to the Israelis) who live in fear.”

“Yeah, but what do you expect? You know you wouldn’t stand by if someone was telling you your wife and kids couldn’t have decent drinking water and access to hospitals.”

He agreed. He still tried a bit more with the whole “Israel is defending itself” slogan, and that’s when I told him to check the statistics.

“Look for yourself. Don’t believe me. But there is a huge difference in Israel’s kill ratio of Palestinians than how many Palestinians kill Israelis.”

He agreed and said he’s seen them. And then, he concluded the argument. “Well, I hate to be rude, but this cheesecake’s getting cold, so I’m gonna get back to that. It was nice talking to you.”

And then I realized something. We don’t have to be at the Israeli checkpoints to demand change. We can do it right here. And it starts by raising our voices.  By simply spreading knowledge and speaking whenever we can, we’re creating awareness about the Palestinian struggle. It can be done for any injustice. I’d be willing to bet my statements pained that man with the truth. Maybe his daughter, who’s studying abroad there, will even be motivated enough to see what I’m saying.

The world won’t change overnight, but it can change one person at a time. History’s battles have faded, but the great words of its leaders and holy books are engraved in the minds of us all. If we use more words and less violence, our legacies and drive for self-determination will only grow that much stronger.

 

My Palestinian “Bern Notice”

Sixty seven years ago, the fledgling Israeli army massacred my infant father’s village, leaving my grandparents little choice but to flee. The entire village, but a few elderly and infirm members of the community who could not be moved, fled to the neighboring village, for what they believed to be but a short period of time. Within a few days, the soldiers moved on, and people returned to find the village gutted, destroyed, and those elderly infirm members burned in a barn. No one had expected they would be murdered, let alone hung and set on fire. No one predicted that they would be exiled. But it was clear. They had to leave.

Skip forward sixty-six years to more recent history. A young boy is kidnapped, tortured, and lynched as a pricetag.His brief sixteen years were a commodity. The conflict was written on his body. Last year, sixty-six years later, the Dawabshe family were set afire in their homes by Israeli settlers. Gruesome stories and pictures viscerally demonstrated the depths of depravity of the current status quo. Recently, a man in Gaza self-immolated in protest of the ongoing siege. He burned down his own body, refusing to allow a US-made and financed Israeli missile to do it first.

Palestinians have become accustomed to their lives and livelihoods flickering in a blaze. Occupation, degradation, demolition, dispossession, expulsion. We have experienced a whole litany of abuses, a dirge often too long to sing. To paraphrase Darwish, from them steel and fire, from us our flesh.

As my father’s generation made its way into the Western world, they carried with them a deep-seated mistrust of government. They remained skeptical of democracy. Why wouldn’t they? The place they sought refuge was also the biggest supplier of arms to their invader. American Palestinians have walked a tightrope of love for this country and hate for its foreign policy. As much as they tried to assimilate, they also encouraged their children to remain aloof and disengaged. Aware, but not invested in the process. There was always a fear of reprisal. What would happen if we became involved and the tide changed? A refugee’s greatest fear, besides the road, is the camp.

A general malaise and pessimism of a fair shake in the system pervades, leading to a lack of engagement. Ultimately, it is believed that all candidates will capitulate to the status quo, all will support the “United States’ only ally in the Middle East”, all will defend Israel. Some candidates have attempted to take a stronger position against Israel–Adlai Stevenson, Dennis Kucinich, and even Ron Paul–but none of them have been elected.

The reason I unabashedly support Bernie Sanders is because our story – the Palestinian story, the refugee story, the diaspora story – is not merely about being burned in our homes. It is about being burned out of our homes, out of our towns and country, out of memory.

When my uncles, who were twelve and fourteen at the time, were chased out of Palestine, they found work in a cement factory in Jordan. They were child laborers, working twelve hours a day, six days a week, for a pittance, and they eventually grew into adult labor leaders. My uncle fled Jordan because he received a burn notice: Leave or go to jail. When he came to America in the early sixties, he found work in a Coca-Cola factory, and he faced the same union busting thugs he had fled eight thousand miles to escape.

My father was a child laborer, picking fruit as a migrant farmer to help his family survive a pitiful existence in a refugee camp. Despite his father’s passing, his mother, brothers, and sister helped pave his way to becoming a professor and full member of a teacher’s union. He teaches in an economically deprived area, trying to bridge the educational gap many low-income students suffer through.

Two of his daughters went on to become nurses and member of the National Nurses United. They see first hand how inadequate health care and services devastate families, physically and financially. They try to ease the pain in a crippled system.

We are a Palestinian American union family. We have experienced our fair share of deprivation. We have seen the effects a lack of proper education can have on a population. We have witnessed the inhumanity of inadequate health service and care. We believe that the time is now to pull together, not only as a family, but as a collective community. Our support of Bernie Sanders is an ardent attempt at changing the grim reality for those on the bottom.

Perhaps Bernie Sanders will not be the president who directly confronts Israelis on their terrible human rights abuses, though in my heart of hearts, I do so ardently hope he does. However, he may be the president who moves to defund their nearly five billion dollar aid package in order to bring about real change in our crumbling system. Though Sanders has suggested defunding Israel (and Egypt), no other candidate in the running has ever questioned a continued endowment to Israel for any reason. This sets him far apart from all other candidates, past and present.

Moreover, Bernie Sanders will be the president who directly confronts corporations, monopolies, and lobbies.  He will champion the American Refugees, those of us with piecemeal work, transient home lives, no health care, reliant upon yet disenfranchised by a shoddy educational system. He will fight for those scraping by, trying to put ends together to meet.

I have been criticized for my support of a Liberal Zionist Jew who has not come out in favor of dismantling Israel. But my support is for a strong human rights activist who has championed the little man for his entire career. My support is for a union supporter who stood up with all those who have gotten a burn notice and been forced to run. Now it’s my turn. This is my Bern notice.

Mandela’s statue arrived in Palestine, but his legacy hasn’t yet

Five days ago, the Palestinian people received a gift from the people of South Africa.  Last Tuesday,  a massive 6-meter tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in Ramallah. (That’s about 20 feet to us Americans.)  The occasion was met with much fanfare, and the ceremony was led by the current president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Many seek to compare the current situation in Palestine to the history of South Africa.  And there are, for sure, many similarities. Israel acts in much the same fashion as the Afrikaner regime of South Africa did.  It segregates populations based on race/religion.  It offers elevated governmental services and benefits to Jews.  It allows Jews from anywhere in the world to gain immediate citizenship while denying the right of native Palestinian refugees to return.  It builds separate roads for settlers.  Its whole national identity is predicated upon belonging to a certain racial group.  Israel is effectively an apartheid state.  The analog to pre-1994 South Africa is clear.

We Palestinians, on the other hand, haven’t yet gotten the South African message.  Since Oslo, we have been fighting over imaginary borders, land swaps, and false power.  In the meantime, the Palestinian Authority (a creation of the corrupt Oslo Accords) has been acting as the security and logistics subcontractor of the Israeli occupation for over twenty years.  (We shouldn’t forget that before the PLO of Yasser Arafat, Saeb Erekat, and Mahmoud Abbas accepted the horrific Oslo agreement of 1993, organic Palestinian leaders like Hanan Ashrawi, Faisal Husseini, and Haidar Abdel Shafi rejected the same terms – some say even better – in 1991 in Madrid.)

From a Palestinian point of view, the Oslo agreement were a total surrender.  It marked our acceptance of an Israeli state based on racial supremacy and the existence of settlements. It also signaled a willingness to accept potential self-determination (which, of course, has not arrived yet) on less than a quarter of our homeland.  In short, by signing Oslo, we Palestinians accepted Zionism.  We, or at least the PLO leadership, became Zionists.  Unsurprisingly, that was a bad idea.  Also, as it turns out, our complete surrender wasn’t enough for Israel, as settlements, aggression, and apartheid have only continued.  This should surprise no one, as colonizers generally seek no less than the complete removal and/or extinction of their subjects.  It is not part of the colonial recipe to accept “coexistence.”

Nelson Mandela would have never participated in the capitulation displayed by Palestinian leaders dating from 1993 until today.  He would have asked for better.  He would have urged that we actually speak the language of black South Africans, demanding equal rights in all of our homeland, pushing for one secular democratic state, rejecting all forms of racial supremacy.  This is the language the world understands.  It is the language of universal civil and political rights.  It is the language of freedom.  The language of victory.  Sadly, our current crop of Palestinian leadership hasn’t learned the first word of it.

As a Palestinian, I am excited to see Mandela arrive in my homeland.  I hope his legacy follows, because it’s not there yet.  Yes, Israel has been acting like apartheid South Africa for some time.  But we Palestinians have not yet started to act like the black South Africans who found justice.

Mr. Mandela, our leadership doesn’t deserve to look at you.  I apologize that it was Mahmoud Abbas who welcomed you into our beautiful land.  We surely had better choices.

 

This election is a reality show, and Bernie isn’t a contestant

Hillary Clinton supporters seem to miss a fundamental difference between her and Bernie Sanders. It’s called integrity. Integrity is a value that is fundamental to the development of trust, and thus, when one is seeking a relationship with a people, trust becomes a rather imperative value. In order to build trust, one must implicitly and explicitly display the truth at all cost.  In other words, one must “walk the walk and talk the talk.” Secretary Clinton has been a disgrace to integrity, and her followers appear to be as blinded as Nazi followers in 1930s. Not a fair comparison? I’m not so sure. The problem with this country is not hate, racism, immigration, the economy, foreign policy, transgender bathrooms, or any other one of the issues that the mainstream media regurgitates on a daily basis. The problem is this country’s indifference.

Hillary Clinton has been involved in more scandals than the Kardashians. She has almost 150 FBI agents investigating her. We should be indicting her, not voting for her. Hilary Clinton sees her rival as Donald Trump, and the two of them have turned the American democratic process into a season of Survivor. It has been a season of not-so friendly competition for Clinton and Trump, and as their competition continues, the American people remain the Biggest Losers. Our primary election process has become the greatest American Crime Story, full of lies, deceit, and down right dirty politics. To the rest of the world, its an episode of Ridiculousness. There is NO uniting the Democratic Party, because in order to have a Democratic Party you have to have a DEMOCRACY. As for the Republicans, there is no Republic either. Red, Blue, pick your favorite color. That’s all your voting for.

Like a battered wife on Dr. Phil, the masses appear to accept that our WORLD is disintegrating. Florida is literally losing land as a result of climate change. In the past few weeks alone, Ecuador and Japan have suffered earthquakes and subsequent tremors so intense, they would rip California off the map. Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton encourages other countries to frack away all while using their fracking money to fund her competition against Trump. Texas is literally under water and yet Hilary Clinton has no problem taking money from big oil to fund her attack ads on her good old friend Trump, who donated to her previous campaign and was blessed with her presence at his last wedding.

And while she’s Dancing with the Stars, with the same stars who preach about about autism, which is at its highest rates ever, Hilary Clinton thinks nothing of taking money from Monsanto, while they poison our food and then clone it.  Hilary Clinton thinks nothing of taking money from drug companies  who preserve vaccines with heavy metals like mercury (a.k.a. Thimerasol), which has been known to destroy the human body from the inside out. The WORLD is losing water yet she supports giving tax breaks to big companies like Nestle to suck up the water, smack a label on it, and sell it to the families of Flint, Michigan, who are now walking around with more lead than we ever thought humanly possible.

That is who the Democratic party wants to represent them? The Democratic Party is losing credibility like American Idol lost ratings. Hilary Clinton may have won New York but the Democratic Party lost 126,000 supporters and that’s in addition to the 146,000 voters denied the right to vote in Arizona. Why all the references to reality television? Because that’s all the American public pay attention to! As for me, I have integrity, which means I’m no Democrat or Republican. I’m a Sandernista. Nominee or not, my vote will be heard, and I will write Bernie in.

 

 

Mental health & our Arab community

Growing up in an Arab family is fun. There’s great food, noisy gatherings, and parties that are so wild you’d swear the world is ending.

But there also comes a distinct stubbornness. When you’re Arab, numerous expectations are placed upon you. In many cases, your choices of a career and significant other are heavily influenced. Defying your family isn’t really an option.

This subbornness is at its worst when it comes to mental health. While growing up, I’ve often heard my elders say that depression is “all in the head.” “Life is what you make it,” they say. Some of that is true. If you wake up thinking your day is going to be crummy, it probably will be. And if you wake up with ambition and go out there pushing and striving, you’re more likely to succeed. But it isn’t always that easy for everyone, especially when depression and anxiety are ravaging one’s mind.

Recently in Dearborn, a young man committed suicide. Surely some in the masses are outraged that his suicide was revealed for public consumption. Yeah, a family’s privacy is important, but shedding light upon a serious community matter is far more crucial. The Arab American News reported that this suicide was “the latest in almost a dozen reported suicides in the local Arab American community within the past two years.”

If we remain motionless while our friends and neighbors suffer silently, this issue will intensify. It’ll only be a matter of time until more triggers are pulled and more lives are ended. Families will be torn, questions will be left unanswered, and the same vicious cycle will reign.

Within the past year, numerous people took their own lives. One suicide is bad enough. More than one is heart-wrenching.

The biggest issue here is the Arab community’s stigmatization of mental health. If someone is depressed, it’s not okay to make him feel “crazy,” or like it’s all in her head. If someone’s dealing with anxiety, telling him to calm down and breathe isn’t a solution, either. If someone says she’s not feeling right, believe them. Do something. There’s no need to label suffering people as “crazy” or “craving attention.”

A wonderful remedy is a listening ear. Letting someone know you are there for him can be as effective as any medication. On the other hand, displaying dispassion and disbelief could cause irreparable harm.

Some of you reading this will be offended. Some will disagree and say I’m way off base. That’s OK. The truth is a monster we all run from.  But it can’t be escaped. It will find us all. And if we don’t act sooner, and with more care and compassion, it will continue to appear in the disheartening form of blood and tombstones.

 

Bernie is the real hope and change

In 2008, we said, “This is the most important presidential election in a lifetime.” We were wrong.

In my role as a surrogate for Bernie Sanders in his presidential run, I get to talk to voters about why they should cast their ballots for the senator from Vermont. Last week, I joined a few other Sanders’ supporters to talk to students at a college on Long Island. Actress Shailene Woodley told the crowd that she’s supporting Bernie because she’s worried that she might never see another candidate like him in her lifetime. She’s 24.

When many of us progressives voted for Barack Obama in 2008, we hoped we were electing a transformational figure. Surely, in some ways, he has been. He has talked about race in ways that no other president has (or could). He has some signature legislation to his name. And he has showed that, under certain circumstances, our country is capable of electing an African-American guy with a funny name to be its president.

On the other hand, when it has come to ending wars and altering the culture of corporate greed, President Obama, from either a lack of ability or will, has failed. As Professor Cornel West put it, we thought we were getting John Coltrane and we got Kenny G instead. In a few years (or decades maybe), when he writes his memoir, we will know the true story of the Obama administration, especially to what degree he was unable to achieve his true goals. In my dreams, the whole book is in Arabic.

But here’s the thing. When Obama came around, we put our faith in him. We were optimistic he would undertake the initiatives, spoken or unspoken, that we voted him in for. We were optimistic he would change things. It might have been foolish, but it was fun. It was whimsical. It was imaginative. It was hopeful.

With Bernie, we don’t have to hope. We don’t have to have faith. If you like the things Bernie says, well, you’re in luck, because he has been saying them for fifty years. This is perhaps the most important distinction between that 2008 campaign and the campaign of today. Bernie has always been on message, hearing and bearing the political attacks all along the way. And he hasn’t wavered. When it comes to American politics, that’s quite unheard of.

Many of us voted for Barack Obama because we hoped he would say and do the kind of stuff Bernie Sanders has been doing for decades. Bernie is already the Obama we hoped Obama would be. If you still believe in the things that led you to vote for President Obama in 2008, then there is only one direction today.

And when you look around, you see that Bernie engenders the same enthusiasm, passion, and diversity as Obama did in 2008. Perhaps even more. Young voters are being drawn to the political process in even larger numbers. Bernie’s rallies are drawing record-breaking numbers. The sense of solidarity is real. Last Saturday, I, a Palestinian Arab American with a Christian dad and a Muslim mom, was rallying a room full of mostly Bengali Muslim Americans in a synagogue in Queens, New York, to go out and volunteer for a Jewish guy, who just met with the Catholic pope, to become president of the United States. That can only happen in America. And in 2016, that only happens in one campaign.

As I’ve said before, we’ve had a Muslim president for eight years. Now it’s time for a Jewish one.

At the end of that event on Long Island, an older silver-haired gentleman, looking to be in his sixties, rose to speak. After we had spent an hour rallying up students to volunteer and canvass neighborhoods (quite successfully, I might add), he told us all, “In the beginning, Shailene told you all that she might never see a candidate like this again. Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m supporting Bernie because I’ve never, ever, seen a politician like this.”

It turns out Shailene is probably right.

Be Proud of Who You Are

In today’s society, all minorities are scrutinized. Walk into a room, and you’ll see a TV displaying a news anchorman disparaging Muslims as terrorists. Turn on a news radio station, and Donald Trump’s speech about building a wall to keep immigrants like Mexicans out of our country will be blaring.

We live in a world where diversity is becoming a terror. People distrust what they’re unfamiliar with. Fear is the first reaction. Rather than learning and embracing another’s culture, they shun it and follow what they’re told.

And the news makes it worse. Rather than being dedicated to peace and prosperity, the media chases dollars like a dog does its tail. This isn’t anything new, and it’s not bound to change anytime soon.

But that’s OK. The world’s injustices can’t change overnight, but we can change ourselves. And it starts with pride. The pride in who we are. Pride in the way we were raised. Pride in how we live our lives.

As a Palestinian American, I listen to fabrications about how Palestinians “never existed,” and how we’re a “invented” group of people. Lies like these are geared towards belittling our pride to the point where all of our determination is crushed. The worst part isn’t that people spread this nonsense. It’s that people actually believe it. Some even allow it to blind them from the atrocities inflicted upon Palestinians daily.

Of course, we’re not the only group to endure this. Blacks have to witness the news mostly reporting their crimes, rather than focusing on the good and remembering positive contributions by profound leaders like Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And Mexicans? Well, the media won’t tell you that they come to our country to work hard and provide for their families due to a terrible economy. But they will tell you how they’re supposedly taking your jobs.

It’s pretty sad how most are oblivious to the fact that we spend more on wars than on creating jobs and opportunities. But that’s besides the point. We can’t blame the world for it’s cruelties. We have to channel our energy into something different. Something positive. Something that starts with embracing who we are and what we have to offer.

For starters, I’m proud to be Palestinian. I love the way my culture influences me to treat others with respect and love. During a Debka (a traditional middle eastern dance), I stomp my foot into the ground with all of the Palestinian pride I can. Because I think it’s beautiful. Diversity in itself is beautiful. No matter how many falsified videos and articles I see disparaging my heritage, my pride remains strong.

And yours should, too. If you’re black, don’t let the media destroy your sense of belonging. Don’t let it cloud your thoughts of heroic people like Mandela and Dr. King. Don’t be afraid to go out into the world and be just as great as they were. If you’re Mexican, you’re not an illegal immigrant. At one point, we were all immigrants to this country. It doesn’t diminish the great culture you have. You’re more than what they say you are.

And so are all of you, no matter what background you claim. You’re special, and your purpose has something to offer this world. Losing sight of who you are happens. But you shouldn’t permanently forget your pride. All the greatness America has is founded upon immigrants’ sweat and efforts. Each one of us are contributors. The world tries to expunge our heritage from within us, but blood never disappears.

And if we hold our beliefs firm, our legacies won’t either.

Hillary strikes out in New York

New York, its time to talk baseball. It’s the World Series. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the bases loaded. Who do you put in the batter box? Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) or Derek Jeter (The Captain)?

If you chose A-rod, then vote for Madam Secretary, because as great as A-rod’s record is, with his gazillion dollars, the only World Series he’s won was in 2009, and it was no thanks to him. When it matters, A-Rod’s .365 batting average drops to a measly .161.

Baseball is the only job in the world where so long as you do what you were hired to do a third of the time, your considered a Hall of Famer. Unless you’re Hillary Clinton of course. Somehow she’s touted as a Hall of Famer and her record isn’t even as good as A-Rod’s. Unless, of course, we are talking about her “flip-flopping.” (Quite ironic that Secretary Kerry – the original “flip-flopper” – is her successor.) Let’s check out Secretary Clinton’s batting record (a.k.a. her voting record) in New York.

In 2001, she supported the Patriot Act, leading to New York City’s mapping of Arab American and Muslim American communities, one of the largest in the country. Though in direct violation of the 4th amendment, she continues to support the Patriot Act. Supporting the profiling of the Arab American community… STRIKE!

In 2001, she voted in favor of “No Child Left Behind,” and thought tying standardized testing to funding was a fabulous idea, until 2015 when she decided to run for president. Did President Michael Mulgrew of the NY Teacher’s Union forget she threw teachers under the school bus, or was he driving it? STRIKE! And a FOUL for Mr. Mulgrew!

In 2002, she supported the war in Iraq and now she states it was a “mistake.” Her mistake cost the lives of approximately 240,000 individuals, including 191 New Yorkers who served in the US military. Quite a hefty price for a “mistake,” don’t ya’ think? STRIKE!

In 2002, she made it public to her New York constituents that she believed marriage was between a man and a woman. As first lady, in 1996 she supported the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Now she’s all for marriage equality. In 2007, she announced her about-face on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. STRIKE!

In 2003, she was strongly opposed to closing Guantanamo. Further, she has done NOTHING about the practices that violate the civil liberties of terror suspects held in New York’s Federal Prisons. In 2013, she began advocating for the closure of Guantanamo. 2013 was also the year she began sniffing out her prospects for the next presidential election. STRIKE!

Between 2010 and 2013, as Secretary of State, she advocated for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) over 40 times. The TPP would expand NAFTA, which she has supported since 1994 and is responsible for the loss of over 500,000 New York jobs and shrinking paychecks for those who still work. She came out against it after Senator Sanders called her on it in an early Democratic debate. STRIKE!

As recently as 2014, even after New Yorkers Against Fracking wrote a letter in 2013 directly to Secretary Clinton urging a ban against fracking, she supported the practice. As Secretary of State, she promoted fracking all over the world, practically campaigning for it in Bulgaria and Europe. Only after she was challenged in a debate with Senator Sanders on the issue, did the “mother fracker” change her mind. Again! STRIKE!

In that same year, New Yorkers Against Fracking also urged Secretary Clinton not to support the Constitution Pipeline being built in Albany, New York. I wouldn’t hold my breath. In 2010, she said she was “inclined” to vote for the Keystone Pipeline because as she puts it, “”we’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf, or dirty oil from Canada.” Great attitude! In September of 2015, she decided to reverse her previous position on the Keystone Pipeline. STRIKE!

In 2014, The New York Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional. Guess who voted consistently in favor of the death penalty? You guessed it! Secretary Clinton has been a staunch proponent of the death penalty. STRIKE!

So, much like A-Rod, Madame Secretary is “A-dud.” If the above nine policies were a baseball game, she struck out in ALL nine innings. There is nothing “New York” about the former secretary. She knows it, and if she doubted it, Saturday Night Live solidified her desperation in their latest Clinton skit.

Hillary, “You’re out!”

So, to my Arab American friends (and everyone else too) in New York, this is your friendly reminder to vote for the native New Yorker, not the wannabe who lived in Chappaqua for a hot minute and desperately wants to prove to you that she’s one of you.  Remind her that though Derek Jeter was often left in A-Rod’s shadow, his consistency, his dedication to his fans, and his ability to be a team player is what made him a great leader. It’s what made him “The Captain.” #FeelTheBern

Gaza, darkness, and romance

Honestly, if I had to tell one story about my country, it would be about politicians. They literally sacrifice their lives for us. I am serious.

In my free time, I watch the news, and I like to think of the Palestinian cause and our political system. Just kidding. I never watch the news. It’s like watching the same film, over and over. It’s not just boring, but confusing too. Why would they show the same thing every day? And I hate the fact that after watching starving children in Africa, Yemen or Syria, we, as if nothing is happening, go on with our days, eat lunch, and complain about the food.

But I do want to talk about one glaring issue here in Gaza. The problem of the power cuts is not a political issue, so I can share what I think of it, especially that we can’t really grasp the politicians’ justification for what’s happening. So, here is mine, a more reasonable one.

At night, when the power goes off (and life turns into a scary movie named “The City of Darkness”), it is not because of a fuel crisis caused by the Israeli siege. No. The reason is that our politicians are super romantic. I am serious, again.

What do you do when you want to have a romantic night with your wife? (Of course, I’m a 22-year-old Arab girl, so I’m just guessing here.) Chances are you turn the lights off and light some candles. Well, the politicians in Gaza want us all to be a little more passionate. So they turn the whole city off, as if it’s their own room. They think to themselves, “We’re going to share these moments with our people and ask them to light candles too.” It’s as simple as that. If the power goes out during the day, it means many politicians want to share their moments with the public.

As a selfish citizen, I have only one complaint. I, as a single person, spend the whole night staring at the candle, melting with its heat, and I can’t help but imagine what those lucky politicians are doing at night. If the power was on, I would probably watch “Ellen” or “Friends.” But the power is out, and I’m all alone. The cuts are not fun for children either. They keep asking, “Why?” And I answer, “I can’t tell you, it’s R-rated.”

Finally, I admit I’m a bit envious. I have been unsuccessfully trying to “affect” (maybe “ruin”) my ex-boyfriend’s life for some time, while our beloved politicians, through their romantic instincts, are influencing 1.8 million lives every day.

 

Why I will never have a daughter in Gaza

Here are a set of assumptions you might make about me after reading the above title:

She is too feminist.
She’s short and ugly.
She likes the word spinster.
She’s a liberal, too busy questioning marriage.
She’s a philosopher.
She’s a drama queen.
She doesn’t want her daughter to see President Trump.

Well, some of those things are accurate, but none are the actual reasons why I am writing this.

I am 22, I have two names, two birthdays, and multiple personalities (which means I am good actress). I grew up in Gaza, Palestine, an Arab society. Do I love it? Yes. I just prefer a distant relationship with my country.

The concept of not wanting to have kids, especially a daughter, has always been on my mind, but I have never considered the reasons. Every time I go into a discussion about this matter, I become confused and quite unpersuasive (You have to justify some personal decisions when living in a conservative society) . It was never enough to say, “Well, the world is too terrible to bring more humans into it, especially in my case, the Palestinian case. That’s the last thing I want to do to someone. A kid with the Palestinian passport is like a bird born with no wings. Oh man, It hurts!”

Anyhow, I can make a list of hundreds of rational and quite convincing reasons now, but you can conclude what they might be. You’re smart.

The other day I was in the court, filing some official papers, which is a bit of a nightmare because I have to don a veil and a burka, otherwise I am not allowed to enter the building. Next to me was a woman whose child had been involved in an accident. She was supposed to receive an amount of money as some sort of compensation. The judge asked, “Where is the father?” She said, “He is outside the country.” The judge answered, angrily, “Where is his uncle (Father’s brother)?” She said, “I am his mother!” The judge shouted at her, “Where is his grandfather? Where is the child’s family? Go and bring anyone from his father’s part.” As it turns out, you mom is not your family. What a surprise!

I usually go with my mother to get the papers done. And every time, we go through a very long and tiring process. The last time, however, I went with my brother, and to my surprise, everything was completed in less than 10 minutes, without even asking about me (I was waiting in the car). Why? Apparently, my country’s slogan is “Men only.” Transparency, power, and authority are equivalents for manhood.
This a small snapshot of what a woman goes through in my town on a daily basis. For me, it sums up a lot of struggles, difficulties, and a load of crap. What is the problem? Is it the law? The so-called “religious government”? The religion itself? Men? Ignorance?

Ultimately, I don’t really care.  But the whole thing has led me to one conclusion. I love my daughter too much to ever bring her into this country.

A week of being Palestinian

There is absolutely no shortage of drama in being a Palestinian. No matter where one lives, a Palestinian experiences constant ups and and downs. Now, am I saying that a Palestinian’s daily life is necessarily more of a spectacle than anyone else’s? Yes. Yes, I am.  And this week was no exception.

It all started out with a massive protest in Washington DC last Sunday, March 20.  I should note here that last Sunday was Palm Sunday, commemorating when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. I should also mention that Jesus was a Palestinian, along with being the most famous person ever, in the history of the world, ever, of all time. We’re a little proud of that.

Back to the protest. Of course, protesting is nothing new in the life of a Palestinian. We are raised on it.  By the age of 13, every Palestinian is a professional protestor.  And we are loud.  Sometimes, we don’t even care whether or not our chants rhyme.

“1, 2, 3, 4! We don’t want your racist war!
5, 6, 7, 8! …  Free, Free Palestine!”

Although ignored by all major media outlets, thousands of Palestinians and their supporters marched from the White House to the Washington Convention Center, where we hung out (quite loudly) on the steps of the building where AIPAC was holding its annual conference.  Of course, AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, dubbing itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby.”  It helps to ensure that Israel continues to receive in excess of $3 billion of American taxpayer money every year.  By the way, if were to hold off on that aid for just one year, we could rebuild the poisonous water system in Flint, Michigan.  Three times over.

In any case, we made our voices heard.  Two thousand years after that famous Palestinian victoriously entered the holy city, a mass of Palestinians and their friends emphatically entered the capital city.  And while our impact probably won’t be as big as his was, we achieved something.

Presidential candidates usually accept invitations to speak at the AIPAC conference as a matter of reflex. It is the go-to spot for political pandering.  It’s the Studio 54 of groveling.  But in this year, a presidential year, one candidate was visibly absent.  Bernie Sanders.  The Bern.  It’s hard to explain what that means to a Palestinian.  We have come to view politicians fawning over AIPAC as sure to happen as the sunrise.  So what Bernie did was pretty exceptional.

And then, while in Utah, he delivered the speech he was going to give at AIPAC.  He slammed settlements, labeled Israel’s occupation of the West Bank an “occupation,” criticized AIPAC for opposing the Iran deal, identified Palestinian poverty, called for the removal of the economic blockade of Gaza, and condemned Israel’s “disproportionate responses” against Palestinians.  There are some Palestinians reading this now who still don’t believe it (Here’s the transcript).  They are looking around for the hidden cameras.  But trust me my brethren, it happened.  Those words actually were spoken. By a presidential candidate.  By a serious presidential candidate.  By a serious Jewish presidential candidate.

I should admit, I am an unapologetic supporter of Bernie.  My enthusiasm for him is not complicated.  We have had a Muslim president for eight years, and now I think it’s time for a Jewish one.  It’s only fair.

Of course, we also learned something else from Sanders’ speech.  There is a very short of list of places in America where it’s politically safe to deliver a message critical of AIPAC.  Those of us in Dearborn welcome Utah to the club.

I enjoyed myself for a couple days, eating ice cream as I flipped through photos from our protest victory and re-reading Bernie’s speech.   But on Thursday, reality set back in, and we all saw the story of an Israeli soldier executing a wounded Palestinian laying in the street in Hebron.  Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif, who allegedly participated in a knife attack against a soldier (who ended up with light, superficial wounds), was laying in the road, incapacitated from a gunshot wound.  Other soldiers were walking around him, as he lay almost motionless, alive, but posing absolutely no threat at all.  In a horrendous moment caught on video, an Israeli solider, who just moments before had been standing quite innocuously about fifteen feet away, cocked his automatic rifle and fired a single shot into al-Sharif’s head, killing him instantly.

In the hours and days following the murder, many around the world expressed all sorts of horror.  Palestinians reacted too. We displayed a range of emotions. Rage. Anger. Fear. Anxiety. Concern. Dread. Violation. Loss. Despair. Panic. Terror. But we weren’t shocked. No Palestinian watched that horrific video with any level of surprise.  We have been telling you that this sort of stuff has been going on for years.  We have been screaming to you this kind of thing isn’t anecdotal.  It is the default state of affairs.  My goal as a Palestinian isn’t trying to get you to believe my story.  I wish it were that simple.  No, instead, it’s getting you to believe that I’m worthy of telling a story to begin with.  Being Palestinian means possessing the quite exhausting daily task of convincing the world that you are, in fact, a human being.  It means having to engage in the absurd discussion of whether or not al-Sharif’s murder was justifiable.

A petition has been drawn up to honor al-Sharif’s murderer, the Palestinian who filmed the murder has received death threats from settlers, and a city in Israel is planning a rally to support the soldier who pulled the trigger. Any discussion of Israel must begin with the clearly illustrated fact that, in the eyes of Israeli society, we Palestinians are subhuman creatures unworthy of the most basic human rights.  This is the world we Palestinians live in.

Then came Easter Sunday, a day when Israel openly allows Christians to visit holy sites in Jerusalem, unless of course they are Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.  Those Christians, as if they live in some sort of alternate universe, must petition the Israeli state for a special permit to travel between one part of their homeland and another.  On a bright note, CNN and Oren Lieberman reported to us the story of how two Palestinian Muslim Jerusalemite families hold the keys to the Church of Holy Sepulchre, opening and closing it daily.  This, of course, comes as no surprise to us Palestinians, as we have known of this for some time.  And if anyone is out there asking, “How can the church allow a Muslim family to hold its keys?” Well, they must be doing a good job.  They’ve been doing it for over 800 years.  I should also note again that I am no stranger to Palestinian religious harmony, as I am the product of a Palestinian Muslim mother and a Palestinian Christian father.  I guess you could say my mom holds the key to my dad’s church.

But most importantly, we Palestinians remember Easter and the Holy Week as the time when our ancestor from Nazareth showed the world that he would not stay silent.  In the face of persecution, humiliation, and suffering, he told the world back then what we, his descendants, still say today: We are not going anywhere.

Bernie, Palestine, and Empire

This is a note to those who followed the AIPAC performances and read Sanders’ Middle East policy speech. The standard maintained by Clinton, Cruz, and Trump, Congress, your state legislatures, corporate media talking heads, your high school history teachers, etc. is so bizarrely inhumane, aggressive, and nihilistic that reading Sanders’ position seems hopeful.

In reality, the current paradigm in which Americans see themselves and the world, and the two together, is so dystopian that Sanders’ centrism sounds appealing. And so, in reality, it actually is appealing.

It’s appealing because it’s a welcome relief, after years of frustration, for those who understand the workings of empire. For Sanders’ to tell the 2016 version of American society, a country that has been at war for the longest period in its history (while developing no credible anti-war movement), a country that has accepted the loss of its own collective civil rights and civil liberties (extrajudicial police killings, mass incarceration, loss of voting rights, significant income inequality and class immobility, a failing education system), a country with a fascist demagogue competitively contending for the presidency, a country that has failed in its moral and human obligations not just on the global stage, but more tragically at home as well, for Sanders to tell this America that Israel has gone too far, time and time again, that Palestinians are suffering immeasurably, and that terrorism doesn’t stop terrorism, for Sanders to say these things, in one way or another, is refreshing.

But while that is refreshing, welcome, and a step towards the right direction, it does not mean that Sanders is uniformly correct in his analysis or prescriptions.

The two state solution is dead, and I agree that politicians holding on to that idea are intentionally obstructing constructive peace negotiations. Palestinians are not a violent, anti-Semitic people. They are, rather, an indigenous people who are not just being occupied by a military force, but also ethnically cleansed from their native land. The Middle East is not fighting for the heart of Islam, the people of the region are suffocating and desperate for self-determination, as the Palestinians have been for nearly 70 years. Islam’s theological institutions have been largely corrupted by political forces, and that needs to be acknowledged, but the people of the Arab world, subjects of global and regional autocracy, are suffering and yearning for freedom, all while significantly lacking the civic and political capital and support to achieve such goals.

Our foreign policy, defined by global capital, has significantly destroyed the region, perhaps for generations to come.

This is the crisis of empire and the failed political establishment it has created.

And then there’s the empire that my generation, the millennial generation, was raised alongside. An empire that occupies lands abroad while spying on citizens at home. An empire that forces people to work on a barely living wage, an empire that loses, on average, 22 veterans to suicide every day, an empire that is largely behind the rest of the developed world in arenas such as healthcare, mass transit, education, and economic regulations.

Maybe this part of empire is ready to move our communities and country to a more humane place, beyond even Sanders’ centrist positions, and certainly beyond the hawkish status quo of the political establishment.

And, finally, on the question of Palestine, if I have to remind you that a people or group deserve their human rights, chances are I first have to remind you that they’re human. If you wish to understand anything about what it’s like to be a Palestinian, understand that.

They don’t hate our freedom

I’m not sure I will ever understand the double standard. I’m not sure that I will ever understand what makes one life more valuable than the other.  Each time something happens in the world – an attack, an earthquake, a plane crash, something that unexpectedly takes human life – we react as though we’ve witnessed the robbing of human life. Yet, somehow the same indignation doesn’t apply to all of humanity.  The devastation in Brussels or Paris has people changing their Facebook profiles and drumming up crowdfunding campaigns. It’s heartwarming to see how the masses help their fellow humankind.

But while my heart is warming, I sit here scratching my head trying to figure out why there is no indignation for all those living in tragedy day after day. Why is there no call for condemnation for the hundreds of thousands of lives that have been taken over the past 15 years in the Gulf region or the Middle East. The day of the Brussels attack, 37 Iraqi civilians died. The day after the attack, an additional 13 Iraqi civilians were killed.  I saw no one changing their Facebook profiles, I didn’t notice any politicians demanding that those responsible be held accountable for the robbing of those lives. Are those lives somehow less important? Do they not deserve the same freedom to live their lives as those in Brussels?

It seems to me we’re all the same, and the proof of that is the overreaction after each one of these attacks. After the attack in Brussels, politicians start calling for Muslim bans, surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods, the return of torture interrogation techniques. That sounds terrifying for Muslims.  That’s terrifying for anyone who values constitutional rights!  There was no attack on American soil, yet every American Arab or Muslim (or any brown person for that matter) is collectively punished. Brussels is thousands of miles away, yet this is the US reaction!

It’s not that I don’t understand the anger, the sadness, or the despair. I just don’t understand why desperation is only justified when something like this occurs in the White, White, West. Yet, when it occurs in Lebanon, as it did on November 12, 2015-a day before the Paris attacks-no one in the West bats an eye.

I found it quite  offensive that a “commentator” stated that  Brussels was a “beautiful and safe city” 20 years ago.   Twenty years ago, before the US and friends invaded the Middle East and made it a military camp hotspot, it was beautiful too. For 20 years, citizens of the Middle East have watched the western militaries destroy their everyday lives.  Yet somehow, the west acts like innocent victims in the war on terror.

How is it that western society doesn’t seem to understand how it is possible for people to become so infuriated while experiencing, day after day, for 20 years, the terror that Brussels encountered in one day? This is a no-brainer, people! Scores of studies show that when one witnesses recurring violence, he has a higher propensity to become violent.  A child born 20 years ago in Iraq has seen nothing other than violence. If that’s not terrorism, I’m not sure what is. Hiring a PR firm to dress something up by calling it a “war on terrorism” doesn’t make it any less traumatic.  And yet we say, “They hate us for our freedom.” They don’t hate us for our freedom, they hate us because we stole theirs.

 

My Arab American vote? Trump before Clinton

Why would anyone vote for Trump over Clinton?  Why would a minority vote for Trump?  Truthfully? Revenge! Madam Secretary stood by while 500 Palestinian children were ripped apart by flechettes (which are illegal according to international lawwhich is meaningless because no one is held accountable anyway). Not only is Hillary Clinton supported by every pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organization under the sun, she is also backed by Israel’s biggest agricultural industry, led by none other than Monsanto.

Monsanto is not only an Israeli company with affiliates all over the world disguised as subsidiaries, it also happens to be what gave Mitt Romney votes in the last election, which was won by Obama, who was supported by all those pro-Israeli organizations.  The intent of those organization is to decimate the Palestinian population, much like Hitler’s goal was to decimate the German Jewish population in the 1940’s.  The election was in the bag either way.  Monsanto won either way.

So what does this have to do with Trump? He’s actually the only candidate that has any history of opposing Monsanto, and he’s managed to keep his mouth shut about them (except for a tweet that a poor intern was fired for retweeting). Trump despises Monsanto’s claim to fame, the genetically modified organisms (GMO), or “fake food” as its been called.  Trevor Noah is right, our political system is beginning to resemble a nation from Africa or the Middle East.  So what, pray-tell, does the Israeli regime have to do with this?  They have land.

Actually, they don’t have land, the Palestinians do, which is why Palestinian lives are a cheap price to pay for that land. What’s a few lives when bulldozing homes for billionaires? Israel needs the Palestinians to leave in order to continue their incestuous relationship with Monsanto.  More land = more GMOs.  More GMOs = more billions for the billionaire class.  So why vote for Trump, who is part of the billionaire class?

If Trump is president, I’m leaving.  Muslims are no longer welcome in TrumpLand.  Neither are Arabs, Blacks, Mexicans, Women, etc. I’ve got my exit strategy.  If this country wants a dictator, I’d rather go to an island and watch the chaos that ensues from afar. It’s warmer there, and I’ll get to pick fresh fruit without concern for GMOs or Monsanto’s poison.  You know, like Monsanto’s white phosphorus that was used to torch Palestinians to the bone in the 2014 attacks in Gaza.

The hope is that after karma comes around (the disaster of a Trump presidency), Americans will realize the sanctity of human life and the indignity of oppression. Perhaps then, America will learn what Palestinians have always known: that we are part of a human race, and that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are freedoms that every human deserves.

Growing up Arab American, my parents constantly reminded us that those freedoms are why they chose to travel 11,000 miles to a country, where they did not know a soul, they could barely speak the language, and barely had two cents to rub together.  They knew that when they got here, they would have a fair shake, as would their children.  They never imagined that after proudly raising generations of Arab Americans, they would be second guessing their choices and that we would be entertaining an exit strategy in fear of facing the same oppression they left behind.

Reality check: Bernie Sanders doesn’t hate Syrian refugees

Many of us read the now quite-widely circulated article yesterday in The Daily Beast attacking Bernie Sanders for being “too tired” to answer a question by Syrian-American Ismael Basha after last Sunday’s Democratic debate in Flint.

The issue of Syria has divided many in the Arab American community over the past five years.  Some stand with the opposition.  Some stand with Assad.  Some stand with neither.  Some do it for political reasons. Some for sectarian leanings.  All are horrified by the massive loss of lives.  There is no question that in the midst of this civil war, no party is immune from being rightly accused of crimes against humanity.  And there is no doubt that political leaders in the conflict, Bashar Assad chief among them, bear direct and indirect responsibility to end the carnage.

As an artist and speaker who travels to Arab American communities all the time (it’s actually really fun), I have seen everything when it comes to Syria.  I have witnessed major organizations and charities openly call for Assad’s removal by the American military, and I have heard Arab American community organizations voice their fervent support for the Syrian leader.  I live in Dearborn, a place where pro-Assad sentiments flow quite openly, perhaps mostly due to the predominantly Shiite make up of the community.  At the same time, in the farther suburbs of Detroit, I find groups led by Syrian Sunnis loudly and consistently labeling him a war criminal.

I guess my point is this: When it comes to the Arab American community and Syria, the political disagreement is nuanced, widespread, and real.  This is precisely why major Arab American advocacy groups like the Arab American Institute (AAI) and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) have refused to “take a side” in the political debate, while rightly expressing horror at the human cost.

Syria, in this sense, is not Palestine.  It’s not Egypt in 2010.  Virtually no one in our community politically stands with Israel or voiced political support for Hosni Mubarak.  But Syria is different.  The sectarianism is stark, and even outside of that, many non-aligned Arab Americans have seen Syria over the years as a strong bastion of Arabism.  Now, that view of Syria may or may not be romantic, but the sentiment is quite genuine.

This all brings me back to the episode recounted in the Daily Beast.  Sanders’ position of refusing to continue to militarily intervene in Arab countries (actions that have proven disastrous) is precisely one of the points that has attracted many Arab Americans to his campaign.  Tim Mak, the author of the Daily Beast hit piece, accused Sanders of having a “disinclination to talk about national security matters” and “a relatively poor understanding on foreign policy, especially when compared side-by-side with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”  Neither of these things are true.  As a member of a handful of Arab Americans who met with Sanders in Dearborn on March 7, the day before the Michigan primary he “shockingly” won, I can attest that we asked him about foreign policy issues, and he answered cogently and thoughtfully.  More importantly, he answered in a way that reflected our community’s sentiments more accurately than any other candidate in the field. The vast majority of Arab Americans want even-handedness in Palestine and an end to American military intervention in our homelands.  Sanders represents those positions.  Sure, some members of our community want American troops to invade Syria and depose Assad, but it would be very ambitious to say that they represent anything close to a majority sentiment.

To paint Bernie Sanders as someone who refuses to listen to a Syrian refugee (who has been in America for over 30 years), as Mak did, is disingenuous and irresponsible.  In the wake of the Paris attacks in late 2015, when almost every politician was caving in to pressure to denounce refugees en masse, Sanders quite loudly proclaimed that we should not turn our back on Syrian refugees coming to America.  His position and words were a moral compass in the face of fear-mongering and scapegoating.

Mak’s article is not only misleading.  It displays a stark misunderstanding of our Arab American community.  He would have been well-served to speak to an expert or two before publication.  He might have realized fairly quickly that Bernie Sanders won Michigan on Tuesday with overwhelming support from our community precisely because the Senator understands that which The Daily Beast clearly does not.

 

An Arab American in the voting booth

Growing up Arab in America colors the lens of my worldview. Regardless of where your “Arab in America” journey began – the ghetto, the burbs, or farm country – we all seem to share a common, possibly even intrinsic, obligation to protect our ancestry and share our culture. Doing so validates our experiences, corrects that too easily accessible misinformation, and celebrates our contribution to American history and the American identity. That is the shadow that walks into the voting booth with me ensuring that my vote is relevant not only to my America but my Arab. So what is relevant to the Arab in America?

The Arab American Institute (AAI) put together a report addressing that particular question. The report, titled “Arab American Voters 2014: Their Identity and Political Concerns,” reveals “jobs and the economy… the most important issue to a majority of Arab Americans.” According to Gallup Polls, the economy is also of major concern to 39% of all Americans. It’s turns out we’re not as different as we think.

In addition to the economy, AAI also revealed that in this post-911 era discrimination is a main concern to Arabs in America as well. The report emphasized the growing discriminatory practices noting that:

43% of Arab Americans have experienced discrimination based on their ethnicity or country of origin and 41% are concerned about it happening in the future.

Those numbers really knock the wind out of the Arab American dream.

Of course, there is then foreign policy. The Arab American Voters report also indicated that international policies, specifically the ongoing Apartheid in Palestine, were also a factor influencing Arabs in America at the voting booth.

Those are the relevant issues that concern us Arab Americans. Unfortunately, it seems we have little faith in our political party system and its ability to create equality in wealth, opportunity, and a shift on Middle East policy. After reflecting on the Republican and Democratic primary campaigns, their candidates and the debates this weekend, it’s not hard to understand the sentiment.

Not all hope is lost, though. My silver lining comes in the form of another Gallup Poll, which confirmed Democrats are more favorable of Palestinian statehood:

“The two political parties have substantively different views, with 58% of Democrats supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state, compared with 26% of Republicans.”

That narrowed my pool of potential candidates, reducing it to Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton.

The beauty of growing up American today is that we have an abundance of tools to gather information and sort through it all.  That might sound daunting. Not to worry! There’s an app for that!

Okay, its not actually an app (though If one did exist that would not surprise me), it’s a website. Rather than sit here and reiterate everything that you’ve probably already heard about the candidates from their campaigns, allow me to introduce you to bernievshillary.org

The website asks you several policy questions based on what issues you indicate are most important to you.  So, after choosing “economic policy, income inequality, civil liberties and discrimination, and foreign policy,” I was given a set of ten queries.  After I answered each question, the site generated the candidates’ current positions, as well as any previous positions.  By the end, I was shown a percentage of how the candidates aligned with my position on the issues. I was able to determine what is important to my America and my Arab. So, what happened? Let’s just say I #FeelTheBern 100%!

The Case for Trump from a Palestinian

I must preface this with the statement that I am not a Donald Trump supporter. I am writing this article to simply make an argument why Donald Trump would be the best candidate for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, from a Palestinian point of view.

Looking at the remaining Republican candidates in this presidential race, Donald Trump is the best one for Palestinians. If you were bored last week, you may have watched what seemed like the 150th Republican presidential debate. Most of these debates have the same outcome. Trump, Cruz and Rubio sling mud at each other while Ben Carson stands there invisible and John Kasich says the only rational thoughts on the stage while being ignored by everyone.

However, this debate was a little different because the Palestinian/Israeli conflict came up for the first time. John Kasich and Ben Carson basically said the same thing, the general “Israel is our ally and we should support them” line. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had a mini-contest over who loves Israel more. It started as Cruz said that the United States should support Israel unapologetically and unequivocally no matter what they want to do, because the Palestinian people strap bombs to their chests and blow up Israelis. Rubio took it a step further and said that Palestinians teach their kids to kill Jews in grade school. When it came time for Trump to speak, he said something that we have never heard a presidential candidate say: The United States should be neutral in negotiations with the Palestinians and Israelis. It is no secret that Donald Trump loves Israel, but even muttering these words drew harsh criticism as Rubio and Cruz called him anti-Israel for his stance. Trump said that in order to start negotiations, it is not beneficial to demonize one side and favor the other, because peace will not be achievable that way.

Donald Trump possesses one quality that can benefit the Palestinians in negotiating peace with Israel: his monstrous ego. Donald Trump has made abhorrent comments about every minority group in this country, but we have to give credit where credit is due. He is a successful businessman, and he knows how to negotiate. There is nothing that would feed Donald Trump’s ego more than negotiating a successful deal between Palestine and Israel. He can envision the headlines now: “Donald Trump, the greatest negotiator ever brings peace to the Middle East.”

There is very little known about Bernie Sanders and his views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, other than that he believes they should be treated equally.  On the other hand, we have plenty of material on Hillary Clinton. If you want to believe that Hillary is the best candidate for the Palestinians, read this article. Do I believe that peace is achievable with Bernie or Hillary? Possible with Bernie, but definitely not with Hillary.

Donald Trump may say crazy things, perhaps to the point where we get desensitized to it, but at least he’s honest. It is evident that he believes what he says. I also have to commend Bernie Sanders for the exact same thing. Donald Trump has a brain and he sees what is going on. While he reiterated he is a staunch supporter of Israel, he isn’t dumb. He knows the conflict and is too stubborn to listen to others about it. For these reasons, I think that Donald Trump would be the best candidate for the Palestinian people and a path to peace.

This Arab is voting for the Jew

Many of us read Professor Steven Salaita’s hard-hitting oped in Salon ten days ago, where he declared, quite loudly and articulately, that he won’t be voting for Bernie Sanders. He succinctly laid out American politicians’ long-standing and very consistent policies of bowing to the interests of the Israeli lobby, to the constant detriment of Palestinian life.  He wrote:

Supporting Israeli ethnic cleansing is more than a flaw or an oversight. Until Sanders states an intention to defund Israel’s occupation, his proclamations about two states will continue to sound perfunctory and disingenuous, dull bromides uttered by a man who otherwise avoids them.

He is no doubt right about this. The problem with his analysis is that it relegates Palestine supporters to the sideline.  If one chooses to do, that is of course his/her right.  Inherent in the right to vote is the right not to vote.  I’m not a proponent of the old mantra that tell us, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”

But we might be served to think strategically.  And if we do so, we might ask ourselves a few questions:

Can we relate Palestine to a candidate’s stated principles?
Which candidate is most likely to be swayed on Palestinian rights?
Where do we find our natural allies? In other words, which candidate’s followers’ political leanings and worldviews most resemble our own?

If we seek the answers to these questions, we most definitely end up in once place: the Sanders campaign.

What seems quite clear is that Palestine supporters can find no place anywhere else.  We can quite quickly dismiss a role in any Republican campaign, as they are all mired in Islamphobia, anti-Arab racism, a quite acute hatred of immigrants, and clear distaste for anything darker than snow.  This is why we should summarily disregard any and all organizations that seek dialogue and understanding with the GOP, such as Saba Ahmed’s Republican Muslim Coalition.

We might take a quick look at the campaign Hillary Clinton, gauging if her movement should appeal to us at all.  But that assessment shouldn’t take too long.  We would be well served to recall her 2000 Senate election, when she returned over $50,000 of donations to Muslim organizations, in an attempt to avoid any “misimpression” that she supported the widely held belief in our community that Palestinians have the right to resist an illegal, violent, and murderous Israeli occupation.

It would also be quite within our interests to reject her embracing of Haim Saban, the Hollywood billionaire media mogul who has been quoted as saying, “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”  He is very close friend of the Clintons (he brags about it often), spending numerous nights in the White House during Bill Clinton’s presidency.  I wish some Palestinians could have spent the night there, instead of being slaughtered in Gaza in 2014, after which Saban held an event that raised $34 million for the IDF.

Hillary Clinton has vowed to put an end to the Boycott, Divesment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, or BDS.  In a letter to Saban, she pledged to “stand up for Israel” as president, further stating “that we need to make countering BDS a priority.”  In other words, Clinton has made it quite clear that she opposes all forms of resistance against Israeli policies, including explicitly nonviolent ones like BDS.

All in all, Saban has “donated” $6.4 million to Hillary and her super PACs.

So, back to Bernie.  Has he recently advocated for defunding Israel, called for cutting off arms, or explicitly expressed support for Palestinian self-determination? No.  But he doesn’t done the opposite, as every other candidate has.  Now, Professor Salaita might call that a low bar, and he would be correct.  But we should also recognize that the spectrum of progressives who are supporting the Sanders campaign are generally averse to Israeli policies, and it is not immoral or unprincipled to find some common ground there in our attempt to further American policy on the issue.

On his website, Sanders proclaims that “he does not favor Israel over the Palestinians.”  No other candidate would dare put such words in print.  And on the issue of Palestine, Sanders’ Jewishness cannot be understated.  Until we get a Palestinian president, a progressive Jew might be best equipped to stand up to the Israeli lobby and create just foreign policies when it comes to Palestine. Is that a pipe dream? Maybe. But if we Palestinians have an abundance of anything, it’s optimism.

Finally, Bernie has spoken out more strongly against Islamophobia and racism than any other candidate.  We are all familiar with his well-documented participation in civil rights movements since the 1960s.  But we might also remember back in October 2015 when Sanders embraced a young Muslim student during a rally at George Mason University in Virginia.  After expressing her disgust at the anti-Muslim rhetoric dominating the presidential primaries, Remaz Abdelgader was called on to the stage by Sanders, who hugged her and went on to invoke his own Jewish familial history in pledging to rid America of its “ugly stain” of racism.

A quick note here for Senator Sanders.  Bernie, in the picture above, we all noticed that you were holding Ramez’s hand.  In our culture, that means you have to marry her.  But go win the election first.  While her parents most likely won’t let her marry a Jew, if he’s the president, that might change their minds.

Ultimately, if any Arab or Muslim American does have the inclination to vote in the American election, he or she cannot land anywhere except in Bernie’s camp.  While Sanders doesn’t explicitly say what he want him to on Palestine, when I look around during his rallies, I see a sea of faces that do.  And if they can say “Free Palestine,” I can legitimately work to make Bernie say it too.  With a strong Arab American voice, I can quite comfortably proclaim that I #FeelTheBern.

 

A letter to Beyonce from a Palestinian

Dear Beyonce,

I watched your Super Bowl performance last Sunday.  I heard your words.  I was excited. Ecstatic. Encouraged. I watched pundits on cable news networks talk about how you were “making a statement.”  Someone even said you were being “unapologetically black.” I loved it.

Much to my surprise, however, your contentious performance at our nation’s biggest sporting event wouldn’t be the most controversial thing you’d do this week.

Yesterday, the Times of Israel reported that you’ll be performing in Tel Aviv in August. Twice. At first, I hoped it was a rumor, perhaps some sort of smear directed at you after your Super Bowl saga. Sadly, it’s all too real.

So, Beyonce, Bey, habibti, I’m asking you not to do it.  Israel doesn’t wear a halo.  She’s a naughty girl. She doesn’t even pay her own bills, bills, bills.  Actually, we Americans do, to the tune of almost $250 billion over the years.  That should make you lose your breath.

I know you’re not doing it for the money.  You’re an independent woman. So I have to ask you:

Beyonce, are you crazy in love with Israel?

Are you crazy in love with a nation that has dispossessed and disenfranchised millions of native Palestinians, illegally settling their land, depriving them of the most basic of political rights, and silencing their narrative?

Are you crazy in love with a nation that has ignored more United Nations Security Council resolutions than any other?

Are you crazy in love with a nation that will let you travel across the world to perform in Tel Aviv, but restricts the movements of millions of Palestinians, through the use of hundreds of checkpoints?

I don’t want to get into the murderous wars in Gaza that have killed thousands of civilians, many of them defenseless children.  But I will tell you that the almost 2 million Palestinians who live there, under a blockade, less than an hour from Tel Aviv, have no hope of coming to see you. Crazy, right?

Are you crazy in love with a nation that has routinely discriminated against black individuals, destroying blood donated by Ethiopian Jews, injecting their women with contraceptives without their consent, and expelling thousands of African asylum-seekers (whom Israel labeled “infiltrators”)?

Are you crazy in love with Israel? Because Angela Davis, Cornel West, & Talib Kweli definitely aren’t.  And you know who else wasn’t?  The one and only Nelson Mandela.  Do you remember how you performed at a benefit concert organized by him back in 2003? Or how Israel staunchly supported the South African apartheid regime?  Or how Israeli leaders skipped his funeral?

Mr. Mandela said a couple things about us:

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
“My view is that talk of peace remains hollow if Israel continues to occupy Arab lands.”

Well, we’re still not free. And we’re still occupied.

Beyonce, walk with us.  Boycott. Divestment. Sanctions.  Say our name. #BDS.

I’m asking you to stand with us Palestinians, the survivors of efforts to erase us and our narrative from the face of the earth. We are trying to send Israel a message.  The same message the world sent to South Africa.  Actually, I think I know the perfect words to use.  Until it cleans up its act, we should all tell Israel the same thing:

To the left, to the left, everything you own in the box to the left.

Thanks,
A Palestinian

The Republican party, too white to win

In the 1988 American presidential election, 60% of white voters cast their ballots for Republican candidate George H.W. Bush.  He ended up winning 426 electoral votes.

In order to take the presidency of the United States, a candidate must win in the electoral college. Don’t make me explain the electoral college to you.  Ok, fine, I will.

Each state is allotted a number of electoral votes equal to its number of congressional seats (House Representative + Senators).  Additionally, the District of Columbia gets three electoral votes.  That gives us 538 electoral college votes (435 House members + 100 Senators + 3 for DC).  A presidential candidate wins all of a state’s electoral votes by winning more of that state’s popular votes than any other candidate.  So, in a two-candidate race, if a candidate wins 60% of the vote in California on election day, he/she gets all of California’s 55 electoral votes.  The same would be true if he/she won 65%, or 59%, or 50.0001%.

In order to become president, a candidate must win more than 50% of the electoral votes, or 270 of the 538 available.  How many states a candidate wins, or whether or not he/she wins the popular vote nationwide is irrelevant.  In fact, if a candidate only won the majority of votes in each of the nation’s 9 largest states, while losing the other 41 (and DC), he/she would become president.  The electoral college is weird. It’s funky. Kooky. Bizarre. But this article is not about the electoral college.  It’s about something else.

As I was saying, in the 1988 American presidential election, 60% of white voters cast their ballots for Republican candidate George H.W. Bush.  He ended up winning 426 electoral votes, or 79% of them.  That margin of victory is quite impressive.

In the 2012 American presidential election, 59% of white voters cast their ballots for Republican candidate Mitt Romney.  He ended up winning 206 electoral votes, or 38% of them.  That margin of defeat is quite upsetting.  Barack Obama won only 41% of the white vote, while taking the 332 electoral votes Romney didn’t win and scoring a quite decisive victory.  In 2012, President Obama also won 83% of the black vote, 71% of the Latino vote, and 73% of the Asian vote.  Barack (Hussein) Obama also won 100% of the Muslim American vote, and even though there are no official statistics to confirm that, trust me, it happened.

For some time, the Democrats have done well among nonwhites in presidential elections.  And not just sort of well.  Really well.  That mostly comes from the Democratic Party’s overall strategy of including minorities and denouncing xenophobia. Republicans, on the other hand, have been generally reticent to exclude potential voters who have supremacist and racist views. That is not to say that all Republicans are racists, but that is to say that when racists do decide to back one of the two major political parties, they become Republicans.

But that’s not the whole story.  According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2042, whites will constitute less than 50% of the American population.  Nonwhite populations are growing, and the white vote is far less decisive than just 28 years ago, as the 1988 and 2012 presidential elections tell us.  Couple that with the fact that nonwhites and second-generation immigrants (which are almost totally nonwhite) are experiencing higher rates of voter registration and participation, and you end up with an American electorate that looks fundamentally different and new.

Of course, the “brownification” of America, in and of itself, is not a problem at all (unless you believe in white supremacy).  In fact, we should celebrate it.  The Democrats seem to be doing just that, involving religious and ethnic minorities in their party and actually including nonwhites in leadership and advisory roles.  The Republicans are conducting themselves in precisely the opposite way, blaming immigrants, scapegoating Muslims, and marginalizing people of color.

This is most evident during Trump’s events.

When scanning over a Trump rally, finding someone who doesn’t look like everyone else is like playing an unbelievably easy game “Where’s Waldo.”  That’s why it was so simple for every Trump supporter (and every camera) to find Rose Hamid on January 6 at a Trump rally in Rock Hill, SC.  You might remember Rose as the ousted Muslim at that Trump event for being a Muslim at that Trump event.  She was not holding a sign. She was not chanting.  She was just standing there, like everyone else.  Until everyone else saw her and collectively said to themselves, “What the hell is she doing here?”

About a month ago, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein described Trump’s success as follows:

“The core of the Trump phenomenon is how much of the Republican base is deeply unsettled and antagonistic, I think, toward the culture and demographic change remaking America.”

That is a quite artful way of saying they are racist.  And they’re winning.  The Republican Party might as well adopt a slogan that reflects its present ideals. I have a few suggestions:

Willfully white!
Continuously Caucasian!
Massively marshmallow!

Ok, I’ll stop.  But Republicans need to heed the numbers.  From 1976 until 1992, white voters constituted between 86-89% of the electorate. Since then, things have changed. In 1996, 83% of voters were white. In 2000, 81% were white. It went down to 77% in 2004. In 2008, the number dipped to 74%.  And by 2012, the proportion of white voters had dropped to 72% of all who cast a ballot.  And as the years go on, the percentage will continue to drop, because as I have said before, if America were the Titanic, it hit the brown iceberg long ago.

If the Republicans insist on being the party of white Americans who feel they are “losing their country” (which, of course, is not “theirs” to begin with), they will never win another presidential election in our new America. For Republicans, denouncing xenophobia and nativism might have to be much less about “political correctness” and much more about survival.  If it continues to disregard the demographically-remade American electorate of today, the Republican Party will soon be closing up shop.

*All presidential election statistics in this article (except the 100% Muslim vote number) were provided by the Roper Center at Cornell University