J Street is great! Right?

We Palestinians in America have watched AIPAC ravage us for decades.  For years, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has specialized in dehumanizing Palestinians, erasing (or denying) our history, and debasing our national aims.  Every Palestinian in America, and perhaps worldwide, is raised learning of its evil intentions, achievements, and genius. In fact, one of my first words was “AIPAC,” right after “hummus,” “hookah,” and “Gigi Hadid.” Ok, that last one came much later.

So, when J Street hit the scene, we were sort of relieved. Finally, here was a pro-Israel lobby group that was not as bad as AIPAC, which is, admittedly, a low bar. It’s kinda like saying, “wow, that guy has more personality than Mike Pence.” We thought maybe this was like Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP), or If Not Now, groups where Palestinians find real solidarity. If Not Now brands itself as a group chiefly concerned with immediately ending support for the occupation among American Jews, without explicitly supporting Zionism or denouncing BDS in the process.  JVP has gone even further, explicitly declaring itself as an anti-Zionist movement.

J Street, on the other hand, declares that it is pro-Israel and Zionist. Chief among its aims is the preservation of Israel as the “national home of the Jewish people.” It announces, “We believe that the Jewish people have the right to a national home of their own. We celebrate its re-birth after thousands of years.” J Street’s appeal to many lies in its call for a Palestinian state. “We believe the Palestinians too have the right to national home of their own, living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.”

Sounds great, right? But the position continues, “We support the creation of an independent, de-militarized state of Palestine with defined borders.” And there it is. This statement, more than any platitudes about “democracy” or “values,” illuminates the overarching philosophy of J Street.

Let’s start with “defined borders.” It’s notable that J Street doesn’t call for an immediate end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza based on 1967 borders, as international law requires. The vagueness is intentional. Wouldn’t adherence to universal “values” only result in nothing less than a demand to unconditionally end it NOW?

And don’t get me started on “de-militarized.” I’m a nonviolent pacifist, okay? But how can you, with a straight face, demand that a newly formed hypothetical state – one whose borders have been invaded and occupied by Israel, a nation who, by the way, happens to be a nuclear power with the 17th largest military in the world (and 101st largest population in the world) – be “de-militarized”?

Ultimately, J Street only looks tempting against the backdrop of a current right-wing government in Israel. But let me tell you a secret about we Palestinians.  We don’t rank Israeli governments on “right” or “left.” When it comes to stealing our land, killing us in our streets, and denying our history, they have all operated within a hair of each other. Is Eric Trump sillier than Donald Trump Jr? Sure. Maybe. It depends. But they’re both still Trumps.

No Israeli government has ever acknowledged our dispossession in 1948. No Israeli government has ever called for the return of our refugees, millions of whom live within shouting distance of their ancestral villages. No Israeli government has ever strayed from the idea that Israel should exist as an ethnocracy, favoring Jews above all others. No Israeli government has ever done any of these things. And neither does J Street.

Ultimately, J Street’s positions only mirror the right/left political debate in Israel.

The Israeli right: “We want 100% of the land, so let’s confiscate it and do what we can to get rid of and/or disenfranchise the Palestinians. Hopefully, they’ll all just finally leave. We definitely won’t want to live with them. Their culture is backwards, dirty, and savage.”

The Israeli left: “Let’s give them 22% of their ancestral homeland. That will help us secure our future. Hopefully, the ones in Israel will go there too. Because, let’s face it. We definitely won’t want to live with them. Their culture is backwards, dirty, and savage.”

J Street’s philosophy is based on the notion that Palestinian history is expendable and our culture is disagreeable (other than hummus and falafel, of course). Palestinian freedom, in their eyes, is only allowable through the lens of Israeli security and perpetual Zionism. Yes, they might say “end the occupation” and “end the settlements” and “Gaza is a humanitarian crisis” and so on. And those are all nice things to hear. But they don’t wanna live with us. They believe in separation.

Well, I don’t. If you really believe in values of “democracy” and “coexistence,” there is no option other than a democratic, secular, single state in all of historic mandate Palestine.

As an aside, before anyone tries to “gotcha” me, yes, I know Bernie Sanders addressed J Street. And he gave a wonderful speech rooted in democracy and universal human values. And yes, he said he believes in Israel’s right to exist. But notably, he didn’t parrot any of the “strongest ally” or “only democracy in the Middle East” or “unbreakable bond” nonsense we hear all the time. In politics, we don’t seek perfection on our issues. Rather, we look to the candidate who will change the conversation in our favor. We seek the candidate who is best for our cause, the one who can lead us to fundamental changes in American policy. He is clearly that candidate, by far.

But when it comes to whether or not we give J Street the Palestinian stamp of approval, we can take a different approach. The two-state Oslo process is not flawed because of mistakes in execution. It is a failure because it was never meant to provide for Palestinian self-determination.

Moreover, we Palestinians in America have gained too much pushing our narratives to let up now. We have, through persistence and intelligence, changed the conversation about Palestine here, profoundly so.  We cannot now accept the discourse of a pro-Israel lobby group that declares that we shouldn’t have full democratic rights in all of our homeland, but rather merely a quarter of it, and only if we “behave.”

To be clear, I’m not asking anyone to boycott J Street. On the contrary, let’s talk to them. Let’s push them. Most importantly, let’s make sure they understand what we will accept (full freedom) and what we will not (conditional freedom). We don’t need to abandon our core values, our rich history, and our precious principles.

We’ve worked too hard for that.

Marie Newman: JStreet’s Girl Friday

Marie Newman, one of three Democratic challengers in Illinois’ 3rd congressional district, is as pro-Israel as the incumbent AIPAC favorite, Daniel Lipinski. She has cynically courted the Arab American vote just for the numbers, eschewing all of our concerns for those of a pro-Israel political action committee, JStreet. Newman has not only been endorsed by JStreet, she has also become a Priority Candidate of theirs, 1 of only 3 total U.S. House challengers. In her previous election, another challenge to Lipinski in 2018, Newman received more than $82,000 from JStreet and their members. That’s 22% of her entire 2018 calendar year primary election total.

This is a terrifying amount of access that one group has bought from her. Despite campaign lingo suggesting that she pledges to run a clean campaign unencumbered by lobbies, we see the opposite. In truth, this all suggests that Newman is owned by only one special interest group. Furthermore, in this election cycle, Newman’s top listing as a “Priority Candidate” means JStreet contributions will likely increase, with more access expected in return, all at the expense of her constituents.

JStreet lauds itself as “the largest Pro-Israel PAC in the United States.” They proudly admit to having contributed more than five million dollars to US congressional campaigns in the 2018 election cycle. In their own words, their purpose is clear: “JStreet organizes and mobilizes pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people.”

JStreet members have a singular goal: advancing the goals of Israel in American politics, and they do so by directing members to donate to candidates that have aligned with their goals.

JStreet has three primary political goals:

1. Change the political calculus on Israel so that candidates running for elected office are incentivized to take pro-Israel, pro-peace positions.

2. Make Congress less of an obstacle to bold executive diplomatic action toward the Middle East.

3. Ensure the US President and Administration feel both the impetus and the political space to exercise the bold leadership and clear policies necessary to achieve a two-state solution and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Essentially, JStreet purchases pro-Israel candidates and positions. It ensures bought-and-paid-for candidates like Newman streamline US executive actions that deprive Palestinians of a voice or a homeland. It seeks to pressure the President of the United States into supporting JStreet’s version of peace.

In order for Marie Newman to have received and continue to receive such largesse, she had to have expressed a very strong pro-Israel policy. That is not supposition. JStreet’s updated Leadership Manualoutlines its endorsement criteria:

“To be eligible for the PAC’s support, candidates must submit an Israel position paper that shows substantive alignment on JStreet key issues.”

In other words, in order to receive an endorsement, Newman had to actively seek and court JStreet’s support by echoing their unyielding support for Israel and policies which will allow for continuing genocidal bombardments of Gaza, apartheid segregation in the West Bank, and violations of human rights.

Furthermore, to be named a “Priority Candidate” this election cycle, she had to demonstrate “ongoing support for the candidate’s positions on our issues.” This suggests that she not only originally wrote a pro-Israel position paper in her first attempt at candidacy, but also demonstrated continued support for those positions in this second election. Thus, she has not altered her pro-Israel stance, and, as it currently stands, Marie Newman is the only Democratic Primary Challenger nationally to receive “Priority Status,” which sets her apart from 115 other endorsed candidates. Her support of Israel is solid and unwavering.

What has Marie Newman promised the pro-Israel lobby in exchange for these campaign contributions? What has made her a “Priority Candidate”? What did JStreet buy with their donations? According to the JStreet Leadership Manual, “Being pro-Israel means speaking out for policies that promote Israel’s interests and align with our values and against those that don’t, irrespective of the present government’s policies.” Essentially, JStreet member contributions bought Marie Newman’s assurance that she will advocate for a foreign nation regardless of what that nation does, what human rights violations it commits, what strategies it employs, regardless of whether or not her constituents object to that policy.

To actively seek the Palestinian and Muslim vote in IL-3, while also courting and winning the support of JStreet, is an astounding exercise in hypocrisy. She hopes to engage the 55,000 Arab and Muslim eligible voters in this district, tipping the race to her advantage. Her cynical opportunism went unnoticed in her first campaign. This time around, it’s glaringly obvious. In addition, it puts her nebulous flatulent statement to “protect and advance the rights of Arab and Muslim Americans and create a better future for all of us,” into a peculiar perspective. How can she advance the rights of Palestinian Americans when she is actively supported by a group that seeks to dispossess Palestinians and disenfranchise Palestinian voices? How can she advance the rights of any of her constituents if she is beholden to a foreign nation’s lobby? When it comes to the case of Palestinian rights, JStreet is Newman’s only major paymaster. When push comes to shove, she will support her financial backers over her constituents.

 Newman is clearly “Progressive-except-Palestine.” We don’t know what Newman wrote in her position paper to JStreet, but we do know that it got the pro-Israel group’s thumbs-up. Whatever JStreet bought, it’s clear that Newman’s candidacy is not a “new day” in IL-3. In the end, she is just one more anti-Palestinian candidate, no matter how many Arab faces she showcases.

We simply cannot support another anti-Arab candidate trying to represent the district with the largest American-Palestinian population in the United States.

We are in a new era of politics in America. Let’s act like it.

Boycott Burgerim? Yes!

I’ve been posting and talking about Burgerim for some time now, urging everyone to boycott this burger franchise. In fact, I even got the attention of Burgerim’s attorneys, who sent me a cease and desist order a couple months ago. Needless to say, it didn’t work. I’ll get back to more of that later.

Burgerim was founded in Israel, by an Israeli. Its first location was opened in Tel Aviv and still stands there. Its current CEO is Israeli. Also, no evidence exists that this Israeli-founded, Israeli-run company or officials have ever publicly expressed either anti-Zionist sentiments or support for Palestinian equality and rights.

Now, it may be technically true that the US operations no longer have a formal, legal connection to the Israeli operations. But, of course, there would be no American Burgerim if there were no Israeli Burgerim, which proved the concept, showed market success, and imported the idea and CEO here to America. A change of address doesn’t erase its ugly history.

Let me put it like it like this. If Burgerim USA were applying for a loan, Burgerim Israel would be it cosigner and chief personal reference.

Of course, Burgerim’s rise was performed on stolen Palestinian land, supported by the same state that is responsible for millions of Palestinian refugees, daily home demolitions, the denial of civil rights to non-Jews, indiscriminate bombings of Palestinian neighborhoods, the jailing of Palestinian children, and more.

Maybe all of that is enough for you to boycott Burgerim. Maybe it isn’t. But those are the facts. And there’s a lot more.

In the letter I was furnished by Burgerim’s attorneys, I was informed that “the truth is that Burgerim is not involved with Israel or any Israeli company whatsoever.”

If that were true, we probably wouldn’t see media outlets everywhere gushing about the connection.

A newspaper in Westchester, New York describes the company as “Israeli-based.” (May 23, 2019)

The Reno Gazette Journal profiles a new location opening there, tellings its readers that, “Burgerim was founded in Israel in 2011.” (June 7, 2019)

From the San Francisco Chronicle: “Israeli burger chain may soon outnumber In-N-Out locations in the Bay Area.” (May 20, 2019)

A New Jersey-based websites describes Burgerim as “a burger franchise that first started in Israel.” (June 5, 2019)

In the Sacramento, California area, a publication lets its readers know that they can now enjoy “the Israeli burger restaurant” without “a trip to Tel Aviv.” (March 22, 2017)

San Antonio, Texas: “New Israeli burger chain Burgerim now has 3 San Antonio locations”

Richmond, Virginia: “Short Pump is getting an Israeli mini burger restaurant”

Los Angeles: “It’s a mini burger party at Burgerim, a new Israeli burger chain in Hollywood”

The Franchise Times, a publication that dubs itself “The News and Information Source for Franchising,” told us just last October:

“This much is clear. Burgerim was founded in Israel… In 2011, Oren Loni, a serial franchisor, purchased the franchise rights from Tuchner [previous owner and founder] and started selling Burgerim franchises in Israel… and in June 2015 moved his family to Los Angeles to start developing the Burgerim brand here.”

The above article actually reads as a warning to investors to stay away from Burgerim… probably good advice.

And if all this isn’t enough, listen to Loni’s own words: “Burgerim is one of the most exciting Burger concepts and I am very excited to finally be able to share it with all of America.” Why is he “finally able to share it with all of American”? Because he brought it here from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is Israel. It’s pretty clear.

And remember the “built on stolen Palestinian land” part I was stressing above? Burgerim’s franchises in Israel carry the history of Palestinian suffering and dispossession.

One is in Karmiel in the north of Palestine. The lands of the Palestinian villages of Nahf, Bi’ina, and Deir al-Asad were expropriated by Israel to build Karmiel. Today, the settlers of Karmiel number almost 50,000.

Another is in Beersheba (Beer a-Saba’), the site of a planned 1948 invasion by Israel. Before that invasion, Beersheba was virtually entirely Palestinian, and had been for centuries. Afterwards, over 30,000 Palestinians were expelled, and the city was looted. In short order, the houses of those refugees were “repopulated” by new Jewish settlers.

One Burgerim location is in an Israeli town named Yehud. Yehud was built on the ruins of al-Abbasiyeh, a Palestinian village depopulated in 1948.

Yet another one is in Caesarea, where Israeli militias forcibly evicted its Palestinians in 1947.

There’s one in a city named Yokneam. That city is built on the lands of Qira, which was emptied of its Palestinians by Israeli forces in 1948 as well.

Burgerim sports a location in Kiryat Gat, which lies on the ruins of Iraq al-Manshiyya. This village was over 600 years old. Over 2000 of its Palestinian inhabitants were ousted in 1948.

You can get your Burgerim fix in Ashkelon, which Palestinians called Majdal Asqalan. As part of the Israel’s “War of Independence,” over 10,000 Palestinians were forced out in 1948. This Palestinian city was also repopulated by new Jewish settlers. Finding homes for them was easy. They were already there.

Go get a burger in Gedera. That Israeli city was built on the village of Qatra. There, Israel ejected 1400 Palestinians.

Don’t forget to get extra cheese on your burger in Yavne. Palestinians used to live there, in their village of Yabne, until 5000 were kicked out.

Maybe you’d like a side of fries in Lod, which Palestinians still call al-Lidd. In 1948, 20,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed. Over 1000 were massacred. The few who remained were dispossessed.

Get a few sliders in Or Yehuda. This city lies where two Palestinian villages once stood. One was Kafr Ana, which saw its 2800 residents driven out. The other was Saqiya. Its 1100 Palestinians were evicted. Before 1948, the villagers in these twin villages grew crops and raised poultry and bees. After 1948, their ancestral houses were repopulated by more Jewish settlers.

And don’t forget to enjoy your meal in Haifa. Over 50,000 Palestinians were shipped out of Haifa in 1948, becoming refugees in neighboring Arab lands and around the world, disconnected from hundreds of years of their histories.

(You can easily find these Burgerim location through a Google Maps search, like i did.)

Finally, visit Burgerim in Maale Adumim. Maale Adumim is a huge Israeli settlement of 40,000 located entirely in the occupied West Bank. Israel seems especially proud of this location, boasting about it through their Ministry of Tourism.

In their letter to me, Burgerim’s attorneys warned me that my words have “incited others into action, resulting in damage to Burgerim’s reputation and in people contacting Burgerim’s franchisees to encourage them to break their contracts with Burgerim.”

Good. That was my intention. That’s sort of what boycotts are meant to achieve.

In short, Burgerim’s lawyers are basically telling me that exposing Burgerim’s relationship with Israel is damaging to the company’s image. I couldn’t agree more!

If you were waffling about Burgerim before, hopefully this is enough for you.

I ask you to join with Palestinians, when we say in a loud and united voice:

“Companies that built their success on the backs of Palestinian dispossession are not worthy of our business.”

Who wants a burger that tastes like occupation anyway? #BoycottBurgerim

 

Don’t mess with Palestinians!

You have to feel bad for the Israelis. They’ve tried everything to get rid of us. But we just won’t die.

Over 70 years ago, Israeli militias entered our villages and towns. They came heavily armed, and heavily determined, to displace and dispossess us. They massacred entire populations. They demolished over 400 villages. They stole property. They were ruthless. And, from their point of view, they did a pretty good job. They turned about 800,000 Palestinians into refugees.

We Palestinians call that “al-Nakba.” Or “The Catastrophe.” We commemorate it every May 15.

In 1967, Israel commenced its military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. As a result of that war, another 300,000 Palestinians fled their ancestral homeland. A number of additional villages were destroyed. A couple refugee camps, which had housed some of those Palestinians refugees from 1948, were also depopulated. That means some Palestinians were made refugees by Israel twice in twenty years. That’s gotta be some kind of record.

We Palestinians call that “al-Naksa.” Or “The Setback.” We commemorate it every June 5.

In 1976, after Israel announced it was expropriating hundreds of acres of private Palestinian land for state purposes, Palestinians called for a general strike and protests. In the ensuing demonstrations, six unarmed Palestinians were murdered by the Israeli military, with a hundred more wounded.

We Palestinians call that “Youm El-Ard.” Or “Land Day.” We commemorate it every March 30.

So, a quick review.

May 15: They stole our land.
June 5: They stole our land.
March 30: They stole our land.

As you can see, there’s a theme.

In 2018, between March 30 (Land Day) and May 15 (al-Nakba), Palestinians in Gaza protested daily at the Israeli border.  About 80% of Gaza’s nearly two million residents are refugees from villages that are literally walking distance from their new homes. Israel murdered 183 Palestinians during that time.  They massacred 60 alone on May 15, as Israelis and Americans were celebrating the new American Embassy in Jerusalem.

We haven’t come up with a name for that day yet.

They’ve tried all these things to get rid of us. It just hasn’t worked out. We just won’t die.

But they’ve tried more. Settlements. Arson. Extrajudicial assassinations. Killing children. Killing pregnant mothers. Illegal evictions. The list goes on.

They’ve even declared falafel as the “Israeli national snack.” That one hurts.

They’ve tried everything to get rid of us. In fact, getting rid of us has really been their top objective for over 70 years. Frankly, they’re not that good at it. We just won’t die.

And not only are we stubbornly staying alive, this whole Nakba-Naksa-Youm El Ard stuff has actually made us stronger.

Palestinians are the hardest working people in the world. Because our homeland was stolen from us, we have to excel everywhere we go. We don’t have an easy fallback. If we mess up, we can’t just go back to our country. It doesn’t work like that for us. There’s no Plan B. So, we are super successful. We’re serial overachievers.

We’re not just a mechanic, we own the garage. We’re not just a doctor, we’re the chief of staff. We’re not just a prophet. No, we are the virgin-born messiah coming back to save the world from the antichrist.

Palestinians are the smartest people in the world. After losing our land (for the time being), we realized quite quickly that education was to be our passport. So we got educated. Like, really educated. More PhD’s than anyone else. More engineers. More doctors. Not enough lawyers, though. We need more of those, especially in our copyright claims on hummus.

Palestinians have to learn a few languages just to get along. In the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, getting a good job usually means working for some sort of non-govermental or international organization, where one must speak near perfect English, along with their native Arabic. For Palestinians who live in Israel, Hebrew comes along for the ride too. That’s right, in the midst of trying to exterminate us, they’ve made us multilingual.

To illustrate all these points, I’d like to tell you of the case of a particular refugee I know quite well. His name is George Zahr. He was born in Yafa, Palestine in March 1948. At one month old, he became a refugee. He grew up in Jordan, starting his education in UNRWA schools. Then, he finished high school with honors, college with honors, master’s degree with honors, and a doctorate degree in chemistry with honors. As you can see, there’s a theme.

His education got him a professorship, then a well-paying research position in America for thirty-five years. A big house. Nice cars. College-educated kids. That’s the Palestinian story. From nothing to everything.

Education catapulted my dad from a shoeless Palestinian refugee to a spoiled American who owns a triple-control, seven-jet, multi-functional, Bluetooth-enabled, state-of-the-art, voice-activated shower.  I love this country.

And it all happened because Israel tried to get rid of him.

But there’s one more thing.

Remember how I said Israel created 800,00 Palestinian refugees in 1948? Well, that was true. But they didn’t get everyone. About 150,000 Palestinians remained in what is today Israel. Now, if those 150,000 people had increased at the average global population growth rate, today they should number about 350,000-400,000 people. But they’re not 350,000-400,000 people. Nope. They’re 1.8 million people. That’s right, they drop bombs, we drop babies. They have tanks and helicopters, but we have the strongest weapon in the world.

And that population spike is not our fault. When you shut down the roads, deprive us jobs, and confine us to ghettos, there’s a lot of free time to fill. And don’t forget, two thousand years ago, we got a woman pregnant without touching her. What did you think was gonna happen when we started touching each other?

So, I guess my message is this. Don’t push us. Don’t challenge us. We end up as multilingual, super-educated, hyper-reproductive, overachieving marvels.

That’s right. Don’t mess with us Palestinians. If you do, we will outwork you, we will outsmart you, and we will, if necessary, outfuck you too.

(Photo courtesy of Wear the Peace. Visit their site for Palestinian-themed apparel and accessories.)

 

 

Palestinians don’t hate Jews, and I can prove it

Recent events in America have compelled me to once again make something clear.

Palestinians don’t hate Jews. I can prove it.

Google was founded by two Jews. It was. Google it. I love Google.

A Jew invented the microphone. That’s pretty important to a stand up comedian like me. I’m deeply thankful for that.

We use Waze, a GPS app founded by Israeli Jews. Waze is driven by user-submitted data, allowing other users to see what sort of obstructions lay ahead on their routes. It’s a genius idea. Palestinians have used it to let each other know which West Bank checkpoints to avoid.

Viber was also invented by two Israeli Jews who were soldiers in the Israeli military. Palestinians used Viber to coordinate many meetings for the purposes of… well, many meetings. Many of those meetings were raided by the Israelis. Wait. Ahhhh…

Jews also invented circumcision, which, admittedly, I’m not too thankful for.

As I’ve often said, Jews and Arabs (who are sometimes the same person) have a lot in common too.

We both experience the scourge of excessive body hair. I’m terribly depressed when I find myself shaving my earlobes on a daily basis. I know I share that feeling with my Jewish brothers. And many of my Jewish sisters.

We both possess crazy, intrusive moms. My mother believes I’m gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m not. Of course, her only evidence of this assertion is that I’m not married. But I don’t want to get too much into the lunacy of my mother, as she reads my writings, and well… she reads my writings.

We share Jesus. He was a Palestinian and a Jew. And single. A single, famous Palestinian Jew. Which means his mom was a Palestinian Jew too. Oy. Can you imagine?

I don’t hate Jews. I watch Seinfeld. I enjoy corned beef sandwiches. I love Isaac Mizrahi (not like that, Mom).

I don’t hate Jews. I adore bagels. I routinely stop in at a place called Einstein’s for a shmear. I mean, c’mon.

But there’s one more phenomenon that serves as the most solid proof that we don’t hate Jews. Palestinians naturally make the important intellectual distinction between Zionists and Jews. This may seem like a simple exercise to most people. But it can be messy to divorce your oppressor from his identity, especially when he employs that identity as his grounds for your oppression. But we do it, quite successfully. And the reason for that is quite plain. While we are acutely aware of the Jews who have dispossessed, dehumanized, and disenfranchised (sometimes even reveling in such things), we are also aware of the multitudes of Jews and Jewish groups who stand and march firmly with us in our struggle for equality and justice, many times risking their reputations and lives to do so. In fact, Palestinians understand and witness the diversity of Jewish opinions regarding Israel more than anyone else, including Jews themselves.

Nevertheless, we Palestinians find ourselves in the quite unique position of declaring our opposition to anti-Semitism at every turn of everything we do. It’s sort of expected of us. And this imposed expectation sprung from a very specific origin. Pro-Israel individuals, groups, and lobbies (yes, including AIPAC) have long painted Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims as inherently anti-Semitic.

The Zionist weaponization of this racist trope has existed for as long as we can remember. When you can compel people to affirmatively announce that they aren’t racists, you can place their humanity in question. And when you can paint your fellow human beings in such a horrific manner, oppressing them becomes exponentially easier to justify.

Cruelly, we are saddled with the responsibility to protect the feelings of our oppressor. There’s something especially depraved about that.

Yet even in the face of that constant dehumanization, we don’t hate Jews. But let me tell you what we do hate. We hate the theft of our land, the indiscriminate murder of our children, and the denial of our history and culture.

I hate that my father was exiled from his beautiful seaside home in Yafa when he was just one month old.

I hate that my mother was refused the right to be raised in her majestic city of Akka when she was just eleven.

My grandparents were all born in Palestine. They are buried in California, Delaware, and Jordan. Against their will. I hate that deeply.

I hate that we have become wandering refugees dispersed around Earth. I hate that we have become the victims of those who were victims before us.

I hate the things that have happened to my people and our lineage. But I don’t hate people. I truly, genuinely don’t.

Still, we have persevered, quite incredibly. We love life, and we have learned to love our struggle. We are a wondrous, energetic, and resolute people. And, above all, we are eternally hopeful.

Stealing our land seventy years ago was fairly easy.  Wrestling away our optimism, on the other hand, has turned out to be an impossible task.

Ilhan, do not apologize. You have us.

Dear sister Ilhan,

As a Palestinian, I can tell you that we have seen this movie before.

You stand for justice for Palestinians.
You say something in that regard.
You get labeled an anti-Semite.
Repeat cycle.

Ilhan, we love you dearly. And I’m here to tell you why we never apologize to them.

(DISCLAIMER: By “them,” of course I mean pro-Israel lobby groups dead set on making sure Israel gets as much taxpayer money and congressional protection as it can get. I don’t mean, quite obviously, all Jews.)

First, we Palestinians have stood with you. And we will continue to stand with you as you speak a justice-based, unvarnished truth. We will continue to be by your side as you navigate through their insincere demands for apology. As you navigate through everything. Above all, remember the following:

We’ve been through this. We know this.

Our experience makes us aware of another important point. They will forever call you anti-Semitic. They won’t ever stop. Supporting Palestinian rights means you are a threat to them. Look in the mirror. You will forever be a threat to them. Nothing scares them more than an articulate Arab/Muslim/Palestinian challenging their talking points and unchecked influence. Remember, their whole strategy rests on making people like you and us seem backwards, uncivilized, and intolerant. It’s their stock and trade.

We’ve been through this. We know this.

(DISCLAIMER: By “they,” “their,” and “them,” of course I mean pro-Israel lobby groups dead set on making sure Israel gets as much taxpayer money and congressional protection as it can get. I don’t mean, quite obviously, all Jews.)

It doesn’t matter how many times you apologize at their call. They’re gonna ask you again. And again. If you dare to utter the word “Palestine,” they will ask you yet again. Your apology fully serves their purpose, and none of ours. I know you know that. I know you feel that. Your apology will serve as their ammunition to silence the rest of us. They will weaponize it. The demand for you to do it didn’t come from a pure place. That’s why you shouldn’t have done it. That’s why you should have asked them to apologize to you for asking you to apologize to them. That’s why you need to consult us.

We’ve been through this. We know this.

(DISCLAIMER: By “they,” “their,” and “them,” of course I mean pro-Israel lobby groups dead set on making sure Israel gets as much taxpayer money and congressional protection as it can get. I don’t mean, quite obviously, all Jews.)

Also (this one’s extremely important), some people will call themselves “liberal” and even “progressive.” This doesn’t mean they are allies, supporters, and well-wishers. They will abandon you when it comes to Palestine. Some, in fact, already have.

We’ve definitely been through this. We know this one very well.

(This time, by “they,” I mean… well, you know who I mean.)

Please, keep speaking the truth. They believe, with your apology, that they have won. But it doesn’t have to be a defeat. Don’t stop. We are begging you. Of course, if you march forward, they will ask you to apologize again. And that’s ok. We are here for you when you refuse.

We can advise you on how to handle that. We’ve been through that. We know that.

So, my sister, lean on us. We have seventy years of experience in dealing with their ways. And we haven’t fallen yet.

Lean on us, Ilhan. Lean on us before surrendering to them. You have something in your corner that’s stronger than anything they could ever throw at you. You have us.

I’m a Semite too

I’d really like to know why people seem to think that the Boycott Divest and Sanction Movement (BDS) is anti-Semitic. I’d also like to know why anti-Semitism is exclusive to Jews. Christians and Muslims live in the “Semitic” region. If its anti-Semitic, then by the very nature of the word, it is also anti-Arab. If you google “Semites,” the first thing that pops up is the definition, which reads:
“a member of any of the peoples who speak or spoke a Semitic language, including in particular the Jews and Arabs.” Not that Google is omniscient, but it certainly is omnipresent.

And as some of our new Congressional leaders have learned, supporting free-speech and the right to boycott governments that participate in apartheid policies (which has been confirmed by the United Nations), is well…anti-Semitic.

But I am a Semite too, and I don’t find BDS anti-Semitic. Quite the contrary, I find that calling for “Death to Arabs” is anti-Semitic. I find segregated streets–so obvious that Richard Gere describes it as “America before the Civil Rights Act of 1964”– anti-Semitic.

I didn’t hear condemnation of anti-Semitism after the IDF massacre of nonviolent protestors during the ongoing #GreatMarchofReturn, or the slaughter of over 500 children in Operation Protective Edge. No one claimed “anti-Semitism.” Is the killing of Palestinian civilians by the IDF not “defamatory” to the great state of Israel? Does AIPAC or the ADL really not recognize the blatant bias? Isn’t bias policy the foundation of apartheid? Isn’t the inability to see it racism?

But when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar calls out the unrelenting money marketing machine that disguises themselves as AIPAC, the ADL, and every Congressional supporter that has been funded by them on both sides of the aisle stepped in to demand a public apology after they decided her comments were deemed–you guessed it– “anti-Semitic.” But of course, we’re not really talking about Semites are we. We are talking about criticism of colonial Israelites.

We’re talking about critique of those that perpetuate the Zionism policies of 1897 that declared it “aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.” There is nothing legal about directly or indirectly aiding and abetting the displacement of one population for another. Anything that could potentially diminish the power and privilege that settlers have over Palestinians is considered by the great state of Israel as “anti-Semitic, and that is the real tragedy.

Not only do they silence the “others,” AIPAC has sat back and allowed Israeli policy to silence any Jews, Christians, and Muslims that disagree with their policies. From Jewish Voice for Peace, to IfNotNowWhen, and even Breaking the Silence, which are all Jewish, Christian, and Muslim activist organizations that are dedicated to the promotion of coexistence and upholding human rights laws for everyone on the planet-not just the Semites, whoever we may be.

But of course, its not just the Congressional leaders and the AIPACs and ADLs of the world, it’s the mainstream media too. The mainstream media too that continues to silence the voices of the oppressed by perpetuating the anti-Semitism narrative. Don’t believe me? What if Congresswoman Omar was a white, male? Ask Bernie Sanders if he’s an anti-Semite. He’s one of few that has been critical of all countries that violate civil liberties, including Israel.

Of all the organizations and professions in the world, particularly when journalists like Jamal Kashoggi are maimed to death for holding his country accountable, it is the mainstream media’s duty to diligently defend the voices of those that are quashed by the majority. And for the record, that was not a Bernie Sanders plug, but a plug for anyone willing to stand up to lobbyists, special interest groups, and corporate entities that continue to violate human rights laws and common decency for their bottom line.

And lastly, the next time this president decides to call for someone resignation, he needs to be the example and answer calls for his.

One-State, Two-State, Red State, Blue State

Courtesy of Tony Eggert—Three Lyons Creative

Though midterm elections night focused heavily on the polarizing politics of a two-party system, the winners of the night–whether republican or democrat–were those of us who know that the United States is a land built by, and for, immigrants. When the newly elected 116th U.S. Congress convenes in January 2019, it will finally look like all of us–not just old white men.

Anna Eskamani has become the first American-Iranian woman who will serve in Florida’s House of Representatives. Ilhan Omar, a Muslim Somali refugee, has become Minnestota’s newest congresswoman, and she opened her acceptance speech with “As-Salam Alaikum,” a traditional Islamic greeting. How often does that happen?

And there’s more. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American Muslim and former Michigan state lawmaker, was elected to Congress.

As a Palestinian-American woman, I’m not sure I can explain how monumental this is. And not just for me, but for women everywhere. Congresswoman Tlaib’s policy on Palestine is what I find most inspiring. Unlike the traditional proposal for a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis, she supports a one-state solution, which endorses equality and freedom for both groups.

Let that soak in. Thirty years ago, that would have been blasphemous. But times are changing, and history shows that it could work. Prior to the divide and conquer method of foreign policy, Palestinians and Jews lived together, sharing languages and currencies. Ironically, the discourse has returned to the one policy that worked in the past to provide stability in the region.

The United States’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital showed which side it leads toward. It was directly from the Zionist playbook, much like everything else this administration has done. If President Trump really wanted to do something different, something that no other administration had the “kutzpah” to do, he would endorse a one-state solution.

Some fear that the one-state solution means the end of Israel. But it also means the end of Palestine. As with all endings, though, there are new beginnings, and the creation of a wholly inclusive land for all the people, as it once was, would be a great start.

Now, the question stands: can the newly elected congresswoman bring the voice of thousands of Palestinian-Americans to the mainstream and make a difference? Although the task seems unpromising, Tlaib seems eager to fight and break the stigma surrounding Palestine and being Palestinian.

So, here’s to no borders and no segregation. It worked for Vietnam, Germany, and South Africa. This failing administration could benefit from a “tear-down-the-wall” moment (hint, hint). Not only is this helpful for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also for tearing down the walls in the mainstream consciousness.

No, The Entire Middle East Shouldn’t Look Like Israel

Image courtesy of Mondoweiss.

Israel illegally occupies the West Bank. Israel has constructed a massive apartheid wall that constricts life for the Palestinians. And Israel benefits its Jewish citizens, while it oppresses the Palestinians–especially the ones in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

But none of this seems to matter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that “Israel is everything we want the entire Middle East to look like going forward.”

Pompeo is OK with Israel’s atrocities. Israel seems to represent Western values. It has cool restaurants. It has nice beaches. And it serves good food. But what about Israel’s political issues? What about its mistreatment and repression of Palestinian human rights?

If Pompeo wants to praise Israel, then he needs to be clear about what he’s praising. Israel isn’t some fun-loving, peaceful representation of Western democracy and values.

In America, we are free to walk on the same sidewalks. To travel on the same roads. To eat at the same restaurants. None of us need special ID cards to explore the country.

But the reality is different for Palestinians residing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If Palestinians wish to travel to Israel, they need permission. And most of them will never obtain it. They are confined to live within the apartheid wall, dreaming of the land beyond, but never getting the chance to walk on it.

Palestinians have to deal with limited water in the West Bank and the Gaza strip; Israelis don’t. Palestinians can’t walk on certain sidewalks in the West Bank; Israelis can. Palestinians have to go through checkpoints and makeshift roads because of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israelis don’t.

Israel is the epitome of apartheid. Settlers in the West Bank can vote in Israeli elections. Most Palestinians in the West Bank can’t. Settlers in the West Bank can go Tel Aviv for a fun day at the beach. Most Palestinians in the West Bank can’t. Settlers in the West Bank can attend Israeli universities. Most Palestinians in the West Bank can’t.

Israel has made its discrimination more obvious, recently passing the “Jewish-Nation State Law,” which grants exclusivity to Jewish national aspirations. Would Pompeo agree if the US passed a “White-Nation State Law?” Surely, we’d hope that he’d see the racial undertone of such a law.

And what about Gaza? Israel has been imposing an illegal, immoral blockade on it for years. Over 90 percent of the water is undrinkable.  A UN report said that Gaza will be “unlivable by the year 2020.”

Would Pompeo approve of such conditions in any American city? Would he be content with some Americans being unable to travel to certain parts of the country, as others go freely? Would he be content with checkpoints impeding cities and harassing only certain individuals? Would he be content with only some Americans being able to go to certain universities because of political restrictions? Would he be content with some Americans being able to walk on sidewalks as others are forced to alleyways? Would he be content with a racist nation state law?

If the answer is “no,” then Pompeo needs to reevaluate his stance on Israel and its image. We don’t need the Middle East looking more like Israel. We need the Middle East looking less like its racist values and apartheid.

I said, “Please don’t be Arab” … then I realized he couldn’t be

This past weekend, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Robert Bowers calmly walked into the Tree of Life Congregation and murdered eleven Jewish parishioners.  Reportedly, he yelled out, “All Jews must die!” It was the single deadliest attack on Jews in American history. May the victims rest in peace and may their souls be exalted.

Sadly, as I was following the news reports on Saturday, I had another one of those moments that I hate having.  I kept mumbling to myself, “Please don’t be Arab. Please don’t be Arab. Please don’t be Arab.” I’m embarrassed. But I can’t help it. It’s what I do. And yes, I was especially hoping it wasn’t one of us because of who the victims were this time. I don’t feel good about it.

Unsurprisingly (to us, at least), multitudes of Arab and Muslim individuals and organizations immediately denounced the massacre and raised tens of thousands of dollars for the victims’ families. Just about every major American Muslim or Arab organization immediately issued announcements expressing solidarity with our Jewish brethren, including American Arab Anti-Discrmiination Committe (ADC), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), and more. ADC is the oldest Arab American civil rights organization. AMP is one of the nation’s largest Palestinian membership groups. CAIR is the largest Muslim civil rights organization in America.

While most everyone else also decried the murders and reached out to the victims, Arab/Muslim actions toward our fellow Jewish Americans took on a different gravity. And that’s because of the longstanding and false narrative that we instinctively hate Jews. Or more precisely, because of the notion that we would be the natural prime suspects in such a ruthless act of mass murder.

And the media has caught on, loudly celebrating the efforts of Muslim Americans. Is it heartening to see such support highlighted? Sure. But let’s keep something else in mind. Media fascination with Muslim and Arab support of the Jewish victims in Pittsburgh is predicated upon some of the most insidious and hateful stereotypes of our people.

Yes, I prayed that it wasn’t one of us who so heinously attacked our Jewish brothers and sisters. But in the midst of it all, I thought of something. We don’t do this sort of thing. Neither do Black people, or Jews, or Latinos, or Native Americans, or Asians. In American history, attacking a house of worship is almost exclusively a white Christian crime.

Blowing up Black churches over and over.
With children inside.
Murdering black parishioners in South Carolina after praying with them.
Massacring people in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Burning down or vandalizing mosques. In TexasWashington. New Mexico. Minnesota. Tennessee.
And, of course, while the Pittsburgh attack was brutal, it was, sadly, not singular in American history.

From its inception and before, Christian whiteness and Americanness have been inextricably and overtly linked. And this kinship has come with massively deadly consequences. Slavery resulted in the bondage and murder of millions of black Africans. “Manifest destiny” led to the massacre of millions of indigenous peoples (that’s why most of the country is named in Ojibwe, Algonquian, Sioux, Choctaw, and other indigenous languages) as well as the theft of much of Mexico (that’s why most of the Southwest is named in Spanish). Yes, white supremacy has to deal with the fact that it feels God-given rights in places named San Antonio and Mississippi.

It’s wildly important to note that being white is not simply incidentally related to being American. No. It’s much deeper than that. We’ve all heard, “Correlation doesn’t always mean causation.” But in the case of what has historically made one an “American,” whiteness has been the causal link. From 1790 until 1952, being a “free white person” was a prerequisite for naturalization as an American. When people like Donald Trump talk about “our country,” they are simply continuing a long American tradition of equating one’s right to be a citizen with his hue.

And Robert Bowers, though it’s been reported that he wasn’t crazy about Trump due to the latter’s not being racist enough for him, agreed with the president on this core value. To both of them, America belongs to one group of people. Everyone else is, at best, a guest or, at worst, an invader. And while those views might be reprehensible, they’re nowhere near new.

So, when I heard of Jews being killed in America for being Jews, coupled with my initial sadness and horror, yes, I thought, “Please don’t be one of us.” But then I quickly realized it couldn’t be.

Bowers had a long history of racist rants. Quite predictably, his community still expressed shock at his actions. One of his neighbors even said, “He just seemed like a normal guy.”

If American history is any indicator, he sure was.

Nikki Haley: Not confused? Possibly Delusional

Every time I hear Nikki Haley’s voice, something happens. Even as a psych student, I am not sure that I can explain it. It kind of feels like a Minotaur lives inside me and awakens in screams at the sound of her voice. I’m pretty sure it’s not normal, but then neither is Nikki Haley. Her revolting assessment of the situation in the Middle East, and her comments about Palestinians (or shall I say, lack of comments) does nothing but affirm the bias this administration has against Palestine and its people. Time and again, she has shown a complete lack of regard for Palestinian life. Continue reading Nikki Haley: Not confused? Possibly Delusional

Are we Palestinians so hard to understand?

It’s been more than a week now of Israel murdering Palestinians in Gaza. To be clear, their deaths were not the result of “clashes” or “violent confrontations.” It started with tens of thousands of Palestinians, imprisoned in Gaza, marching. Along with their extended family throughout our historic homeland, they walked nonviolently toward their ancestral villages and cities, in many cases located just a few kilometers away. A militaristic state that sees them as unworthy of the most basic human rights has mowed them down. That’s what happened. And that’s what always happens. Continue reading Are we Palestinians so hard to understand?

Illinois Primaries and Arab Chicago: Why Do We Keep Doing This To Ourselves?

Eighteen years ago, Arab Chicago, led by a primarily conservative leadership, erroneously chose to back the “Compassionate Conservative” George Bush. Not only did the conservative Arab community believe that Republicans more effectively represented their core values, they also believed that an Evangelical Neo-Conservative Christian like George Bush would deal more fairly with the Arab and Muslim world than the Democratic nominee Al Gore, an Evangelical Neo-Liberal Christian (with an Orthodox Jewish running mate). It seemed that on foreign policy, the two parties were really one and the same. So, Arab Chicago backed the candidate that represented their own personal beliefs. Continue reading Illinois Primaries and Arab Chicago: Why Do We Keep Doing This To Ourselves?

Yes, “Black Panther” is a little anti-Muslim

Before I get into this amateur movie review of “Black Panther,” and before I get into trouble, let me start with a few statistics.

Half of the residents of the African continent are Muslim. 33% of worldwide Muslims live in Africa, and they don’t only dwell in nations where Arabic is the official language, like Morocco, Egypt, and Somalia. They’re everywhere else too. 80% of Niger’s residents are Muslim. 55% of Tanzania’s are. 50% of Nigeria. 45% of Ghana. 33% of Kenya. 50% of Chad. 90% of Mali. (All stats here)

Islam was introduced into Africa only a few years after it was revealed in the Arabian Peninsula, and some time before it was introduced to present-day Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. The continent is home to mosques as old as Islam itself. Continue reading Yes, “Black Panther” is a little anti-Muslim

Trump’s immigration policy is more American than you think

It’s quite popular these days to declare that Donald Trump’s racist views on immigration are “un-American.”

He only wants white people coming here. “Why can’t we have more people from Norway?”
He wants to get rid of Latinos and black people. “Do we really need more Haitians?”
He devalues, denigrates, and dehumanizes the culture of Africans. “They come from shithole countries.”

I can just hear my well-meaning fellow countrymen. “That’s not American!” “That isn’t who we are as Americans!” “The founding fathers would have never stood for that!” Um… yes, they did.

At the founding of this nation, after writing a Constitution and electing a first Congress and President, the pioneers of the American idea had to decide something quite important. They had to figure out who all these new rules applied to. Who would get to be citizens? Who would get to be “Americans”?

So, on March 26, 1790, the first Congress of the United States declared that a person could become a naturalized citizen of this new nation, as long as they were “of good character,” a resident “for the term of two years,” and, quite importantly, “a free white person.” Yes, you had to be white to become an American. This notion was not some aberrational social custom. Nor was it confined to certain pockets of this new and expanding America. It was the law. Whiteness was legality.

The naturalization laws were modified a bit over the years. The residency requirement changed every now and then. After the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment provided that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States,” although it took a Supreme Court case in 1898 to confirm that this applied to non-white persons. All former Black slaves became American citizens, confirmed in the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

American legal history also witnessed the exclusions of entire populations (the adorably-titled “Chinese Exclusion Act” of 1882), quotas based on national origin (in 1921 and 1924), and a number of other immigration (and anti-immigration) measures.  Despite all these ups and (mostly) downs, naturalization laws, true to their origins, unrelentingly continued to trumpet “whiteness” as a requirement.

During this era, a number of individuals petitioned for whiteness from American courts. A Japanese guy (unsuccessfully). A man from India (unsuccessfully). A Chinese person (unsuccessfully). Some Armenian guys (successfully, that’s how we got the Kardashians). A half-European, half-indigenous gentleman from Canada (he wasn’t “white” enough for naturalization). And a bunch of Arabs (“white” enough, sort of, if they were Christian, and close to Europe, but basically, kind of).

Explicit racial requirements were finally dropped from American naturalization laws in 1952. That’s when Congress passed the McCarran-Walter Act, the law that laid the basic frameworks for our current immigration system. So, from 1790 until 1952, “whiteness” was the prime determiner in American naturalization eligibility. Think about that for a minute. 162 years of whiteness as the legal bedrock of American immigration policy. Only 66 years of its statutory absence.

Now, of course, the authors of these historical racist immigration laws were much more rhetorically cultivated than our current president. Ideologically, however, he would have fit in with them just fine. Similarly, today, President Trump clumsily professes white supremacist immigration ideals, supported by a political party that largely agrees with his stances, just much more articulately.

We would be well-served to recognize this history. The marriage between citizenship and race is in the DNA of America. When someone who was not a “free white person” was denied citizenship, he was not simply the victim of an incident of isolated bigotry. He was the intended target of the law. To be nonwhite was to be illegal. And sadly, but quite starkly, those days dominate our history. They were not, as we might like to fantasize, a blip.  In 1992, Toni Morrison put it quite succinctly: “In this country, American means white.”

So, are Trump’s views on immigration racist? Definitely. Are they un-American? Our history says quite the opposite.

What happens when an American politician hates Arabs? She survives

The name “Sharon Brannigan” means absolutely nothing to most people, and likely would not have been known beyond this small corridor of Palos  Township in Southwest Suburban Chicago. Sharon Brannigan is a flower shop owner turned small-time politician. She had been elected uncontested to the position of Trustee in 2013, as Chairman of Public Services and Health. Brannigan since has run a lackluster campaign as a Republican challenger in the 3rd District to unseat Congressman Daniel Lipinski (D. IL) in 2014. Having failed to make any significant move on a national level, Brannigan settled in to administer the Township’s health programs.

Her political life stayed uneventful, until she used her Palos Township social media platform to make disparaging Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim statements. Palos Township is home to one of Chicago’s largest Arab/Muslim enclaves (approximately 30% of the population). It’s often referred to as “Little Palestine.” There is a growing population of Palestinian Arab Muslims and Christians in the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. At issue is whether a person who hates or uses hate speech toward a significant population of her constituency can serve those constituents. Her comments often attack women and children, and despite a primarily female presence at these meetings, she still seeks out only male leadership.

Brannigan’s statements are not very sophisticated, or challenging to interpret. They reflect someone who is quite threatened by the growing Arab and Muslim population, but also someone who felt emboldened by the current political climate to voice that discontent. Her statements reflect the general unease among the non-Arab residents of Palos Township about the growing number of Arab and Muslim residents. Furthermore, they echo a thread of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim discourse initiated from the highest office in the land, and, unfortunately, supported by the lowest rungs of society. However unsophisticated her statements and positions may read, they highlight a discourse of fear-mongering and hate speech that has largely characterized current political speech.

Ultimately, her statements drew the attention and ire of quite a few Palos Township residents, specifically the local Arab and Muslim population. Since July 2017, protesters have expressed their discontent at Brannigan’s statements. Her refusal to address the residents’ concerns and her repeated denial of any wrongdoing has created this untenable situation that is not going away.

Six months ago, when I walked the six blocks from my house to the Palos Township Hall, I did not expect to see anybody there. Like most local political trustee meetings, I expected to see maybe a dozen angry residents expressing their displeasure. However, multiple groups attended to show support and solidarity with residents: Take on Hate, Arab American Action Network, Southwest Suburban Activists, Mi Gente, and more. Due to the overbearing heat, and a lack of proper seating, some residents brought bottles of water and handed them out to the crowd. A real sense of community hovered among the protesters. Two Trump supporters in “Make America Great Again” hats joined in. One spewed obscenities at children holding signs. The other took time to discuss the issues with some of the residents.

I believed Brannigan would see the size of the response, tuck tail, and apologize for her comments. I believe the community may have forgiven her and moved on, especially if we had seen real contrition. However, Trustee Brannigan dug her heels in, asserted that it was her First Amendment Right to express whatever views she wanted to, and stated that she would not relinquish her position for any reason. However, after the July 2017 meeting, she was forced to step down from a separate Cook County position, though “lack of attendance” was the officially provided reason.

Despite being forewarned before the August 2017 meeting that we would have a sizable turnout to demonstrate against Trustee Brannigan’s statements, the Board of Trustees took no action to accommodate residents. They knew we were coming. A man stood alone across the street with a cardboard sign telling ISIS to get out.

They scheduled the third meeting for September 11th, no doubt to scare Arab and Muslim residents from attending. Yet, again, over a hundred residents showed up, but still no real attempt to accommodate them was made. Instead, the Board acquired a speaker that was hooked up outside to satisfy Illinois State regulations that all residents should be allowed to hear the meeting. After that meeting, at the urging of her political colleagues and superiors, Brannigan issued her first lackluster apology.

During the month of October, the Board rescheduled at least three meetings. They claimed to be working on finding a venue large enough to hold at least one hundred people. However, venues in the area refused their request once they found out about the political action against Trustee Brannigan. Ultimately, they held a secret meeting to approve their pensions. They scheduled a November meeting giving less than a week’s notice, and on the school district’s parent/teacher conference night, to ensure a low turnout. Yet, people showed up, and they were angry at the chicanery by the Palos Township Board.

At the November meeting, Sharon Brannigan issued another lame apology, explaining her reasoning for writing hateful comments about Arabs and Muslims, and placing blame on reader misinterpretation of her intentions. She further said she would like to sit down with our leaders, our imams. Her comments went from condescending and paternalistic to full blown ridiculous when she referred to Muslim women’s scarves as “hajeeb”.

Finally, at the December meeting, all things did come to a head. Residents no longer wanted Palos Township to operate in a “business as usual” manner. Immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance, residents began chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Sharon Brannigan has to go.” The voices boomed in the small space. A smattering of Brannigan supporters–primarily white, middle-class, elderly women–tried to show their support for her, but they were heavily outnumbered. One elderly woman called a young protester a “camel jockey” and then threatened her with a gun. When both parties were taken out by Palos Hills police, the cops failed to get the elderly woman’s name, despite her explicit threat. Likewise, another elderly Brannigan supporter slapped a protester. Palos Hills police failed to record that woman’s name as well.

As we move into a new year, Sharon Brannigan retains her seat, and residents still remain resolute that she must resign. On her Facebook page, she recently posted an article by a well-known Arab American writer who supports her, and all things Republican and conservative. She bemoans how this has been a long six months for her. One must question the fitness of a politician who uses hate speech to boost her popularity among racists, but laments the consequences.

A Palestinian Christian Condemning Evangelism

In Palestine, 16-year-old girls are arrested, terrorized, and abused. Women are compelled to wrestle soldiers to free their screaming, pleading sons. Parents are forced into burying their children who have been killed by the Israeli military.

Yet, for as egregious as these acts are, we don’t hear Christians knocking on any doors to raise awareness or advocating for an end to the occupation, you know, the way Jesus would.

Before anyone accuses me of being hypocritical, understand that I come from a unique background. Being a Palestinian who was raised as a Christian, I see the utter distortions and manipulations that perpetuate Palestinian oppression. Christians, especially in the United States, are duped into supporting Israel because of cherry-picked biblical quotes.

“God says that he blesses those who bless Israel.”
“It’s in the Bible that this is their homeland.”
I hear it all the time.

So, what about all of the people who don’t believe in the Bible? Are they simply forced to endure and suffer persecution because of your theological perceptions? How would Christians feel if Muslims demanded them to accept the Quran? Many would be in an uproar. Just as we wouldn’t expect anyone to push their beliefs on us, we can’t push our beliefs on anyone else.

Palestinians can’t be expected to acquiesce to one of the world’s most brutally oppressive regimes, all because the Bible supposedly mandates Israel’s right to occupy, suppress, and dominate. None of these are true. Biblical prophecies are often misrepresented and taken out of context. But that’s the way our world works. Many Christians are quick to forget about the true teachings of Christ, yet they’re eager to support Israel. What lies at the root of this support is a deep-seated prejudice against Arabs. We’re misconstrued as bloodthirsty demons. Israel should evict us because we don’t understand tranquility, people believe.

If you’re a Christian, you can’t selectively pick verses to justify Israel’s inhumanity. And you certainly can’t turn away from oppressed peoples. Jesus wouldn’t have. Jesus stood up to a tyrannical Roman government, irrespective of the consequences. So why won’t many Christians take a stand for Palestinians?

Palestinian Christians are restricted from visiting churches in Jerusalem. Palestinian Christians can’t travel freely. Palestinian Christians are treated as strangers in their own homeland. But most Christians are unaware of their Palestinian Christian brethren.

Furthermore, support for Israel is in blatant contravention to biblical doctrine. Jesus never would have supported a regime that subjugates millions, conducts murderous assaults on the Gaza strip, and which openly discriminates against non-Jews. Palestinian Muslims and Christians are disenfranchised, hopeless, and at the mercy of a tyrannical occupier.

Christians, the next time you think that God stands with Israel, ask yourselves if God stands with murder. In 2014, during Israel’s last malicious act of genocide on Gaza, over 2100 Palestinians were killed. 1462 were civilians.

Christians, the next time you think that God stands with Israel, ask yourselves if God stands with the restriction of Christians from going to church. A lot of Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem have cited the Israeli occupation as the reason for their departure from their historical homeland.

Christians, the next time you think that God stands with Israel, ask yourselves if God condones the mistreatment of one’s neighbors. Jesus commanded people to love their neighbors. Is Israel loving its neighbors when it steals their land, builds illegal settlements, and boots them out?

My fellow Christians, you are not supporting God’s will. You are supporting contradictions. You are supporting ethnic cleansing. You are supporting the most heinous injustice against humanity. Palestinians aren’t the ancient biblical enemies they’re depicted as. Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians alike, are the colonized who advocate tirelessly for freedom and equality, and who stand firmly in the face of colonization. Those are Christian values at their core. In fact, those are human values all are innately entitled to.

Stop with the blind support. Open your eyes and see the stark injustice and occupation. If Jesus were here, he’d side with the Palestinians. And he wouldn’t just be condemning Israel. He’d be condemning all of you, too.

Taking Hummus Back

In case you haven’t noticed, the Israeli PR machine has this rabid reaction when the rhetoric surrounding Palestine has the slightest twinge of favorability to Palestinian statehood.  They’ve been a bit sensitive since 128 countries voted against making their land grab of Jerusalem official. So when James Zogby of the Arab American Institute called Rachel Ray’s Israeli appropriation of Palestinian Arab cuisine a “cultural genocide,” it lit a fire under JPost editors, who turned one comment into a “Twitter War,” (always picking fights, those Israelis are).  Call it my inherent Palestinian optimism, but for the sake of argument, I decided to look into this “cultural genocide.”  There’s enough of a laundry list of dirty human rights violations to call Israel an apartheid state for two lifetimes, so if they are not hijacking the culture along with the land, there’s no need to add insult to injury.

So “yalla, fudalu”, time to talk eats!

Hummus? Well, let’s begin with the fact that “hummus” literally translates in Arabic to “chickpea.”  Contrary to popular belief, hummus (the chickpea) is used in a variety of traditional Arabic entrees like Fattah Hummus and Maftoul, and of course the ultimate fan favorite – Falafel.  I should also probably add that “hummus,” dates back to a 13th century Arabic Cookbook,  Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada (Arabic for ‘The Description of Familiar Food’).

Tabouli? Ironically it’s not a word that was found in the English language until around the 1950s (there’s a head scratcher-NOT).  Perhaps that’s because it’s an Arabic word that stems from the word ‘tabil’ which again literally translates to “seasoning,” like Mutabil, which translates to “seasoned eggplant.” a.k.a. Baba Ganoush.  He was a victim of Rach’s culinary genocide on Palestinian food. She reduced Baba (Arabic for “father”) Ganoush (Arabic for “flattery”) to “eggplant dip.” Poor Baba.

I could continue this rant about the Israeli appropriation of Palestinian food, but the truth is, it’s another nail in the cultural coffin of Palestine. Historian Ilan Pappe wrote a book about it, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. He coined the term “memoracide” to describe the systemic theft of the Palestinian indigenous culture and their cultural narrative.

I know what you’re thinking:
“Oh come on, its hummus, it’s not genocide or memoracide. It’s only hummus.”
But it’s not.

It’s street signs changed from Arabic to Hebrew. It’s village names changed from Arabic to Hebrew. It’s Jerusalem, Palestine to Jerusalem, Israel. The Rachel Ray tweet was more of the same “whitewashing” policy that Israel has implemented with anything remotely Palestinian. Israel literally occupies Palestine in any way it can get away with. From street names, to homes, to olive trees, to school buildings, to villages and food.

Truthfully, everyone of Arab origin should be nauseated. The Zionist Map of “the promised land” consists of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt. Those nations should be concerned and grateful for Palestinian resistance and resilience, or Israel would have come for them a lot sooner.

So let’s think about that before we dismiss the importance of the origins of hummus.

As for Rachel Ray? I have a peace offering: Invite Laila Haddad, writer of The Gaza Kitchen on your show to demonstrate Palestinian cooking. Otherwise, keep your appropriations OUT of our kitchens!

Jerusalem still speaks Arabic

It doesn’t matter where anyone builds their diplomatic palaces. Jerusalem still speaks Arabic. I’ve heard her.

Hundreds of restaurants offer falafel, hummus, shawarma, pomegranate juice, and knafeh. Believe me. I’ve tried them all. But there aren’t any delis. No corned beef sandwiches on rye. No bagel shops. No lox. Don’t get me wrong. All those things are delicious. They’re just not there. Because Jerusalem eats rice and yogurt with every meal. She uses bread as a spoon. She checks her teeth for leftover tabbouli. She’s an Arab.

Certain aromas waft through the air. Cumin. Coriander. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Turmeric. Sumac. Allspice. Those spices don’t come from Poland and Brooklyn. Her women push their herbs in her markets. Thyme. Sage. Basil. Mint. Lots of mint. Those herbs don’t come from Russia and Miami Beach. I’ve hung out with her. She drinks coffee that’s almost too strong for human consumption. She eats parsley-infused meats. She sweats garlic like the rest of us. She’s an Arab.

It’s easy to get confused in her alleyways. They meander every which way, twisting and turning, each corner bringing a new little journey. But if you ask for directions from one part of the Old city to another, her children will just tell you, “Just go straight.” Jerusalem is still an Arab. I promise you.

Look in her closets. She collects ornately embroidered gowns.
Visit her weddings. She “changes the light bulb” when she dances.
Go out to dinner with her. She fights over the bill.

Talk to her for more than five minutes. She asks you if you’re married. And if you’re not… Well, then prepare yourself for a much longer, and quite uncomfortable, conversation.

She wears a keffiyeh. Sometimes it’s because she’s protesting. And sometimes it’s just to keep warm.

When she has some time for herself to listen to some music, she sings along with Fairouz, Abdel Halim, and Um Kalthum.

Jerusalem’s been Arab for 1400 years. Crusader campaigns tried to change her. It didn’t work. Israeli colonization, settlement, and profanity have tried to change her. They’ve failed terribly.  Some stuttering speech about an embassy won’t succeed either.

She’s been through decades of foreign occupation, more than once.  She has suffered the attempted theft of her heritage. She has watched the dispossession, expulsion, and looting of her children’s lives, homes, and histories.  She has even endured the propaganda that she still solely belongs to someone who doesn’t remotely understand the beautiful creature she has grown into today. Yet, despite these attempts to defeat her, Jerusalem still speaks Arabic. With a Palestinian accent.

She’s one of us. Don’t worry. She can handle this.

Waxing Moon / Earthshine – A Poem

The first time I
hear someone use
‘gay’
as an insult,
my body rejects it but
my tongue—
The acrid taste of the word
pricks the inner lining of my cheek
and I try, I try, I try to
swallow the word whole
it spews from my mouth fully formed
“Yeah, that’s so gay”.
What does a seven-year-old know
about sexuality
you might ask
The answer is nothing
she knows Sailor Moon
and that’s it
she knows that good words don’t
taste bitter
she knows that Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune
are in love
and first cousins
she knows that her parents are first cousins too