“I feel sad for him. Sad for the boy bound to the killer. I am sad for the youth betrayed by their leaders for symbols and flags and war and power.” ―Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin
Upon his inauguration, the President committed to establishing the most accessible administration in American history. That said, you may be wondering why this letter is not addressed to him personally, and the answer is relatively simple. At a White House Iftar meant to honor the religious tradition of more than 2.5 million American Muslims last month, the President once again reiterated his staunch support of Israel and its right for self-defense during a period when Israel’s Operation “Protective” Edge has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, at least 75% of whom are civilians. This statement destroyed any chances at engaging in productive dialogue and having the Muslim community’s voice be heard. In my humble opinion, an explicit statement condemning violence on behalf of both Palestinians and Israelis would have been more appropriate, but I digress. I am reaching out to you specifically with the hope that you will speak to the president on our Muslim community’s behalf. Perhaps you can help ensure he understands that Palestinians’vociferations and supplications can no longer be deemed insignificant by the United States.
I know our mainstream media works to ensure that the general public does not have easy access to information that humanizes Palestinians, so I certainly do not blame you if Palestinians — specifically children — have not been in the forefront of your mind. Please allow me to share with you a snapshot of what life has been like for children in Gaza. Less than two weeks ago, Israel barred Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International researchers from entering Gaza to investigate human-rights violations. A new rhyme in Hebrew has been adopted by some racist Israelis: “Tomorrow there is no school in Gaza; they do not have any children left.” To date, thousands of children have been injured, and at least 459 have been killed — including Ismail Bakir, 10, Ahed Bakir, 10, Zakariya Bakir, 10 and Mohammad Bakir, 11, who were playing on a Gaza beach when they were killed by an Israeli strike. While the death of these four boys is now emblematic of the “precision” of Operation “Protective” Edge, it is important to remember that each of the 459 innocent children killed has a story that deserves recognition from the world. As a mother, I trust you understand the value inherent in each of these children’s lives, even when the Israeli Defense Forces do not. You see, the murder of children becomes okay when Ayelet Shaked, a sitting member of the Knesset, issues a direct call for the genocide of “terrorist” children and their mothers to ensure they do not bear any more “little snakes.”
The truth is that you do not need to be Muslim to empathize with Palestinians. Since the launch of Operation “Protective” Edge, people across the world — of all religions and ethnicities — have expressed solidarity with Gazans. Thousands of our Jewish brothers and sisters — from New York City to Tel Aviv — are protesting the atrocities taking place in their name every day. You see, as much as the American mainstream media wants to convince us otherwise, this has never been a religious conflict. Judaism does not equal Zionism, and criticizing Israeli policies does not equal anti-Semitism. Muslims and Jews have lived in harmony with each other for centuries, and I have no doubt that we can continue to do so in the absence of foreign intervention — such as U.S. intervention.
I am writing to you today to protest our complicity in Israel’s crimes. Implicit in the decision to send our secretary of state to negotiate a ceasefire would be the understanding that the U.S. is an impartial mediator — but this hypothetical understanding could not be further from reality. The U.S. cannot play the role of the mediator when it sends $8.6 million per day in military aid to Israel and $0 in military aid to Palestine. Last month alone, the U.S. Senate approved to send Israel an additional $225 million for the Iron Dome missile defense system. If you ask me, I think that money would be much better spent grappling with the great number of issues Americans face here at home, but perhaps I could write you a separate letter about that.
In short, instead of struggling to maintain the image that we as Americans are impartial, how about actually taking that role? Stop funding Israel and Palestine disproportionately. Negotiations on fair grounds are exceedingly difficult with continued U.S. funding.
I am an American, and to this, I say: not in my name.
Laila Soudi is a recent alumna of UC Berkeley and a current student at UC San Francisco. She is currently leading a project, #ToRebuildGaza, to alleviate living conditions for Gazans. For more information, check out www.torebuildgaza.com.