Opinion: It’s time to talk about Palestine

A much belated reckoning for the neglect of Palestinian voices at American University

Opinion: It’s time to talk about Palestine

This article is an opinion piece that does not necessarily reflect those of The Eagle staff.

American University’s Center for Israeli Studies makes it awfully easy to forget about the broken homes of Palestinians and of villages that are no more.

Reading a framing of the founding of Israel on the Center’s “About” page, which asserts that “at the turn of twentieth century, Zionist thinkers called upon Jews to create a Jewish state” almost makes you forget about the destruction and ethnic-cleansing that had to occur — and is still occurring — in order to impose dominion over the Holy Land. 

It almost makes you forget about the 5 million Palestinians forced to reside in refugee camps as a direct result of this state-sponsored cleansing. Those impoverished people, left without a home, a state or a right of return – neglected by the international community as the forces of Israeli colonialism ravish the culture they hold on to.

It ignores the erasure of villages, such as Al-Jura, which remains a suppressed memory of an oppressive regime – its people erased, its households destroyed and its streets rigged with mines so that no Palestinian could return. And the statement makes you forget about the continued ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians from their homes in areas such as Jerusalem through illegitimate, American-sponsored eviction, such as on those burdened souls of Sheikh Jarrah.

Reading that the “Jews scattered in a far-flung diaspora preserved their attachment to Israel and the idea of a return to their ancestral homeland” disregards those indigenous people who have called and continue to call Palestine their homeland; a people who have inhabited the region for over a thousand years. Those people who now find themselves in their own far-flung diaspora as a direct result of Israeli Zionism — those people in the West Bank and Gaza in cities like Ramallah. In cities like Hebron, where Palestinians are segregated and separated from certain settler-dominated sections of the Old City. Where a Palestinian in the Old City is forced to traverse steep and rocky roads if they wished to visit family, friends, markets and business in the settled part of the city; a journey much too taxing for the old and the disabled.

The CIS page reads that “the country is at one and the same time Middle Eastern and European.” In Israel’s latest election season, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu partnered with the Religious Zionist Party — a far-right party whose leader once advocated for segregated hospital wards to ensure that a Jewish woman wouldn’t have to give birth next to a Palestinian — in a tight race for control over Israel’s government. How can a leader who aligns himself with such blatantly fascist policy respect the multi-faceted cultures and backgrounds of all the people in this region?  

I’ll make my point clear to those who have yet to see the situation clearly: reading AU’s framing of the oppression of Palestinians is reading the language of an oppressor. A language spoken to dehumanize my people; to erase my culture. A language justifying the brutalization of Palestinian lives by Israel.

I can confidently assume that an American reader has little awareness of these hallmarks of racism and oppression in Palestine because, as a whole, Palestinian voices are actively neglected by Israel and America. And I confidently call out this same neglect throughout the Center for Israeli Studies, and as a result, at AU as a whole — a body of learning that continuously pats itself on the back for a sort of “representation” and “equity” while forsaking my people’s struggle for those holy virtues.

I ask these simple questions, to both the institution and the student body of AU: Why is Israeli oppression of Palestine unmentioned by any of the events hosted by CIS? Why are Palestinians not mentioned even once in the entirety of the CIS’s “About” page? Why are we not recognizing the Palestinian heritage in the Land of Olives, their struggle against government brutality, as we do domestic struggles against a racist police system and a land stolen from indigenous peoples?

Why are Palestinian voices neglected in AU, by both the student body and the Center for Israeli Studies?

I have heard several excuses. Some have ascertained that there is an absence of Palestinian speakers at American University and in the realms of academia for the Center to host — an untrue absolution justifying contempt. Some have accused me of being biased towards my own people and of refusing to hold my own people “accountable” by heaping blame on Israel, as if Palestinians are waging a sort of holy war instead of being oppressed. Some have even gone as far as denying to recognize the validity of my people’s burdens.

None of these excuses shall be made any longer.

It’s about time that we extend the liberating truth of justice to yet another marginalized voice in American society; that we leverage the expertise and willingness of an elite institution with a capacity for empathy towards the Palestinian struggle for freedom. If we allow this neglect of Palestine to revel in blissful ignorance for any longer, we undercut any movement, domestic or international, focused on opposing state-sponsored brutality. As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As Nelson Mandela said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians.” It’s about time that we rally around this commitment to intersectionality - around the Palestinian struggle for freedom. And I know that both the institution and student body of AU has the ability to leverage that voice. It’s about time.

It’s about time that we start demanding action from AU to make the CIS an institution that empowers a true sort of diversity by compelling it to empower and reach out to Palestinian voices. It’s about time that we start holding each other accountable for the neglect of the Palestinian identity and for reducing the Palestinian cause to hushed discussions in the privacy of dorm rooms. It’s about time we recognize the oppression and the ethnic-cleansing of Palestinians here at AU. In those exact words, and in no other framing that seeks to absolve Israel of its sins.  

It’s about time that we start talking about Palestine. 

Yazan Nusiebeh is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs.

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