Op-ed: The Palestinian side of the story


Photo: Palestinian cultural celebration in the West Bank, 2012, Run Across Palestine

Michiganders have chance tomorrow to oppose Biden’s Israel-Palestine policy

By Gina Aranki

Op-ed for the Sun

In Michigan’s primary election tomorrow, (Tuesday, Feb. 27), Democratic-leaning voters can either vote for President Biden or they can vote “Uncommitted”—with the goal of urging his administration to change course on the unfolding genocide that is occurring in Gaza with the ongoing complicity of the U.S. government toward Israel’s military. Tomorrow’s vote has no bearing on how one votes in the November general election.

It’s Day 142 of the extra hell for Palestinians since Oct. 7, 2023 — the day Hamas attacked Israel and murdered hundreds of Israelis — beyond the usual hell of a 75-year occupation. I wonder if people really understand what occupation is.

In 1985, I traveled to the West Bank and Gaza to witness what life was like for Palestinians, including my grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Ramallah, six miles north of Jerusalem. It’s where my mom and her six siblings were born and raised. My grandfather, Jacob, must have been about 80 at the time. He drank arak (a cousin to the Greek ouzo) like water, smoked filterless Pall Malls, and lived to be 102. He spoke British-inflected English. He showed me his house and garden, the bullet holes in the walls. He could tell me which were British and which were Israeli. He said that people of all faiths got along fine before Jewish nationalism cast its eye on Palestine at the turn of the 20th century. Of course, Jews had a home here, he said. The problem was they felt more entitled to the land than people like himself, who could trace his own family tree in Ramallah back to the 1500s.

I wrote an essay about all I had seen. I worked for a member of Congress at the time, and when he read my essay he submitted it for publication in the Congressional Record. Here are some excerpts that give a sense of what was happening then, and is still happening all these years later on an ever wider scale.

“As we walked through Dheisheh [Refugee Camp], children hollered ‘shalom,’ presuming we were Israeli. Their eyes widened when we answered them in Arabic, and suddenly we were surrounded by these beautiful little beings. They led us along dusty pathways to their shelters, where we drank sweet tea and heard many of their stories, about farms, homes, groves and lives away from the Camp in towns and villages that no longer exist, destroyed by Israel to make room for Jewish settlements and cities.

“In Safa, a family of 12 lives in a shed behind the ruins of their home. Two of their sons had been detained for allegedly belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Later they were told it was for stone-throwing. The sons had yet to be arrested or charged when a group of Israeli soldiers stormed the house in the middle of the night to announce that they had 15 minutes to clear themselves and anything they wished to save before the house would be demolished. They were forbidden to rebuild on the site, and were not allowed to rent the heavy equipment needed to remove the rubble from their land. In Isaweya, we watched as the military bulldozed another residence while we simultaneously cleared the rubble from a third site by hand.

“We made two trips to Gaza. The first resulted in a quick denial to enter. Two days later, with a bit more planning, we were allowed in. Adnan, the leader of our host committee, was able to find Dr. Hader Abdul Shafie and ask him to speak with us. We gathered in a park in Gaza City and sat under the huge canopy of a fig tree. Dr Abdul Shafie, the director of the Palestine Red Crescent Society [Red Cross affiliate] began to speak to us. As he did, a trio of soldiers entered the park.

“They walked around our circle and stopped behind us, watching Dr. Abdul Shafie intently and speaking loudly on their walkie-talkies. The doctor continued his talk but it was obvious that he was not sharing as much information as he would have liked. Someone asked if there might be trouble for him after we were gone, and he said ‘Pprobably, but that would not be unusual. They cause us trouble every day of our lives.’ As we filed out of the park through a narrow alley, a jeep rumbled past, guns cocked from both sides of the windshield, forcing us to quickly move out of the way as they followed Dr. Abdul Shafie’s car.

“The day we were turned back at Gaza, we made an alternative trip to Khalil, or Hebron… The [nearby] settlement of Kiryat Arba is almost fully occupied by Meir Kahane followers [a notorious anti-Palestinian racist who was considered a terrorist but whose views are now common in the Israeli parliament] who espouse vigilantism… As a result of threats by settlers, we witnessed hastily erected watchtowers, barricades and barbed wire around the marketplace, which was closed indefinitely, and soldiers who easily outnumbered the civilians in the nearly empty streets…” Today, Hebron continues to be a hotbed of settler and military intimidation and violence against the Palestinian community.

“The first-hand accounts of detainment, arrest, torture, arbitrary censure and closure of Palestinian schools and media for asserting Palestinian rights, town and house arrest of community leaders… the list is endless and the incidents almost daily. But against every form of aggression, the Palestinians struggle with an inspiring determination… If anything positive can be said about the occupation, it is that it has created a marvelous strength of will among the people that has persisted and grown in the face of tremendous odds against them…”

So when Israel apologists say there was “peace” and “ceasefire” prior to October 7, 2023, this is what they meant. This is why there is resistance. I am surprised there isn’t more of it, given the daily humiliations, collective punishment, theft of land and water, and extrajudicial killings of dozens, hundreds, and now thousands of Palestinians.

If you wonder about the side of the story you are not hearing in the corporate American media, you are not alone. When the war industry props up the world economy, Palestinian and many other lives don’t matter much. Only we the people can help to change this view. A world without war is possible. To learn more, join the MidEast:JustPeace listserve, mejp2020@gmail.com, for a resource list and for events that uplift Palestinian voices.

Gina Aranki is a first-generation American of Palestinian parents and a co-founder of MidEast:JustPeace. She lives in Leelanau County.