How do we keep our hearts soft in a world so hard and full of violence and hatred?
This question haunts me as we witness horrifying violence from Palestine and Israel. I am a Palestinian. This is my family. Seeing the faces of children abducted, killed, tortured, and burned alive has shaken me. It has shaken us all.
I admit shame to feeling more agony for Palestinian Mohammad Abu Khdeir, the 16-year old abducted from in front of his Jerusalem home, burned alive and murdered than I did for Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, the three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and murdered. Why? They are all children caught up in a system of violence.
Why do I cry for one and not the other?
The answer: All blood is equal. The bloodshed is not.
The US media's disproportionate focus on the tragedy of the loss of Israeli life and its minimum attention to the Palestinian loss of life harden me. While President Obama, “as a father,” mourned the tragic murder of the three Israeli boys, it was left to Secretary of State John Kerry to condemn the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir. At no time has the US President condemned the murder of the more than 1500 Palestinian children killed by Israel since 2000. That is one Palestinian child murdered every 3 days for the past 13 years. My heart hardens. A part of my humanity becomes another casualty of the structural violence in Israel.
Israel’s insistence on Jewish nationalism and Zionist supremacy has required the dispossession of Palestinians beginning with the Nakba of 1947-48 where Israeli militias forced 750,000 Palestinians off their land and destroyed over 500 Palestinian villages and towns to create a Jewish majority in the country. It continues through the legal discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. It is most dramatic in the military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza where the Palestinian population has been living under siege for seven years. Israel has resorted to collective punishment with mass arrests and raids in the West Bank and a deadly campaign of airstrikes against Gaza.
The power differential between Palestinians and Israeli Jews is vast and is maintained by US military assistance to Israel totaling more than $3 billion per year. At the same time, there can be no justification for the murder of any human being, including children. Through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns, the international community seeks to close the power differential between Palestinians and Israelis by using economic tactics to compel Israel to abide by international law.
In this past week, it became clearer to me how BDS supports nonviolent efforts in Palestine. Residents of Shu’fat in Jerusalem-- where young Mohammad lived-- dismantled the Jerusalem Light Rail station that runs through their neighborhood.
The tram line in Shu’fat was built to enable settlers from the illegal Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zev to reach West Jerusalem, serving mostly Jewish areas with one or two stops only in Palestinian neighbourhoods. Residents of Shu’fat had heard Mohammad’s mother lament that she hoped the train would never run in Shu’fat again, so that settlers would no longer pass through the neighbourhood. Palestinians directed her anger toward destroying a symbol of Israeli oppression, leaving only the tracks behind.
In one of the biggest BDS wins in the United States, a group of dedicated activists in St. Louis successfully shunned in 2013 a city contract with Veolia, one of the companies that built and maintains the Jerusalem Light Rail. Veolia has lost over $16 billion in business because of BDS efforts. I was proud to be a part of the St. Louis campaign to Dump Veolia. The efforts of Palestinians and Israelis co-resisting for justice and equality are supported by our efforts here to take the profit out of occupation.
Together, we will end Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinians. In the process, we will soften the hearts of the oppressor, the oppressed and ourselves. We will reclaim our humanity and proclaim that equality and justice are possible.