I don’t look like a traditional Arab—the one cultivated by the US media and Hollywood. You know, a woman with a unibrow hiding behind a full-faced veil.
Growing up people never assumed I was from the Middle East. It was because of my name that people would assume I didn’t have American ancestors. Responses to my nationality would range from, “You don’t look like an Arab,” to—perhaps the most obscure— remark I’ve ever received—“For an Arab, you have such nice, small facial features!”
When I would further delve into my origins, reactions grew wilder at the mention of my Palestinian roots. Either the person I was talking to would ignore me completely, or look at me with agitation. Of course there’s always someone who asks, “Why don’t you guys leave the Jews alone?”—automatically assuming that Palestine is to blame for tensions with Israel.
Of all the ignorant assumptions I’ve heard, it’s this one that bothers me most. What really gets under my skin is how Palestinians are portrayed in the country I call home. What kind of Twilight Zone are we living in when a state is living under the conditions of heavy military occupation and apartheid is viewed as the aggressor?
For much of the world, the despicable plight of the Palestinians is clear, with many supporting the end of apartheid in Israel and fair treatment of Palestinians. But I am not ignorant to the facts. It’s clear the only one country’s opinion matters the most and it’s that of the United States.
So how is it possible that the victims of apartheid are made out to be the instigators? We can thank a very thought-out and well-funded pro-Israeli campaign here in the US. Lobby groups, such as AIPAC, are so successful in their attempts to demonize Palestinians that US politicians fear to criticize Israeli policies in any way, much less acknowledge the idea that Palestinians have basic human rights. How can this be so when human rights violations are occurring right before our eyes, such as the ones that are so visible in Gaza—the world’s largest open-air prison.
It is nothing new in this country to tarnish the image of an entire group as a means to an end. There’s plenty of examples here in the U.S., ranging from the exuberant lies told about Native Americans to justify the killings of entire villages; fabricated stories about blacks splattered across the front pages of newspapers in the 20th Century; campaigns against Japanese Americans during WWII that led us to place our own Americans in concentration camps; to the Red Scare, when if you wanted to ruin someone’s life, all you had to do was accuse them of being a Communist.
Ironically enough, AIPAC, among other Zionist groups, has successfully implemented in the U.S. comparable to Hitler’s campaign against the Jews in Nazi Germany, relying on lies and fear to push an agenda . They have created an environment of distrust towards the Palestinians. And just as Hitler was able to convince an entire country that killing countless lives was justifiable, so has Israel.
In the last Gaza war campaign, the IDF killed an estimated 2,189 Gazans—513 of whom were children. U.S. news coverage heavily backed Israel, but when some stations dared to question the use of Israel’s force, they would never fail to invite along a pro-Israeli commentator to champion Israel’s “right to defend herself.”
A couple of weeks ago, a Palestinian father of two was lynched in the back of his own bus, which Israel—unsurprisingly—deemed a suicide. Weeks have gone by and the IDF continues to block and attack the holy site of Al Aqsa (I witnessed this myself when I visited Jerusalem in July). Another mosque was burned by Israeli settlers. I could go on and on, and that’s just all within the past several weeks and doesn’t begin to touch on new segregation policies and unfathomable rock throwing jail terms that Israel will soon be implementing.
Yet I barely heard anything about these terrible events in the U.S. media. But when Israel is in trouble, Western media is quick to get the story out.
Recently, a synagogue was attacked in Jerusalem and five Jews were killed—and U.S. news agencies immediately reported the incident. President Obama condemned the terror attack, but he never condemned any of the attacks on Palestinian holy sites.
The problems plaguing our news sources are blatant and insulting, with many defending the U.S.’ relationship with Israel. I could mention how the U.S. condemned South Africa’s apartheid and how we’ve ended our own segregation laws against blacks. Isn’t it ironic how we outlaw racism in this country, but we watch as Israel segregates its buses? What’s even more disturbing is the U.S. media’s lack of attention to anti-Zionist Jews who are protesting for the rights of the Palestinians.
Until Americans open their eyes and face the truths of apartheid and America’s role in it, there will never be justice. The heavy hand of Israel’s military practices will continue to drive Palestinians into desperation and ensure that generations of resentful children will be raised in an environment of fear and violence perpetrated by the IDF.
As long as this nation continues to turn its back on Palestinians, it can not claim to stand for democracy and basic human rights. As I visited my parents homeland (the first to return for generations), I couldn’t help but feel bittersweet. I’ll never forget what a man I met in the West Bank’s Kalandia Refugee Camp told me—“We want Americans to come visit us in the West Bank. We’re nice people. We just want people to come visit us and see we’re not what they make us out to be.”
Writer Bio: Rasha Abousalem majored in International Criminal Justice with a concentration in human rights and refugee work. In 2014 she traveled overseas on a voluntary humanitarian trip to Jordan, bringing aide supplies and support to Syrian refugees. During her travels she served as a translator, as well as conducted interviews and photodocumented her journey throughout the refugee campus and Palestine.