(OtherWords) – Two years ago, filmmaker Mohannad Abu Rizk asked children in Gaza about their dreams. One young girl responded, “My dream is for us to stay alive and to live in peace. We have a right to stay alive.”
She’s one of the 2.2 million Palestinians living in the densely populated Gaza Strip under a 56-year Israeli occupation – and a 16-year blockade that deprives them of food, water, electricity,\ and freedom of movement. International rights groups now classify it as an apartheid system.
She’s also one of the Palestinians Israeli officials called “human animals” and “children of darkness” as bombs fell on Gaza. It’s unclear if this girl with the big, soulful brown eyes is still alive, but about half of the over 10,000 Gazans killed by the Israeli military are children.
All human lives are precious. The murder of over a thousand Israelis by Hamas on Oct. 7 was a heinous crime. Israeli families deserve justice and the safe return of their loved ones held hostage. But indiscriminately bombing and collectively punishing Palestinian civilians – who are neither synonymous with Hamas nor responsible for their crimes – accomplishes neither.
For most Americans, that’s not a controversial opinion. In a recent survey, 66% of Americans supported an immediate ceasefire as a step toward peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Unfortunately, our elected officials aren’t listening – yet.
Instead of backing a ceasefire, President Biden requested $14.3 billion in military assistance to Israel above the $3.8 billion taxpayers already send each year. And when a few House Democrats, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-MI, called for a ceasefire in October, the White House press secretary didn’t hold back: “We believe they’re repugnant and we believe they’re disgraceful.”
The GOP rhetoric has been even more repulsive. Rep. Brian Mast, R-FL, compared “innocent Palestinians” to “innocent Nazis” while Rep. Max Miller, R-OH, called for Gaza to be “eviscerated” and “turned into a parking lot.” Instead of working for peace, House Republicans have focused their energies on a bad faith censure of Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress.
This dehumanizing and dangerous rhetoric fuels hate crimes that have escalated against Arab and Muslim Americans since Oct. 7 – including the murder of 6-year-old Palestinian American Wadea Al-Fayoume and the attempted murder of his mother in Illinois. Recently, a Muslim student at Stanford was hospitalized after being struck by a car in a suspected hate crime.
The war’s reverberations can also be felt in the chilling climate of fear and repression that painfully reminds Arab Americans and Muslims like myself of the days following the 9/11 attacks. College students have faced doxxing and harassment for signing statements supporting Palestinians or criticizing the Israeli government. Others have lost job offers.
But despite efforts to smear and silence them, people are standing up for basic human dignity. Tens of thousands of Americans marched in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4 to support a ceasefire. The movement for a ceasefire continues to grow around the country.
Veteran State Department official Josh Paul resigned in protest on Oct.17, calling the U.S. rush to supply Israel with more arms “shortsighted, destructive, unjust, and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse.” And over 400 congressional staffers signed a statement demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.
Gaza is facing a humanitarian catastrophe. There is no food, water or safety. Many experts have warned that a likely genocide is underway. The U.S. must stop funding this assault, which will only lead to the loss of more Palestinian and Israeli lives – and exacerbate the rising Islamophobia and antisemitism that have no place in our society.
Our elected officials must listen to the majority of American people who are demanding peace so that Palestinians can live freely, instead of dreaming about it.
Farrah Hassen, J.D., is a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona.