(RNS) — An estimated 300,000 people of conscience gathered in Washington on Saturday (Nov. 4), in what is being described as the largest protest or march for Palestine in the history of the United States. For a Palestinian American like me, it was astonishing to see so many insist on the human rights of a group I’ve watched become so dehumanized over the past decades. In my brief speech I told the crowd how that slow dehumanization has made the loss of Palestinian lives easier to swallow and progressively less shocking in the West.
That dehumanization has led to what U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described on Monday as a “graveyard for children,” as, for the past few weeks, the world has watched the massacre of Palestinian civilians.
It has also led to strange encounters like the one I experienced after the cold-blooded killing of 6-year-old Palestinian American Wadea Al-Fayoume in Chicago, who authorities say was stabbed more than 20 times by his landlord because the man feared Wadea would grow up to be like the Palestinians he’d seen on TV.
Someone who called himself an ally reached out to me to express his condolences about Wadea’s killing. I had seen this person sharing pro-Israel messages on social media, never mentioning the ongoing massacre of Palestinian children in Gaza. I asked him how Wadea was different from any of the more than 4,000 Palestinian children Israeli bombs had killed.
Had his parents not left to come to America, he might have ended up like those children, just as I, had my parents not found a way out, might have died at the hands of Israeli occupiers. You claim to care about me here, I told him, but are OK with me being killed there.
In my speech in Washington on Saturday, I held up a picture of 16-year-old Qusai Omar Suleiman, a Palestinian teen shot and killed by Israeli forces in August. He was among a group of Palestinians who approached the Israeli forces’ position to retrieve the body of a 25-year-old man who had been fatally shot by the soldiers, and died as he rode his motorbike toward them.
With our shared namesake, the teen’s killing has remained embedded in my conscience.
“You’re one of the good ones”: Palestinians and Muslim Americans as a whole are accustomed to hearing some iteration of this often. When the average American meets a Palestinian, or a Muslim, and finds they are not the monster we’ve been made out to be to justify a monstrous foreign policy, they reason that we must simply be exceptional. “You’re such a great neighbor!” Or doctor, or colleague. That can’t possibly be you in the West Bank or Gaza.
Those of us lucky enough to seek refuge from Israeli persecution, those who were the victims of forced displacement — the “good ones” — are not in any way different from those remaining on Palestinian land. A young Omar Suleiman, murdered by Israel in the West Bank, is me.
When I heard that desperate parents in Gaza were writing the names of their children on their hands and torsos in case rescuers have to pull the children out from under rubble, I decided I would remind myself and others that I would have been “branded” the exact same way if my parents were never able to flee.
Our identification with the children of Gaza is why many Muslims are not falling for Joe Biden’s initiative on Islamophobia that is supposedly meant to protect Muslims in the United States. The president continues to employ the same tired framings to justify the mass murder of Palestinians over there while claiming to protect them from being killed here, for much the same dehumanizing reasons.
We will raise our voices for our children there, just as we do here. We see no difference in their humanity.