Janan Najeeb, convener of the Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine, at the rally and press conference at City Hall on Nov. 9  

When I was invited to write this brief article on my perspective as a Palestinian American, I found myself writing and then deleting my thoughts at least a half dozen times. I thought I should present a brief history of Israel and its occupation of Palestine because too often people tell me they don’t understand the issue, that it is thousands of years old.  It is not.  

The creation of Israel in 1948 as a European Jewish homeland in the middle of the Arab world was the brainchild of European colonialist powers who wanted to rid themselves of their “Jewish” problem while also maintaining a European settler colonist state in one of the most strategic areas of the world. As is always the case with colonialism, they never bothered to ask the indigenous people if they wanted to be ethnically cleansed, killed or transferred to make room for Europeans. This project led to the ethnic cleansing of 500 Palestinian villages, resulting in thousands of deaths and nearly 800,000 refugees. I chose not to focus my article on history.

Then I began writing about the Biblical argument being promoted by Israeli extremists and supported by right-wing Christian zionists

They argue that God promised this land to the Jews thousands and thousands of years ago.  Okay, I guess you can make this argument if you believe God is a racist real estate broker and favors people based on ethnicity rather than piety. It certainly makes for strange bedfellows when you think that Christian Zionists, who are highly encouraged by Jewish Zionists, want all the Jews to move to the state of Israel in order to hasten Armageddon and the coming of the Messiah. That’s when all Jews will need to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior or burn in an inferno. But that’s not antisemitism.  Delete! 

Considering the incredibly lopsided mainstream media coverage, which fails to show Palestinians as humans, I thought about discussing how words and images influence us. It may be the best use of a reader’s time. Example after example shows how the mainstream media misrepresents Palestinians and Israelis alike. Pay attention to the stories and you’ll see that while Israelis, who are clearly of European, American and Russian descent, are given opportunities to tell detailed stories of their loved ones being held by Hamas, what food they love to eat, how much their pet misses them, even the clothes they like to wear, Palestinians are reduced to numbers. Few of their stories are reported, although they are being exterminated by the tens of thousands.  

No mainstream news outlets spoke of the murder or horrific injury of 600+ Palestinian physicians and nurses as they valiantly tried to save others. Nor did they report on the Palestinian school teachers who led their young students in songs to calm them down as American-made bombs snuffed out their lives, or the many stories of individuals who gave their last sips of water to their beloved pets. Only alternative media carried their stories.

Why do most news reports say Israelis were “killed” but Palestinians simply “died.” When Israeli forces stormed hospitals and schools, American media called them “clashes” and “tension.” When a Palestinian throws a rock, he is a “militant” or she is a “terrorist.” When Israeli soldiers beat Palestinian Christians with rifles and batons, and prevented from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Western media simply said they were “blocked,” as if a car happened to get a flat tire and block the entrance. 

During the recent assault on Rafah, the mainstream media all spoke of the “daring rescue of two Israeli hostages.” No one mentioned the more than 100 Palestinians, mainly women and children, that were killed and the hundreds more injured in the operation. 

No one spoke of the Palestinian OB/GYN who risked her life to run between demolished buildings to reach a woman in labor. None of the mainstream media mentioned the grandmother shot by Israeli snipers while she was accompanying a small child carrying a white flag. 

 Are they not human beings?

For decades, Israel’s propaganda machine, mainly Jewish Federations, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and other mouthpieces for Israel effectively silenced any criticism of Israeli policy. So, as an American, you can curse God, shout obscenities at any American president or government official, protest government policies and rally for any cause you believe in. Yet if you publicly stand against Israeli policy, you will likely lose your job or your funding and be labeled antisemitic. Do Jews actually want their faith defined by the barbaric policies of the Israeli government? Not the ones I hang out with!

Even the Palestinian civil rights anthem, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” has been largely censored across the country because Jewish Zionists decided it calls for the annihilation of Jews. Meanwhile, Israel actually annihilates Palestinians daily in real time. “From the river to the sea …” is akin to the Black civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” We Shall Overcome did not call on Black Americans to commit violence. Many who have voiced the Palestinian slogan have suffered serious repercussions.

Unfortunately, silencing any criticism of Israel is working. Except for those on the extreme left, many have been silenced by these bullying tactics. The blatant use of propaganda to push the Israeli narrative and prevent the Palestinian reality from being heard makes my head spin! On second thought, discussing this phenomenon might distract readers from the main issue—the genocide the Israeli military is committing against the Palestinian people.  

The case for genocide brought by South Africa to the International Court of Justice against Israel was historic and monumental. What better country but one from the Global South, a country that endured 350 years of apartheid, colonial racism and brutal oppression to bring the case against Israel. The late president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, felt a unique bond with the Palestinian struggle. He famously said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” 

The systematic and thoroughly researched case for genocide by South Africa included an endless list of examples that left no doubt that the Israeli government’s goal is “destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group”. 

Most important, South Africa made clear this issue did not begin on Oct. 7, but rather 75 years ago. Furthermore, South Africa outlined Israel’s consistent efforts to exterminate the Palestinian people. In 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, a bombing of Gaza that killed thousands of civilians. Many of the soldiers came from the base that Hamas attacked.  

The Israeli military has publicly boasted of this routine policy of entering the Gaza concentration camp and killing thousands, calling it “mowing the grass,” a state policy to decrease the population of Palestinians in Gaza. David M. Weinberg of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security said of the Israeli policy, “Just like mowing your front lawn, this is constant, hard work. If you fail to do so, weeds grow wild and snakes begin to slither around in the brush.” 

Wait! It’s probably better for those interested in South Africa’s case against Israel to watch the entire proceedings streamed by the United Nations or read the transcript. Instead, I should speak from my experience. I have decided to make this article personal.  

Janan Najeeb, founder and executive director of Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition

I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine. My parents and grandparents had olive groves, vines laden with grapes, plum trees, almond trees and much more. My grandparents had a winter cottage in Jericho, where they grew acres of bananas. European Jews did not make the desert bloom. Palestine is part of the fertile crescent and has exported fruits and vegetables to neighboring countries for centuries. Most of what we own was confiscated and given to European, American and Russian Jews. Any Jew, anywhere in the world, could lay claim to our land and my family’s possessions, but as a Palestinian, born in Palestine, a Palestinian who can trace my family’s lineage for generations,  I have no rights, not even to my parent’s property.

My aunt and other family members, as well as many friends, died trying to get through the 700-armed military checkpoints set up on land belonging to Palestinians. Since the occupation, Israelis decide if the sick can get to a hospital emergency room, a woman in labor or a patient on dialysis, or even an elderly Palestinian having a heart attack, can go through a checkpoint to get to a hospital. They decide whether a child can go to school, a father to work, a farmer to take care of his animals and crops or if Palestinian Christians and Muslims can have access to their churches and mosques. Nine times out of ten, young 18- and 19-year-old heavily armed soldiers laugh and tell Palestinians they don’t feel it is their day, that they must go back.

The ethnic cleansing of Gaza is particularly difficult. My husband and I lived in West Virginia 25 years ago while he completed his medical training. One of the few Muslim families there was a family of eight, originally from Gaza. The father, Mohammad Shubair, was pursuing a doctorate in a medical field. Our families visited each other almost every week, along with a handful of other Arabic-speaking families. The Shubairs had middle school-aged daughters who came to hang out with me because I was a young mom.  Umm Malik (“the mother of Malik”) as their mother was traditionally called, loved to cook and tell jokes. 

The Shubairs went back to Gaza and after some years Dr. Shubair rose to become the president of one of Gaza’s universities. He was a brilliant, deeply faithful man who loved children. Two months ago, his home was specifically targeted as Israel systematically attacked all Palestinian leaders, professors, artists, journalists and even historic institutions. Many of the Shubair children I once knew, now adults with families, were killed instantly. Dr. Shubair and his wife ran outside, where Israeli snipers killed him and his wife. Israeli snipers would not allow anyone to come near their bodies to bury them for weeks, forcing people to watch as hungry animals ate what they could and the rest of the bodies decayed. May they rest in peace.

I also think of Abdullah, he buried his six children, many burned with white phosphorus beyond recognition. As he collected the body pieces he could find, he told his children he loved them and to please forgive him because he could not protect them. He said, when you are greeted by the Prophets and the angels, tell them the world abandoned you.

Palestinians are resilient people.  We are a people with close family ties and deep faith. We are known for our hospitality to friends and strangers alike.  Palestinian Jews, Christians and Muslims have lived together for centuries as brothers and sisters.  This is not a war between religions.  

According to the Quran, Muslim scripture, God declares that Christians and Jews are people of scripture, having received guidance from God and therefore should be honored.  But Muslims are called to stand against injustice.  The Prophet Muhammad told his followers, if you see an injustice, change it with your hands, if you are unable then protest with your voice, and if even that is not an option, then continue to hate it within your heart because you should never rest while injustice is present.

Israel’s 75-year occupation of Palestine and the genocide in Gaza are a grave injustice.  We demand a permanent ceasefire, an end to arming the apartheid state of Israel and the liberation of Palestine.  

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.  From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever!