Palestinians must seek out support in their fight for justice
The victory for Palestinian Lara Alqasem last week against efforts to prevent her entrance into Israel is a reminder that Palestinians cannot take the Israeli left for granted in the fight against the Tel Aviv government’s racism and discriminatory policies.
Alqasem didn’t beat Israel’s apartheid and discriminatory policies on her own. She did so with the backing of several mainstream organizations that came together under the banner of the Partners for Progressive Israel — a coalition that defends the civil rights of all, including Palestinians. The coalition includes many well-known groups and leaders, including J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, the National Council of Jewish Women, the New Israel Fund, Reconstructing Judaism, T’ruah, Knesset member Tamar Zandberg, and Alqasem’s attorney, prominent Israeli jurist Leora Bechor.
The Alqasem case was a victory for Palestinian human rights and a slap for the extremist policies that have been increasingly consuming Israeli society since the collapse of the peace process in the 1990s.
Alqasem, 22, was a former activist with the American-based Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at the University of Florida. SJP activists give a voice to Palestinian issues at American universities and schools, which often censor and restrict pro-Palestinian voices and activism. This has made SJP a target of vicious attacks from extremists and Israeli government officials who are engaged in undermining the civil rights of American critics of Israel.
But Alqasem is also a student and she entered Israel on Oct. 2 with a visa to enter a graduate studies program at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She was immediately detained at Ben Gurion Airport and ordered to leave the country. Her detention was based on information posted on an anti-Palestinian online hate site called “Canary Mission,” which defames high-profile critics of Israel.
Alqasem spent 16 days in detention at Ben Gurion Airport, where many people are rounded up and confined against their will as Israeli security teams scrutinize their opinions, their travel plans, their possessions and their family history. Every day travelers to Israel, mainly Christians and Muslims who are Palestinian, are humiliated not only at the airport but even before they board flights to Israel.
Alqasem suffered through the abusive interrogation, but she refused to be dissuaded or return to America.
There are two primary ways to enter Israel. One is through the Yitzhak Rabin Crossing with Jordan, mainly accessed by bus or taxi. The other is through Ben Gurion by commercial airline. In both, many non-Jews are forced to undergo a humiliating interrogation. I have been through them both, and it is intentionally dehumanizing, as Israeli security invades your privacy beyond normal and basic security concerns. They want to know what you think, and about your political views. The interrogations would never be tolerated in any other democratic nation and reflect the policies imposed by radical countries.
Alqasem suffered through the abusive interrogation, but she refused to be dissuaded or return to America. Instead, she appealed her detention. She was denied two appeals but, last week, after more than two weeks of incarceration, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered she be released. This victory is significant because it reflects the importance and power of human and civil rights, and the rule of law in confronting extremism, whether it is from the US or from Israel.
Instead of undermining opportunities to build coalitions, Palestinian activists should use common sense and reason in pursuing the expansion of coalitions that stand up for justice. That justice cannot just be about Palestinians: It also has to be about Jews and Israelis.
We must improve how we define resistance to Israel’s aggression by being more specific, strategic and clear in our actions and our protests as Palestinians.
I am not fighting against Israelis; I am fighting against the Israeli government’s racist policies. That also means that, when we advocate for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), we should be clear in how we define our support. It should be intensely focused on the injustices of the Israeli government’s policies and against all acts of racism, regardless of the ethnic or religious backgrounds of the victims.
Alqasem’s fight isn’t over. She is already being targeted by racist haters at Hebrew University who distort facts, minimize the rights of non-Jews and deny the right of Palestine to exist as a nation.
A recent poll by the Jewish Electoral Institute, showcased by J Street, reveals 62 percent of American Jews disapprove of President Donald Trump’s handling of US relations with the Palestinians.
Palestinians should be strategizing on how to make more friends, including those in the Jewish community and among progressives in Israel who respect Palestinian rights.
When Palestinians oppose J Street, the New Israel Fund, Americans for Peace Now and other Jewish groups in Israel and in the West, are we not also opposing the fundamental values that serve as the foundation for the quest for justice for the Palestinians?
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and the author of several books including “Yalla! Fight Back.” His personal website is www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania