Dear Mr. President,
In his op-ed piece in the New York Times today, Roger Cohen quotes an Israeli official as saying “We pay the price for defending U.S. values in this area.” I'm not sure which of my values the Deputy Foreign Minister feels that his country is defending through the oppression and occupation of the Palestinians and their land, but I greatly wish he had less substantial reasons for making such an outrageous claim. Surely, if the way a country spends its money is any indication of what it holds to be important, his linking American values to the human rights abuses perpetuated by his country's military is not entirely without logical basis.
I've written you a number of letters detailing my objections to our financial and diplomatic support for the atrocities committed by Israel. My feelings on the subject have not changed, nor has our policy. Still, the media continues to indicate that a coldness between the US and Israel, something that Israeli officials seem to indicate is a reality. I don't know what this means. I do know that, while Israel celebrates its Independence day, the Palestinians will mourn the catastrophic loss of their own homeland. One's history, the other's tragedy. But I don't want to talk about the past, which Israel continues to exploit in order to sell the narrative that it is a country on the brink of extermination, surrounded on all sides by danger and hatred. This is a dramatic image, but one that does not reflect reality.
I walk to work in the mornings through dark streets, alone, often at 4 or 5 am. I walk past bus stations and homeless shelters, and parks known for drug deals. I walk by men who are drunk or high or threatening or just tired and desperately poor. There are moments, in the darkness, under the freeway overpass, or on a poorly lit section of the street, when I think about the danger I face; robbery, rape, assault, car accidents, brain cancer. The world is so frightening, that sometimes it seems like a miracle I've lived this long at all. But I can't be afraid all the time, Mr. President. I have a job to do. I have bills and rent and student loans to pay. And so I keep walking, watching as, gradually, none of the strangers' faces seem so frightening any more. Because I cannot live in fear. Should I carry a gun? Should I hope that, with a display of force, I could preempt any attack by creating more fear? What about a curfew? Convince the city to lock up every one until the sun rises, in the name of keeping me less afraid? I can't oppress people because I am afraid of them, even if, among the crowds, there are a few who would do me harm. I can't do this, and neither should you, and neither should Israel.
I want to go back to Palestine, Mr. President. I want to see my friends, and have good hummus again, and visit all of the places I missed last time I was there. I want to visit Gaza, and Syria, and Petra, and Beirut. I want to travel, and for my friends to live, without fear of the IDF's guns or checkpoints, or airport screening rooms. I want my passport to represent something better than a free pass through the checkpoints my tax dollars help construct. I want a peace that will last, that will respect the dignity and security of each side, and that will look to the future, letting go of the past.
Israel was born into danger, surviving against the odds to become a haven for a people persecuted throughout history. Its founding cost Palestinian lives and land and stability, dooming them to decades of suffering and loss. I don't believe that one of these narratives need be accepted at the exclusion of the other. Each side serves its own interest; not American values, values which, especially here, ought to guide our actions. We know our own interests are served best when every individual in the region, regardless of race or religion, has freedom and opportunity.
I hope these rumblings of peace talks are a sign, however long overdue, that change is coming.