I’m Palestinian American. I reject my people’s oppression. And I want my government to listen.
The struggle for Palestinian freedom was denigrated, yet again, this week when the leaders of the US and Israel stood side by side at the White House and unveiled the Trump administration’s new “peace plan.”
The plan was met with anger and skepticism from many sides. Top Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar decried it as “one-sided” and said it “violates the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”
One former Israeli negotiator called it “an act of aggression dripping with the coarse syntax of racism. A hate plan, not a peace plan.”
Much of the blame for the proposal’s one-sidedness has focused on President Trump and his cozy relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the truth is that the plan is merely the formalization of a status quo with roots that far predate the rule of these two demagogues.
Put simply, the plan is a brutally honest manifestation of Washington’s long-standing anti-Palestinian bias. And Palestinians worldwide know it.
But as a Palestinian American from a family that was displaced by the Israeli military in 1967, I am not mourning the death of the two-state solution, or the rhetorical abandonment of the Oslo Accords that have long served as the framework for peace negotiations.
Those solutions never addressed the core issues of the Palestinian freedom struggle: actualizing the right of Palestinian refugees to return, ending Palestinian statelessness, and affirming the Palestinians’ right to determine their collective future.
I have lived my entire life dreaming for a just peace in my Palestinian homeland
Born in the Oslo era and privileged enough to have been born in the United States, my experience is one that reveals the futility of the Trump administration’s efforts to deliver a death blow to the Palestinian drive to shape their destiny.
I never lacked the basic necessities in life: food, clothing, shelter. I have been blessed with access to quality education and the ability to pursue my goals.
I have freedom of movement, neither trapped in the blockaded Gaza Strip nor under military occupation in the West Bank. Nor am I languishing from statelessness and a lack of opportunity in refugee camps in the occupied territories and surrounding Arab countries.
Despite this, I have lived my entire life dreaming for a just peace in my Palestinian homeland.
The attitude behind Trump’s plan assumes that displaced Palestinians living with none of the privileges I had will abandon their rightful demands in exchange for the crumbs this deal will throw at them.
Coming of age in the Oslo era, I saw how these so-called “peace” plans only paid lip service to Palestinian self-determination without addressing the core problems of their suffering, and how their failure usually ended in victim-blaming — which Trump and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the architect of the administration’s grand plan, have regurgitated.
What followed was the Second Intifada, or “uprising,” a reaction to the world’s indifference to their struggle and the futility of plans like Oslo. Watching the news as a child, images of the ensuing violence were seared in my memory, offering my generation’s Palestinian diaspora a visualization of what we are up against as a people.
It was the first time many of us understood what it meant to be Palestinian: our love for each other, our love for freedom, and our grief over the loss of our compatriots, of futures stolen from our youth, the trauma we see in the eyes of our parents and grandparents.
It is that shared history that does not allow the privileges of our lives in the first world to anesthetize ourselves from this collective pain.
Palestinian Americans mourned and protested against Israel’s successive wars on the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, 2012, and 2014. We called for an end to the military blockade on Gaza, and to the settler violence and military occupation of the West Bank.
We helped grow a movement for Palestinian human rights and universal human dignity for everyone, everywhere. We have been waiting for decades to return to our land, property, and memories from which we were forcibly and unjustly expelled.
To hear Trump’s condescending, hateful remarks that promulgate a narrative that Palestinians are inherently violent and will only change if the United States and Israel unlock their “extraordinary potential” is insulting.
It merely makes it clearer than ever what the US government’s underlying attitudes toward Palestinians have always been. Palestinians have long been maligned in Washington as “rejectionist.” It is their fault these “peace” plans have not worked out.
But that attitude ignores a grim reality: Many Palestinians are poor and frustrated because they have been suffering for 70 years. Nevertheless, they are yet again being blamed for a lack of enthusiasm for the formalization of Israeli practices that have caged, starved, traumatized, and humiliated them.
If the success of a plan offers only peace and privilege for some at the expense of others, it is no peace plan at all.
Palestinians do not need Jared Kushner to civilize them
I refuse to give up on my refugee family’s dream of returning to their emptied village. I reject the oppression of my people.
My community’s embrace of freedom and a just peace requires us to demand a new way forward: refusing to acknowledge the root of the problem does not work, the Oslo model did not work, and the Trumpian approach will not force Palestinians to their knees.
Palestinian Americans have been demanding US government support for a century, and now there are more than 250,000 of us in the US. Our government cannot continue to ignore our demands.
The only difference between me and other young Palestinians living in Gaza, or the West Bank, or the many refugee camps, is that my family was lucky enough to rebuild their lives and start over.
For many from my village, it required a journey by foot to Jordan, and then a journey across the world to the United States.
Growing up in the post-9/11 era, we dealt with anti-Arab bigotry and Islamophobia, and waited for the day our government would change course and affirm Palestinian rights.
There is no refrain more ironic to Palestinian Americans than the taunt shouted at us growing up in this climate: “Go back to your country.”
There have been moments in which my family has felt unwelcome here, but we are forbidden by the State of Israel from returning to our village, Yalu, emptied of its residents in 1967, and still empty today.
Trump lectured Palestinians to “meet the challenges of peaceful co-existence” in his speech Tuesday. I ask, why am I still barred from returning to my family’s empty village? Why are Palestinians like my family prevented from returning to land they lived on peacefully for generations?
Palestinians do not need Jared Kushner to civilize them. What Palestinians need is respect and the ability to shape the political systems they live in. They need human rights, political rights, and civil rights.
My Palestinian American story is not unique; there are thousands of us here who want accountability from our elected officials on an issue that affects us so deeply.
Despite the heaviness the Trump-Netanyahu announcement brought, it has offered an opportunity for all Americans to reevaluate our understandings of this conflict — and, hopefully, to echo the Palestinian call for political rights and a just peace in our demands to our government.
Hanna Alshaikh is a PhD student in History and Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. She also holds an MA from the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Find her on Twitter @yalawiya.