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Frustration and concern rise in Arab-American communities amid Gaza war | Israeli-Palestinian conflict News


Washington DC – Civil rights advocates in the United States have warned that dehumanizing rhetoric about the war between Israel and Hamas could translate into attacks on Palestinian, Arab and Muslim American communities at home.

Those fears appeared to have materialized in the most heinous way when a six-year-old Palestinian-American child was stabbed to death Saturday in an alleged hate crime near Chicago.

While President Joe Biden has strongly condemned bigotry “in all its forms” since the start of the war, Arab advocates say his administration’s approach to the conflict is fueling hatred against their communities.

Addressing the current climate, Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute think tank, denounced efforts to demonize support for Palestinian rights.

“We had a press secretary at the podium, behind the presidential seal at the White House, and said that human rights advocacy – calling for a ceasefire, recognizing the victims Palestinian women – was ‘disgusting,'” Berry told Al Jazeera. .

This incident occurred on October 10, when White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about statements by progressive lawmakers calling for a ceasefire. The journalist who asked the question claimed that some of these lawmakers equated Israel’s actions with those of the Palestinian group Hamas.

“I saw some of these statements this weekend, and we will continue to be very clear,” Jean-Pierre responded. “We think they are wrong, we think they are disgusting and we think they are shameful.”

The conflict erupted on October 7 when Hamas launched a highly coordinated attack on Israel from the besieged Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,300 people and taking dozens prisoner.

Israel responded with a declaration of war and an ongoing bombing campaign that has killed at least 3,785 Palestinians, including hundreds of children in Gaza.

Defaming rights defenders

As the war rages, activists say communities that support the Palestinian cause are at their wits’ end as U.S. officials and media advance a narrative that confuses defense of Palestinian human rights with support for the attack of Hamas.

Last week, New York Governor Kathy Hochul was asked about her message to members of the state’s Palestinian community “who fear for their civilian loved ones” in Gaza. She responded by calling on “law-abiding Palestinians to reject Hamas,” without mentioning violence against Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, District Attorney Brooke Jenkins on Saturday called a peaceful protest in Gaza a “pro-Hamas rally” in a now-deleted social media post.

Subsequently, in a statement to Al Jazeera, Jenkins said she deleted the post after listening to the concerns of the Arab and Muslim community. She cited graffiti reading “Death 2 Israel” that was sprayed in downtown San Francisco the same day as the march.

“We must recognize that our Arab, Muslim and Jewish communities are suffering because of the loss of innocent lives and are afraid of what might come next. No form of hatred will be tolerated in San Francisco,” Jenkins said.

Palestinian rights advocates fear the backlash they face will be amplified by calls for uncontrolled violence in Gaza, particularly from the political right.

For example, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said earlier this week: “As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce back the rubble of Gaza.” » Another senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, described the conflict as a “religious war” – one in which he sided with Israel.

“Do whatever it takes to defend yourself,” he said of Israeli attacks on Gaza. “Level the place.”

A story of violence

Defenders say political commentary in the United States overlooks a long history of violence against the Palestinian people.

Berry highlighted the plight of the Palestinians, from the mass displacement of 1948 to the occupation of their territories in 1967, including the siege of Gaza over the past 16 years.

Leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have also accused Israel of imposing apartheid on the Palestinians.

“What it all boils down to is, ‘You’re defending positions consistent with the Nazis and ISIS,'” Berry said. “With this, I fear our fellow Americans will be told to fear us or attack us. This constitutes a moral failure of public discourse.”

That fear crystallized when six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian American child, was stabbed 26 times by his family’s landlord on Saturday.

Local authorities said the suspect attacked Al-Fayoume and his mother, who was injured, “because they were Muslims and because of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East involving Hamas and the Israelis.”

Palestinian communities across the country were shaken by the news.

“Whenever there is hysteria that dehumanizes a people, we should not be surprised that this kind of thing happens,” Palestinian-American analyst Yousef Munayyer told Al Jazeera after the attack.

Oday Al-Fayoume, the father of Wadea Al-Fayoume, attends a vigil for Wadea Al-Fayoume in Plainfield, Illinois, October 17, 2023 (Jim Vondruska/Reuters)

Biden’s response

President Biden was quick to condemn the alleged hate crime. “This horrific act of hatred has no place in America and goes against our core values: to be unafraid about how we pray, what we believe and who we are,” he said. he declared in a press release.

“As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred. »

But Berry said condemning religious bigotry is not enough. She added that the Biden administration has failed to approach the conflict with the “simple” principle that the killing of civilians must be condemned, regardless of who commits it.

“Their failure to do so – their failure to recognize the suffering of Palestinians – has diminished our voices speaking out to marginalized people who must be condemned or, at best, sidelined,” she said.

“That’s why standing up for religious freedom is safer for those who don’t want to talk about anti-Arab bigotry and the history of exclusion my community has faced because of our support for Palestinian human rights. »

For his part, Abed Ayoub, executive director of the American-Arab Committee Against Discrimination (ADC), said Biden’s statement came too late.

“The administration has been warned repeatedly that there will be an increase in hate crimes that could lead to violent crimes against our community in the United States,” Ayoub said.

“And they continued their misinformation. And they continued to ignore the Palestinians from our perspective and erase our narrative from public discourse.

Last week, Biden falsely claimed to have seen footage proving Hamas was “beheading children,” sparking an outcry among Arab-American advocates.

“Tensions are high”

Mariam Charara, executive director of the Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL), an advocacy group based in Dearborn, Michigan, said there was growing frustration among Arab Americans as the conflict continued. .

“Tensions are high. Emotions are also high,” Charara told Al Jazeera. “And that’s unfortunate, because some of them are also losing hope about how the system works.”

Dearborn, a Detroit suburb that is home to a large Arab community, has been the target of a flood of bigoted comments online about rallies for Palestinian rights.

A man from a nearby town was arrested last week for making threats on social media against Palestinian Americans in the suburb.

Munayyer, the analyst, said that while Arab Americans worry about their security, they also “feel an urgent need, particularly within the Palestinian community, to speak on behalf of the Palestinians in Gaza — who are at greatest risk in this very serious situation. dangerous moment.”

Ayoub also said Arab Americans are not deterred by attempts to silence them.

“We are a strong community; we are an organized community. We are a community that has resources and skills,” he told Al Jazeera. “So we will fight back. We will fight back. We are not going to accept this without doing anything. »

Usaid Siddiqui contributed to this report.




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