This piece is one of a series of pieces commissioned from leaders to speak to their feelings about Israel at 70. You will find the others here.
As a Palestinian woman, a feminist, and a citizen of the Israeli state, I would like to tell the Jewish community that I see and respect your commitment to the foundation of Israel. And yet, as I write these words, two million people in Gaza are hungry. Over one million children are locked inside a tiny strip of land under a brutal siege. There they risk their lives trying bravely to break through the fence for just a taste of freedom.
During Passover, your festival of freedom, three million Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank waited for dawn to break and for the checkpoints that rule their movements to open again. Second class citizens, they waited for the opportunity to stand in line with thousands of other Palestinians under the watchful eye of armed soldiers, hoping to enter into Israel and build settlements on land that was expropriated and conquered from their ancestors seventy years ago.
As you compose your felicitations to Israel on its birthday, I want you to ask the hard, painful questions about the human beings you might not see when you visit Israel. I want you to ask about me, the Palestinian woman living in Israeli society, the woman who respects the rule of law, who works hard to pay taxes, and yet who does not have the same rights Jewish women have.
Why? Why can’t I choose my intimate partner as a Jewish woman does? Why can’t I give my citizenship to my children? Just because they were born to a Palestinian couple? On Israel’s 70th anniversary, I want you to ask why an Arab family can’t rent or buy a house in a Jewish neighborhood, but you, a young woman from America, you are welcome in my land.
My dear American Jews, I want you to know that one million Palestinians inside Israel will not give up the perpetual, exhausting nonviolent struggle for life, for equality, and for justices for us all. It is now a struggle that includes Jewish partners — and can include you, too.
On Israel’s 70th anniversary, I want the whole world to know that my people, the Palestinian people, are still alive, still struggling for freedom, still moving from one refugee camp to another, still looking for safe harbor. After 70 years, most of us still dream of coming back home.
Do not all people have the right to self-determination? Jews of all people know the yearning for a homeland.
From the current Israeli state, I don’t have high expectations. I learned from many disappointments that the systematic denial led and fed by the government, the politicians, the religious leaders and the mainstream media is a very effective tool to keep the situation as it is.
But I do have expectations from the Jewish people and from the outside world, especially from Israel’s supporters in the U.S. I need them to know, to feel, and to dare to reveal the truth of the Palestinian people who paid the highest price for a German genocide they didn’t commit.
Please join us in our struggle for freedom and equality. As American Jews, this is your destiny.
Samah Salaime is a Palestinian feminist activist and a member of Wahat al Salam Neve Shalom, a shared Palestinian Jewish village.