A prayer has recently resounded in the streets of Gaza. “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar” chanted crowds of Palestinians. The phrase “Allahu akbar” is neither a threat, nor a curse, nor a cause for fear, as so many Americans assume. These are sacred words, spoken by Muslims as well as Christians. They mean “God is great”.
In large, in the open air celebrations, Palestinians shouted “God is great” to thank for surviving 11 days of Israeli bombing. Mothers squeezed their children. The young people were screaming and screaming. An older sister made the baby dance. A father marched through the streets with his child on his shoulders. The relief was real, but this ceasefire is not a ceasefire.
Yes, the Israeli assault on Gaza has ended and Hamas has stopped its volley of rockets. The political importance is undeniable; any Palestinian will tell you. But they will also tell you that the Israeli military occupation of Palestine continues. Bullets are still flying at Palestinians, along with tear gas canisters, percussion grenades and billy clubs. Even with a ceasefire in place, life for Palestinians under Israeli military occupation is brutal. I know it because I have lived it.
From 2007 to 2010, I worked in the small Palestinian village of At-Tuwani. Located near the southern tip of the West Bank, it is a quiet and beautiful place where poppies bloom in spring, gazelles linked above the hills and ancient olive trees stand guard like ancestors. The people of At-Tuwani love their homes and adore visitors; an army of men, women and children stand ready to shake hands with guests, serve mint tea and serve bread, yogurt, olives and more. Living in At-Tuwani has been a pleasure and an honor. It was also the most difficult thing I have ever done, because the Israeli military occupation never ends.
The residents of At-Tuwani live under the constant threat of violence from Israeli soldiers and right-wing Israeli settlers. During my stay there, I witnessed Palestinian schoolchildren attacked by adult Israeli settlers, not once, but regularly. I stood alongside Palestinian and Israeli activists in nonviolent protests to which Israeli soldiers responded with brutal blows. My dear friend was tortured by Israeli soldiers for four hours, doing nothing more than grazing his sheep. Acts of violence, large and small, accumulated and added to a system Israeli human rights organizations called apartheid.
In the years that followed, I kept in touch with my friends in the village and saw the children I played with grow into adults. My neighbor, Sami Huraini, has a beard now, but I still remember the day he used the occasion of a minor car accident as an excuse to empty our first aid kit, wrapping his unharmed head in gauze and demanding that we were taking pictures. He now organizes non-violent protests with Israeli peace activists and international visitors from around the world. For this work, he said he was targeted by the IDF, arrested, sentenced to heavy fines and banned from new demonstrations. Recently, Huraini says Israeli settlers set a cave on fire where he held meetings with young activists.
In Huraini’s eyes, I still see the teenager I knew. I try to come to terms with the fact that becoming an adult means that he will now have to face the full weight of the Israeli occupation. What hurts is that I always knew that was what was going to happen.
The violence that Huraini, his family and friends face on a daily basis in At-Tuwani is very similar to that in which the Palestinians are trying to survive. the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, where Israel recently started a crackdown. Even after the ceasefire, attacks on Sheikh Jarrah continue. This is the nature of military occupation. No peace can come until it ends.
There is one way to strengthen the ceasefire and turn it into a meaningful momentum for peace: the United States could stop selling arms to Israel. With the support of Jewish Voice for Peace, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, along with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Mark Pocan, propose a joint resolution to block the sale of $ 735 million in arms to Israel. It’s historic; Congress had never tried to stop selling arms to Israel.
This is an encouraging step, but the future of the resolution is far from certain. In Ohio, Representative Joyce Beatty and Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown did not express their position on the issue, and a request for comment from Living was not immediately fired by their offices. Constituents who support peace and justice would do well to make their views known on this issue.
In 2020, the United States government donated $ 3.8 billion in aid to Israel, most in the form of military assistance. President Joe Biden Said He Prayed that the cease-fire will hold. I join him in this prayer. But for our prayers to be meaningful, we must act on them. Allahu Akbar.