Open Letter to Akiva Tor from an Educated Palestinian American – Dina Omar
Published as a response to Akiva Tor’s article in ZEEK, May 20, 2010
“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
~James A. Baldwin
Dear Consul General Tor:
Your response to Moshe Yaroni’s essay about the Berkeley divestment discussion is manipulative and threatening. It repeats many distortions that have been thoroughly refuted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UC Berkeley. Worst of all, however, it relies on a paradigm of separation and division in which Jews and Arabs are eternally afraid and suspicious of one another. You say that anti-Semitic statements were made at two of the three senate meetings, which called into question weather or not UC Berkeley should divest from United Technologies and General Electric. Such companies manufacture F-16 jets and Apache helicopters—weapons sold to the Israeli military and used against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
You ignore the fact that those alleged remarks, were vigorously denounced by those of us who spoke in favor of the bill. You wrongfully assume that “these were the opinions and feelings of American Palestinians educated at a great Western university,” and that those who gathered outside the senate meeting were “Muslim.” Yet there were a half- dozen clergy members present and over a hundred people who were neither Muslim nor Arab. Such assumptions, which form the basis of your perceptions, are extremely ignorant. When coupled with your power as the Israeli Consul General, those assumptions are preventing you from seeing me, an educated Palestinian American woman, as an equal human being who deserves justice and peace.
Your insistence that divestment is “against the peace process” would be laughable if it wasn’t reckless. When one says that Palestinians are against the “peace process” what they do not understand is that the “peace process” is against the Palestinians. The Israeli peace process relegates Palestinians to the sidelines of history and tells us to shut up and lie down for bulldozers to run over us—say nothing except cry like civilized people for journalists to take pictures and tell a story. Palestinians don’t just want peace; they want a just peace, a peace that recognizes that they are equal to Israelis and Jews. This is what divestment strives to achieve, this is why I supported UC Berkeley’s divestment from Israeli war crimes and the companies that benefit from them.
Moreover, your statements egregiously misplace responsibility, as Israel’s occupation and violence against the Palestinians has left little of the peace process to salvage. It is not divestment that is against peace; it is the 500 mile wall caging civilians in occupied Palestine, it is limited mobility with hundreds of checkpoints and the seizing of Palestinian farmland and water resources. The siege of Gaza is against peace. The indiscriminate killing of civilians in Operation “Cast Lead”—over 400 of them children—along with the targeting of civilian infrastructure like UN schools, universities and hospitals is against peace. Collective punishment, home demolitions, torture in Israeli prisons, illegal settlements in the West Bank, settlers throwing buckets of urine at Palestinians in Hebron’s old city— these are all against peace.
Your version of the “peace process” is against me and my humanity. While you and other representatives of your government talk about “peace” and “negotiations,” your actions and policies require Palestinians to surrender any semblance of human dignity. They must accept being imprisoned, threatened, treated like cattle, humiliated and ignored. When we participate in that kind of “peace process” we are participating in our own suicide.
You stated that you cannot be blind to the “blatant hatred expressed against your own people, right before your eyes” that you say renders our “devotion to victims ten thousand miles away… suspect.” The abstract and over sensationalized fear of Jewish students on campus becomes suspect when I have endured racism, hatred and erasure every single day of my life, born and raised in a society that does not recognize Palestinian personhood. It is hard to ignore your silence about very clear acts of violence committed against Palestinian students on campus; about a society that vilifies brilliant thinkers such as the late Palestinian scholar Edward W. Said, when Zionist American high school students claim that Palestinian names should not appear on Advanced Placement exams because it offends them. What in a name could be so offensive? Or so frightening? Being Palestinian in America is watching white phosphorous eat away at the skin of Palestinian girls on TV and still only hearing about the need for Israeli security.
Please tell me, Mr. Tor, what does white phosphorous eating away at a baby do for Israeli security?
Being Palestinian is seeing graffiti that says “we rape all Arab women” on an alley wall in Hebron. Being Palestinian is feeling physically afraid when you see Israeli Occupation Forces wear t-shirts with an image of a pregnant Palestinian woman on the front with a rifle target surrounding the image, the caption saying, “one bullet, two kills.”
The blatant hatred expressed toward “my people” is my every day experience.
But I refuse to engage in the victimhood game. It is not a competition to be the most hated or most victimized. That game is manipulative and implies one person can claim a monopoly over victimhood, as if Indigenous Native Americans, Jews, Armenians, Blacks, and other peoples have never endured what the Palestinians and those in solidarity endure today. I will not engage in that game because it is both dehumanizing and humiliating to publicly display my stories and scars and the stories of Palestinians undergoing unspeakable acts of violence.
I will especially not display these stories and scars to people like yourself who justify our wounds and manipulate the truth, who exploit your power to threaten us into silence. I will not play that game because it does not matter how egregious, violent, horrific or brutal the experiences of the Palestinians and those in solidarity endure at the hands of Zionists and the Israeli Occupation Forces—people like yourself will still call anyone who speaks the truth, criticizing Israeli aggression, a “Jew hater” or an anti-Semite to bully them into silence.
I wonder if you think about what it feels like to be called an anti-Semite when some of my closest friends, people I consider family, people who are part of the SJP divestment campaign and the BDS movement as a whole, are Jews and Israelis themselves. These Jews and Israelis, whose lives I care for as dearly as my own—they are “my people.” Therefore Mr. Tor, with all due respect, when you say “your own people,” we in Students for Justice in Palestine, and me in particular as an educated Palestinian American, refuse to subscribe to such binaries. In my world there is no “your people” and “my people”—we are the same people disposed and exiled, and as so long as you and everyone else who thinks their “own people” are exceptional or more deserving of human dignity and respect than “other people”—you will always be met with opposition, not just by educated Palestinian Americans, but by compassionate people everywhere who refuse to see the world through an “us” vs. “them” binary.
Dina Omar recently graduated from UC Berkeley; she is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. Dina also organizes in the Palestine Youth Network and will be starting her graduate studies in Anthropology at Columbia University in September.