I recently had the opportunity to meet with a group of extraordinary young Palestinians and Israelis. They had come to Washington, DC as part of a program with an organization called New Story Leadership. They shared with me their stories and their hopes of breaking down barriers and building a shared future of peace, security, and equality in their countries. I was so moved by what they had to say that I encouraged them to work together on a piece describing that vision. I encourage everyone to read it.
We are a diverse group of young Palestinians and Israelis who have come together in the United States to tell our stories as part of New Story Leadership, a leading peace building organization that focuses on developing a community of leaders and influencers across Palestine and Israel. To present a unified voice we had to overcome countless barriers, both physical, mental and social, to reach the fundamental understanding that peace, justice, security, and freedom must be enjoyed by all, or they will be enjoyed by none.
As we shared our stories with each other, we realized that despite our varied backgrounds, we share a collective sentiment: We are appalled by the situation in our region, a situation aided and abetted by the U.S. government. What you are about to read is a voice seldom heard, oftentimes targeted and frequently silenced in our region.
We live in a place where Gazan civilians live in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Its 2 million residents are repeatedly victim to bombings and airstrikes leading to the killing of 67 children in 2021 alone. Attacks have destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, critical infrastructure, and media facilities. The blockade and endless cycles of war have led to a serious infrastructure crisis fed by severe limitations on construction imports. Even as we work together to write this statement, Israel has just concluded another annual bombardment campaign in Gaza. As a group, we condemn these brutal assaults where innocent lives are taken in seconds. This recent aggression on Gaza has taken the lives of 45 Palestinians, 15 of whom are children. These civilians have no bomb shelters or other means to protect themselves when bombs are dropped.
The humanitarian crisis is dire. Children make up 47% of Gaza’s population and have never known life without the blockage and wars. There is an urgent need for mental, psychological and medical health care services for these children and their families. Only three hospitals operate in Gaza, at a mere 50% capacity. Over 90% of water in Gaza is not suitable for human consumption. Similarly, the majority of Palestinian homes in the West Bank have access to running water once a week at most, in contrast to their Israeli neighbors. Israel holds control over Palestinians’ access to water rights to the extent that they are unable to independently access the aquifer underneath their very feet.
On the other side, many Israelis live in constant fear of both rocket attacks from Gaza and attacks on civilians in residential areas as well as hostile relations with neighboring states, adding to the generational fear and trauma of recurring persecutions of Jews all over the world. As a state, Israel unequivocally focuses on its defense and security, requiring Israeli citizens to enlist in the military. Most Israelis do not learn of Palestinian culture, identity or history other than through the military or the media – almost always framing Palestinians as a security threat. Similarly, most Palestinians will meet Israelis either through the military or encounters with violent settlers.
The Iron Dome, a mechanism heavily funded by US taxpayers, has saved countless Israeli lives. But it does not protect 1 in 7 Israeli citizens living in Southern Israel that live in historic Arab Bedouin villages yet to be recognized by Israel, as they are classified as “open spaces” on the Iron Dome’s map.
Palestinians in the West Bank live under Martial Law, meaning that they are tried in military courts, not civil courts like Israeli citizens. Every Palestinian in the West Bank knows someone who was or is in administrative detention, a procedure allowing the Israeli military to incarcerate Palestinians without presenting evidence or holding a trial, often for years at a time. Furthermore, Palestinian children as young as 8 are automatically prosecuted in military courts, a practice exclusive to Israeli authorities. Many are charged with throwing rocks, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Although illegal under international law, new Israeli settlements in the West Bank continue to be built while existing settlements expand for the purpose of confiscating Palestinian lands. Thousands of Palestinian continue to be displaced as army bases and Jewish settlements are built in their place. This creates further impediments to any viable peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. While many Israeli settlers are given economic incentives to live in the West Bank, some settlements are cultivating extremism and radicalism. These sentiments are influential in the Israeli government and society.
While advocating on the Hill, we learned that discussions relating to the future of Palestinians and Israelis often do not include those who are most affected by them. We also learned that funds allocated to Israel in the billions are not sufficiently monitored. We know that weapons, handcuffs, heavy machinery and more funded by American taxpayers could be used to violate the human rights of children, women and men on a daily basis, thereby harming all of our security in the long term.
We’re committed to work together, Palestinians and Israeli’s alike, to assure that all residents of the land between the river and the sea live in equality and have the right to sovereignty, and that our histories to this day will lead into a shared future rather than a divided one.
We, nine Palestinians and Israelis who have never known peace, believe it is possible to change the story. Please help us by amplifying the voices of those who seek justice and equality, advocate for human rights and equality to your representatives, and support organizations that advocate for justice.