VOICES: Gaza violence putting both Arab- and Jewish-American communities in harm’s way

Credit: Justin Spivey

Credit: Justin Spivey

Salam, Shalom, Grace, and Peace,

I am tired of grieving, aren’t you? As we enter the fifth week of the war between Israel and the Palestine, reports are estimating over 10,000 innocent civilians have been killed so far, including over 3,000 children. Babies, children, elderly, women, and men have lost their lives or are missing.

There are things absolutely necessary to happen immediately:

1) End the collective punishment of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip,

2) Release all captured civilians from both sides,

3) Allow unrestricted humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip,

4) End the bombing of health and religious institutions,

5) Question the status quo of “tit for tat,”

6) Push for better living conditions for the Palestinians, and

7) Support a long-lasting and just peace between the two peoples.

Friends, I’ve lived under occupation in Lebanon. Many of my neighbors and friends were Palestinian. Growing up in a country at war with Israel, bombs and bullets hit our home repeatedly, which then stood abandoned for over 10 years. My parents both passed away without ever returning home. Many Lebanese were able to go back and rebuild, but I’m well aware that millions of Palestinians cannot. They live as stateless people, many of them in refugee camps in the land of their ancestors or in other neighboring countries — close but still so very far away. It’s time to believe they deserve better, that their children deserve a place to call home.

There have been many solutions offered, many paths suggested. Some of them are violent, some terribly naive, some far from sincere. Given the magnitude of this ongoing tragedy, and the need to prevent further and quite possibly irreparable damage to the prospects for a just peace, I am personally choosing the path of respectful and civilized dialogue.

I have faith we can overcome our differences for the sake of preserving our common humanity. The Palestinian people and yes, Israelis as well, have been presented with challenges and daily violence for the last 75 years — both physically and mentally. It has to stop. Our responses require breaking the artificial barriers that have been installed to dehumanize and demonize most of the Palestinian population under the pretext of safety and security for Israel. They also require Palestinians and their supporters to envision a truth and reconciliation effort similar to the one in South Africa.

The violence in Gaza is spilling over locally and is straining our day-to-day lives. Coupled with the false narrative that is being spread by the news media and politicians alike, the violence is putting both the Arab American and Jewish American communities in harm’s way. The results have been devastating: the brutal killing of a six-year-old Arab American child stabbed to death in Chicago; students afraid to go to school; the Masjids and Synagogues fortifying themselves with private security personnel; a beloved Detroit rabbi killed in front of her home in what is feared to be an anti-Semitic attack, and many similar incidents against pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli supporters.

These events highlight how crucial it is to find a nonviolent solution to this crisis … a solution that will pave a path forward for better understanding and a long-lasting peace for the sake of our children and grandchildren in Dayton, Palestine, and Israel. I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on and embrace this change. It is time to stand against violence.

So I’m asking for your help. I believe we need to be setting up a community dialogue dedicated to addressing this difficult topic. We need to plan community gatherings to celebrate our rich cultures; adopting nonviolent strategies; hold candlelight vigils for peace and designate safe space zones to meet.

Friends, finally, those who know me well know that I can’t pretend to be neutral in this ongoing conflict. Palestinians and Israelis have both been victims, that is absolutely true, but the extent of the suffering has been anything but equivalent. Palestinians have endured by far the harsher treatment since 1948. I have spent decades trying to lift up this injustice in our community and will continue to do so. But we’ve reached a saturation point. This level of violence and hate must stop. I will gladly work with anyone who is willing to look at the situation with fresh eyes. I pledge to do so myself.

Youssef A Elzein, PE is a local civil engineer and an Arab American Community Activist.