A few weeks ago, while tabling for an event with my pro-Israel student group — Mustangs United for Israel — we were approached by a student who stopped and asked: “So, if you are pro-Israel then that means you’re anti-Palestinian?” It was an easy question to answer. In fact, it only took one word: No.
This question and others like it have become routine for me. Throughout my time in college, I have been told that because I believe in the Jewish state’s right to exist, I can’t believe in equal rights, Palestinian human rights or my rights as a woman.
Actually, I can — and I do.
It is because of my belief in honoring people’s rights regardless of religion, race or sex that I feel compelled to support Israel. As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel offers the same legal rights and protections to all of its citizens, regardless of their religion or ethnicity. The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) is hardly a homogeneous Jewish group; Muslims, Christians and Druze all serve as elected officials and in other governmental roles.
The Middle East, with the exception of Israel, is notorious for its mistreatment and discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community. In Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is punishable by death. And in these and many other Middle East countries, it is dangerous just to express support for LGBTQ+ rights and movements.
With the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip under the rule of Hamas, the Palestinian leadership also displays tremendous hostility towards LGBTQ+ rights. According to the US State Department, “the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza [are] challenging environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons,” due to societal discrimination stemming from cultural and religious traditions.
Palestinian gay men are subject to threats, intimidation and potential violence. Meanwhile, as former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren pointed out in a 2012 speech: “The same year that the US instituted Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Israel Defense Forces specifically banned all discrimination against sexual minorities.”
Ironically, many of the students who specifically question my own respect for the rights and protection of Palestinians know very little about how the government in the Palestinian territories actually treats the people who live there. Israel is painted as the “oppressor,” but consider this 2016/2017 assessment from Amnesty International:
The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and the Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip both continued to restrict freedom of expression, including by arresting and detaining critics and political opponents. They also restricted the right to peaceful assembly and used excessive force to disperse some protests. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained rife in both Gaza and the West Bank.
In February, Palestinian author Abbad Yahya was arrested for his novel Crime in Ramallah. According to the Palestinian leadership, his book was guilty of “threatening morality,” and the novel was banned. Yahya reportedly fled his home amidst death threats. According to NPR, a book club in the West Bank city of Nablus had to cancel a public discussion of the book after its members received death threats. Where are the rights for these Palestinians?
Imagine if you were not allowed to express your thoughts on current politics without fear of retribution. The International Human Rights Council recorded 41 instances of individuals being arrested, harassed or intimidated by the PA for issues relating to freedom of expression in 2015. At least a handful of those instances were due to opinions expressed on social media.
Furthermore, sexual assault and harassment, domestic violence and honor killings still remain a problem in Palestinian society. In 2014, the Washington Post, along with multiple other outlets, reported that “honor killings” of women had doubled in the Palestinian territories from 2012 to 2013. According to the United Nations, “29.9 percent of ever-married women in the West Bank and 51% in the Gaza Strip have been subjected to a form of violence within the household.” Where are the rights for these Palestinian women?
I can confidently say to my fellow students that I not only care about the rights of Palestinians, but I have actually taken the time to learn about life under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. I have studied, and understand, the complex roots of the hardships that they face. I will not pretend that Israel is a perfect country that plays no role in any problems that Palestinians encounter, but I also recognize that the true underlying root of their oppression is their own government — and that scapegoating Israel as the monolithic source of pain is inaccurate and cruel.
Moreover, I will not stand here and feel intimidated by other students who question my support for the Palestinians, and their human rights. Instead, I will educate the students at my university, because a true advocate of any cause will not rely on inaccuracies and misconceptions that are bandied about without facts or knowledge, but rather, will read, listen, study and teach.