Criminalizing Palestinian identity in the U.S. Young people challenge policies that silence their mouths

Over the past nine months, U.S. national and local authorities have waged an intense campaign to suppress Palestinian activism and criminalize any expression of Palestinian identity. This campaign of repression extends to all aspects of life, from politics and business to civil society, higher education, and culture.

The campaign has manifested itself in many forms: security forces cracking down on peaceful protests, levying sweeping accusations of anti-Semitism against demonstrators, and even vitriolic descriptions of some public figures wearing Palestinian headscarves and using the term “intifada” as a gesture to “wipe Israel off the map.”

This frenzied quest to erase Palestinian identity reveals the desire of Israel and its American allies to erase Palestinians from the pages of history. As Palestinians confront racist attacks from the United States and Israel, they simultaneously force a serious debate about the historical roots and settler colonial philosophy of Israel and the Zionist movement it spawned. Israel and Zionism collapse in the face of systematic scrutiny of their foundations and practices.

Perhaps the most prominent attempt to silence Palestinian voices is evident in the case of prominent Palestinian lawyer and legal researcher Rabih Ighbaria. In November, the Harvard Law Review took the unprecedented step of banning an article commissioned by Ighbaria in which he used the Nakba as a legal framework for understanding the Palestinian question. The article was removed after it had been edited, reviewed, and approved by the journal’s editorial board.

After the incident, the editor of Columbia Law Review contacted Igbaria and assigned him to write another article about Palestine. After five months of hard work and intense editing, the magazine published the article entitled “The Shoah as a Legal Concept”. However, the fierce reaction did not last long. The magazine website was shut down, and the editors were under great pressure to delete the text, and even threatened to stop all work on the magazine.

The fate of Agbalia’s articles in two of the most prestigious American legal journals clearly embodies the bitter conflict between those who seek to perpetuate the Israeli narrative and those who insist that the voice of Palestinian truth be heard.

When Igbaria was asked about the substance of his case, he spoke in depth about the colonial dimension created by Israel, the Nakba, and the ongoing Palestinian rights struggle, saying: “The disappearance of Palestinian existence is not just a transient event, but an unimaginable structural and material reality that has manifested itself in our systematic displacement, expulsion, and replacement since the Nakba. My article seeks to dismantle the legal structures that emerged from the Nakba, which treat Palestinians as a separate group to be governed separately.

On a hopeful note, Agbalia added: “Attempts at censorship and repression are being met with a wave of protest and resistance. Legal cases, popular protests and other actions are taking place to protect Palestinians in the face of the unprecedented carnage we are witnessing. “The Palestinian people are increasingly aware of the lies of the counter-propaganda, exposing the colonial hierarchy that has been rooted in the post-World War II global legal order.”

Abdullah Fayyad, who recently moved from the Boston Globe editorial board to Vox as a political reporter, noted that the multiple tools used to oppress Palestinians in the United States and abroad should be called “anti-Palestinian racism.”

Fayyad added: “Like all forms of racism, it uses the power of institutions and the state against individuals and groups with the aim of suppressing Palestinian expression of their identity and rights. However, this hatred directed against Palestinians and their allies is not just a political threat, it is also a political threat.” While “Palestinians and their supporters continue to resist false and biased accusations,” public opinion is beginning to see the truth.

In a recent article, Fayyad stressed that this phenomenon predates the Gaza war, as for decades Palestinians and their supporters around the world have faced severe consequences for supporting just Palestinian causes, including workplace retaliation, strict government surveillance, and heinous hate crimes.

Institutionalized anti-Palestinian racism is evident in many contexts, including government surveillance of Palestinians and organizations supporting them, and recent crackdowns by institutions such as universities on pro-Palestinian protests, including preventing speakers from speaking at student graduation ceremonies.

Mustafa Bayoumi, a professor at Brooklyn College, believes that the impact of anti-Palestinian sentiment transcends the borders of Palestinian society and the Palestinian issue in the U.S. He wrote in a recent article in The Guardian that anti-Palestinianism has been fueling institutional Islamophobia in the U.S. for decades, and that since 1967, U.S. authorities have actively monitored and suppressed any pro-Palestinian Arab American organizations.

The current crackdown on pro-Palestinian voices and activism is the culmination of these ongoing historic efforts. Surprisingly, the U.S. role in this regard mirrors what the world witnessed a century ago, when imperialist Britain supported the Zionist movement and helped it gain control over all of Palestine, which resulted in the lack of a genuine Palestinian Arab majority.

In 1917, the British government issued the ill-fated Balfour Declaration, pledging support for the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, a population then 93 percent Palestinian Arab. In 1920, the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over Palestine, giving it much freedom to shape society as it pleased, regardless of the rights of the vast majority of Palestinians.

The United States today seems to be following in the footsteps of the British imperialist West, ignoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, supporting Israel’s genocidal policies against the Palestinian people, and even protecting Palestinians in international diplomatic forums, and colluding with them to criminalize and silence the voices of Palestinian freedom.

However, just as British imperial support for Zionism faced stubborn resistance in the last century, today American support faces unprecedented resistance from the Palestinians and their American and international allies. This includes public protests, media and academic articles by prominent scholars, legal challenges at the national and international levels, and vocal alliances of solidarity with marginalized groups in American society, including Blacks, Latinos, progressive Jews, Indigenous peoples, students, and other sectors of society.

The widespread mobilization in the United States against anti-Palestinian racism and oppression has now become one of the main drivers of the global movement in solidarity with Palestine and its grieving people.

As Bayoumi wisely writes, “Young Muslim and Jewish Americans at the forefront of today’s protest movements must put Palestinian rights back at the center of the fight to defeat Islamophobia… Why? Liberating America from anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish bigotry necessarily requires liberating the Palestinian people from the yoke of oppression. This is not just a coincidence but a profound lesson in how to overcome oppression and injustice around the world.”

The views expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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