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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

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Michigan in Color: We will not be silent

BY YAZAN KHERALLAH

Published March 22, 2014

The following narrative is the speech I was planning to give at the Central Student Government meeting on Tuesday had the legislators not decided to shut down discussion. We will not be silent.

I was blessed with the opportunity to spend my last summer in the West Bank helping organize a summer camp for children of the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem. Living under occupation, Palestinian children are forced to survive in extremely severe circumstances. The motivation for the summer camp was to provide a semblance of normalcy, a safe space in which they can learn, play and grow — away from their harsh environment, if that’s even possible.

During my time in the West Bank, I witnessed the occupation’s brutal policies. I saw the checkpoints, the segregated bus systems, the settlements, and Israeli soldiers’ terrorization of Palestinian towns and villages. I heard horrible stories of innocent family members killed and of family members that were imprisoned, tortured and taken away.

The entire time, I thought of how this impacted the kids I worked and played with daily. I thought of how those children were born into a world that has rejected them and ignored their suffering — a world that has treated them with hate and racism and stripped their childhood away from them. I asked myself: What could children ever do to deserve growing up under the circumstances of a violent military occupation? I want all of you to ask yourselves the same question.

Because when I think of the occupation’s system of racial segregation and how Palestinians must go through checkpoints to get from place to place, I think of Tasneem. Just 10-years-old, she had a rheumatism that required a medical operation that could only be performed in East Jerusalem — land that is internationally recognized to be part of the Palestinian territories. Because of checkpoints, she wasn’t allowed to cross into East Jerusalem and get the medical care she needs. If she doesn’t, she’ll never be able to walk properly again.

When I think of administrative detention, and the way Palestinians are funneled into prisons en masse without charge, without visitation rights, and without due process, I think of Israa’. When I asked the class to draw a picture of something that made them happy, she drew her family eating dinner together. She said it was the first dinner her family will have after her brother is released from prison. Because of administrative detention, Israa’ hasn’t seen her older brother in over a year and doesn’t know when she will see him again.

And when I think of violence committed by the Israeli military, I think of Mustafa Tamimi, who died after having half his face blown off by a tear gas canister shot into his face by IDF soldiers. I went to his village, Nabi Saleh, and participated in one of the weekly peaceful demonstrations they hold in protest of a nearby settlement taking their water source. I met his friends. How traumatizing the sight of his severed jaw must have been for the children who grew up with him.

The fact of the matter is, unlike what Newt Gingrich would have you believe, Palestinians are not an invented people and neither are the realities we are telling you of. The occupation has real consequences, on real people, with real lives. And our University's investments have real consequences.

So when we talk to you about military blockades, checkpoints and separation walls, I want you to think of Palestinian children. I want you to think of Israa’ and how she may never see her brother again. And of Tasneem, who may never walk properly again. And I want you to ask yourselves: What did they do to deserve the way the world has treated them?

Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail michiganincolor@umich.edu.


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