My first name is one of those names that makes folks being introduced to me instantly ask, "Where are you from?" and New Jersey is not the answer they are looking for. They want to know where I'm from from. When I tell them I'm Palestinian, I'm met with such gems as, "Are you gonna blow me up?" "That's where they killed Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, right?" or the most often repeated, “Oh, I’m Jewish. Is that bad? Do you hate me?" Each time I'm accused of anti-Semitism at hello, I feel compelled to parade out not one token Jewish friend, but my entire lifetime collection, to prove my innocence. "Please meet Mrs. Palumbo, my 6th grade piano teacher. I’d also like to introduce you to Ashley and Cori, my Jewish bridesmaids and perhaps you know of my good friend, Adam Sandler. Reports of my anti-Semitism have been greatly exaggerated." The concept of hating someone due to their faith is completely foreign to me. Their shoes, yes; their faith, no. The number of people who assume that I, and all other Palestinians on earth, hate Jews is disturbing. Allow me to dispel this myth.
I, and the lion's share of Palestinians out there, can absolutely differentiate between Israeli policies and Judaism. We hold no ill will toward the latter. It's Israel's land grabs, collective punishment, invasions, and dehumanization that Palestinians have a beef with—not their Jewishness. The use of the word “yahood” (Arabic for Jew) as a synonym for the word “Israeli” by some Palestinians is not solid evidence of blind hatred either. It is similar to the way many in the Western media tend to use Muslim and Arab interchangeably, and just as inappropriate.
Do some Palestinians hate Jews? Sadly, yes. Do some Americans hate Muslims? You betcha! Just like their American counterparts, who think all Muslims want to kill them, there are Palestinians who think all Jews want to displace them by any means necessary. They do not differentiate between the self-proclaimed Jewish State and the non-complicit members of that faith. I have encountered Palestinians who have never met a Jewish person that was not-armed and not yelling in their face. They've never seen the other side. There are also Jews who hate all Palestinians and like to post that hate online. Then there are folks who just hate everyone, including the so-called leaders in the Arab world whose ranting is beyond Palestinians' control.
Israel is guilty of blurring the line between nationality and faith, too. They hijacked the Star of David for their flag, which was bound to cause some confusion. Right now, one of the biggest sticking points in the never-ending peace process is Israel’s insistence that Palestinians recognize it as a Jewish state. By demanding that Jews have a superior status to Palestinians and undivided control over Jerusalem, the government is absolutely fanning the flames. What would that mean for the Christians, Muslims, and other minorities living in Israel, who are already treated as second-class citizens and deprived of equal rights in issues such as housing, employment, and family reunification? Meanwhile, in the territories they continue to push non-Jewish natives off their land to make room for religiously exclusive housing. Palestinians are allowed to build the settlements on their confiscated land, but not live in them—just because they’ve accepted Jesus as their Savior or choose to pray to Mecca. Israel also reserves the right to demolish or take over any Palestinian home they please. This can make loving thy neighbor a major challenge.
Palestinians and Israelis really are neighbors by the way and not like the Alaska and Russia type; they’re like your next-door neighbor that always steals your paper neighbors. Once upon a time, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side-by-side between the river and the sea. To this day, millions still coexist. Extremists on both sides would like the world to believe otherwise, but the reality is that they absolutely do. Although they lack equality, many study together, work together, and even sleep together. A renowned ex-Palestinian prisoner married his Israeli Jewish lawyer and they are living happily ever after in Bethlehem with their four kids. One of Israel’s currently most wanted Palestinians is also married to an Israeli Jewish woman. The founders of the ISM, a Palestinian woman and Jewish man chose to make love not war; and I know many teenage girls, bored on their birthright trips, that took off to Bethlehem to find a bad boy. Apparently, instances of forbidden love became so rampant that a group of rabbis' wives in Israel launched a campaign urging Jewish girls not to run off and marry them sexy Palestinians.
Palestinians are also constantly being accused of teaching our children to hate. As if instead of reading lullabies, Palestinians read their kids Mien Kempf. I’m sure there are some horrible parents in the world who actually teach their children to be evil, little bigots. Fred Phelps comes to mind; and like Fred, Palestinians who preach hate to their kids (and the dude behind Hamas mickey mouse) are the lunatic fringe. Want to know who is teaching hate? The Israeli Army. Palestinian children from birth are exposed to violence and oppression. They are caged by checkpoints. There is little space to play and often nowhere to go on the days they are actually allowed outside. They walk to school passed soldiers with guns pointing at them, instead of crossing guards with stop signs. Nightly home invasions by the Israeli Army are routine, and seeing grandpa get pimp-slapped by a soldier tends to breed extreme dislike in children. A child who has seen their father dragged away to prison or their mother blown to pieces in front of them doesn't need a text book to fuel his or her vengeance. I am absolutely not justifying hatred, but we need to put ourselves in their rubble. Palestinians remain frustrated by the lack of condemnation by the Jewish community at large of Israelis discriminatory policies and deadly tactics. They would like to see more say, "Not in our name." When I'm asked for thoughts on Palestinians who target children, I say I condemn them the same way I condemn any one of any stripe targeting a child, be they a soldier or civilian—regardless of who they serve.
Which brings me to another fun fact: A Jew visiting the Palestinian hood is not the equivalent of committing suicide. While it’s true that the West Bank and Gaza can be dangerous, it is not the Palestinians they should fear. Israeli activists of all faiths have taken part in the Palestinian nonviolent protests along the route of the wall. They were welcomed with open arms and IDF tear gas. My mother in law treats my Jewish friends who have visited her in the refugee camp far better than she treats me. You will not get violently murdered if you are Jewish and go hang out at a bar in Ramallah. No one asks you to state your faith before you enter. You will be in no danger, as long as you don't hit on someone's girl while unarmed. If you're carrying a weapon, the assumption is that you are either a soldier or a settler, and they are not welcome. But, anyone who comes in peace or with an NGO can be our guest.
The Holy Land has become a petri dish for hate, and separating the Israelis and the Palestinians has become nearly impossible. They practically live on top of each other. The wall certainly failed to divide them. Tens of thousands of Palestinians manage to slip through it to work illegally for slave wages, and there are over a million Palestinians living inside the Green Line with Israeli passports, threatening her demographics. Let's not forget the hundreds of thousands of armed settlers squatting in gated religiously exclusive compounds, on what is supposed to be the land of the fabled future Palestinian state. Neither group is going anywhere any time soon. Forcibly separating them has not worked. But when I propose One State with equality for all between the river and the sea, regardless of faith or ethnicity, I'm instantly accused of being a Jew hater who dreams of Israel's demise and the rise of the caliphate. Since when has calling for equality become synonymous with calling for genocide? Demanding equality is not anti-Semitic, it is just. And it could prove to be Israel's most effective weapon in combatting hate.