Forty-nine years ago, the United States Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that outlawed all forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, or sex. This law was a first step in reversing the United States' shameful history with regards to the indigenous population and the transatlantic slave-trade, as well as other minority groups. Today, a country that professes to be the only democracy in the Middle East has announced the creation of segregated bus transportation in the West Bank. As a result of complaints by Israeli settlers that Palestinians sitting next to them are a "security threat," Palestinian-only bus lines are now operating for workers commuting into Israel. What for many is both ludicrous and an outdated form of segregation is for us the reality of one of many policies Israel employs to disenfranchise Palestinians.
I am an American of Palestinian descent, raised in the United States, educated at an American university and now living and working in the West Bank. Today, I live under policies with such disregard for human rights and dignity that they rival the darkest days of the U.S. Jim Crow South. I witness and experience, on a daily basis, discrimination against an occupied population, which I help fund with my U.S. tax dollars.
As an American, I was taught that certain fundamental liberties are inalienable: freedom of speech and assembly, due process, and equal protection of the law. Despite this, Americans who hold dual-West Bank identification cards are ruled by over 1,600 Israeli military orders in the West Bank and can be arbitrarily tried in military courts for "infractions" like peaceful assembly. They can be sentenced for up to 10 years for throwing a stone at Israeli forces or settlers. Every year, more than 3.1 billion U.S. dollars in aid support this "justice" system.
While the State of Israel maintains a brutal military occupation within the 1967 borders, it simultaneously maintains targeted and deliberate policies of separate and unequal development between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of the state. This includes over 30 separate laws that discriminate against and disenfranchise Palestinian citizens. These laws facilitate the forced transfer of non-Jewish citizens in the southern Naqab (Negev) region, criminalize political expression, and provide government services to Jewish citizens above Palestinian citizens. These institutionalized forms of ethnic discrimination permeate every facet of life for Palestinians in Israel and have reduced their communities to isolated and neglected ethnic enclaves.
In 2008, President Obama campaigned under a banner of change. Four years later, it is clear that he has maintained the status quo in regards to American foreign policy with Israel and has only reinforced the U.S.'s unequivocal support for Israel and its discriminatory policies towards Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel proper, as well as diaspora Palestinians who are prevented from returning to their homeland.
The president has professed to be a supporter of human rights, yet his actions tell a different story. For the past four years, the president has encouraged a prolonged division between the West Bank and besieged Gaza in numerous ways, including funding the security apparatus of a defunct Palestinian leadership. Like his predecessors, the president has done almost nothing to stop the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, nor has he given the Palestinian people a reason to trust his commitment to a just peace.
As an American of Palestinian ancestry, I call for accountability regarding the government's use of my tax dollars to facilitate the continued dispossession and forced displacement of the Palestinian people. I call on President Obama to respect the United States' third-state responsibility to value and ensure Palestinian rights under international law. It is crucial that President Obama push Israel to respect the rights of all Americans regardless of race or ethnicity, and revise State Department policies on support for Arabs coming to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
In his 2013 inaugural speech, the president proclaimed that "our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom," and that "peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice." President Obama must heed his own call -- to advance these common principles for the Palestinian people and acknowledge that we too have rights inherent to that reality.