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Note to GOP hopefuls: Not all Palestinians are terrorists

During the Feb. 25 CNN Republican debate in Texas, presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Donald Trump all passionately defended the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in their actions against the Palestinians. Rubio stated, “A deal is not a deal when you’re dealing with terrorists. Have you ever negotiated with a terrorist?”

I do not wish to add more negativity to the Republican debates, but I do wish to point out to presidential contenders and voters alike that the IDF and the people of Israel are not the only victims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thousands of innocent Palestinians have lost their lives at the hands of the IDF, and both sides live in a constant state of violence; neither has been able to live in peace.

{mosads}The history of the Israeli-American relationship must be acknowledged. Every presidential candidate, whether Republican or Democrat, now finds it politically necessary to assure Jewish communities in the United States that the security of Israel is a crux of our foreign policy. Any suggestion that Israel has committed any wrong doing in the Israel-Palestine conflict is interpreted as anti-Semitic, but suggestions that Palestinians are responsible are far too common place. American voters rarely hear about the reality in the Territories and the cost the Palestinians have been forced to bear.

It is common for Palestinian youth to be imprisoned without trial for months or even years. For example, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’TSELEM) reports that in December 2015 alone, no fewer than “422 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners,” with little established basis for their detainment. Actions of extremist Israeli settlers have led to the maiming of innocent Palestinian women and children, yet those extremists are not included among those labeled by Rubio as “terrorists”.

It has been a decade since the Israeli government withdrew from the Gaza Strip. But it was a withdrawal in name only. With the fear of continued violence, Israel unilaterally decided to place 1.8 million Palestinians under blockade and to build a wall in the West Bank, which requires Palestinians to go through lengthy security check points in order to reach relatives or go to work. The wall was built without consent of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinians, which signed the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 and recognizes the state of Israel. While the world in general and Americans in particular cannot deny Israel’s right to protect itself, but we must also accept that Palestinians have an equal right to live a secure and sustainable life in a land that was traditionally theirs.

On February 18, 2004, when I was fifteen years old, I was shot in the back —with no cause or provocation—by an Israeli soldier armed with an M-16 in my front yard in front of my father and three United Nations Observers. I was paralyzed for months and will always live in pain. However, I bear no resentment to the Israeli people, nor do I deny their right to exist. Because of my father’s commitment to peace and reconciliation and because of the incredible treatment I received from Jewish doctors in an Israeli hospital, I have managed to liberate myself from the chains of hatred. I have learned to distinguish between violent and non-violent solutions, and to never label a whole nation because of the hateful acts of a few individuals. If I had to pick a side in the Israel-Palestine debate, I would pick peace, mutual understanding, and co-existence.

We must find some way to bring lasting peace to both Israelis and Palestinians. To date, all previous efforts have failed, primarily because the parties were not committed to the principle that a workable agreement must ensure the well-being of all. When Rubio asked, “Have you ever negotiated with terrorists,” he incorrectly presumed that all Palestinians are terrorists. This is not only an insult to the Palestinian people, but a merciless generalization. It is heartbreaking that a son of Cuban immigrants, who also experienced loss of homeland and discrimination by the wider community, is either unable to empathize with the plight of others who have faced the same pain or is willing to sacrifice that empathy for political gain.

Bashir is a Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow.

Tags Donald Trump Marco Rubio Ted Cruz

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