Washington, DC – Arab, Muslim and Palestinian rights advocates in the United States have denounced Washington’s unconditional support for Israel’s war in Gaza, decrying the “dehumanisation” of Palestinians by media outlets and politicians.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, representatives of several advocacy groups also sounded the alarm about the prospect of hate incidents against Arab and Muslim Americans.
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), slammed President Joe Biden, accusing him of failing to recognise the Palestinians’ humanity.
“You are not helping,” Awad said, speaking as if he were addressing Biden himself. “You are, in fact, giving the green light for Israel to commit a genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. You failed us as American citizens. You failed us as Palestinians. And you failed the world community.”
Biden, a self-described Zionist, has consistently voiced support for Israel. In a speech this week, the president pledged to ensure that Israel has the military needs to “defend itself”, while barely mentioning the Palestinian civilians under bombardment in Gaza.
“We call on you, Mr President, to put an end to this violence. You have the ability and power to prevent a mass crime and genocide from happening,” Awad said.
The war erupted on October 7 when the Palestinian group Hamas launched a highly coordinated attack against Israel from the besieged Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of people and taking dozens captive.
Israel responded with a bombing campaign that has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians, including more than 500 children in Gaza. Israeli authorities have also announced a total blockade on Gaza, preventing fuel and other basic supplies from entering the territory.
In addition, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israel of using white phosphorus in violation of international law, which prohibits the use of the highly incendiary munition in populated areas like Gaza, a narrow strip of land home to 2.3 million people.
Early on Friday, Israel ordered more than 1.1 million Palestinians there — nearly half of the territory’s population — to flee south within 24 hours, sparking further outrage from rights groups.
At the news conference in Washington, DC, Awad, who is Palestinian American, stressed the need to address the historical context of the conflict.
Leading rights groups, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have said Israel is imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.
“History did not start on October 7,” Awad said, referring to the Hamas attack. He called Gaza the world’s largest open-air prison, a frequent criticism among rights advocates who denounce Israel’s efforts to restrict movement to and from the territory and detain its residents.
Awad added that Palestinians have been “subjugated to all kinds of violence, discrimination, ethnic cleansing” for decades.
Awad underscored the killing of two US citizens by Israel last year — Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and elderly Palestinian American man Omar Assad — saying their lives did not matter to the US government.
“We, as Muslims and Palestinians and Americans, we believe that every human life is valuable and sacred and has to be protected,” Awad said.
For his part, Chris Habiby, director of national government affairs and advocacy at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said the US should be calling for immediate de-escalation to stop the violence.
Instead, he said, “our elected leaders are perpetuating Israeli lies, calling for a religious war and openly advocating for the destruction of the second most densely populated place on planet Earth”.
Several US politicians have called for unchecked violence against Gaza. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News earlier this week, “We’re in a religious war here. I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place.”
We’re in a religious war and I unapologetically Stand with Israel. pic.twitter.com/AQDY4ELrmJ
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 11, 2023
Habiby said that such rhetoric has led to a “culture of fear” in Arab-American communities. He cited incidents of assault against Palestine solidarity demonstrators across the country.
“In New York City, they’re waving the flag of a Jewish terrorist organisation,” he said, referring to the Jewish Defense League, an ultranationalist group suspected of carrying out violent attacks against Arab and Palestinian Americans.
“We need our elected leaders to stand up and remember the humanity of people, the humanity of Palestinians. This is not a one-sided affair here. We need to do better,” he said.
Ayah Ziyadeh, advocacy director at American Muslims for Palestine, also accused US politicians of demonising Palestinians to give Israel cover to commit its “horrendous crimes”.
“The root causes of this violence are clear. It is decades of Israeli military occupation and apartheid and US complicity,” she said.