The invitation of Daniel Pipes to Cal Poly and the subsequent media response have roused many questions about Islam and Palestinian life.

I am a mainstream American Muslim, and as such, Pipes’ claims stand contrary to my experience on these topics.

Pipes advocates breaking the spirit of the Palestinians by making them realize that “Palestinians can’t win,” that “negotiations don’t work” and that “the Palestinians can have no more hope.” His rationale is grounded in the notion that Palestinians will never, under any conditions, accept a state of Israel and thus the only response for Israel is to break their will.

Palestinians are a defiant people. I recall watching a procession of Orthodox Christians carrying palm leaves as they made their way along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, in the heart of Jerusalem. The Palestinian Christian children bringing up the rear mocked and jeered at four Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers as they passed by. The children flicked pebbles at them, one of which struck a soldier’s boot. The soldier approached the smallest child, shouldered his rifle and held it against the 4-year-old’s head. His index finger eased inside the trigger guard of his M-16. The other boys scattered, leaving their friend alone, unflinching and defiant. Standing just 15 feet away from this event, I froze so as not to spook the teenage IDF soldier. Seconds passed like eternity until the soldier released his trigger finger.

The child stuck his tongue out and ran after his friends. This is the Palestinians’ resistance, and they will defy Israeli occupation down to the last child.

Yet this example does not mean that the Palestinians will never accept an Israeli state, as Pipes supposes. Freedom is their birthright, yet their first goal is to secure liberty, not destroy their neighbor. A truly independent and sovereign nation is the primary desire for the vast majority of Palestinians.

I visited the West Bank myself while an emergency medical officer for the International Medical Corps. I witnessed firsthand the degrading life of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. I saw the destruction of Palestinian homes and smelled the rotting corpses of Palestinian families under the rubble of Jenin.

In Nablus, I saw the remains of a bombed-out church and picked tufts of a child’s hair from the concrete debris. I visited United Nations clinics where many Palestinians died while waiting for transport to hospitals that were blocked by the IDF. I never spoke publicly of what I saw. My pictures and video were confiscated by my interrogators when I was held in an Israeli holding cell and told that I would never see my family again. I came to appreciate the level of distrust and anger that can develop.

Even with these traumatic experiences, I never generalized these circumstances to be the fault of all Israelis, let alone all Jews.

Israelis, too, have suffered.

I did not visit the hospital beds of the victims of suicide bombers, nor Israelis who had lost loved ones. They, too, are victims of violence and desire peace and safety. My time in relief work has shaped my appreciation of the Jewish community as a whole. In the course of these experiences, the greatest charity that I have ever witnessed has been from Jewish hands to underserved Muslims.

Criticism of the occupation does not come out of disdain for the people of Israel or their religion.


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