I am a Palestinian millennial, part of a generation that has only known occupation. It is a brutal reality that penetrates every aspect of our lives. As a people, we seek what all humans seek – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet in 2017, we still find ourselves having to prove that we deserve to be free. We wonder how “inalienable” this right to freedom really is.
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This week, we Palestinians mark the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands in 1967. It is a tragedy in a national history full of tragedies from the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to the Nakba of 1948.To allow the occupation to continue for another day, let alone another half century, would be an affront to humanity.
That is why I’m reaching out to Israelis, especially those of my generation, to ask: what kind of future do you want to build? A future built on the values of equality, peace and justice, or one that perpetuates discrimination, hatred and the oppression of a people?
Our generation of Palestinians was forged in an era of a “peace process", two intifadas and broken promises. For decades, the Israeli government behaved with impunity, and for decades the international community failed to hold Israel to account. The message sent by the world’s inaction has not been lost on us. Our lack of confidence in the natural victory of justice and our perpetual cynicism is a product of our experience. This also has internal implications; where we feel it is imperative to get the Palestinian house in order and revive our national movement to become more representative and better equipped to defend Palestinian rights.
The occupation denies us any sense of normalcy or dignity. We are shaped by our experiences as children standing at a checkpoint and not fully comprehending why a soldier with a gun won’t let us pass; and to learn later in life that it was simply because we were Palestinian.
This reality casts a cloud of darkness over our hope for the future. It sows deep frustration that can sometimes lead to desperate actions on the fringes of society, which should not be condoned.
But most of the time it is met with resilience and the triumph of the human spirit. Our start-ups are among the best in the region; our art, literature and dance are critically acclaimed; fine, proud Palestinian Olympians have come from our ranks; and we have great minds that are products of institutions that range from Bir Zeit University to Harvard.
We are deeply rooted in our Palestinian nationality and identity but we are also global citizens in this interconnected world, and we will not accept anything less than the best of what the world has to offer.
We have exceled in spite of the occupation. But we face a 40% youth unemployment rate due to the harsh economic restrictions imposed by Israel. If you truly want to create an environment conducive for peace, then end the occupation, and allow Palestinians to exercise their rights.
The current right-wing Israeli government has no interest in doing either. It does not represent the future, but is enslaved to a past that speaks the language of control, discrimination and subjugation.
Israelis have a choice to make. They can choose to do nothing and remain complicit in this grave injustice. Or they can choose to stand on the right side of history by holding their elected officials accountable.
How much longer will you allow children to be jailed? How much longer will you tolerate 1.8 million people in Gaza living in an open-air prison? Is it right for villagers to be displaced by those who claim to be “divinely chosen” to take their land?
How much longer will children in East Jerusalem fear bulldozers demolishing their homes? How many generations of refugees will you exclude from justice? At what point do Palestinian lives matter?
As you seek to become a widely accepted member of the community of states, we seek to become a free and independent member of that community. The former is contingent on the latter. The occupation will continue to stain any legacy you try to build.
For Palestinians, this conflict is deeply personal and our struggle for freedom will continue. We will either exercise our right to statehood or we will seek equal rights and citizenship for all. I can assure you, we will never accept anything less. We will continue to exist. We will persist.
As we reach this historic marker, let us end this injustice.
Salem Barahmeh is a Visiting Fellow at the US Middle East Project and an international affairs advisor in Palestine. Follow him on Twitter: @Barahmeh