The past week has been distressingly sad, following the outrageous news coming from the United States featuring Muslims who are affected by President Donald Trump’s racist Muslim ban.
Reading about the heartbreaking stories of the ban’s victims, among them separated families, anxious students, and banned scientists, I was struck by the similarities between their plight and that of millions of Palestinians around the world.
From the seven million refugees and their descendants who were forced out of Palestine after Israel’s creation in 1948 and who are not allowed to return to their homes in Palestine (mainly because Israel destroyed their homes and replaced them with new ones for Jews who agreed to come to Israel), to the two million people in Gaza whose entire lives have been subject to a ruthless siege for the past 11 years, and the three million Palestinian hostages to an apartheid wall, checkpoints, and illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Palestinian Christians, Druze and Muslims alike, we have all been subject to something of a ban – whether a ban on returning to our homeland, a ban travelling within it, a ban on leaving it, or a ban on re-entering it.
While the bans we have suffered bear an astonishing resemblance to Trump’s ban, one major difference is that while Trump’s Muslim ban has enraged people, governments, international businesses and organisations around the world, Israel’s ongoing “Palestinian bans” enjoy the indifferent silence, complicity and, in some cases, support of the world.
Walls and racial profiling
In the midst of international uproar against Trump’s Muslim ban and his plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, enjoying unabashed backing from the US president, posted a contemptible tweet where he indirectly defended Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border by boasting about the wall he built along Israel’s southern border, which he claimed “stopped all illegal immigration”, for it – as he himself has put it – had to protect Israel’s “existence as a Jewish and democratic state” by stopping African immigrants from reaching Israel. Earlier this year, Trump defended his plan by saying: “A wall protects. All you have to do is ask Israel.”
It is rather telling that Netanyahu’s tweet caused a bigger diplomatic backlash against him than the fact that Israel continues to build the apartheid wall in the West Bank, which was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice.
More than 85 percent of the wall is actually located in the West Bank, dividing the already occupied territory into ghettos and military zones, and turning the daily lives of thousands of Palestinians into a nightmare.
Another interesting fact hasn’t received much attention: Trump is likely to use the “experience” of the Israeli security firm Magal Security Systems to identify the most suitable smart technology for his Mexico wall.
The company, which played the leading role in building the apartheid wall in the West Bank, enjoyed a 20 percent rise in the price of its shares after Trump’s victory in November.
To draw the parallel further: the White House was highly criticised this week for unrepentantly stating that a five-year-old American boy who was detained and handcuffed at an airport posed a “security risk”.
Here, I urge every American who was justly outraged by this malicious act and statement to note that US tax money goes into funding Israeli occupation, which in the year 2016 alone arrested, held, and in some cases tortured more than 500 Palestinian children, and killed 35 others.
Palestine’s only airport was built in Gaza in 1998, but was destroyed by Israel in 2001. The following year, Israel embarked on building the apartheid wall in the West Bank, and in 2006 it imposed the “Gaza ban”.
Out of diplomatic duty, the world politely criticised Israel’s walls and bans at the time, but it forgot about the victims all too quickly. Today, we Palestinians have become experienced victims of Israel’s racist walls and bans, viewing Trump’s shockingly similar policies with a fatigued eye.
We thought the ban was going to last for a few weeks, or months, at the most. Eleven years later, for many Gazans the idea of travel has become so abstract, invoking feelings of anguish at the hellish experience one has to endure in order to travel, and only for extreme necessity.
The stories of the two million people in Gaza, of whom less than a mere 7 percent were allowed to travel via Israel or Egypt combined throughout 2016 alone, barely make it to the news any more.
Over the past 11 years, Israel’s ongoing “Gaza ban” has deprived an entire generation from travelling outside of Gaza, divided thousands of families, wasted countless visas and scholarships (including six Fulbright scholars from Gaza whose scholarships were revoked by the US after Israel banned them from travelling in 2012), prevented Gaza’s Christians from celebrating Christmas and Easter in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, barred Gaza’s Muslims from travelling to Mecca for the hajj or to Jerusalem during Ramadan, and cost the lives of hundreds of patients in need of sophisticated healthcare that lies beyond the capacity of Gaza’s hospitals.
Thus, from a weary Gazan’s perspective, I expect that the world is likely to forget about the Muslim ban, like it forgot about Palestine.
The actions of Trump, Netanyahu, and other racists around the world will cause an increase in isolated communities around the world, leading to things we have never imagined could happen.
The experiment started in Gaza, spread to the seven countries banned by the US, and will likely expand to include even more countries.
I urge everyone fighting Trump’s bigotry to remember that the same policies have been implemented against the Palestinians for decades. In order for justice to truly prevail, we must target racism in all its forms across the world.
Yasmeen Elkhoudary is a Palestinian from Gaza currently based in London. She is an independent researcher specialising in Gaza’s archaeological and cultural heritage.