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May 14, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, marks an important and historic day, but what is it? Is it the first day of the Muslim holy month, Ramadan? Yes. Is it the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba? Yes. It’s also the day after the U.S. will officially relocate its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, newly minted by the Trump Administration as the “capital” of Israel.

Is it a coincidence that these things are all occurring at the same time? Probably not.

We often take for granted that which we have around us, and for many Muslims like myself, this month serves as a reminder to be appreciative; a reminder to give thanks for the things we’re blessed with. For me, those things are my loved ones, my health, and that first sunset sip of water after a long day of fasting. But Ramadan is also a time for reflection, a chance to take stock and recalibrate. In honor of that, and in honor of tomorrow, allow me to reflect on the situation in Palestine and the “kick them while they’re down” attitude that’s been carelessly exhibited by this administration, against the Palestinian people.

The plight of the Palestinian people has raged on for more than 70 years but May 14, 1948, marked the day that officially established the Israeli state, the day regarded by the Palestinian people as the start of al-Nakba (“the catastrophe” in Arabic), the day that led to the expulsion of nearly 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, and the day that barred them AND their future descendants from ever returning.

Things have gotten better since then, right? Wrong.

Since that day, literal walls have been built (sound familiar?) and blockades have been established. The occupation of Palestine and support for that occupation has only grown, as settlements have been strewn about like a child playing “Monopoly” for the first time. Israel is continually tightening its big, grey concrete grip around those who are left within its confines.

Palestinians have been stripped of everything: from their land to their resources, from their dignity to their humanity. All too often, people are so consumed with the idea that this has to be a political issue that it becomes too easy to turn a blind eye and ignore the human rights abuses and violations that have been carried out against Palestinians for ages. Palestinians are people, too. Why is that so hard to understand?

Ahead of the May 15 anniversary, Palestinians existing in Gaza started The Great March of Return– a peaceful opposition to 70 years of oppression and denial of basic human rights. Home to almost 2 million Palestinians (1.2 million of whom were displaced during the Nakba), Gaza is one of the few places on Earth where your identity is your wrongdoing. Imagine being in a place where, at 10 years old, you’ve already endured through three wars. A place where the sounds of blasts and the smell of tear gas are reminiscent of what you call home. A place that the UN deems will be uninhabitable in just two years. After 70 years, the ability to organize and protest are just two of the few things the Palestinians have left – and for the past six weeks, they’ve doing both with integrity and purpose; standing proud and peacefully standing up for their rights.

Since March 30, 2018, more than 40 protesters have been killed and thousands more have been injured. Palestinians have been met with deliberate and excessive force by Israeli soldiers, for simply being, as the world stands by and idly watches. Gaza is in crisis and years of blockade have rendered the city a jail and its people, prisoners. Its health sector is struggling to cope with the increase in demands from these recent deaths and injuries, and lack of fuel and electricity have left essential services unable to function.

At this critical time, ActionAid is working with communities in Gaza to secure fuel for the operation of water pumps, sewage drains, and hospitals.

In Jerusalem, a different crisis unfolds. The U.S. Embassy move comes at a clearly strategic and most inopportune time. What better way to prove a complete disregard for people, then to rub salt in their wounds? It’s been two years since I traveled to the region with ActionAid and set my feet on Palestinian soil. My mind takes me back to walking the narrow and bustling, stony streets of the Old City and entering the Aqsa Mosque after proving my “worthiness” to the Israeli soldier manning the gate, of course. Looking back now, I can’t help but think of what it means to take something away from the people who already have nothing, and hand it over to their oppressor.

So, what’s the solution? Well, I can start by saying this with confidence – Kushner sure doesn’t have it but maybe it’s time the world opens its eyes to the humanity of the oppressed. At ActionAid’s core is ensuring that all people have the right to a life of dignity and freedom from all forms of oppression. With two offices in the West Bank and Gaza, our work has never been more important. We will continue to address and challenge government policies and power imbalances that deny Palestinians their basic human rights, and stand alongside the people of Palestine.

So on Nakba Day, I’ll be standing in solidarity with my Palestinian brothers and sisters. I hope you’ll join me.