Perhaps we were politically inept. Had we sailed toward Iran to offer assistance to civilian protesters there, we would have been a cause celebre if the Iranian government had arrested us. Iran, however, for all its troubles, is not now under foreign occupation as Palestine is. Yet as I watched the demonstrations in Iran, I could not miss the similarities to Palestine's nonviolent resistance to Israeli occupation. I cannot count the times I have marched peacefully, waving a flag and demanding freedom for my people -- with only my voice and my presence as my weapons. And sadly, the number of friends I have lost -- killed by Israeli forces as, like Neda Agha-Soltan in Iran, they nonviolently demonstrated for freedom -- is becoming too great a pain in my heart.
My colleagues and I invested time and energy in this difficult journey and put our lives at risk because for too long the international community has been complicit in Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people. For too long, diplomats and world leaders have paid lip service to Palestinian human rights. For too long, the Palestinian people have been told to wait -- wait in the checkpoint line, wait on the peace process, wait to have your rights recognized, wait for freedom.
Students I met on a recent successful voyage to Gaza certainly did not want to wait to be slowly suffocated and drained of their dreams. So desperate were they to escape their confinement in Gaza to obtain higher education abroad that they asked us to drop them in international waters and they would swim the rest of the way to Cyprus. This was youthful madness, but indicative of how trapped people in Gaza are today.
I was born in the blanket of freedom of the United States. My parents immigrated here, knowing that I could not be free in my homeland. But today I use my freedom to struggle as a Palestinian for my friends and relatives who endure the yokes of occupation, oppression, discrimination, exile, internment and apartheid.
Most Palestinians in the occupied territories have not lived a day free of Israel's occupation, and Palestinian citizens of Israel continue to live as a discriminated-against minority. Just the other day, Israel's housing minister, Ariel Atias, declared, "We can all be bleeding hearts, but I think it is unsuitable [for Jews and Palestinians] to live together [in Israel].
This is the Israel the United States funds with billions each year. Under the leadership of President Obama--or any American president, for that matter--support for this sort of raw bigotry makes no sense and is antithetical to our most cherished principles. Yet when Israeli leaders utter such contemptible language it is ignored. When Israeli soldiers fire lethal weapons at unarmed, peaceful protesters it is too often ignored. When Israeli naval boats become pirate ships -- boarding a vessel that poses them no threat, arresting and beating American citizens--it is ignored.
It is ignored and Israel continues to enjoy the patronage of the United States and to present itself as a moral beacon for the world. But my generation finds racist language like that of Atias'--and the actions that result from such outdated thinking--abhorrent.
We find it unacceptable that Palestinians continue to be asked to wait, to improve our self-government and to be patient as we build ourselves toward the same rights that people elsewhere take for granted. With the fourth Palestinian generation born into refugee camps, with a new generation in Gaza being raised poorer and more desperate than the last, with my land being carved and sliced and walled for the exclusive benefit of one ethno-religious group, I say we cannot wait.