On November 7, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives censured Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib from Detroit by a vote of 234 to 188. She is the only Palestinian American in the U.S. Congress. Her crime, according 212 Republicans and 22 Democrats, was that she insisted on reminding her colleagues, who supported the ruthless Israeli bombardment of Gaza, that the victims – civilians, women, over 4,000 children – were not Hamas fighters and were people like people anywhere, with the same right to life as people anywhere. She reminded them that the answer to a war crime by Hamas was not a bigger war crime against defenseless people. She said, ”I have and continue to denounce the killing of civilians, no matter their faith or ethnicity. Targeting civilians is a war crime, no matter who does it.” The genocidal attack on Gaza is called collective punishment – killing, injuring, destroying indiscriminately – as a response to an attack by a few. It can also be thought of as collective dehumanization, designating a group of people to be targeted for mass killing because they do not have the moral equivalence of full human beings.
Such categorization is, of course, what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Hutus to the Tutsis, white Americans to Black Africans (enslaving and killing them), white Americans to Indigenous people, Sudanese to people in Darfur, etc. For 75 years this process of dehumanization, killing and ethnic cleansing has been visited on the Palestinians with varying degrees of intensity – slaughter, like now, but often a steady rate of killing, incarceration, land appropriation and dehumanization. All levels of intensity are forms of terrorism.
I am particularly interested in this because my Democratic Congressman, Jared Golden, from the 2nd District in Maine, was one of those 22 Democrats who censured Rep. Tlaib. Golden, and those who supported the censure, speak and behave as though the October 7 attack by Hamas had no pretext, no context, was a gratuitous, vicious example of religious hatred against innocents. To say that there was precedent and cause on the part of Hamas is not a justification; it’s simply insisting on acknowledging the history. A person in a position of responsibility and power, who can use his position to aid or impede genocidal retaliation, has the responsibility to know the history. Otherwise he becomes a war criminal himself. This history is not opinion, it’s a set of facts. When Jared Golden declares the there is “no moral equivalence” between what Hamas did to Israelis and what Israel is doing to Palestinians, he becomes an advocate for collective dehumanization and genocide – and he proclaims his ignorance of the situation. Or, he proclaims that he chooses to only support a narrative acceptable to his constituency and donors.
I was arrested yesterday, November 8, 2023, in Rep. Golden’s office along with six others in a civil disobedient, peaceful sit-in opposing Golden’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza. He was not here in his Bangor, Maine office while we were. But the point was made – maybe of little consequence – but made nevertheless. We were demanding that he sign on to Resolution 786 which asks for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. One of the benefits of crises like this one is that it opens a window to teach the whole history. More people are aware and talking about the history of Israel’s founding than ever before. This has happened the same way the killing of George Floyd opened up conversation about police brutality and white supremacy, or the way an extreme storm, flood or drought opens up the climate discussion.
Learn the history of Palestine.