Palestinian protesters throw stones during clashes in the West Bank city of Bethlehem Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA]. Image from [Al-Jazeera
Left Voice interviewed Nerdeen Kiswani, a Palestinian organizer based in NYC. She’s a founder of New York City students for justice in Palestine, and a recent graduate of the City University of NY where she majored in human rights and international relations. She was involved in building multiple SJP chapters across the university system.
How would you characterize the fight for Palestinian rights in the age of Trump? How is this different and how is this the same from the age of Obama?
I think it’s easier to paint a clear picture of Israel’s racist, genocidal, and colonial intentions when you see someone like Trump supporting it. Obama supported a lot of the same policies, but it was harder for people to see him as genocidal or colonial. Trump’s support for Israel exposes Israel for what it really is. More people may pay attention to the Palestinian plight because people recognize the settler colonial connection between Trump and Israel. Ultimately, the State of Israel has been an imperialist enclave in the region and Trump’s policy demonstrates and radicalizes this in the eyes of the world.
On the other hand, Zionists and racists emboldened under Trump make it more difficult and risky for people to organize for Palestine. There is increased targeting of Palestinian activists under this administration, even if it’s not directly from the state. Furthermore, Trump announces something destructive almost every other day which makes it extremely overwhelming to organize on an issue when you’re concerned with 10 issues at a time.
That is why everyone who resists Trump- who fights for immigrants’ rights, against the Muslim Ban and the border wall- should also fight for a Free Palestine, which will strengthen the struggle against imperialism and xenophobia.
Although Obama had disagreements with Netanyahu towards the end of his term, he did not waver in his support for the state of Israel and sending billions in aid.
Why is the city of Jerusalem, and particularly East Jerusalem, so important to the Palestinian people?
Jerusalem is historically symbolic to Palestinians of all faiths due to holy and religious sites that existed even before Israel. Furthermore, it’s one of the major Palestinian cities. Almost every single Palestinian has a connection to Jerusalem since its historically been our capital. More importantly, it symbolizes Palestinian resilience in the face of colonialism as it remains largely Palestinian despite Israeli efforts to Judaize it by revoking the right of Palestinians to live there and brutally enforcing this policy.
Since the 1979 Camp David Accords, U.S. presidents have been unwilling to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Why has Trump changed this long-standing policy now and what does this mean for Palestinian rights?
The unwillingness of past US presidents to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is more about waiting for the right time as opposed to any support for the Palestinian people. Past Presidents stood by as Israel encroached on more and more Palestinian land, building settlements and displacing thousands. Trump claimed that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel while flagrantly attacking colonized people all over the world. There is no difference between him and former US presidents, he’s just less calculated and more vocal.
The US recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a long time ago when they allowed them to divide it, and control it both militarily and municipally. The US recognized Jerusalem as a part of Israel when the NYPD opened an office there. It has been de-facto controlled by Israel, and although this is contrary to international law. As the whole world knows Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine. The United States sends billions in aid to Israel while they continue incursions on Palestinian land. The US always allowed Israel to set up it’s government buildings in Jerusalem and build settlements to kick out the Palestinians who lived there. Now Trump just said it out loud.
I see this policy as the continuation and radicalization of previous US interests and actions in Palestine so I think what is coming is the acceleration of colonizing Palestinian land and dispossessing Palestinian people.
What do you see as the way forward to achieving a free Palestine? How should the Left internationally support this struggle?
The only way forward for a free Palestine is through resistance. Arab leaders and international actors have failed in every capacity when it comes to the Palestinian struggle. The only thing they have done is set us back time and time again. As with all anti-colonial struggles, a concrete way forward is through fight back, in all of its forms. The left has to understand that it’s only position is to support all forms of Palestinian resistance and fight Zionism within the belly of the beast to create the space for Palestinians to liberate ourselves. It is urgent that the left and the oppressed people take the streets in support of the Palestinian people.