US State Dept
2201 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20520
202-647-5291; Fax: 202-647-6434
Dear Secretary of State Rice:
I am the youngest journalist living in Gaza and reporting on the realities of life there. My articles are published and read around the world, including in the United States, and give a voice to millions. As a result, I’ve been asked to come to the United States on a speaking tour with dual purposes. The first is to help Americans understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, an acknowledged root cause of instability in the Middle East. Secondly, my trip will serve to assist Palestinians in understanding the U.S. Too often the only impression the Palestinian people have of America arrives at the end of a gun barrel or bulldozer. I know you agree that understanding each other, seeing each other as human beings, is the first step to peace, and requires a dialogue between people. This trip will allow me to act as a conduit for bridging misconceptions and healing misunderstandings.
In order to embark upon this trip, however, I need your help.
The American Consulate has agreed to grant me a visa interview in Jerusalem. Last January, however, Israel passed a new law forbidding Christian and Muslim Arab men between the ages of 16 and 35 from traveling between Gaza and the West Bank, or into Israel, if they are unmarried, or have fewer than two children. Ridiculous? Yes. Petty? Definitely. But real. Such discrimination based on a person’s faith and race does Jim Crow proud.
Being 22 and having just graduated college, I’m really not ready to get married, Madame Secretary. From what I understand, this is not an uncommon situation for 22-year-old American men, either. Yet this is Israel’s excuse. Although the United States has agreed to allow me to travel to your country, Israel is preventing me from going to your consulate for the interview because I am an undefined, ambiguous “security risk” to them—but not to the U.S.
My only weapon is words; my conduct throughout my life proves this. How is it that a small country, a nation which every year receives 40 percent of America’s foreign aid budget, can continue to violate international law and consistently ignore the requests of the most powerful nation on this planet? Madame Secretary, with all due respect, why is the United States allowing a tiny country to dictate who can and cannot visit your country? Shouldn’t America decide?
My touring the United States is in the best interests of the American government, as it would help win the hearts and minds of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, not to mention the nearly 2 billion non-dispensationalist Christians also affected by Israel’s policies against the Palestinians and Christian customs and holy sites.
I’ve read your speeches, Dr. Rice. Like me, you look for diplomatic solutions, a thinking person’s remedy to conflict. Like me, your actions show you seek justice, and justice resides within understanding. Does truth undermine security or strengthen it? By exposing injustices, truth forces people to act with justice, thereby benefitting all—with one exception: those profiting from fear, ignorance and misinformation. Could it be that Israel considers me a “security threat” because I tell the truth?
Madame Secretary, my next door neighbor, a middle-aged man who was not part of the resistance, was killed in late September during another Israeli attack. My friend is dead because he was not Jewish.Walking through the wreckage of his home, I saw shells and weapons fragments with U.S. markings littering the ground.Gaza today is a graveyard of wasted minds and marginalized lives. How many more wasted minds must perish?
Any man may wield a sword. It takes an exceptional person to reason, persuade, change hearts and minds and convince others to set aside hate in favor of the more difficult task of negotiation. Perhaps this is why when God sent Jesus, a man who, solely on the strength of words and ideas, conquered the most powerful empire in the world.
American values are based on the conviction that a person’s worth or participation in society is not determined by skin color, faith, national origin or gender. Living under Israeli occupation, we Palestinians have never experienced these values. We would like to. In order for this to happen, however, people need to see us for what we are—human. This is what my trip is about.
Given the principles governing your country, the values canonized within your Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, it seems unconscionable that the United States would allow another nation to prevent a reporter from speaking to the American people about what it is like to grow up and live under apartheid—for we Muslims and Christians live in a segregated society of privilege for one group and oppression for another. The criteria for deciding who is privileged and who is not in Israel is faith first, race second—and no third. Being non-Jewish and Arab, we simply do not count.
I fervently hope you will give me a chance to share Palestine with the American people and the American people with Palestine. Understanding is how bridges are built, and dialogue instigates peace. Madame Secretary, please ask Israel to grant me the freedom to travel to Jerusalem for my visa interview so I may come to know your nation, and it us.
Mohammed Omer, Journalist
Rafah, Gaza Strip, Occupied Palestine
Also see Robin’s Post…