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The Heart of the MLI Trip Controvery: Silencing Palestinians

The Heart of the MLI Trip Controvery: Silencing Palestinians

The suffering of the Palestinian people is not meant to be your lesson.

If you are a Muslim that is staunchly against occupation and you haven’t heard of the Muslim Leaders Initiative (MLI) yet, then you are in for a treat. MLI is a faith-washing trip that sends prominent members of the Muslim American community to occupied Palestine in an attempt to normalize the conflict. It is sponsored by the Shalom Hartman Institute, which is directly linked to a foundation that has pumped millions of dollars into the Islamophobia industry.

Since last year, members of our community have actively taken part in the program — some even taking the opportunity to write articles about their experiences, their changing perspectives, and their personal growth. After all, what is Israel but a birthright to the privileged wanting “perspective”?

What is dangerous about this trip is the silencing of the Palestinian narrative. This trip is, at its core, violence. To silence the narrative of an occupied population by taking a trip funded by the same people who fund the army occupying them is violence. The Muslim American community should and is entitled to hold its participants accountable.

When Muslim Americans choose to take a violent reality as a personal exploration of theories, politics, ideologies, and philosophies of difference and religion, they are ignoring the physical presence of poverty, racism, occupation, imprisonment, barriers, and apartheid.

Hartman’s prerogative with the MLI trip is to garner some Israel-sympathizing propaganda from the Muslim American community. And it accomplishes just that. A Muslim American who participated in the trip last year wrote about their experience in a TIME article titled, “What a Muslim American Learned from Zionists.” The participant wrote that, “It wasn’t until I met numerous Palestinians that I realized the fear many Israeli Jews have is not a figment of the imagination.”

What fears, exactly? What imagination does a physical reality that is flooded with an occupation that has torn families apart, destroyed villages, uprooted olive groves, imprisoned children, and continues to kill its population serve? The participant wrote that Hartman took a huge risk with this initiative — that the fellowship ultimately transcends tensions to reach an understanding and empathy needed for prosperity and self-determination. It would be laughable if it weren’t heartbreaking how very much this is all disconnected from the reality of the Israeli occupation. How such a privileged Western logic was nourished by the physicality of massacred Palestinian villages.

It is crucial that Muslim Americans realize that just because they share the same faith with the majority of Palestinians — the majority and not all — does not mean that they are allowed to pretend they share the same grief, loss, and daily violence. We cannot co-opt the Palestinian narrative to “better understand” Zionism. The occupation is not a place where Muslim Americans can “learn from Zionists.” Ask a Palestinian — I trust that they’ve learned a few things from Zionists that they’d love to speak about.

The Palestinians are not living in the shadows and margins of their homeland so non-Palestinian Muslims can build privileged and sheltered understandings of their narrative. This daily violence is not your playground of comradeship. They are not imprisoned, killed, and beaten everyday as a consequence of standing up against their occupiers so you can learn how to empathize with the occupying status quo.

No matter how many dialogues, conversations, and debates you will have in a ritzy hotel room in a safe space of occupied Palestine, there will come a day where you will shake hands with your Israeli hosts, thank them for their generosity, and fly off to your Western abode where you will sit in the safety and luxury of your home and write about your trip.

What you neglect to understand is that while you were there, and when you are back home, and as you are blogging about the necessity of this trip, there will be a home raided, a man taken from his family, an infant dying from the cold in Gaza, a family barred from seeing their relatives, a Palestinian banned from praying in their place of worship. Their reality continues, while your perspective is “enriched.”

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The Palestinian struggle of over 67 years is not there for you to learn from Zionists, interfaith with Zionists, and empathize with Zionists. No amount of articles, trips, personal statements, or lessons will ever erase your responsibility.

Many of you pat each other on the back for the amazing work you’ve done for Muslims and minorities in the U.S. To be progressive in your ideology, you must maintain it regardless of geography — especially if you’re planning to co-opt an indigenous struggle. If your activism and passion does not extend to outside of your borders, how is the community you belong to in the U.S. going to take you seriously? Isn’t justice a principle and not a convenience?

If you really wanted to learn about Zionism and Israel, go on your own terms. Buy your own plane ticket and go see it for yourself. Unless you get a kick out of being sponsored by Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian foundations, then I don’t see why the participants never took part in an earlier trip to occupied Palestine — especially when there are countless movement-led opportunities to do so. You might not get the privilege of accessing historical and religious sites that Palestinians are barred from entering daily like you would with Hartman, but maybe you’d get a better grasp of the real face of Zionism.

We must begin holding ourselves accountable for our actions. When Palestinians call on you to support them and participate in the BDS movement, it is up to you, as a Muslim, as a human, and as a conscious citizen to oblige. They are asking you to empathize with them, with their families — alive or killed — and with their memory and narrative. When you choose to take this trip regardless of the calls for boycott, then you are rendering their narrative as worthless. You are complicit in using the Palestinian struggle as a stepping-stone for your own personal gain.

In an essay, Audre Lorde declared, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The Muslim Leaders Initiative is not an initiative of change or empowerment. You cannot destroy empire when you are drowning in your free trips and benefits from it.

View Comments (13)
      • “there will come a day where you will shake hands with your Israeli
        hosts, thank them for their generosity, and fly off to your Western
        abode where you will sit in the safety and luxury of your home and write
        about your trip” — as Ms. Abdelrahan sits safely in her home espousing her own BS.

        • Of course in your attempt to berate the author, you conveniently ignore the fact that Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from Palestine in both 1948 and 1967. More than 1 million Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948 alone, the majority (750,000) were forcibly expelled by Zionist militias and force to live in exile in the surrounding Arab states.

          It has been 67 years and they and their families have not been allowed to return by Israel.Most Palestinian can’t even visit Palestine, even for a holiday, because Israel prevents them from entering.

          So your argument is completely invalid and nothing more than a pitiful attempt to justify the appalling actions of the MLI, which whitewash Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinian people and undermine their struggle for freedom, justice and self-determination.

  • “What is dangerous about this trip is the silencing of the Palestinian narrative. This trip is, at its core, violence. To silence the narrative of an occupied population by taking a trip funded by the same people who fund the army occupying them is violence.”
    I think this is a very poor argument. No where do you prove that they are “silencing” the Palestinians. If group A and B are fighting, and a separate group of people visit group B to conduct dialogue, that is not considered “silencing” group A. Nor is that considered some sort of metaphysical violence against group A. If that were the case then we are all some sort of violent criminals for in any single day one deals with suspicious people of all kinds to achieve success in one’s greater narrative.

    I think there are some problems that need to be discussed with the whole MLI controversy. But we need to be critical without being sensationalist. We need to be careful with our arguments and make sure they’re consistent and logical. Often times we’re putting words in the mouths of the participants. I haven’t heard of a participant all of a sudden return from the trip and give up the Palestinian cause. If anything, they talk about finding Israeli allies for the Palestinian cause.

    I bring up consistency because I feel like a lot of the arguments against Hartmann sound an awful like the guilt-by-association mud-slinging tactics American Muslims are victimized by. Many times a Muslim organization or individual are accused of being linked to another organization with nefarious aims. We all are quick to point out the faulty reasoning in such accusations but we should make sure we’re not becoming guilty of the same dirty tactics. This issue is probably more relevant to Sana Saeed’s article, but I just thought I’d mention it here.

    Also, there are a number of Palestinians. Many of them live in Israel. Many of them live in Palestine proper. I’m sure not all of them share your view (or the opposing view) on this issue so we need to be careful about co-opting the “Palestinian people” for our individual causes. Let them speak for themselves.

    • This is the most thoughtful post on MLI that I have read anywhere. To “AnObserver,” I implore you to post and re-post in as many social media outlets as possible. Thank you for being a voice of reason.

  • Here’s the simple winning argument: MLI is a year of intense Zionist propaganda intended to make its participants sympathize with the illegal and brutally violent occupiers of Palestine and lose sympathy for the occupation’s victims. Let’s contrast this with two instances of how you poorly argue the same case. “The Palestinians are not living in the shadows and margins of their homeland so non-Palestinian Muslims can build privileged and sheltered understandings of their narrative.” This is a college student sentence looking for an A. Because it’s unclear, it doesn’t persuade anyone. Nearly everyone reading this page is privileged and sheltered. Any political tourist to Israel/Palestine is to some degree sheltered. You’re not writing about and attacking the actual issue, what is wrong with this specific form of ‘sheltered and privileged’. You need to do that. “This trip is, at its core, violence. To silence the narrative of an occupied population by taking a trip funded by the same people who fund the army occupying them is violence.” Why introduce such a seemingly silly argument, that the visit/program is violence? It’s a purely semantical no-win argument, i.e., it’s a loser. Let’s argue better and win more Boycott Israel converts.

  • I find the condescending and patronizing tone of this article along with other articles coming out to be very much part of the ongoing problem. I say this as a Palestinian who lived in Palestine and have extensively visited Israeli and Palestinian cities. There is no ‘one exclusive way’ to understanding the situation nor should anyone be bullied into believing so. But if you simply disagree, there is no need to be very rude about it and putting anyone down.

  • Thank you for this. I can’t believe they tried to get American Muslims to sympathize. I am a Christian who has ties to the Christian Palestinians and has witnessed the atrocities for ALL Palestinians (Christian, Muslim, Druze and Samaritians) and I have seen how American Christians have sadly jumped on board with the Israel sentiment, but I had no idea there were American Muslims being pulled into this as well. That is truly sad as the majority of Palestinians are Muslim which means there is a huge community united under God, being divided in a sense.. I really hope your article and just others through word of mouth realize the damage that has on such an oppressed population and hopefully things can change. I’ve had a couple Americna Jewish friends of mine go on those “Birth right” tours and every great now and then I’ve heard of someone seeing through the propaganda, so you never know all you can hope for is that an individual can see through.
    There are some really good alternative tours that people can get hooked up with http://www.mejditours.com/ this website is a great connection if anyone reading this is interested in going and witnessing the occupation without the manipulation.

  • “What is dangerous about this trip is the silencing of the Palestinian narrative.” Nonsense. Palestinians do not lack for the bull horn trumpeting their (self imposed) plight. It is self imposed in that they voted for Hamas – who continue to rocket Israel.

    “To silence the narrative of an occupied population by taking a trip funded by the same people who fund the army occupying them is violence.” More nonsense. It is an honest attempt to initiate some sort of dialogue to lower the sharpness of the rhetoric – Palestinians would find their lives improved immensely if they would be open to the policy of a lasting peace – instead of the non-stop drum beat of Jew hatred taught in mosques.

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