John Dabeet

On May 15, Palestinians around the world commemorate the Great Catastrophe and yearn for justice, as their fight for justice will continue.

Today I decided to share my story since I am a firm believer that stories can make a difference and can leave us with an impression that can last forever.

Colonizing the Occupied Palestinian Territory with impunity and brutal military occupation will never be the answer to the conflict nor will it ever bring true peace.

My story with the Israeli occupation started way before I was born. My dad was forced by the Israelis to leave his hometown, Jaffa, in 1948, leaving his family house behind while my mom was 13 years old and was separated from her family due to the 1948 war.

Mom ended up in Jordan with friends and dad ended up in Ramallah. Never allowed by the Israelis to go back to check on their home or, in my mom's case, her family.

At this point, I would like each one of you to close your eyes and imagine someone comes to your house, forces you out and tells you don’t come back to your own house. What would you do?

In 1967, I was three years old when the Israeli military took what is left of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem). I was sad but happy that, finally, my dad could go back and check his family house and my mom could join her family that she had not seen for 19 years.

My dad decided to take all of us (mom and six kids, including myself) to Jaffa and Ramla, to visit his house and to meet for the first time my mom’s family.

We arrived in Jaffa, as we were approaching our dad’s family house; we knew someone was living in our house. My dad spoke five languages fluently, including Hebrew. We proceeded to knock on the door even though we had the key to the house, and an old Jewish lady who emigrated from Poland in 1948 and settled in our house opened the door. At that point, my dad introduced himself, shared his story with her and asked her to allow us to enter inside the house so he could show all of us where he was born and where he grew up.

The lady said 'no.' I didn’t understand the language at three years old but I understood the sadness on my dad's face knowing he couldn't get us to see his house. We went back to Ramla to meet my mom's side; we were happy to meet mom’s family after 19 years of separation due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

I have carried the sad images of my dad's face day and night since I was three years old and decided to become more involved hoping I could make a difference.

I grew up in Ramallah, Palestine, and became a student leader at age 14, was harassed by the Israeli military occupation many times because of that. I went on to continue my bachelor's degree at Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, Palestine, and continued my journey as one of the leaders for the student movement in Palestine. I was arrested and tortured at the hands of the Israeli military forces several times just because I am a Palestinian and decided to stand up for my beliefs, and for the right of my people to live free and in peace like any other nation.

Meanwhile, I decided not to quit until we achieve peace and justice for Palestine.

In 1988, I left Palestine for the United States to work on my higher education. Thirty years later, I still travel the world and the United States to talk about the colonization of Occupied Palestine with impunity at the hands of the Israeli military forces and the brutal military occupation.

In 1993, the Israeli government revoked my identity card and I was informed by their embassy in the United States that I am not allowed to go back to my native country, Palestine.

I decided to fight their discriminatory decision in court and won in 2010. How would you feel knowing, as I did, that I was not been allowed to visit Jerusalem, except for five hours, over the past 30 years even though I was born in Jerusalem?

I went back in 1998 with mom and was arrested and held by the Israelis for two-and-a-half weeks even though I am a U.S. citizen.

I ask you today to stand for peace, justice and rights of determination for Palestinians.

I decided to share my story with you to say Palestinians refuse to live under occupation any longer. We stand against the apartheid wall that they are building because walls creates hate, and we stand against the confiscation of Palestinian land to build more illegal Israeli settlements because settlements will not lead to peace. Palestine and Jerusalem are not for sale, Mr. President.

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John Dabeet is president of the Americans & Palestinians for Peace and chair of the business department at Muscatine Community College.