The Story of Munib Al-Masri

Munib Al-Masri, an unarmed American citizen, was shot by the Israeli military on May 15 while protesting against Israel on the day Palestinians mark the Nakba -- or catastrophe -- of our dispossession in 1948.
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Munib Al-Masri, an unarmed American citizen, was shot by the Israeli military on May 15 while protesting against Israel on the day Palestinians mark the Nakba -- or catastrophe -- of our dispossession in 1948. He is the grandson of Munib Al-Masri, the philanthropist, businessman and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Symbolically, the younger Munib was at the border seeking in the liberating spirit of the Arab Spring to help Palestinians return to stolen homes and land in territory Israel pushed Palestinians out of in 1948. He was on Lebanese soil and behind an electric fence dividing the two countries when the live bullet entered his abdomen and caused explosive damage to his kidney, spleen, and even his spine. Munib now will live the rest of his life without his spleen and a kidney. So grave was his injury that doctors initially feared he would die due to blood loss. Like many of those injured that day, Munib remains in critical condition. Due to his American citizenship, his story may just be told in the United States and a handful of questions asked about what possessed an Israeli sniper to fire on unarmed peaceful demonstrators behind an electric fence in another country.

Indeed, the first of those questions was raised on June 1 when a journalist at a U.S. State Department briefing vigorously asked Deputy Department Spokesman Mark C. Toner about Munib's injury. The official knew nothing, but said he would look into it.

As a long-time friend of Munib's family and living in the Palestinian Diaspora myself, I am deeply pained over the harm done to him and all the other protestors. Now Munib may well face permanent physical hardship because he dared to dream of Palestinians' right of return to homes to which many still retain keys and deeds.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) witnessed his shooting. Later that week, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, asserted, "Israel should not be allowed simply to shrug off the evidence that its soldiers reacted with unnecessary and disproportionate force that killed civilians. There needs to be a credible, criminal investigation, and where there is evidence that crimes took place, prosecutions and appropriate punishment." But HRW has said this time and again, yet time and again Israel is culpable of killing and maiming Palestinian civilians. Israel regards itself as above the law because the United States protects it at the United Nations.

It is often said everyone knows what the parameters of the two-state solution will be. American and Israeli officials have long declared this. But in recent days it has become clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu, along with his allies in AIPAC and the U.S. Congress, did not get the memo.

They are calling foul now that President Obama has very timidly and conservatively suggested two states, Palestine and Israel, along the 1967 borders with "mutually agreed swaps." On May 20, Netanyahu publicly lectured -- hectored really -- the American president and the previous day he released a press statement about what he "expects" from the American president.

Netanyahu comports himself as if he's the superpower dressing down the out-of-order satellite. Indeed, a livid President Clinton once said after meeting with Netanyahu "who's the [expletive] superpower here." Obama is likely thinking the same as Republicans assail him for allegedly "throwing Israel under the bus" and as Democrats, joined at the hip with AIPAC, fail to back him up.

Side by side, the visions of Netanyahu and Munib for the region are very different, though both challenge President Obama. Netanyahu, on the one hand, is pushing colonization in violation of international law and received a standing ovation from an out-of-touch U.S. Congress -- seemingly intent on making a bad situation worse -- for his claim that Israel is not a foreign occupier in "Judea and Samaria." On the other hand, young Munib, a young Palestinian man long powerless in the eyes of the world, is advancing international law and a remarkable Arab Spring which has made young people all over the region primary actors in securing freedom in Egypt and Tunisia. The freedom aspirations of young people in those two countries differ little from the hopes and dreams of Palestinians long denied their rights by an Israel which stands accused of war crimes, ethnic cleansing, the crime of apartheid, and persistent serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The terms are rarely used in the United States, but are increasingly discussed by an international community that tracks Israeli deeds far more closely than the U.S. Congress.

President Obama has tentatively embraced Arab protestors everywhere save those challenging Israeli occupation and land theft. The double standard is evident to all throughout the Middle East. NATO took the decision to protect the Libyan people from the wrath of Gaddafi, but leaves the Palestinians to fend for themselves against the might of the Israeli army. The U.S. frequently criticizes the powerful Chinese government over human rights abuses yet it turns a blind eye to Israel's human rights violations and war crimes against the Palestinians. Instead, every year Israel is provided with $3 billion in U.S. military aid to carry out more of the same abuses.

Arabs see what happened to Munib and regard it as little different from the slap received by the street vendor in Tunisia or the violence perpetrated by Mubarak's thugs in Tahrir Square. It's the unfair, old order defending the status quo. Yet in the United States there appears to be no concern or outrage that the penalty for enthusiastic young Palestinian demonstrators attempting -- however symbolically -- to reclaim stolen family land is apparently to be faced with an Israeli firing squad.

Munib is now learning the hard and unfair lessons of life previous generations of Palestinians endured regarding Israeli military might making "right." But this generation is far more effective at communicating with the outside world than earlier Palestinians. Would that we had had Facebook in 1948 when Palestinians were fleeing and being expelled from our homes by the hundreds of thousands even before the Arab states declared war on Israel.

President Obama spoke on May 19 of the "humiliation of occupation" suffered by Palestinians in 1967, but said not one word about the pain of dispossession which is rooted far more deeply in Palestinian psyches than even the territorial losses of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem in 1967. That dispossession is the original sin of all efforts to partition Palestine since 1947.

Tunisians and Egyptians have achieved the impossible this year. So, too, might Palestinians. Time, as President Obama indicated regarding the changing demographic landscape, is not on Israel's side. If apartheid rule can fall in South Africa and the American South, the same is possible with expansionist Israel.

Human decency is too frequently discarded when it comes to Palestinians. Surely a demonstration inside sovereign Lebanese territory to mark the day Palestinians were driven from their homes 63 years ago cannot seriously be regarded as a threat to Israel's security.

Israel, in my view and the view of a growing part of the international community, too frequently gets away with the murder of young Palestinians. The entire civilized world has turned a blind eye to Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses and the consequence is that such actions do not stop, but become more egregious with time.

The message many Diaspora Palestinians received repeatedly in May is that Israel does not seek peace with the Palestinians and other Arab states. And the message that the U.S. Congress sent on May 24 to Palestinians the world over is that it backs Israel to the hilt, while Palestinian aspirations for freedom and for a life free of discrimination and inferior rights matter very little. But then we've had 63 years to absorb that painful lesson. If the United States will not support our hopes for freedom then we will look for other pathways to achieve our rights, including the United Nations this September.

The U.S. Congress may ignore the efforts of a young Palestinian American like Munib Al-Masri, but at the United Nations, Munib's efforts, and those of countless Palestinians, will very likely soon be heard with an overwhelming September vote in favor of Palestinian statehood.