My name is Issa Amro. I’m a 36-year-old Palestinian human rights defender from the city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where I work with an organisation called Youth Against Settlements.
While we live thousands of kilometres apart and have never met, my fate is more closely linked to the office you will hold, and the choices a US president makes, than many might think. The United States’ military, economic and diplomatic support has allowed Israel to continue its occupation of Palestinian lands, upholding their racist, apartheid regime.
I have not spent my youth thinking about my career or travelling the world, the Israeli chokehold on our society limits my opportunities on both those fronts. Instead, I have been engaged in near-daily confrontations with hostile settlers and an occupying army, both of whom want me, my family and my friends to leave our land and never return.
We have had to walk long, circuitous routes home, as Israeli settlers often block the way to our houses or the market – even blocking our children from getting to school. Israel often denies Palestinians the right to travel along certain roads.
Settlers have also attacked me verbally while I was giving tours of Hebron, hurling insults at me, or worse, making threats against my life. I’ve been stopped, frisked and beaten, sometimes on my own property.
Later this year, I will stand trial in a military court on a series of trumped-up charges that are years old in what many see as a targeted attack on my human rights activism. I could spend several years in jail if convicted, and of course, I’m afraid to lose that precious time. I am also afraid that the intimidation I am facing will dissuade other young Palestinians from following my example and engaging in the non-violent human rights work we so badly need.
I wish my story were unique, but for nearly 70 years, millions of Palestinians have lived under a brutal Israeli military dictatorship, which grants us few rights – we don’t even have the right to protest peacefully, steals our land for settlements that are in violation of official US policy, and imprisons us in isolated enclaves.
Meanwhile, Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20 percent of the population, suffer from widespread systematic discrimination because they are not Jewish, and Palestinian refugees expelled by Israel are denied their right to return to their homeland.
The United States is a wonderful country in many ways, and on my trips there I have come to know a wonderfully diverse community of people, many of whom have dedicated their lives to working for human rights and equality. But the US policies towards Palestine and Israel are unjust and inconsistent with its noble ideals of freedom, human rights, and democracy.
In fact, it was reading the works of giants such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and your own civil rights pioneer, Martin Luther King Jr, that convinced me to spend my life using nonviolent methods of resistance to forge a path forward for myself and my people. I owe a great deal of my fortitude and strategy to King and thinkers like him.
And yet, the US has increased military aid to Israel to $38bn over the next decade. Many American presidents have called on Palestinians to reject violence and to engage in peaceful protest, like the freedom rides, or the arts and music campaigns at checkpoints that my colleagues and I stage.
Yet, when Israel cracks down on nonviolent Palestinian human rights defenders like myself, the US does nothing. The reality is that the vast majority of Palestinians want the same things that Americans and others want: to live in freedom and dignity; to be able to go to school and to work without being suffocated by restrictions on our movements; to be able to raise our children and give them a prosperous future.
I am lucky to say that I work closely with many Americans who hope to see the Palestinian dream of equality realised. But beyond my colleagues and allies, recent polls demonstrate a promising shift, and show that a growing number of Americans want their government to pursue policies that advance Palestinian freedoms, rather than enable the continuation of Israeli apartheid.
If you, the next president of the United States, want to make progress towards a just and lasting peace in the region, then the US must start treating Palestinians as equal to Israelis, and must begin to pressure Israel into respecting Palestinian rights. It is, after all, a founding principle of your great country: All people are created equal.
As Palestinians, we are struggling to live in a society where our equality is a matter of fact, not fiction.