I decided to share my personal story with everyone rather than sharing the history of the conflict because 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 ever bring true peace. My story with the Israeli Occupation started way before I was born. My dad was forced to leave his hometown Jaffa in 1948 leaving his family home and everything else they owned behind while my mom was thirteen years old and was separated from her family due to 1948 war. Mom ended up in Jordan at age thirteen 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’d like each one of you to close your eyes and imagine someone came to your house, forced you out, and told you not come back to your own house, what would you do?
In 1963, I was three years old when Israeli took what’s left of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem). I was sad but happy that finally my dad could go back and check on his family home and my mom can join her family since she didn’t see them for nineteen years. They did not know that she was still alive.
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 noticed 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 the house so he can show all of us where he was born and where he grew up but 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 can’t bring us to see his house. We went back to Ramala to meet my Mom’s side of the family. All of us were happy to see mom meeting her family after nineteen years of separation due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine but still felt sad since my dad couldn’t even get inside his family house.
I 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 can make a difference. I grew up in Ramallah, Palestine and became a student leader at age fourteen, was harassed by the Israeli military occupation many times because of that. Went on to continue my Bachelor degree at Bethlehem University in Bethlehem, Palestine and continued my journey as one of the leaders of the student movement in Palestine. I was arrested and tortured at the hands of the Israeli military forces several times just because I am Palestinian and decided to stand up for my beliefs and for my people’s right to live free and in peace like any other nation. 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 and while in Pennsylvania, churches and organizations started inviting me to talk about the occupation of Palestine on the hands of the Israelis. Twenty-nine years later today, I still travel the world and the United States to talk about the Colonization of the Occupied Palestine with impunity at the hands of the Israeli military forces and the brutal military occupation at Universities, churches, and in front of government officials.
In 1993, the Israeli government decided to revoke 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. I haven’t been allowed to visit Jerusalem except for five hours in the past twenty-nine years even though I was born in Jerusalem. I decided to go back in 1998 with mom and was arrested by the Israelis for two and half weeks even though I am a U.S. citizen. The story was all over the USA media. The State Department and some Congress and Senate members intervened on my behalf to secure my return. I decided to establish a nationwide NGO called the Americans & Palestinian for Peace (AMPAL) as a result of that and we became a strong organization in the United States affiliated with United Nations with three pillars: educating the public about the Palestinian quest for peace and justice, lobbying government officials, and participating in United Nations events concerning Palestine.
I have been very vocal about peace and justice in Palestine. I was elected last year to serve on Sister Cities International Board of Directors in Washington DC and was appointed as the Global Outreach Representative of country Palestine on that board.
Working hard for long hours pays off and the honor to represent my native country and be their voice in the United States is greatly satisfying. We still have our keys to our dad’s home in Jaffa and we will continue hoping that one day our kids and grandkids get to live in peace and enjoy their daily living without fear.
Senator Bernie Sander has done it during his campaign and he has broken a taboo by publicly criticizing Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians under its occupation and siege. We 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 anymore. We stand against the apartheid wall that they are building because walls create hate and we stand against the confiscation of Palestinian land to build more illegal Israeli settlements because settlements will not lead to peace. I feel bad when I hear people telling me that Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle-East and my response to that is very simple. A democracy doesn’t occupy a whole nation for more than fifty years. A Democracy will not put you in prison just because you are Palestinian. A Democracy will not be based on Apartheid. A Democracy will not build a wall that represents hate. A Democracy will not prevent the natives from leaving their cities to visit other cities. A Democracy will not control your roads and streets and decide who can move or not. A Democracy will never be based on Religion.
About John Dabeet:
John Dabeet is the Business Department Chair and Economics and Statistics professor at Muscatine community college, Muscatine, Iowa. John has been very active, served on several boards of directors for International, National, and local organizations. Mr. Dabeet was a visiting professor at Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Vista University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Drohobych University, Drohobych, Ukraine, Alquds College, Amman, Jordan, Bir-Zeit University, Palestine as well as an adjunct professor at Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Currently, John is an elected member of Muscatine County School Board, Sister Cities International Board in Washington D.C., Global Outreach Representative of country Palestine for Sister Cities International, and the president of the Americans & Palestinians for Peace (AMPAL). Several International and National awards have been presented to John for his work in Politics, Citizen Diplomacy, and Education.