Advertisement

My family village in Israel shows why 'never again' must include innocent Palestinians

After a narrow victory that required the mayor's tie-breaking vote Wednesday, Chicago became the largest U.S. city to adopt a resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire between Hamas and Israel and the return of all hostages. The vote was delayed last week due to the sensitivity of passing it in the days leading up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

This was a moment of sadness and reflection for me, as a Palestinian American enduring the catastrophe of this war, where tens of thousands are losing their lives while the world watches. Paying tribute to the millions who perished in the Holocaust alongside talking about the indescribable pain of the Palestinian people in this moment should not have to be in tension with one another.

Instead, can the memory and horror of the Holocaust be part of what it means to know the immense suffering of others, no matter the place or politics? We have seen the powerful messages held by Jewish American activists at rallies and expressed in opinion columns: “ ’Never again’ means never again for anyone.”

This, of course, includes the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians killed or confronting apocalyptic conditions in Gaza on a scale that dwarfs much of what we have seen in modern warfare.

Holocaust survivor Rene Lichtman holds a sign saying, "Never Again for Anyone," as he and Nabil Sater march in Farmington Hills, Mich., on Dec. 22, 2023. The protesters, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, temporarily blocked traffic and police escorted them back to the sidewalk.
Holocaust survivor Rene Lichtman holds a sign saying, "Never Again for Anyone," as he and Nabil Sater march in Farmington Hills, Mich., on Dec. 22, 2023. The protesters, calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, temporarily blocked traffic and police escorted them back to the sidewalk.

My grandfather's Palestinian village took in Jewish refugees

A week before the horrific events of Oct. 7, an interfaith group of 30 mostly African American travelers and I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial outside Jerusalem. It was my third time in the past few years. Anyone who walks into Yad Vashem and sees the tattered shoes of children incinerated in Nazi ovens and the other gut-wrenching monstrosities forced upon those in the camps cannot walk out the same person. We concluded our self-guided tours by gathering in the courtyard and listening to the rabbi on our trip recite the kaddish, the mourner’s prayer.

We then solemnly retreated for reflection to a convent in Ein Karem, a five-minute drive down a steep mountain road. I know Ein Karem well; it is the home of my maternal 97-year-old grandfather, who was displaced from that village in May 1948 during the violent "Nakba."

We ran for cover at Israeli airport: After Hamas assault, Israel attacking innocent Palestinians haunts us

The Nakba, or catastrophe, refers to the 750,000 Palestiniansmore than 50% of the population at the time – who were expelled or fled from their homes after the creation of the state of Israel.

Hearing about massacres in neighboring villages, my grandparents were among the frightened refugees fleeing, stopping along the way so my grandmother could give birth to their first child – my mother. They eventually would end up being among the first Palestinian refugees to settle on Chicago’s South Side.

My grandfather told me that the residents of Ein Karem had once taken in about 250 Jewish refugees from Poland. They were housed among the Palestinian families and lived together with them harmoniously between 1945-47 before they were evacuated after violence broke out in 1948.

“They were beautiful people; we were very happy to have them with us and very sad to see them go. They were human beings that needed help and we were happy to help them and they also helped us,” recalls my grandfather.

Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, and grandfather Mohamed Daoud in 2019 in front of the house in Chicago where the Daouds immigrated to in 1952. Now, Nashashibi is founder and executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.
Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, and grandfather Mohamed Daoud in 2019 in front of the house in Chicago where the Daouds immigrated to in 1952. Now, Nashashibi is founder and executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

Untold stories of Palestinians play a role in reconciliation

Sitting in the convent in Ein Karem, we heard from Bashir Bashir, a Palestinian Israeli political scientist, who, along with his colleague and mentor Amos Goldberg, a Jewish Israeli historian, co-edited a groundbreaking book titled "The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar for Suffering and Trauma."

The book goes to great length not to blur the significant differences between the Holocaust and Nakba, while discussing how they are interlinked culturally, historically and politically in ways that if better understood and discussed openly, could provide a pathway forward for those who have suffered and are still suffering from their respective legacies.

Rami Nashashibi, center in black shirt and pants, next to political scientist Bashir Bashir, in blue, with their interfaith group visiting on Sept. 29, 2023, the village Ein Karem, outside Jerusalem. They're standing in front of the home where Nashashibi's grandparents were displaced from in 1948.
Rami Nashashibi, center in black shirt and pants, next to political scientist Bashir Bashir, in blue, with their interfaith group visiting on Sept. 29, 2023, the village Ein Karem, outside Jerusalem. They're standing in front of the home where Nashashibi's grandparents were displaced from in 1948.

For me, being in my grandfather’s village, and listening to this Palestinian political theorist articulate a shared vision for restorative justice and reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians, was cathartic and hopeful.

The idea that the trauma that befell my grandfather and 750,000 people like him could be discussed respectfully and reasonably as interconnected to the horror of 6 million Jews was the type of conversation that I know could open up space for deeper understanding and connections here in America.

Presenting what the Jewish community endured in mid-20th century Europe alongside the calamities of other communities since World War II is not new for Holocaust museum curators across the country. Here in the Chicagoland area, the Illinois Holocaust Museum has featured exhibits on ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda, for example.

Legacies of War: Kissinger memorial service draws angry protesters of Israel war. Vietnam War families can relate.

For Palestinians, the Nakba is ongoing, and the anguishing death and mass displacement for Gazans is just the most recent chapter.

Maybe in the near future, Holocaust museums will feature an exhibit on the Nakba with the work of Israeli and Palestinian scholars like Goldberg and Bashir to help guide the way through the sensitives of such a possibility. The untold stories of Palestinians – like those in Ein Karem welcoming Jewish refugees fleeing the horror of European antisemitism and Russian pogroms – could help shift the paradigm.

Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.

Wednesday's vote by the city council was supported by more than 160 Chicago-based organizations, including my Inner-City Muslim Action Network. The day before, hundreds of students walked out of school demanding that the city council support the cease-fire resolution.

Moving forward, perhaps the idea of discussing and acknowledging our interconnected relationships to each other’s suffering can take us well beyond the important cease-fire resolutions, condemnations of the Oct. 7 atrocities and calls for the end of military occupation – into new hope for mutual understanding and a just and lasting peace for all our people.

Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, is founder and executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.
Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, is founder and executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

Rami Nashashibi, a MacArthur Foundation fellow, is founder and executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chicago ceasefire vote: 'Never again' includes innocent Palestinians