Los Angeles, California, United States – For Mariam Sbeitan Ali, 66, the latest escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine has evoked traumatic memories.
Ali was only 12 years old and lived in East Jerusalem when the 1967 Arab-Israeli war began. He remembers washing dishes in the courtyard of his home when the bombs began to fall.
Several days later, Israeli forces occupied East Jerusalem and subsequently annexed it in defiance of international law.
“The soldiers came in door to door and told us we had to leave. We were told we would pay our bus fare in Jordan, ”he told Al Jazeera.
Ali’s family, including his mother and five brothers, fled to Al-Karameh, a border town in Jordan. But no security was found there either after it became a flashpoint in the “war of attrition.”
Ali vividly remembers her mother throwing her into an empty barrel and covering her with her own body to protect her.
Ali is now 66 years old and is the mother of two daughters with her own midwifery practice in California. But the pain of the forced displacement he suffered as a child is still raw, so raw that he has relived feelings of fear and helplessness as he watched Palestinians in recent weeks face forced evictions from their homes in Jerusalem and the incessant Israeli bombing of Gaza for 11 days that killed 248 people.
“She’s been crying every night,” her daughter, Noora Ali, told Al Jazeera. “Trauma still affects us to this day. He still remembers the bombs exploding around him.
But Ali has no hope. This is because this latest brutal round of violence has also sown the seeds of a possible maritime shift in U.S. public opinion toward the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which could end up setting the conditions for $ 3.8 billion. dollars of aid that the US gives to Israel annually.
Change of attitudes
On May 15, Ali and his daughters marched down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, surrounded by a sea of Palestinian flags and signs calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.
They have attended these events for years, the family said, but they had never seen so much support from outside the Palestinian community.
“It simply came to my notice then. I had blisters on my feet, but I walked and walked. I barely noticed them, “said Ali.
Defense groups that organized the march in Los Angeles, one of many that took place across the country, estimated that more than 20,000 people attended.
Pro-Israel groups are a powerful force in the U.S., giving millions of dollars to U.S. federal political candidates each year. During the 2020 campaign, pro-Israel groups has donated $ 30.95 million, with 63 percent to Democrats and 36 percent to Republicans, according to the nonprofit OpenSecrets.org.
But while the Democratic Party leadership remains reflexively pro-Israel, the attitudes of party voters have been changing.
A 2021 Gallup poll found that while two-thirds of Democratic voters still had favorable views on Israel, two-thirds also favored the Palestinian state. Support among Democratic voters for the U.S. to put more pressure on Israelis to make peace stood at 53 percent.
Now, Palestinian rights groups and their allies in the progressive movement are trying to translate this change in public opinion into a real legislative change in the US, starting with putting conditions on the billions of dollars in aid the US sends to Israel every year.
“We understand that we are still very much politically facing an uphill battle before we see the end of US support for Israeli apartheid,” Lubna Hammad, organizer of the pro-Yalla Indivisible group, who helped organize the march.
“But the conversation that is taking place now, the increased control of the American relationship with Israel, would have been impossible just a few years ago,” he added.
Progressive calls for change
U.S. President Joe Biden has continued to express his support for Israel throughout the current conflict and has proposed selling $ 735 million of U.S. weapons to his military.
“Biden is not only not exerting pressure to end the fighting, but he is giving it [President Benjamin] Netanyahu’s government has a clear green light, “Khaled Elgindy, director of the Middle East Institute’s Palestine program, told Al Jazeera.
But while U.S. military aid to Israel has been seen as politically untouchable for years, Palestinian advocacy groups and progressive U.S. lawmakers are increasingly vocal in their challenges to this consensus.
On Wednesday, representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin stated that they would present a resolution to block a $ 735 million arms sale to Israel.
While unlikely to happen, it represents a growing willingness on the part of progressives to put pressure on the establishment of the Democratic Party.
“If members of Congress call for an end to US military aid and call for a ceasefire, it shows that we have a voice and it is being amplified,” Omar Ghraieb, a Palestinian writer, told Al Jazeera by email. who saw Gaza.
Social media has also made available to everyday people face-to-face testimonies about violence and displacement, a factor that organizers say plays a key role in changing the narrative of the conflict.
“The world can no longer act as if it did not see what is happening in Palestine; they will eventually be pressured to hold Israel accountable, ”Ghraieb said.
There have also been other developments. Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum as well legislation introduced calling for greater control over U.S. military assistance, trying to make sure it is not used for activities such as detaining Palestinian children, demolition of homes, or theft of Palestinian land in the occupied territories.
For a time, it felt possible for people to be progressive except when it came to Palestinian rights. I think this is over. Palestine is part of a broader movement for racial justice and freedom.
The bill currently has 22 sponsors and has the support of more than 100 civil and human rights groups, according to Amanda Yanchury, McCollum’s communications director.
“The change will not be made overnight or through a bill: it will come when Americans are no longer willing to tolerate our tax dollars being used to support the systematic persecution of the people. Palestinian, “Yanchury told Al Jazeera by email.
Advocates do not expect the legislation to pass quickly. But they are encouraged to help drive a growing debate in the party over the US-Israel relationship.
“We’ve seen a lot of people talk this week about the need to protect Palestinian human rights,” Beth Miller, who works in the political defense of the progressive group Jewish Voice for Peace, told Al Jazeera. “Anyone who cares about Palestinian rights should step in to support this bill.”
For Palestinians living under Israeli rule, the question of conditioning military aid is not abstract.
“The impact of this military aid on the ground for Palestinians is clear,” Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian writer and researcher living in the occupied West Bank, told Al Jazeera. “It means the repression of the Palestinians by the Israeli army and the border police. It means ethnic cleansing. It means the bombing of Gaza.”
The world can no longer act as if it did not see what is happening in Palestine; over time they will be pressured to hold Israel accountable.
While Palestinians quickly say they are facing a tough political battle to change the rooted status quo between Israel and the United States, they nonetheless feel a change.
“For a while, it seemed possible for people to be progressive, except when it came to Palestinian rights,” Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the U.S. Palestinian Rights Campaign, told Al Jazeera. “I think this is over. Palestine is part of a broader movement for racial justice and freedom. “
As the disconnect between the Democratic Party base and its leadership becomes stronger, Abuznaid said he expects significant change to be possible.
“If the [Biden] the administration has been disappointing, ”he said. “But it’s the mass movements that are finally bringing change, and we’re seeing a change on the ground like we’ve never seen before.”