Commentary: I Won't Be Silent Any Longer

242 days of Palestinian murder has transformed so many in our community, including myself.

Commentary: I Won't Be Silent Any Longer
Marchers with Staten Island 4 Palestine during Land Day on March 30 (Petra Gregory, 2024)

I am an Egyptian-American, born and raised here on the North Shore of Staten Island, but Palestine has always been of major importance to me ever since I came of age in the late 1990s/early 2000s. I was first exposed to the issue of Palestine with the killing of 12-year-old Muhammad Al-Durrah, as he was hiding behind the arms of his father. It was an image that has been ingrained in me ever since then. I always wondered how can anyone kill an innocent young child mercilessly when he did absolutely nothing to merit such a horrible end. To this day, I still don’t get it and maybe I never will.

For additional background on the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Palestine, see our previous commentary.
Jamal al-Durrah trying to protect his son, Muhammad, on September 30, 2000 in Gaza [Talal Abu Rahma for France 2/AFP]

Around that time, I recall Arab musicians coming together to put out a song called “The Arab Dream” on the unity of the Arab people. For a moment in my early teens, I thought that maybe, we can unite, put aside our regional differences and come together as one to put a stop to this madness and bring back dignity to the Palestinian people. I was wrong on so many levels. Hindsight has shown me that I was thinking in an idealistic manner, with perhaps some naivete.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, our very own Arab regimes are violently and ruthlessly suppressing their own people for speaking up about Palestine, no different from how the NYPD is violently and brutally trying to silence us here. We’ve witnessed student encampments in Columbia and CCNY get raided and violently suppressed by the NYPD’s SRG, a response that our very own Mayor Adams praised during his May 1st, Town Hall at I.S.75 on Staten Island, that was not highly publicized to ensure little to no protest. We’ve also seen the NYPD ruthlessly arrest and abuse Nerdeen Kiswani, Director of Within Our Lifetime, at the Brooklyn Museum. All of this is being done on purpose to quiet us, prevent us from asserting ourselves and asking for divestment of taxpayer funds that are invested in the military-surveillance complex, a denunciation of the murderous acts committed, and a permanent ceasefire.

NYPD arrested 108 protesters at Columbia University on April 18 (Robert Miller, NY Post)

For years ever since, I’ve tried to advocate for Palestinians in the social space, but in a limited fashion, for fear of persecution/intimidation. I always thought that I was the only supporter of Palestine on Staten Island, especially in the neighborhood where I live. Hence, I always kept my thoughts and opinions on the matter on the down low, especially given Staten Island’s conservative tendencies.

The events of 9/11 certainly didn’t help and I faced various difficulties because of my Arab identity. That too complicated things as I knew saying anything could potentially be used against me as well as be misconstrued.

I continued to periodically share content and post about Palestine intermittently, not because I didn’t care, but because I was afraid of something happening to me. I slowly realized that anti-semitism could be weaponized against any criticism made that I may have had against the Zionist regime of Israel. Spoken words or social media posts could cost me personally and professionally. That was a risk at the time, I couldn’t afford to take.

Then came the events of October 7th. In the aftermath of it, I saw the return of Islamophobia and discrimination towards Arabs resurge. It was like post 9/11 all over again and I was forced to stay silent and tread cautiously once more, as I witnessed colleagues and many others lose their jobs just for speaking out against the genocide that was just beginning and I have two elderly parents that I am responsible for. It was a risk that I was afraid to take, despite the fact that I knew I had so much to convey in terms of feelings and thoughts on what was transpiring. It never started on October 7th, but as far back as the Balfour Declaration in 1917. For over 76 years, Palestinians have been subjected to illegal evictions, oppression, victimization, and subjective torture and killings as a result of the ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation of Palestine. Generations have been wiped out while seeking to reclaim their homeland, which was illegally and forcefully taken away from them. Take a moment and contemplate how it would feel if you watched your entire family get killed in front of your eyes or your home be demolished to make way for illegal settlements?

I saw many of my Arab and non-Arab friends use their platform to speak out against the genocide and state their perspectives. I cheered them on whilst staying on the sidelines, silent.

Now I can’t stay on the sidelines any longer. My Arab pride and dignity, and years of pent-up emotions, won’t allow for that! I have no extensive experience whatsoever in activism, organizing, or social justice work. Nor am I famous or influential or profess to be well connected across Staten Island and beyond like many others in the space - but I do have the power of the pen and my voice to deliver the message that needs to be sent, which is a permanent and lasting ceasefire and the restoration of human rights to all Palestinians. 

70 U.S. cities have passed ceasefire resolutions, including Chicago and Seattle. This does not include New York City, a city with a population of 8.3 million people, 118,494 of them of Arab descent, according to 2022 American Community Survey Data from the U.S. Census and according to the Public Religion Research Institute, approximately 4% of Staten Island’s population is Muslim. It is rather shameful that a City within a State that has the 3rd highest population of Arabs at 304,739 (as of the 2020 U.S. Census) in the country, has not passed a ceasefire resolution to date! What are we waiting for? How many more Palestinians must die or suffer in order for us to take action?

I can’t afford to stay silent when innocent children and babies are being burned alive and beheaded. They are God’s precious gift that must be appreciated and valued! Approximately 15,000 children are dead in Gaza. Tens of thousands more are injured. None of them have a future that they know of or can imagine. In the words of Najla Khass, Refugee Coordinator for ICNA Relief and who emigrated from Palestine in the 1980s and resides on Staten Island, “every child in Gaza has a dream” and they want to “fulfill their dreams and think of the future”. She is absolutely right! What makes a Palestinian child different from everyone else? They have dreams and aspirations and they are equally entitled to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness as stipulated in the Declaration of Independence that we seem to take for granted these days. 

I can’t afford to stay silent when those who I know are living in constant fear for their loved ones back home. I can’t afford to stay silent when the students are out there building encampments and putting their academic and professional futures at stake. If an average person like myself can still go out and do something, then so can anyone else on Staten Island!

I’ve received criticism for me being a bit too over active. How can I not be? Anyone with an ounce of morality and humanity should be doing what I am and perhaps even more. 

The time for staying silent, being reluctant, and being afraid is over! I urge you to contact your elected representatives, who have consistently voted to send more weapons to continue this atrocity, to demand that they push for a lasting and permanent ceasefire resolution that benefits the Palestinians, withhold US taxpayer funding to subsidize the Zionist regime, pledge to rebuild Gaza, and end all illegal settler/colonial activity in the West Bank.

Contact your District’s City Council Person:

District 49 - Kamillah Hanks
District Office
130 Stuyvesant Place 6th Floor, Room 602, Staten Island, NY 10301
718-556-7370 phone
718-556-7389 fax email

District 50 - David Carr
District Office
900 South Avenue, Suite 403, Staten Island, NY 10314
718-980-1017 phone
718-980-1051 fax email

District 51 - Joseph Borelli
District Office
2955 Veterans Road West, Suite 2, Staten Island, NY 10309
718-984-5151 phone
718-948-1592 fax email

Written by: Tamer Mahmoud, Member of Staten Island 4 Palestine Coalition