Displaced Narratives: A Palestinian-American Activist’s Perspective

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

  Truth is that transcendent reality disclosed in the people’s historical struggle for liberation, which enables them to know that their fight for freedom is not futile.
                        – James Cone

In the cruel, eye-for-eye, and tooth-for-tooth tumultuous arena of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the thunderous echoes of the October 7 attack on Israel continue reverberating. The Gaza Strip, a narrow five-mile by 25-mile strip of land home to roughly 2.3 million Palestinians and one of the most densely populated places on Earth, has been the epicenter of extensive Israeli bombardment.

Israel’s vicious military operation follows a brutal surprise attack by Hamas, a Palestinian group that infiltrated Israel from Gaza, killed approximately 1,400 Israelis, and kidnapped over 200 hostages, including Americans. Israeli retaliation has now killed more than 5,000 Gazans, where nearly half the population is under 18. Some outlets have asserted that the Israeli counterblows killed more Palestinian children in one week than Ukrainian children killed in one year of war with Russia.

Unquestionably, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and deeply rooted struggle marked by historical grievances, competing narratives, and profound human suffering. The October 7, 2023 events encapsulate this complexity, where the line between resistance and aggression blurs, and the reactions are shaped by the lens through which individuals view the world.

Amidst the swirling currents of debate and scrutiny surrounding this conflict, it is imperative to tune in to the perspective of a Palestinian-American activist who embodies the aspirations of the Palestinian people. This voice carries the weight of ancestral memories under Israeli military occupation and oppression.

Toledo attorney and activist Linda Mansour’s voice is a poignant reminder that the search for a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must also include a deep appreciation for the diverse perspectives and experiences that have shaped the lives of those caught in its turbulent currents.

Linda Mansour

Perryman: Please talk about your connection to Palestine and to Gaza.

Mansour: I am of Palestinian heritage and a first-generation American, born in Walter Reed Hospital. My dad was serving in the US Army, but he and my mom both were born in Palestine. My mom lost her father in December of 1947, there was no Israel then. But the Zionist militia groups killed my mom’s father and then within a few days they killed her brother and her nephew. We had to leave the beautiful home in Jerusalem. That’s my connection to Palestine in general.

Perryman: You are also a YWCA Milestone honoree and crusader for social justice.

Mansour: As an attorney, I’ve been on fact-finding missions surrounding frustration over Israel’s military occupation. I was in Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009 when they did what they’re doing now, but there was no social media or TV, and Israel blocked it out, which they’re trying to do now. The strategy is the same, and the propaganda using their textbook on perception management hasn’t changed.

So, I’ve been involved since I was 15 – the First Intifada, the Second Intifada, the fact-finding delegations with indigenous women of the United States into Gaza that I went to that was half Jewish American and half Palestinian American. I’ve been through it, and living it is truly excruciatingly painful.

Perryman: Were you in Gaza when the October 7 attacks took place?

Mansour: No, I wasn’t in Gaza during the October 7 attacks. I was in the West Bank with my daughter at the time. Leaving was challenging due to limited checkpoints and transportation options. Unlike today, when they send ships and planes, those options weren’t available back then. My daughter didn’t want to leave; she felt we were privileged, and I had to convince her that she wouldn’t save Palestine by staying there, but it was a challenge to get out.

Perryman: Is Israel alone to blame for the unspeakable violence on October 7? Does blame begin with “The Hamas Massacre,” or does it start with millions of people being confined in a 5 x 25-mile open-air prison?

Mansour: I’m not responding to October 7. Would you target a specific date when they reacted to Nelson Mandela’s resistance in South Africa? This has been going on since my grandfather was killed in December 1947. Still, the problem is that the powers-that-be control the propaganda, just like when the U.S. entered Iraq. The drumbeats went on and on about weapons of mass destruction, and God forbid someone should question that there are weapons of mass destruction.

In fairness to injustice, you don’t start on October 7. However, the powers-that-be begin on October 7, and they have the mic. No one supports the Palestinians except the people, but the power is with the governments. I don’t know if you saw Jewish Voices for Peace that went and was in the House last week in D.C. I think 200, 400, and they were arrested. Those were Jewish people protesting and saying stop, stop already!

Perryman: How do you balance the interests of the Jewish people and the interests of Palestinians living on the same land?

Mansour: This is not about Jews. This is the Zionists doing land grabs. My mom grew up in Jerusalem, and with Jewish people, they shared their holidays, did business, and lived in peace and harmony. When my uncle was killed a week after my grandfather was killed, at the barrel of the gun, he said to this person, “We do business with you, we’re friends with you, don’t shoot,” and as he’s saying that, they kill him.

So, this is not about Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Holy Land was holy before the Zionists started up, before they massacred all the people in Deir Yassin and drove everybody out in 1948. Now, what they’re trying to do is do the same thing. They’ve been waiting for this.

Perryman: Well, let me ask it this way. How do you balance conducting a war in a civilian population where one group has intentionally placed its military infrastructure within the confines of a civilian population?

Mansour: You’re drinking the Kool-Aid. They are not placing themselves anywhere. They live in Gaza. Hamas is the government. They do the education, were elected and have a military arm. They have been locked in from air, sea, water, food and land. They can’t get out. They can’t get out. People with cancer who need to get out to get treatment can knock at the door and say, “Can you let me out?” And they won’t let them out. Kids who want education have been marching for over a year and are still marching up to this point to the border with Israel peacefully. They were shooting them. If you go to the streets of Gaza, you’ll see everybody has one limb, arm, or eye. They’re not hiding. They live in Gaza just like the Israelis live. Do you think the Israelis are in the Sinai? They’re the Israelis, they’re among the people, and they’re in the Palestinian territories every single day.

Perryman: So, I understand. Israel closed the border crossings into and out of Gaza and imposed a land, air, and sea blockade. Can you elaborate on what some describe Gaza as a 5-mile by 25-mile open-air prison?

Mansour: To me, it’s more than that. If you’re in prison, you’re there because you’ve been convicted of a crime. These Palestinians have not done anything except try to live. They love life. Their water, travel and liberties depend on Israel, which controls all of the borders.

Perryman: When all of this violence broke out last week, what steps did you take to maintain your safety?

Mansour: To ensure my safety during the journey, I took several precautions. First, I found a driver who could legally take me through the West Bank, where there are distinct restrictions based on the color of car license plates. White license plates are limited to certain areas, so I needed a car with a yellow license plate. Additionally, I looked for a driver who spoke fluent Hebrew and could blend in to avoid attracting unnecessary attention at checkpoints.

I encountered a particularly challenging checkpoint where an Israeli officer demanded to see my permit. Despite being in a car with a yellow license plate, I explained that I didn’t have a permit but held only an American passport. After a tense exchange, the officer eventually allowed me to proceed to the bridge leading to Jordan.

Perryman:  Did you ever feel that your life was in danger?

Mansour: I wasn’t at ease. I didn’t know what the officer could do. These young people are brainwashed to believe Palestinians are not human. If I have that star on my forehead that he can tag as Palestinian, then yeah, I had to stick to the story … and it’s not a story. I am an American born and raised in Washington, DC, so he couldn’t tag me. By the way, Israel has applied for what they called the Visa Waiver Program, which allows them, like other European nations, to come into the United States without a visa. Yet, we have been fighting for years to be on the Visa Waiver Program. You need to treat all Americans equally, just as we would treat the nations that come in here equally if they come in, and that hasn’t been the case.

Perryman: What else stood out?

Linda: I have many friends in Gaza right now who face unimaginable hardships, including losing family members. One friend, volunteering in a shelter, reached out to me urgently seeking resources to help children cope with the trauma of losing their families. The communication is extremely limited there, with no internet access and only the ability to send short messages via 4G. I had to provide a PDF since they couldn’t open links.

Another friend, a young artist studying in London, was stuck in Gaza as her school started, and she couldn’t leave. It took three weeks before she could finally leave Gaza, but just a day before the recent events began. She feels a deep sense of guilt being away while her parents are there, unsure of their safety. Many of us are anxiously waiting for updates from our friends.

Perryman: Where do we go from here? Is peace possible?

Mansour: The first thing to move forward is getting humanitarian aid to the suffering people who are being bombed. You must get these people clean water. Many of them don’t have clean water for drinking and sanitation. Also, their fragile healthcare system is on the verge of collapse without adequate water and electricity.

Opening the borders to allow humanitarian assistance is crucial, as it reduces the vulnerability of those subjected to years of violence. The absence of a recognized nation has left them without an army to defend themselves. What it takes is people calling their congresspeople, senators, and the White House, organizing sit-ins and asking for humanitarian aid and an immediate ceasefire.

Questions should also be directed at Israel and the Zionist movement regarding their intentions, as it is crucial to seek a just and lasting resolution to the conflict that respects the rights and safety of all parties involved.

Perryman: Is there anything else you want to add?

Mansour: The Palestinian people are human beings that just want to live. Open their borders, and let them live in peace. Let them be free in Palestine. Liberty is everyone’s right, freedom is everyone’s right, and it’s not Israel who can tell us when the Palestinians can breathe.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at drdlperryman@enterofhopebaptist.org