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A Palestinian Voice in America: A conversation with Linda Sarsour

Jerusalem24 – Linda Sarsour, an American political activist. She was co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March, the 2017 Day Without a Woman, and the 2019 Women’s March.

She is also a former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. She and her Women’s March co-chairs were profiled in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2017.

A Muslim of Palestinian descent, Sarsour first gained attention for protesting police surveillance of American Muslims, later becoming involved in other civil rights issues such as police brutality, feminism, immigration policy, and mass incarceration.

She has also organized Black Lives Matter demonstrations and was the lead plaintiff in a suit challenging the legality of the Trump travel ban.

Her political activism has been praised by some liberals and progressives, while her stance and remarks on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have been criticized by some conservatives and Jewish leaders and organizations. Sarsour has advocated for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories and expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Sarsour’s early activism included advocating for the civil rights of American Muslims following the September 11 attacks. Shortly before 9/11, Basemah Atweh, a relative and founder of the Arab American Association of New York, asked Sarsour to volunteer for the organization. Atweh, who held a prominent political role uncommon for a Muslim woman, became Sarsour’s mentor.

Sarsour initially gained attention for protesting police surveillance of American Muslims. As director of the Arab American Association of New York, she advocated for the passage of the Community Safety Act in New York, which created an independent office to review police policy and widen the definition of bias-based profiling in the state. She and the organization pressed for the law after instances of what they saw as biased policing in local neighborhoods, and it passed over the objections of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then-Police Chief Raymond W. Kelly. Sarsour also played a part in the successful campaign to have Islamic holidays recognized in New York City’s public schools, which started observing Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr in 2015.

According to a 2017 article in The New York Times, Sarsour “has tackled issues like immigration policy, mass incarceration, stop-and-frisk and the New York City Police Department’s spying operations on Muslims — all of which have largely inured her to hate-tinged criticism”.

Linda joined us in the studio this morning for a special episode of Wake Up Palestine. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

On being a Palestinian American in the United States:

  • “Just breathing Palestinian, just being Palestinian, is very controversial in the United States of America – and especially if you are someone who is quite out front with your Palestinian-ness, centering your identity as a Palestinian.”
  • “[Being Palestinian] informs every part of who I am.”
  • “I want to say first and foremost to Palestinians outside the United States and especially here in Palestine and those who live within Israel, that our political party, the Democrat Party, is behind you. It’s behind people. It’s behind young people, it’s behind Black people, it’s behind new immigrants who are part of our electoral process. It is behind our Muslim communities, it’s behind our Arab American communities.”
  • “In the United States […] our political discourse has changed. The left-wing part of our Democratic Party is unequivocally pro-Palestinian.”

On solidarity with and from the Black struggle for racial justice:

  • “That kind of solidarity, that experience, that sharing of oppression is powerful.”
  • “I always tell Palestinian Americans that you cannot fight for you only. We have to fight for each other.”

On fighting to win:

  • “We’re always fighting the oppression against us. We fight, we fight, we fight. And I’m tired of fighting. I know that the Palestinian people, they’re tired of fighting. For me, fight to win is to build a strategy, a long-term strategy.”
  • “Sometimes we plant seeds knowing that you may never see the fruits of your labor.”
  • “Maybe I won’t see a free Palestine but maybe my children will and maybe my grandchildren will, and that’s enough for me to keep going.”

On Shireen Abu Akleh:

  • “I’ve never mourned the way I’ve mourned over Shireen.”
  • “So when we grew up, Shireen was on our televisions in the United States of America. Our parents felt connected to our homeland through Shireen.”
  • “She was someone so connected to the most directly impacted and that is so inspiring for me. She wanted to center the voices of the most harmed people here in Palestine.”
  • “I want her family to know what is happening in the US, that there is a movement to uphold Shireen’s name. There are memorials of Shireen, there are events that happen around Shireen.”

On being here in Palestine, and addressing Palestinians:

  • “Being here is beautiful.”
  • “I want our Palestinian people here to know, and of course our Palestinian family who live within Israel, to know that the fight continues, and that we have to continue to keep our heads held high. And that with all that we experience around the world as Palestinians –  and especially the experiences of those who are here – they will not be in vain.”

Watch the full interview below.

Mohammad Hamayel

Ramallah based journalist, Mohammad graduated from Al-Quds University with a B.A. in Media and Television. He has covered the 2015 Jerusalem Intifada as well as the Great March of Return for international media outlets. currently an editor/presenter at Jerusalem24. A UN alumni and a follower of global events and politics, especially American affairs.

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