A man speaks into a bullhorn as Palestinian flags wave in the air.

A protester calls for a cease-fire at a rally organized by Palestinian youth outside President Joe Biden’s speech in Belvidere, Illinois, on November 9, 2023.

(Photo: CodePink)

Disrupting Biden for Gaza Didn’t Take Courage

I was channeling the sentiments of the truly courageous people I have been following and have spoken to in Gaza.

Yesterday, I interrupted an event where President Joe Biden was speaking in Belvidere, Illinois, to demand that he call for a cease-fire in Gaza. Over 10,000 Palestinians, half of them children, have been killed by Israeli bombardments in the last month. Entire bloodlines have been wiped off the face of the Earth. And the day I confronted Biden, a harrowing video surfaced of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza evacuating their cities on foot.

Normally, I get incredibly anxious when speaking publicly, and I have a hard time speaking without tripping over my words. You would think that interrupting the President of the United States, arguably the most powerful man in the world, would have made me stop in my tracks. I also knew that if I interrupted the president, the crowd was bound to be hostile, very hostile. My stomach was churning, and my heart was fluttering. But somehow, once the president started to speak, I waited for a quiet moment and then the words just flowed from my mouth; it felt like a miracle.

People in the comments of the video are calling me courageous. I don’t by any means consider myself to be a particularly courageous person. I think I was just angry enough to do it and that I was channeling the sentiments of the truly courageous people I have been following and have spoken to in Gaza.

I confronted Biden for Bisan, the journalist in northern Gaza who broadcasts to over a million people every day despite internet and electricity blackouts. She’s only 23, not even a year younger than I am, but she’s living through an active genocide. When she was told by the Israelis to leave northern Gaza, she refused. She stayed. In so many of her updates, she notes that it might be her last one, whether it be from lack of food or Israeli airstrikes around Gaza City. The day I interrupted Biden, Bisan had not posted in 24 hours and those of us who follow her anxiously awaited her return. This morning, she came back to tell us that she was alive, but that the Shifa hospital campus that has been sheltering thousands of refugees had been bombed.

I also thought of Plestia, the Palestinian journalist who is two years younger than I. Plestia spends all day not only telling the agonizing stories of survival and of death over the last month, but also documents Palestinian life amid the rubble. She shows children playing with their pets and making arts and crafts. She interviews them, makes them smile, and puts dozens of names and faces to Gaza.

The only thing keeping me up at night is knowing that my country is aiding and abetting a genocide in Gaza and that the bombs being dropped on Palestinians say, “Made in the USA.”

Israel has a record of assassinating prominent journalists and has associated important photojournalists in Gaza with Hamas in recent weeks. These two young women, at the greatest personal risk, are spending what they think to be their final days breathing so much life into Gaza even during such an immense tragedy. That takes tremendous courage.

A few weeks ago, my best friend said in passing that she found out her family was still alive because she looked for their names on the registry of martyred Palestinians that the Ministry of Health published. There’s courage in every Palestinian American who puts their name and face to the world for their family’s sake, knowing full well what the repercussions could be. Palestinian-Americans have been fired, censured, blackballed, and even killed for being Palestinian in this country. If I was able to make it into that room with the president, echoing their demands with the clearest voice I could muster seemed like the very least I could do.

Of course, it takes courage to dig for your child in a collapsed building—a child that may have taken years and thousands of prayers to finally have, but now, for the first time, you were unable to protect. There’s courage in a little girl helping a rescue team dig herself out of rubble with the one free limb she has while she struggles to breathe. There’s courage in Palestinian doctors refusing to evacuate a hospital because they are determined to save as many lives as they possibly can.

I have never gone to bed with the fear that bombs will be dropped on my neighborhood and that I will die under the weight of my own home. The only thing keeping me up at night is knowing that my country is aiding and abetting a genocide in Gaza and that the bombs being dropped on Palestinians say, “Made in the USA.”

So, yelling at Biden is nothing. It didn’t take courage—it just took anger. And we should all be really, really angry. In 50 years when our world collectively remembers this moment, I will be comfortable in where I stood. Will you?

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