Amani on why this moment “feels different” for Palestinians

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey y’all, it’s Brittany. So this week I traveled to Tulsa to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, also known as the burning of Black Wall Street. By now, you’ve probably heard the story, even if you didn’t get taught it in school. Over 24 hours on May the 31st, 1921, more than 300 Black people were murdered and hundreds, if not thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed after white mobs attacked the Greenwood neighborhood. In the end, 10,000 Black residents were displaced and generations of wealth and opportunity and power were violently stolen. However, Tulsa is trying to revamp its image. They took out a full page advertisement in USA Today with the headline “Tulsa Triumphs” and had the audacity to declare that the city is, quote, “Leading America’s journey to racial healing.” Y’all can’t be serious. Look, I was in Tulsa and I was fortunate enough to meet 107 year old Viola Fletcher and her 100 year old brother, Hughes Van Ellis, two of the survivors of the massacre. And they are still fighting after a century to get reparations and government support. The Black poverty rate in Tulsa is triple the white poverty rate, and they have the same systemic ills as all segregated inner cities. Meanwhile, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, they are trying to turn the city into some sort of, like, tourist draw, you know, walk the new pathway of hope and enjoy a space for reconciliation. They’ve even used stories like Mother Fletcher’s to raise 30 million dollars to build a museum. No, not reparations for the survivors, but a shiny new history museum in a gentrified neighborhood. You cannot commemorate crimes you are still committing. The entire power structure of Tulsa owes its might to the theft of Indigenous land and Black wealth. And every single day that they do not pay is a day the crime continues and the trauma goes unchecked. So while we push for reparations, we can still care for one another and show up for the survivors and descendants of Greenwood by donating directly to them at As Mother Fletcher said — 

Mother Fletcher I still see Black businesses being burned. I hear the screams, I have lived through the massacre every day. A country may forget this history, but I cannot, I will not and other survivors do not. And our descendants do not. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham We are UNDISTRACTED

On the show today, Palestinian-American activist Amani. I’ll be talking to the Muslim Girl founder about the rise of international support for the Palestinian people and how social media is helping to shift the narrative. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh This is not a conflict between two equal parties. This is an occupation. And now with social media being in the hands of those people, we’re getting the opportunity to write that narrative in our own words. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham That’s coming up, but first, it’s your “UNtrending News.”

Tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open on Monday, and this was after the tournament fined her fifteen thousand dollars for sitting out of a press conference. So players are normally required to speak to the media. But Naomi came out and announced on social media that she intended to break the rule in protest, citing her own mental health. 

Naomi Osaka I would say I have a lot of expectations on myself. Sometimes I battle myself with that. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham In a statement, Naomi explained that she suffered, quote, “Long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018.” She said, “I’m not a natural public speaker and I get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media.” Look y’all, this is about Naomi taking care of herself. And this is a workplace issue. If they can do this to Naomi, how do you think essential workers and low wage earners are being treated when it comes to their mental health? Plenty of these rules are arbitrary. It’s time to do away with the ones that hurt more than they help. So this is a Naomi Osaka fan podcast. And I’m team “do what you need to do for yourself every day.” 

Some distressing news out of Canada. Indigenous groups there are calling for greater accountability after the remains of two hundred fifteen First Nations children were discovered at a former residential school last week. So for those not aware, between the late 1800s, all the way to 1996, approximately one hundred fifty thousand indigenous children were taken from their families and forced into boarding schools across the country in an attempt to assimilate them and erase their culture. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called what happened a cultural genocide, and they estimated that around four to six thousand children died due to neglect, disease and abuse at these schools. Following last week’s horrific discovery, Indigenous leaders are now demanding a nationwide search for further graves. Here’s what Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation had to say. 

Chief Rosanne Casimir So, you know, moving forward, you know, it’s about the truth coming out. And we do know that many other First Nations who’ve had residential schools within their communities also too, you know, want to learn and want to use new technology to be able to find their lost loved ones as well. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the news, quote, “A painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of Canada’s history.” But this history happened as recently as 25 years ago, and the trauma and its ripple effects are still a reality for indigenous people today. If there’s ever going to be healing, all Canadians, all non-indigenous people really must face the horrific truth of what happened and work toward meaningful repair. However, First Nation people demand it. 

And finally, a quick update. After much outcry, UNC Chapel Hill’s board of trustees has reportedly received a resubmitted tenure application for Nikole Hannah-Jones. As we’ve reported before, Nicole was offered a five year contract to serve as the Knight Chair In Race And Investigative Journalism, making her the first person who has held the position not to be offered tenure. We don’t know what the board’s next steps will be, but time is ticking. Last week, Nikole announced that she was considering taking legal action against the university and now her attorneys are giving UNC until tomorrow, that’s Friday, June the 4th, to offer her tenure or else they can expect a federal lawsuit. Keep on going Nikole, keep standing your ground. We’ve got your back sis. 

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Amani about why she says Palestine is a feminist issue right after this short break. 

And we are back. Well, last month saw yet another devastating round of violence between the Israeli military and Hamas in Gaza. After 11 days of fighting, nearly 250 Palestinians were killed, including 65 children, and at least 12 people were killed in Israel. But what’s different this time around is that there’s been an outpouring of international support for the Palestinian people . Through social media, Palestinians have been able to tell their stories, and it appears that mainstream public opinion is slowly expanding. Members of Congress have been questioning our government’s traditionally one sided, unexamined pro-Israel policies. And today, my guest says it certainly feels different this time. Amani is the Palestinian-American founder of Muslim Girl dot com, and she’s been part of this new wave of online voices speaking up for Palestinian human rights. I wanted to center her perspective this week so that we can learn more about the actual reality and humanity of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. Thank you so much for having this conversation. Obviously, we could go back decades, hundreds of years, even millennia, depending on who you ask, but I want to start with what prompted this recent round of violence, the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, where Israel is trying to force Palestinians from their homes. How do you explain the situation in Sheikh Jarrah to people? 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh I don’t think there is any other way to explain it other than it being a colonial project. I mean, how else can you describe families being completely uprooted from their homes arbitrarily for no other reason than to have another settler family move in, in their place and to disrupt the demographic makeup of that area? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And I want to be really clear upfront. You have stressed that Jewish people are not to be blamed for what is happening to Palestinians. The Israeli government is. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh Of course, of course, there is absolutely no connection there. If anything, just looking at the fact that Palestinian human rights are a cause that people from all religions are fighting for, including Jewish people, including Israeli people, and that the human rights abuses being committed against Palestinians impact not only Palestinian Muslims, but also Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Jews as well. I do think that there has been an ongoing frustration in the movement for a long time that issuing any type of criticism against the Israeli government will be misconstrued or mis-portrayed as anti-Semitism, as a way to silence those criticisms that are purely political. And I think now we’re witnessing this new nuance being added to the conversation where people are recognizing that, no, this is really about an occupation and it doesn’t have anything to do with religion or even race, creed, background, but rather standing up for the human rights of a civilian population against an occupying power. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham After Israeli forces raided Al-Aqsa Mosque in May — on May the 8th during Ramadan, the Palestinian struggle for freedom really went global. You have even said that this time it feels different. I’m curious, how so? 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh Oh, my God. I mean, growing up as a Palestinian girl, that has been an experience that felt like complete erasure because it was growing up with the narratives being that we don’t exist and that we are constantly equated to terrorism for any type of resistance against an occupying power. Or I can even remember when I was in school and my parents would be worried for me to wear the keffiyeh — the keffiyeh scarf to my classes because they were afraid of what other students might think or the way that they would treat me and things like that. And I think right now, one thing that is really changing is that we’re not being gaslit anymore. I think that now with social media, finally, people are listening and it’s allowing access to a lot more people to hear those stories that they never got to hear before. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham And one of the tools, as you’ve already mentioned, that has been critical for this broadening conversation is social media. I mean, we’ve seen images from Gaza and the West Bank. They’ve been traveling around the world at light speed. And we’ve seen celebrities like Gigi and Bella Hadid expressing outrage on Instagram. Many of your posts have been incredibly educational and they’ve gone viral. Tell us more, what — what role is social media having and playing in the Free Palestine Movement? 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh In this current situation our phones have become our biggest weapons because they have allowed people so much more access to what’s happening on the ground. And in a lot of ways, it’s quite sad to say this, but social media has become one of the only forms of accountability that the Palestinian people even have access to that are living under occupation. So it’s not only a way for us to access information, but it’s become this active way for us to fight against the injustice by spreading that information, by amplifying the voices of those that are being impacted. I think that social media has been so empowering in that way. And it’s also made any type of person that has been a part of these conversations online to feel like they are a part of making that change happen. I think that’s one thing that I’ve been really determined to stress with my social media posts is don’t underestimate your own individual impact. You actually do have power in that way because a lot of times that change starts within your own immediate networks. It starts with you creating that conversation among the people that are in your family, among your friends and your community. And that change is always interconnected and it ripples outwards, not just for the movement itself, but also for the collective struggle of other communities, too. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, you’ve talked before about how social media, to your point, is really decentralizing and democratizing this conversation. And like you said, there’s been growing criticism of the way that mainstream media covers Israel and Palestine, you know, for its use of biased language and false equivalencies, for suppressing certain narratives while elevating others. What are your biggest criticisms of mass media in this regard? 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh Oh, my God, Brittany, when I tell you I have been so excited every time I’ve seen a post pop up on my news feed with the actual language corrections of different headlines covering the occupation or just resources about what type of vocab to even use in the situation, because this level of attention to these details has never been paid before to what’s happening in Palestine. And language is powerful. It’s been through language that the media has been able to misrepresent the facts on the ground for so long. This is not a conflict between two equal parties. This is an occupation. This is one party having a military, having access to nuclear weapons and this mass military technology against a population that is majority civilian with barely access to electricity. It’s very blatant how disproportionate it is. And I think the worst thing that language can be used for, especially for underrepresented communities and for people of color, is for the erasure of what’s happening to them. And now with social media being in the hands of those people, we’re getting the opportunity to write that narrative in our own words, on our own terms and to watch that happen, it has been so inspiring. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So you started the forum Muslim Girl back when you were in high school to center Muslim women and girls’ voices and to share stories that really help affect change. How has your Muslim Girl community been engaging with and really seeing itself as a part of what’s happening in Gaza? 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh You know, when I started Muslim Girl it was as a reaction to the war on terror. It was coming out of the horrible results of the Iraq war and wanting to feel like our role in society enables us with the privileges and the resources to actually do something, you know, not just be able to reclaim our narrative in the media and to speak for ourselves of what’s really going on and how we’re impacted, but also in the hopes that it might change public opinion in a way that later on down the road it will impact policy as well. Even just seeing how the conversation on Palestine has radically transformed in Congress alone is something that I think really lays the importance of why we should have platforms to talk back on our own terms that are coming from alternative voices. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You know, the U.S. for a long time has been an unequivocal supporter of Israel, the government of Israel. But recently, like you talked about, members like Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they have been critical of the Israeli government and been speaking up for the Palestinian people on the Congress floor. Obviously this also includes Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who’s the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress. They’ve also been exerting pressure on Biden to condemn the violence against Palestinians. I want to play a bit of Rashida Tlaib’s speech. 

Rashida Tlaib My ancestors and current family in Palestine deserve the world to hear their history without obstruction. They have a right to be able to explain to the world that they are still suffering. As Peter Beinart, an American of Jewish faith, writes, quote, “When you tell a people to forget its past, you are not proposing peace. You are proposing extinction.” 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham What do you think of that? 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh This is what happens when we are electing leaders from our own communities to be the ones to speak up for us. We went from me being scared to wear a keffiyeh to my high school classes, to us witnessing a congresswoman, a Palestinian congresswoman at that wearing the keffiyeh on the Congress floor. I think that that is something that is just hugely heart opening. I think that even the fact that we have a resolution on the table, H.R. 2590, which is the Palestinian Family and Children Act, it is the first time that we’re witnessing Congress suggest limitations on the military aid that the United States provides to Israel every year. So I think that absolutely having more people in our Congress, those representing us, have the courage to speak up, to put a stop to it, especially Jewish members like Bernie Sanders. 

Bernie Sanders Where we should be, especially when we’re giving four billion a year to Israel, is we should be bringing people together, not just being one sided and say everything that Israel does is good because it is not. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh It’s really showing that people are addressing this like the political issue that it truly is. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham You’ve also said before, and I don’t want to miss this point, that Palestine is a feminist issue. How so? Help people understand. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh When I first said this online I kind of forgot how polarizing the quote unquote “F-word” still is for some people. Some people misconstrued what I was saying to make it seem like Palestine is solely a gender issue or solely impacts women somehow, which obviously is not the case. But what it does mean is that if you identify as a feminist, you absolutely need to be concerned with the Palestinian occupation. This is an issue that not only affects the human rights of a marginalized group of women, but also it disproportionately impacts women, children and families in a way that has been absolutely horrific and should concern any mother to her core. We’ve seen even in the recent round of attacks that approximately 30 percent of the casualties have been children. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham So when you look at the growing international support for the Palestinian people, it’s hard not to make some parallels with the movement for Black Lives. I’m curious to know what connections you see, because I remember being on the ground in Ferguson in 2014 and remembering how closely Palestinian and Black activists were working together. It was Palestinian activists who told us first how to handle tear gas. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh You know, Brittany, I was on the ground in Ferguson at that time as well. And one thing that I will remember for the rest of my life is witnessing that solidarity happen between Palestinians in Palestine on the other side of the world with Black American protesters on the ground right here at home. And one thing that was astonishing to me was witnessing the parallels in violence that these two seemingly unfamiliar groups of people are both suffering at the same time. You know, one thing that is still just the image is seared into my mind was how the teargas canisters that were being used against Palestinians were the same kind that police officers were using in Ferguson. You know, and I think that naturally, you know, these two groups of people were able to use social media to make that connection of, okay, how do we share survival tactics at this point, survival tactics. And I think that just underlines how people of color around the world are kind of up against very similar power structures right now. And it has to be a united cause. And oppositely, I think that it’s been Black Lives Matter and our civil rights movement that has empowered the Palestinian cause so much. Do I think that people would so easily grasp the occupation now and what’s happening had they not been exposed to police violence and understanding what that looks like in our society now? Probably not. So I think that it really services both communities for us to really be aligned in that way, because the parallels are really obvious and undeniable. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham I mean, to your point, there is a massive mural of George Floyd on the wall separating the West Bank from Israel. You talked a little — 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh Wow I didn’t know that. I didn’t see that. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Yeah, yeah, it’s really something. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh And, do you know, in George Floyd Square, they unraveled the Palestine flag too. How powerful is that? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Wow. I’m not going to ask you for a solution to peace. Right? But — but in terms of the next steps, I’m interested to know what you would like to see happen. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh We have to feel humanity with the Palestinian people and what they’ve been enduring for so long, because I think that ultimately having that humanity ripped away from Palestinians when talking about this issue, especially in the media, it’s allowed them to be dehumanized for so long and thus the violence perpetuated against them to be easily overlooked and completely misrepresented to the general public. I mean, Palestinians need the agency to speak for themselves. One thing that I always say is that there’s no such thing as being a voice for the voiceless, that everybody has a voice. There are just those that are more systematically silenced than others. And one thing that I saw that someone tweeted at me actually was, “Things are going to change because the Palestinians are finally finding their voice.” And my response to that was, Palestinians have always had a voice. It’s just that nobody was listening. And I think that right now the most important thing is for us to pass the mic to Palestinians under occupation and allow Palestinians to be the one to speak for themselves, to tell that story for themselves and openly express those experiences without being censored and without being misrepresented. And I think that by shifting power in that way, there’s really no coming back from it. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Thank you so, so much for lending us your brilliance and for all you do in the world. 

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh Thank you so much for having me, Brittany, and thank you for creating space for this dialogue as always. I think it’s so important and the fact that it’s two women coming together to make this conversation happen, that’s power right there.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Amani is an activist, author and founder of Recognizing our collective humanity, y’all hear me say that all the time, is key. This situation when it comes down to it is really about basic human rights. The Palestinian people have been dehumanized and silenced for so long. And yet, Amani reminds us, Palestinians have always had a voice. It’s just that the world too often wasn’t listening. This latest ceasefire isn’t the end of the occupation. So as we move forward, it is important that we continue to center the voices of Palestinian people themselves so that they can be the ones to tell their own stories and share their own experiences without being misrepresented. Amani says this time feels different. I recognize that feeling, I said the same thing last summer during the global demonstrations for Black Lives. But in order to go from feeling different to being different, especially those of us here in the West, we got to turn this changing public conversation into policy, foreign policy and meaningful change that honors the humanity of us all. 

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. 


UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Matlow. 

Our associate producer is Taylor Hosking. 

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Grace Chen and Hannis Brown.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor. 

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED on Spotify, Apple Podcast or wherever you check out your favorite podcasts. 

Thanks for listening. Thanks for being. Thanks for doing. 

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.