The killing of Palestinians by Israelis has become as uneventful as drinking a glass of water, said Raed Zayyat while directing a protest in front of the U.S. Federal Building in downtown Salt Lake City Friday.
Friday marked the 13th anniversary of Palestine Land Day. The Arab anniversary recognizes the 1976 killing by Israeli troops of six Arabs who were protesting land seizures by the government. It has become a rallying cry for Arabs.Many of the Palestinian Arabs are now concentrated in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas controlled by Israel since 1967. Those areas have been torn by violence for the past 1 1/2 years as Palestinians have conducted a grassroots uprising against Israeli occupation.
World opinion and even members of Israel's parliament have condemned tactics used by the Israelis to put down the uprising.
"We want to live in peace and grow crops. We are human beings and want to be treated fairly. We want our homeland, Palestine, back," said Zayyat.
Children, students and parents waved pickets demanding that Israel close its "concentration camps," "stop deportation of Palestinians," reopen Palestinian schools and universities and return Palestine to Palestinians.
Zayyat complained of years of Israeli encroachment, from the 1948 war that created the Jewish state and sent the majority of Palestinians into exile to today's Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
About 80,000 Israeli settlers, who believe the West Bank and Gaza are theirs on historic and religious grounds, have moved into the areas occupied by about 1.75 million Arabs, and the settlers also have been subjected to violence.
When the Israelis took over Palestine in 1948, Zayyat said, the situation was analogous to having Native Americans return to Utah and claim their land 100 years after the pioneers had settled the valley.
"Children fighting the Israelis by throwing rocks have been murdered. Our homes have been taken from underneath our feet," he said.
But Zayyat believes Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace. He urges the United States to continue discussions to promote peace. American leaders should tell Israel, "Enough killing," he said.
A U.S. citizen, Zayyat attends the University of Utah and is studying tourism development. He hopes to return to his home country - Palestine - to help his people.
"This is a beautiful country and I appreciate living here. But I want to go home to the rich culture of my people."