On Palestine

by Maya Velesko

I’ve been thinking of my parents a lot recently, and telling friends that they are surely both “turning in their graves” over the current scenes on the world stage. 

My father was a Ukrainian émigré, escaping the Russians with his family during WW2. He would be dismayed over the recent loss of land and life in Ukraine. As a forty-year veteran of the United States Foreign Service, he would have much to say about what is occurring behind the closed doors of global boardrooms and government offices as well as the blatant selective employment of international law and humane compassion by our institutions and mainstream media. 

My mother was a Muslim Tunisian, whose culture and faith was most prominent in my upbringing, and because of this I was raised surrounded by the kindness, generosity, and joy of Palestinians. They were most often from Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon and as a child my understanding of what it means to be a Palestinian was obscure … what is Palestine? Is it a place? A prayer? A dream? 

Later, I started to grow an understanding of what was at the root of this diaspora. In college, I tested the professor of my human rights law course at Florida International University by telling him I was born in Palestine (I was born in modern day Amman, Jordan) to which he replied in front of the whole class — with barely veiled disgust — that no such place exists.

As a first generation American with a far-flung global upbringing, the idea of home and origin has always been at the core of the search for my identity. In consideration of the Palestinian struggle, the continued oppression of people and the occupation of/expulsion from their ancestral lands, paired with the obfuscation of the foundations of the tyranny and the displacement, I cannot begin to understand what it feels like to be a Palestinian in this era. I can, however, speak to what it feels like to be a human in these times: a resident of this community, a small business operator, a mother.

The scenes I have forced myself to witness unfolding in the palm of my hand for the past 146 days have been brutally devastating. From my perspective as a mother of four, I have had the privilege and luxury — by some dumb luck — of feeling the pain and terror safely removed from any true harm but fuck do I grieve for the mothers and fathers devastated, for the families and futures erased, for the sacred soil ravaged, and the humanity lost. 

Bearing witness to this is the least I can do, and alchemizing this grief along with the rage I have at the impunity with which the IOF operates — with zero accountability and no red lines even considered by our complicit United States government — strengthens my resolve to act. 

Some days this looks like petitioning our city and county commissions to call for ceasefire and divest from Israeli funds, others it looks like using my body or my voice to protest and raise awareness. It looks like tending to my children — thankfully relatively safe and sound despite inhabiting a numbly cruel world. And many evenings, it looks like me lighting candles in prayer and vigil, allowing the tears to fall freely and my heart to shatter, over and over and over. 

It is a widely held belief that what we do in times like these is a test. I was tested as a business owner early in October when a wedding client canceled a very substantial rental contract at Superette because they conflated a post on my business page inviting folks “to share in a rare bottle of Palestinian wine and contemplate our humanity” with me being antisemitic and a terror apologist.

It was a huge sum to lose for our small family-run and locally-employing endeavor. Superette, as with my former businesses, has essentially operated as a beneficial corporation, investing in the community we serve by sourcing and donating locally as much as our razor thin margins allow. 

In my many years of entrepreneurship I have publicly utilized my platforms to raise awareness and contribute to politically or socially sensitive causes such as Black Lives Matter, voter and abortion rights, and LGBTQ+ issues like transgender rights and Pride. While being applauded for my efforts in aligning with progressive values and advocating for positive change in regards to some of the more — palatable? pinkwashable? — issues, I have never faced the outright backlash that I have in advocating for Palestine. 

We have been criticized and admonished for wading into taboo territory — “why don’t you just stick to what you’re good at — wine and food.” We have been accused of pandering, virtue signaling, and so far as alienating and insulting certain segments of our customer base. We have been harassed and threatened, in person, over the phone and in hundreds of messages over the last months of our increasingly visible and loud amplification of the Palestinian struggle.

My business and therefore my ability to employ local folks, feed my family, and give back to my community is consistently threatened by vindictive individuals and would-be patrons blacklisting our business and dangling their dollars as collateral coupled with their demands for us to publicly condemn Hamas and the events of Oct. 7, and withdraw our acceptance of and open call for resistance. 

We refuse to remain silent. We refuse to be complicit. We need to be brave. More of us. All of us. 

Speaking up and out for the oppressed is not just an act of courage; it is a testament to our collective resolve and humanity. It signifies our unwavering commitment to justice and equality, even in the face of adversity. 

In these moments, our actions serve as a mirror reflecting the health and heart of our very community. By amplifying voices and standing in solidarity with those all who are oppressed, we demonstrate the strength of our communal spirit and the depth of our compassion. It is during these critical junctures that our true character as individuals and as a society is revealed, showcasing our capacity for empathy, resilience, and unity. And I must say, Gainesville — the parts of you that I have had the fortune of witnessing online, in the halls, and on the streets, you are beautiful and good and just. 

Free Palestine! Ceasefire Now!

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