Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Control the Future: Palestine native urges Beaver County to speak up for a Gaza ceasefire

By Andrew Stepke

Special to The Times

May 22, 2024, BEAVER - The conflict between Israel and Palestine has been ongoing for nearly 76 years and boiled over last year after an Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel, leading to an armed response in Palestine. But even though the resulting destruction and death has been in the news for months, it still likely feels distant for many Beaver Countians.

That is why Beaver County Peace Links recently sponsored a talk by Ahmed Arafat, a Palestinian native who now resides in Pittsburgh, and others at Beaver Area Memorial Library about the suffering that is going on in Gaza.

Palestine native Ahmed Arafat speaking May 18, 2024, at the Beaver Area Memorial Library urging a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.

Speaking to those gathered at the Beaver library, Arafat said he wants to tell stories that help people understand what is happening in Gaza and why a ceasefire is so important for every party involved. A second Palestinian speaker, Arafat's wife, Eman, shared the medical status of Gaza residents, which is grim.

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Arafat talked about his childhood and familial roots in Gaza which extend far beyond his lifetime, as his family goes back generations. He said his grandparents, aunts, uncles and all family members have felt the war's effects.

Arafat spent most of his young life there, but went to school overseas. His father urged him to study when he was young because “as a refugee, the only thing you can do is get a good education.”

People gathered May 18, 2024, at the Beaver Area Memorial Library to hear Palestine native Ahmed Arafat talk about Gaza.

While the recent Gaza War is new, Arafat is no stranger to conflict. He said, “We didn’t have snow days [growing up], we had tank days.” When tanks would roll through his neighborhood, school was not an option for young Arafat.

Something important Arafat said he wanted to disprove is regular misconceptions about Palestinean people. Part of this talk was to help eradicate stereotypes. He said Palestinean education is not one that “teaches terrorism” or any other harmful practices.

“All the people of Gaza are family,”Arafat said, “the majority of Palestinean people have zero hate in their hearts.”

Other stereotypes would suggest women and children being used as human shields and that is the reason for high death numbers, but Arafat said that isn’t the case. He has four sisters living in Gaza and 14 nieces and nephews. One of his sisters has moved her family seven different times to escape the Israeli bombings.

Arafat said, “[I] hear a story every single day of civil servants dying tragically … Loss of life should not happen.”

In the end, Arafat said he wanted to point out some facts. “Since 2014, 17,000 children have died, [and] 25,000 are left orphaned with no family,” he said.

Arafat added, “It’s simple. If you get a ceasefire today, 50 kids will not die tomorrow.”

Putting an end to continual death and suffering is what Arafat pleads for, not just because they are his people but because they are human beings.

“If eight months later we’re looking for who’s to blame, we’re in the wrong place, talking to the wrong people … We need to be the voice to the voiceless, for the children [who have died]”

Commending the crowd gathered for the event, Arafat urged folks to speak up for a ceasefire.

“Just by being here, you are on the right side of history," he said. "While we can’t change the past, we have full control of the future.”

Also sponsoring the event were Beaver County Blue, Peace Action, United Electrical Workers Eastern Region and Pittsburgh Palestine Coalition.