From left: Long Islanders Fida Abdallah, Laurice Abdelhalim and Malek...

From left: Long Islanders Fida Abdallah, Laurice Abdelhalim and Malek Deib, members of the local Palestinian community. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Malek Deib remembers the beauty of growing up in the West Bank. As a boy, he climbed trees to pick oranges and olives on his grandfather’s farm and helped herd goats and sheep.

But he also recalls the conflict. Deib, a Palestinian who now lives in Suffolk County, remembers how Israeli settlers steadily encroached on land that was supposed to be reserved for Palestinians under the 1947 accords that partitioned British Mandatory Palestine and created the state of Israel.

Eventually as his grandfather got older, he hired someone to look after the farm. One night, settlers came and shot the man in the head in front of his family, according to the man’s relatives, Deib said.

“They knocked on the door, he answered, and they just killed him,” he said.

For Deib, 41, a Stony Brook University graduate who moved here when he was 7, today feels like a familiar script as conflicts erupt again in the Middle East.

Two months after Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 hostage, according to Israeli authorities, the region remains engulfed in bloodshed. With the failure on Nov. 30 of a temporary weeklong ceasefire to hold, Israel has continued its counter-offensive in the Gaza Strip, the densely populated Palestinian enclave that abuts Israel to the south and west.

Palestinians on Long Island say they are devastated by constant images of dead civilians, bombed-out neighborhoods, and badly damaged hospitals with few supplies to treat the injured.

They are watching with horror as thousands of their compatriots are killed. The total has reached 17,700, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

Laurice Abdelhalim, an optician who lives in Brentwood and is of Palestinian descent, said she just wants the violence to stop.

“They bomb churches. They bomb hospitals. They bomb schools,” she said of the Israeli military.

Muslim leaders on Long Island said many in their community are feeling frustrated and isolated as they see nothing but more bloodshed ahead. Some feel the international community is not putting enough pressure on Israel to stop the bombings. Long Island is home to about 100,000 Muslims, with a small number — about 300 according to Census Bureau data — identifying as Palestinian.

“There is a feeling of frustration that the world community is quiet,” said Isma Chaudhry, co-chair of the board of trustees at the Islamic Center of Long Island, a mosque in Westbury.

After telling Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza and head south, Israel is now bombing southern Gaza as well, she noted.

The Palestinians are supposed to “flee and go where? In the desert?” she said.

Many are crowding into southern Gaza. About 2 million people — 80% of Gaza’s population — is now displaced, according to U.N. and other officials. Some of them warned Friday that shortages of food, water, medicine and other essentials were becoming so dire that people were starting to loot aid convoys.

Thomas White, the Gaza director of the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, said on social media that the “society is on the brink of full-blown collapse.”

Israel contends it is seeking to root out Hamas, which it says hides in a massive network of underground tunnels with secret entrances hidden in hospitals, schools and apartment buildings. It asserts it is trying to minimize civilian casualties and allow what aid it can under war conditions.

The conflict and the polarized views are giving rise to increasing anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents on Long Island and across the United States, according to officials.

Nationwide, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it has received a “staggering” 2,171 complaints of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate incidents since the war started.

Jewish organizations have reported a similar wave of hate. The Anti-Defamation League said in November that it had recorded an increase in antisemitic incidents of more than 300% over the same time last year.

While people on both sides say they are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions, some Muslims on Long Island are losing that hesitation, Chaudhry said. They feel that even if they remain silent, they still get targeted.

Some feel that for the first time the story of decades of repression and suffering among Palestinians is getting a full airing through social and traditional media.

“I feel like the whole world is watching,” said another Palestinian who lives in Suffolk County, Fida Abdallah, 42. “It’s on everyone’s radar now because of social media. Videos or pictures of dead children really strike at the heart. For the first time, the atrocities on both sides are being shown.”

The Palestinians said that while Israel’s version of events in the Middle East is widely known and generally accepted in America, theirs is not. They assert that conditions in places like Gaza amount to apartheid, a system of racial segregation — a view endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter and Amnesty International — and that it is time to address their grievances, bringing to an end decades of oppression.

“Ultimately this has to have a political resolution … to this madness,” Deib said.

He still has family in the West Bank, and says they are living in fear as violence by the armed settlers ramps up amid the conflict. He said his relatives say they are receiving death threats and warnings to leave the area.

“Everybody is terrified right now, especially with the rampaging happening by the settlers,” he said. “They won’t even step out of their homes, because it’s so terrifying to even be there.”

The U.S. government and many countries oppose the settlements, calling them an obstacle to a two-state solution for the region. On Tuesday,the Biden administration announced it was imposing visa bans on settlers involved in the recent violence.

“From the perspective of the international community and the U.S. government, many of the settlements in the West Bank are illegal in that they are on land that Israel has not had a legal right to appropriate,” said Sara Lipton, chair of Stony Brook University’s history department.

There are Jewish leaders on Long Island and beyond who vociferously condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack and also criticize the Israeli settlers’ actions.

“I think that their behavior is un-Jewish,” said Rabbi Michael White, who heads Temple Sinai of Roslyn. “I think it is immoral. I think it is destructive to the Jewish people. I think it brings shame to the Jewish people. And it’s one of the failures of this current Israeli government.”

The Israeli government tells a different story. It contends that temporary use of the land may be legally permissible in what it calls “disputed territories” like the West Bank, and that the settlements contribute to Israel’s security.

Deib said his experience years ago is still vivid in his mind.

“I do remember soldiers breaking into our home, just busting in and harassing us,” he said. “I remember them even shooting at the water tanks that were on the roofs of our homes.”

The Palestinians were tightly controlled, required to pass through checkpoints any time they moved about the West Bank. Today, he said, it is worse.

“We had family. It used to take us 10 minutes to get to them in a neighboring town. Now, to visit you have to dedicate an entire day’s worth of travel,” he said. “Imagine traveling from Bay Shore to Brentwood and dedicating half a day for that one little trip.”

The situation in Gaza has been more dire than the West Bank, dating to long before the current war. Since 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade there, limiting how much food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine can enter the strip, said Stanford University professor emeritus Joel Beinin, an expert on the region.

Israel says it imposed the blockade to prevent rocket attacks and other assaults from Hamas and other groups. Egypt also blockades its border with Gaza.

“There was already a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip before October 7,” Beinin said.

There are also strict limits on who can leave and enter Gaza. Most residents of Gaza, one of the most densely populated regions of the world, have never left it, experts said. Gaza was home to 2.3 million Palestinians before the war.

Some call Gaza “the world’s largest open-air prison.”

“It is really kind of not a matter of debate that there is no freedom of movement” for Palestinians in and out of Gaza, and only slightly more in and out of the West Bank, Stony Brook’s Lipton said.

For years, Stanford’s Beinin said, experts have warned that the situation “is likely to lead to an explosion because you simply cannot treat people this way indefinitely.”

Yet “I never in my worst nightmare imagined what was going to happen on October 7,” he said.

Deib agrees the attack was shocking.

“What happened was terrible,” he said. “From a Muslim perspective, it is forbidden to kill a single innocent person, a single civilian.”

The day of the attack, “I had these chills down my spine because I knew just how bad things might get” when Israel retaliated, he said.

Yet the plight of the Palestinian people created the conditions for a group like Hamas to arise, Deib said. From his perspective, when people are oppressed for decades, sometimes it leads to armed resistance.

“I can understand why the people of Gaza have given up hope,” he said. “They were born into this misery. All they know is this five-mile-by-25-mile stretch of land. Their entire world is just this cage that they live in.”

He has suffered blowback for expressing his views, or even for just being a Muslim and a Palestinian, he said. At a restaurant he and his family run, some customers ask where they are from originally — and walk out when Deib tells them, he said.

Deib did not want to name the restaurant out of concern over possible attacks.

“It has affected our business tremendously,” he said.

It’s been generally accepted by the world community that centuries of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, justified a homeland for the Jewish people. But decades of turmoil have followed the creation of the state in a region where people of many different backgrounds and faiths, including Jews, had lived for centuries.

Jewish people started calling for their own state in earnest in the late 19th century, with the rise of the Zionist movement. Following World War I, Britain controlled the area then known as Palestine, and encouraged Jewish immigration there, which led to tensions between the Jews and the Arab majority.

By 1948, under a United Nations-approved plan, Israel was created. War broke out immediately, as five Arab nations that were against the move invaded the nascent state. Some 700,000 Arabs fled their homes or were expelled amid the conflict. Muslims refer to the exodus as the “Nakba” in Arabic, or “catastrophe.”

It was only the first of numerous wars, terrorist attacks and disputes that have rocked the region since the creation of the state of Israel, though it has seen conflicts for thousands of years.

Another war broke out in 1967 between Israel and three Arab armies over several issues, including Egypt closing the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping and what the Arabs considered Israel’s provocative statements against Syria.

In the end, Israel’s military triumphed in the Six-Day War and occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza and the West Bank. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but still occupies the West Bank — among the longest ongoing military occupations in the world, Beinin said.

How this bloody quagmire could end is not an easy question. The mainstream international position has been a two-state solution in which Palestinians are given full control of the West Bank and Gaza.

But Abdallah said he is not sure that is realistic, since it would require about 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank — some of whom have been there for decades — to leave. Many experts agree.

Others have proposed a single-state solution in which both sides coexist throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. Many experts also see that as unlikely because of the long history of conflict between the groups, with the current war bringing the polarization to a feverish pitch.

Many are skeptical that any good solution is at hand.

“What October 7 proved is that there is no military solution to this conflict,” Stanford’s Beinin said.

“The Palestinians don’t have an option of armed resistance against Israel’s military, which even in its weakened state of disarray that was evident on October 7 is simply no match for them,” he said.

“Israel also has no military option because the Israeli military is capable perhaps of dismantling the military structure of Hamas, of killing or detaining large numbers of Hamas political and military leaders,” but since Hamas is also a social movement and political ideology “those are things you can’t kill with a gun,” he said.

With a two-state proposal “super unrealistic … we are facing a very dark period for the immediate future, is my unfortunate judgment. There’s no happy ending to this story in the foreseeable future.”

Abdallah said that while the situation is complicated, “I do know one thing. I do know that Palestinians deserve to be treated equally.”

“I hope for peace. I hope the deaths stop. I hope that there is a resolution,” he said. “I wish I had the answer.”

Malek Deib remembers the beauty of growing up in the West Bank. As a boy, he climbed trees to pick oranges and olives on his grandfather’s farm and helped herd goats and sheep.

But he also recalls the conflict. Deib, a Palestinian who now lives in Suffolk County, remembers how Israeli settlers steadily encroached on land that was supposed to be reserved for Palestinians under the 1947 accords that partitioned British Mandatory Palestine and created the state of Israel.

Eventually as his grandfather got older, he hired someone to look after the farm. One night, settlers came and shot the man in the head in front of his family, according to the man’s relatives, Deib said.

“They knocked on the door, he answered, and they just killed him,” he said.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7, after Hamas militants attacked Israel. Hamas killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 people hostage, according to Israeli officials.
  • Israel launched its military reprisal the same day. More than 17,100 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in the combination of a bombing campaign and ground operation, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
  • The conflict dates back even further than the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. There have been overtures toward peace and moments of hope over the decades, but they were never successful.
  • Palestinians on Long Island say they are devastated by the bloodshed. Some feel their perspective on what has happened in the region, including decades of being oppressed by Israel, is finally getting a fair airing. 
  • Read our related story: Jews on LI: Sadness, resolve after 2 months of war

For Deib, 41, a Stony Brook University graduate who moved here when he was 7, today feels like a familiar script as conflicts erupt again in the Middle East.

Two months after Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 240 hostage, according to Israeli authorities, the region remains engulfed in bloodshed. With the failure on Nov. 30 of a temporary weeklong ceasefire to hold, Israel has continued its counter-offensive in the Gaza Strip, the densely populated Palestinian enclave that abuts Israel to the south and west.

Palestinians look at the destruction after the Israeli bombing In Khan Younis earlier this month. Credit: AP/Mohammed Dahman

Palestinians on Long Island say they are devastated by constant images of dead civilians, bombed-out neighborhoods, and badly damaged hospitals with few supplies to treat the injured.

They are watching with horror as thousands of their compatriots are killed. The total has reached 17,700, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

Laurice Abdelhalim, an optician who lives in Brentwood and is of Palestinian descent, said she just wants the violence to stop.

They bomb churches. They bomb hospitals. They bomb schools.

—Laurice Abdelhalim, of Brentwood

Credit: Rick Kopstein

“They bomb churches. They bomb hospitals. They bomb schools,” she said of the Israeli military.

Muslim leaders on Long Island said many in their community are feeling frustrated and isolated as they see nothing but more bloodshed ahead. Some feel the international community is not putting enough pressure on Israel to stop the bombings. Long Island is home to about 100,000 Muslims, with a small number — about 300 according to Census Bureau data — identifying as Palestinian.

“There is a feeling of frustration that the world community is quiet,” said Isma Chaudhry, co-chair of the board of trustees at the Islamic Center of Long Island, a mosque in Westbury.

After telling Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza and head south, Israel is now bombing southern Gaza as well, she noted.

The Palestinians are supposed to “flee and go where? In the desert?” she said.

Many are crowding into southern Gaza. About 2 million people — 80% of Gaza’s population — is now displaced, according to U.N. and other officials. Some of them warned Friday that shortages of food, water, medicine and other essentials were becoming so dire that people were starting to loot aid convoys.

Thomas White, the Gaza director of the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, said on social media that the “society is on the brink of full-blown collapse.”

Israel contends it is seeking to root out Hamas, which it says hides in a massive network of underground tunnels with secret entrances hidden in hospitals, schools and apartment buildings. It asserts it is trying to minimize civilian casualties and allow what aid it can under war conditions.

The conflict and the polarized views are giving rise to increasing anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents on Long Island and across the United States, according to officials.

Nationwide, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it has received a “staggering” 2,171 complaints of anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate incidents since the war started.

Jewish organizations have reported a similar wave of hate. The Anti-Defamation League said in November that it had recorded an increase in antisemitic incidents of more than 300% over the same time last year.

While people on both sides say they are afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions, some Muslims on Long Island are losing that hesitation, Chaudhry said. They feel that even if they remain silent, they still get targeted.

Some feel that for the first time the story of decades of repression and suffering among Palestinians is getting a full airing through social and traditional media.

The whole world is watching ... For the first time, the atrocities on both sides are being shown.

—Fida Abdallah, Palestinian who lives in Suffolk County

Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

“I feel like the whole world is watching,” said another Palestinian who lives in Suffolk County, Fida Abdallah, 42. “It’s on everyone’s radar now because of social media. Videos or pictures of dead children really strike at the heart. For the first time, the atrocities on both sides are being shown.”

The Palestinians said that while Israel’s version of events in the Middle East is widely known and generally accepted in America, theirs is not. They assert that conditions in places like Gaza amount to apartheid, a system of racial segregation — a view endorsed by former President Jimmy Carter and Amnesty International — and that it is time to address their grievances, bringing to an end decades of oppression.

“Ultimately this has to have a political resolution … to this madness,” Deib said.

He still has family in the West Bank, and says they are living in fear as violence by the armed settlers ramps up amid the conflict. He said his relatives say they are receiving death threats and warnings to leave the area.

“Everybody is terrified right now, especially with the rampaging happening by the settlers,” he said. “They won’t even step out of their homes, because it’s so terrifying to even be there.”

The U.S. government and many countries oppose the settlements, calling them an obstacle to a two-state solution for the region. On Tuesday,the Biden administration announced it was imposing visa bans on settlers involved in the recent violence.

“From the perspective of the international community and the U.S. government, many of the settlements in the West Bank are illegal in that they are on land that Israel has not had a legal right to appropriate,” said Sara Lipton, chair of Stony Brook University’s history department.

There are Jewish leaders on Long Island and beyond who vociferously condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack and also criticize the Israeli settlers’ actions.

“I think that their behavior is un-Jewish,” said Rabbi Michael White, who heads Temple Sinai of Roslyn. “I think it is immoral. I think it is destructive to the Jewish people. I think it brings shame to the Jewish people. And it’s one of the failures of this current Israeli government.”

The Israeli government tells a different story. It contends that temporary use of the land may be legally permissible in what it calls “disputed territories” like the West Bank, and that the settlements contribute to Israel’s security.

Memories of a restricted West Bank life

Displaced residents of the Jaffa-Tel Aviv border area wash their dishes at a communal watering place on Dec. 15, 1947. Palestinians displaced by the Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip arrive in the Muwasi area on Thursday. Credit: AP; AP/Fatima Shbair

Deib said his experience years ago is still vivid in his mind.

“I do remember soldiers breaking into our home, just busting in and harassing us,” he said. “I remember them even shooting at the water tanks that were on the roofs of our homes.”

The Palestinians were tightly controlled, required to pass through checkpoints any time they moved about the West Bank. Today, he said, it is worse.

“We had family. It used to take us 10 minutes to get to them in a neighboring town. Now, to visit you have to dedicate an entire day’s worth of travel,” he said. “Imagine traveling from Bay Shore to Brentwood and dedicating half a day for that one little trip.”

The situation in Gaza has been more dire than the West Bank, dating to long before the current war. Since 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade there, limiting how much food, water, electricity, fuel and medicine can enter the strip, said Stanford University professor emeritus Joel Beinin, an expert on the region.

Israel says it imposed the blockade to prevent rocket attacks and other assaults from Hamas and other groups. Egypt also blockades its border with Gaza.

“There was already a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip before October 7,” Beinin said.

There are also strict limits on who can leave and enter Gaza. Most residents of Gaza, one of the most densely populated regions of the world, have never left it, experts said. Gaza was home to 2.3 million Palestinians before the war.

Some call Gaza “the world’s largest open-air prison.”

“It is really kind of not a matter of debate that there is no freedom of movement” for Palestinians in and out of Gaza, and only slightly more in and out of the West Bank, Stony Brook’s Lipton said.

For years, Stanford’s Beinin said, experts have warned that the situation “is likely to lead to an explosion because you simply cannot treat people this way indefinitely.”

Yet “I never in my worst nightmare imagined what was going to happen on October 7,” he said.

Blowback for expressing views on the conflict

Deib agrees the attack was shocking.

“What happened was terrible,” he said. “From a Muslim perspective, it is forbidden to kill a single innocent person, a single civilian.”

The day of the attack, “I had these chills down my spine because I knew just how bad things might get” when Israel retaliated, he said.

Yet the plight of the Palestinian people created the conditions for a group like Hamas to arise, Deib said. From his perspective, when people are oppressed for decades, sometimes it leads to armed resistance.

I can understand why the people of Gaza have given up hope. They were born into this misery.

—Malek Deib, Palestinian who now lives in Suffolk County

Credit: Rick Kopstein

“I can understand why the people of Gaza have given up hope,” he said. “They were born into this misery. All they know is this five-mile-by-25-mile stretch of land. Their entire world is just this cage that they live in.”

He has suffered blowback for expressing his views, or even for just being a Muslim and a Palestinian, he said. At a restaurant he and his family run, some customers ask where they are from originally — and walk out when Deib tells them, he said.

Deib did not want to name the restaurant out of concern over possible attacks.

“It has affected our business tremendously,” he said.

Hope for peace seems further away

It’s been generally accepted by the world community that centuries of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust, justified a homeland for the Jewish people. But decades of turmoil have followed the creation of the state in a region where people of many different backgrounds and faiths, including Jews, had lived for centuries.

Jewish people started calling for their own state in earnest in the late 19th century, with the rise of the Zionist movement. Following World War I, Britain controlled the area then known as Palestine, and encouraged Jewish immigration there, which led to tensions between the Jews and the Arab majority.

By 1948, under a United Nations-approved plan, Israel was created. War broke out immediately, as five Arab nations that were against the move invaded the nascent state. Some 700,000 Arabs fled their homes or were expelled amid the conflict. Muslims refer to the exodus as the “Nakba” in Arabic, or “catastrophe.”

It was only the first of numerous wars, terrorist attacks and disputes that have rocked the region since the creation of the state of Israel, though it has seen conflicts for thousands of years.

Another war broke out in 1967 between Israel and three Arab armies over several issues, including Egypt closing the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping and what the Arabs considered Israel’s provocative statements against Syria.

In the end, Israel’s military triumphed in the Six-Day War and occupied Palestinian territories, including Gaza and the West Bank. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, but still occupies the West Bank — among the longest ongoing military occupations in the world, Beinin said.

How this bloody quagmire could end is not an easy question. The mainstream international position has been a two-state solution in which Palestinians are given full control of the West Bank and Gaza.

But Abdallah said he is not sure that is realistic, since it would require about 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank — some of whom have been there for decades — to leave. Many experts agree.

Others have proposed a single-state solution in which both sides coexist throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. Many experts also see that as unlikely because of the long history of conflict between the groups, with the current war bringing the polarization to a feverish pitch.

What October 7 proved is that there is no military solution to this conflict.

—Joel Beinin, Stanford University professor emeritus

Many are skeptical that any good solution is at hand.

“What October 7 proved is that there is no military solution to this conflict,” Stanford’s Beinin said.

“The Palestinians don’t have an option of armed resistance against Israel’s military, which even in its weakened state of disarray that was evident on October 7 is simply no match for them,” he said.

“Israel also has no military option because the Israeli military is capable perhaps of dismantling the military structure of Hamas, of killing or detaining large numbers of Hamas political and military leaders,” but since Hamas is also a social movement and political ideology “those are things you can’t kill with a gun,” he said.

With a two-state proposal “super unrealistic … we are facing a very dark period for the immediate future, is my unfortunate judgment. There’s no happy ending to this story in the foreseeable future.”

Abdallah said that while the situation is complicated, “I do know one thing. I do know that Palestinians deserve to be treated equally.”

“I hope for peace. I hope the deaths stop. I hope that there is a resolution,” he said. “I wish I had the answer.”

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