Nidal Hozien has been involved with the Palestinian community in South Florida since he arrived in Miami 15 years ago. Hozien, chairman of the Islamic School of Miami and member of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, said the latest violence in the Gaza Strip is the worst he has ever seen. He spoke Wednesday with the Miami Herald. Below is an edited excerpt:
How did the conflict between Israelis and Palestine get to this point?
The media is trying to figure out and understand why Israel is going after Gaza with vengeance. We still don’t understand. You can’t say it is to retaliate for the three kids [kidnapped then killed]. I don’t think it has anything do with the kids. We don’t even understand why the retaliation is against Gaza that has nothing to do with West Bank. It’s like something happens in Mexico and Canada starts bombing Alaska. What does Mexico have to do with Alaska? Nothing. Our administration keeps saying a nation has right to defend itself – absolutely. But this act of aggression is a whole different story. There is a difference between me shooting bullets at you and me shooting thumb tags at you. For us, these Hamas rockets are are thumb tags and that are not even reaching Israeli people.
To what extent should the U.S. get involved with the conflict in Gaza? What should be the Obama administration’s response?
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One of the things that really peeves us is the Obama’s administration’s ill will or unwillingness to send the president himself. They keep saying we will send [Secretary of State John] Kerry into the region. I’m not sure if Israelis have the same respect for [Kerry], or at least to the extent they have for President Obama. Our administration is very, very influential. Giving constant funding to Israel — that’s blood on our hands. If we compare it to the Clinton’s administration, where they were actively involved in peace negotiations, we are not doing enough.
What do you see as a way-out? How can long-term peace be achieved?
[Cease-fire agreement] is a little band-aid for a puncture wound. Having two autonomous states where people have equal rights would be ideal. At the end of the day, for two-state solution to work, you need your own government. Unfortunately, Hamas was elected in both West Banks and Gaza. I know U.S. would not allow it. Tel Aviv would not allow it. But you’ve got to say, “Okay, what do these people want?” and get past “We consider [Hamas] as a terrorist organization.” How we consider a group should not dictate how they make decisions for their own government. We need massive diplomacy, which includes talking to Hamas. Once the people at the highest level start having conversation, the people below will see and follow that. As long as people below have to keep picking up dead bodies, it’d be very difficult to have an open dialogue on how to move forward.
What is the relationship between Palestine Americans and Jewish American groups in South Florida?
It would be wonderful if the international (community), especially countries in conflict, looks at South Florida as an example. We have an amazing relationship with the Anti-Defamation League. We have an amazing relationship with Greater Miami Jewish Federation. We have different combined activities with both groups. Greater [Miami] Jewish Federation recently came to our mosque and the Anti-Defamation League was there, too. Often we go to their synagogues. We have an open dialogue. We can overlook the small differences for a greater peace.
Has the ongoing conflict affected the relationship between Palestinian and Jewish Americans community in South Florida?
People here understand that the conflict is between the Israeli government, more specifically, the political wing of the Israelis government and the political wing of Hamas government. The Palestine people want to raise their kids in peace just like Israeli people want to on the other side. [The conflict] actually ignites us to be more civically engaged.
Cab ordinary Americans have influence over the ongoing conflict?
We can be more informed on the issues. You can reach out to your elected officials. [Islamic School of Miami] has an organized campaign to call your elected officials and let them know that you have family members there and you care for that area. We want our Congress to stop blindly supporting one side. Shelling a house, a building, a hospital; we as Americans should have zero tolerance on those actions. We would never go shoot down a hospital. We would never do that. It’s unfathomable. We have the best democracy in the world. We have to actually implement our influence. We need to work with lawmakers to draw policies that are just, fair and equitable.
What would be your message to Palestine and Israelis in Gaza?
Stop. Stop the mindless killing. Let people live their lives in peace. Israel has to stop its bombardment. Hamas has to stop its bombardment. Little children, elderly and women are dying. Allow the aid to come in. Get to a reasonable place where both sides can sit down and talk. Dialogue is critical. Without sitting at the table, there is no peace and both parties have to compromise to get to the table.