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Remember Wadea Al-Fayoume

Dennis Kosuth honors the life of Wadea Al-Fayoume and reminds readers that colonial violence abroad cannot be disentangled from racism at home.

On the morning of Saturday, October 14, a landlord in Plainfield Township, just outside the city of Chicago, knocked on the door of Hanaan Shahin. When she answered, he first tried to choke her, and then began to stab her with a knife that had a seven-inch blade, shouting, “You Muslims must die!” She escaped and ran to another room to call 911, and when she came back out seconds later, she discovered that her son Wadea Al-Fayoume, who had just celebrated his 6th birthday a week before on October 6, had suffered dozens of stab wounds. Hanaan Shahin is currently in serious condition at a nearby hospital, but her child, Wadea, was pronounced dead soon after being transported to an emergency room.

The parents are originally from Beitunia, in the West Bank of Palestine, and the family are victims of racist hate following a weeklong US backed war by Israel on the people of the Gaza Strip. As of the writing of this article, 2,670 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed, and 724 of those dead are children. It’s a morbid mirror to the situation in the Gaza Strip, where half of the population are under 18, that a 6-year-old Palestinian child – six thousand miles away in the US – cannot escape the same racism and death that Israel has wrought upon Gazans.

In addition to funding the apartheid state of Israel with billions of our tax dollars every year, politicians at every level have created an environment of racism and Islamophobia. From President Joe Biden, to US Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, all the way down to Chicago City Councilwoman Debra Silverstein – politicians are rushing to repeatedly shout their solidarity with Israel – as that same government simultaneously bombs and starves the people who live in the Gaza Strip.

Politicians unequivocally condemn and characterize Hamas as “pure evil,” while providing zero context for what took place October 7. It’s little wonder that when politicians and an unquestioning corporate media fill people’s heads with nonsense and hate – portraying Muslims, Arabs, or Palestinains as a group of senseless murderers – that some individuals, such as this landlord in Plainfield, will take matters into their own violent hands. This tragedy is the direct result of both Israeli and American racist dehumanization of the “enemy” which serves as justification for mass murder, as well as the funding for it.

Following the attack on Hanaan Shahin and the murder of Wadea, Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director of Chicago Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), led a press conference on October 15, with Odey Al-Fayoume, Wadea’s father, standing next to him. When asked about the racist atmosphere created by politicians, Mr. Rehab responded, “It does go all the way to the president of the United States; this whole frenzy of rushing to dehumanize Palestinians either by expression or by omission.” Regarding Palestine, Rehab expressed that there are “seventy-five years of repression and occupation, displacement and dispossession, and not a word on that.”

Rehab is correct; the attack by Hamas on October 7 did not occur out of thin air. And when it is characterized as the product of some inherent or internal malady, attributable to Palestinians’ ethnic or religious background, rather than a product of decades of violent oppression and senseless murder by the most well funded military in the Middle East – it has a distorting effect and confuses people here in the United States. This confusion is by design; otherwise, how would people in the US consent to billions in tax dollars funding an illegal occupation and apartheid regime?

On Friday, October 13, Chicago’s 50th Ward Alderwoman, Debra Silverstein, succeeded in passing a pro-Zionist resolution through the city council with a voice vote of only 25 representatives, as many had left the chambers. The resolution affirms that the members of city council condemn the “attack by Hamas, stand in support of Israel, express our deepest sorry for all innocent civilians, and pray for the safe release of all the hostages taken into Gaza.” Led by 33rd Ward Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, other Alders: Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Jessie Fuentes, Daniel LaSpata, Lamont Robinson, and Jeylu Gutierrez all spoke against the resolution as unbalanced and ignoring the suffering of Palestinians.

Silverstein’s resolution includes the line: “Whereas, the assault came 50 years after the Yom Kippur War – another heinous attack on Israel.” Mr Rehab from CAIR commented that this characterization “completely ignores history and geography,” as it was a “reference to the 1973 war… where Egyptian forces attacked Israeli forces on Egyptian soil that was occupied by the Israeli forces!” According to Alderwoman Silverstein, how dare Egypt retake land that was invaded and stolen by Israel through military measures?

CAIR-Chicago is renewing its call for responsible leadership and balanced media coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. “This unthinkable senseless crime did not happen in a vacuum,” Rehab warned.

Yousef Hannon, uncle to the family, recounted how he has family members who currently live in the Gaza Strip. “We are not animals, we are humans. … I was talking to my family in Gaza. I don’t know what’s happening to them now. My last communication was 3 days ago. No power, no water, no food. They lived on one of the most beautiful streets in Gaza; it has been totally demolished, and we don’t know how many have survived.”

The day before the attack in Plainfield, Alderwoman Silverstein tweeted the following: “The Chicago Police are paying special attention to our neighborhood today as Hamas has called for global action…”

As evidenced by the killing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and attempted murder of Hanaan Shahin, it is clear that the true threat to the people of Chicagoland is not Hamas, but racists who have been whipped into a murderous frenzy by politicians and the mainstream media. A government that funds and provides political support for the mass murder of Palestinians – Palestinian children in particular – abroad, is culpable when individuals take similar action here at home.

In this moment, it is necessary that we stand against genocide and Islamaphobia. To do so effectively, we must build a mass anti-racist movement which is in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

A picture of Wadea Al-Fayoume provided by CAIR, at his 6th birthday celebration, 8 days before he was killed.

You can support Wadea’s Janazah costs and provide essential medical care and housing assistance for his injured mother while also creating a lasting legacy in his memory here.

Featured image credit: Openclipart; modified by Temmpest.

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Dennis Kosuth View All

Dennis Kosuth is a longtime socialist and supporter of the Palestinian liberation struggle. He is also a registered nurse and an active member of the Chicago Teachers Union.