CHICAGO: The former mayor of an affluent suburban village outside Chicago, Illinois, said he is “pained” and “very concerned” after having lost contact with close family members fleeing Israel’s military violence in the Gaza Strip where he was born.
Anan Abu Taleb, who served as mayor of Oak Park from 2013 until 2021, said he has lost contact with family living in Gaza, including his two sisters, three half-brothers and their families, as a result of the violent onslaught in Gaza by Israel.
More than 12,000 Palestinians, including almost half who are children, have been killed during the Israeli assault launched in response to a Hamas attack from Gaza that killed an estimated 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7, a figure that was scaled down to 1,200 on Friday by Israeli authorities.
Abu Taleb said he is deeply disappointed by US President Joe Biden’s failure to stop the violence, or “to put himself in the shoes of Palestinians” and understand how they are victims of a “double standard” in American foreign policy and mainstream news media coverage that distinguishes between the killing of Israelis and the killing of Palestinians.
“What happened on Oct. 7 is a horrific act. Based on what I have read in international law, it is a war crime taking hostages and killing civilians. And I also want to say that killing civilians, if they have fallen victim to a knife, a gun, a missile, or if they were buried alive under the rubble of their destroyed homes, is also a war crime. I am totally against that. We should all stand up for civilians and children, no matter where,” Abu Taleb told Arab News.
“We are witness now to crimes being solved by more crimes. We must stand up against solving crimes by committing more crimes.”
The second eldest of 13 children, Abu Taleb was born in 1959 in Beit Lahia, a Palestinian city on Gaza’s northern border near the infamous Erez Crossing. He emigrated to the US when he was 18 and earned an MBA from the University of Chicago.
After launching a restaurant in Chicago’s western suburbs with his wife, Abu Taleb ran for mayor in 2012 without any previous political or election experience. He won in a landslide with 58 percent of the vote, driven by a campaign slogan to make government more responsive to taxpayers.
Abu Taleb said his love for the US and democracy fuels his feelings that not enough is being done to stop the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, where more than 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes, including his family.
He said his sisters and brothers and their families had nothing to do with the massacre of Israelis by Hamas, but Palestinians are being punished in the worst possible way, with their homes and lives being destroyed without anyone defending their rights as law-abiding civilians.
“My father (Hassan) was an elementary school teacher and a farmer. He lived his whole life under occupation. He died with a broken heart because he could not protect his children. That (Israeli) soldiers could walk any minute into your house, take whatever they want and turn things upside down whenever they want. And that is what is being done every day in the West Bank,” Abu Taleb said.
“My sisters and half brothers and their families have had to flee south. I pray for them.”
Abu Taleb said that there is a “hypocrisy of feelings” and a “double standard” on justice that “damages America.”
“We shouldn’t have double standards. We shouldn’t be for freedom and be against freedom. We shouldn’t be for human rights and be against human rights. We shouldn’t be for some children because of where they were born but not for other children born someplace else. And Israeli child and a Palestinian child have no say in what part of the world they are born at. They don’t. And they don’t have a say on what religion to follow when they are born,” he said.
“These are our children. These children who lose their parents and lose their homes, who are deprived of water, deprived of food, energy. What do you think is going to happen to them 10 years from now, 15 years from now, 20 years from now? Are we going to be surprised when they don’t love us 20 years from now? That is the long-term problem that we need to adopt now so we can have a better tomorrow.”
Abu Taleb said that US news media plays a significant role in this imbalance.
“Unfortunately, the mainstream news media looks at Ukrainian children different than they look at a Palestinian child. And they look at an Israeli child differently than they look at a Palestinian child,” he said.
“When the media covers the Israelis, they emphasize how they feel when they see a civilian being hurt or being killed. One can see their emotions and their tears and their heart. But when it comes to a Palestinian, it is a casualty of the war.”
Abu Taleb said that he has not ruled out running for higher elective office, saying more must change to bring peace to Gaza and Israel.