Every week, we gather together to share food, jokes and Snapchats, and work towards one of the things we all share in common – our passion for social justice in Palestine.
Yet it turns out that there are a number of myths about SJP that portray us as a group of mob-like, hate-motivated bullies. Sadly, many of these myths are rooted in racially charged, Islamophobic stereotypes commonly used against Arabs and Muslims.
But every time someone actually takes the time to meet one of us, they tell us how surprised they are to find how different we are from those myths and how similar we are to any other student on campus – our lives revolve around exams, essays and little sleep, but with the added component of spending late nights organizing in solidarity with Palestine. What puzzles us the most about all these myths is that, rather than having an agenda of “hate,” SJP’s work is based on a positive vision for the future. We believe that ending the violation of Palestinian rights – the military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip, second-class citizenship for Palestinians inside Israel and discriminatory policies that prevent refugees from returning to their country – will actually be liberating for both Palestinians and Israelis.
We believe the tactics of boycotts, divestment and sanctions to be the best, most peaceful means to achieve these ends. These time-honored tactics were used when farm workers called for grape boycotts in California, when civil rights activists and those in solidarity with their cause boycotted segregated buses in Alabama, and when the University of California divested from apartheid in South Africa. So there is every reason to believe that divestment will help achieve justice in Palestine. Although it may take many years for justice to prevail, we know that investing in companies that enable the occupation is not the answer.
So why is the discourse of fear being used against SJP? And why is it so effective?
Sowing fear about SJP and its members is a way to discourage people from listening to our arguments and judging them on their merits. When we came to student government with our divestment resolution last year, we asked our councilmembers, “Why should we continue to invest in violence against Palestinians?” Throughout our campaign and during the hearing itself, we never heard a coherent answer to this question. Instead of strong arguments that would convince people to support investments in violence, what we have seen is an effort to short-circuit the debate by cultivating fear about SJP.
Efforts to demonize SJP work well because of the broader climate of dehumanization that affects how people see and understand Palestinians. Rarely, if ever, are Palestinians portrayed as regular human beings who have the same basic aspirations as everyone else. Rarely, if ever, are their lives and experiences covered in the news outside of a context of violence, and rarely, if ever, are they given a platform to speak about their lives and desires on their own terms. As Anthony Bourdain remarked about the outpouring of thanks and positivity after his travel and cooking show “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” visited Gaza and the West Bank, “We … show regular people doing everyday things – cooking and enjoying meals … It is a measure, I guess, of how twisted and shallow our depiction of (the Palestinian) people is that these images come as a shock to so many. The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity.”
Palestinians, like any of us, deserve, at the very least, their humanity. By the same token, those working to support Palestinian rights deserve to be heard out. On behalf of SJP, we invite students, particularly those who have only heard negative things about us, to get to know us.
Come to a meeting, visit our office, get to know SJP members and judge us by our words and deeds. Come out to our Palestine Awareness Week during Week 5.
Rasha Howlader is a fifth-year electrical engineering student and vice president of SJP.
Amy Huang is a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student and the finance director of SJP.
Faria Tahir is a fifth-year biochemistry and gender studies student and the education and resources director of SJP.