By Rawad Wehbe
At the end of a successful week of demonstrating peacefully, spreading awareness and listening to some of the most esteemed professors in Los Angeles speak, Students for Justice in Palestine held its keynote seminar on Thursday on the inequality and injustice taking place in Israel.
UCLA professor of English Saree Makdisi was the event’s keynote speaker. His presentation’s title, “Beyond Two States,” implored the audience to move past the imaginary possibility of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.
Makdisi appropriately referred to his presentation as a series of “snapshots” in order to convey the inherent out-of-sight, out-of-mind limitations of those not living in the occupied Palestinian territory. The snapshots, a series of personal accounts, took us from our seats in the auditorium to a land of oppression and injustice.
We walked side-by-side with Mohammad Jalud on his daily one-hour trek from his home to his cucumber farm; a distance that could have been crossed in a mere 10 minutes had it not been for the wall built between his home and farm.
We sat down next to Samira Aliyan in the East Jerusalem office of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior when she was told, “You do not belong here” as her identity card was being confiscated. Why? Because she could not “prove” that living in Jerusalem had been central to her entire life, despite the fact that it was her home since birth.
We stood at the edge of New Ayn Hawd, one of the 39-45 “unrecognized villages” in Israel literally cut off from running water, electricity and other basic services citizens would expect from their government to provide.
Yet, no matter how clearly Makdisi tried to paint a realistic picture of Palestine, I do not believe that the audience could ever truly live out these abominable experiences as if they were their own.
Makdisi incorporated cold, hard facts into the presentation as well. For example, non-Jews in Israel can apply for citizenship but are never afforded nationality. In other words, “the principle of Jewishness has priority over the principle of equality in Israel.” Israel groups people into communities based on ethnicity, making it easier for the state to discriminate between citizens and nationals. Also, it is prohibited in Israel for a Jewish man or woman to marry a Palestinian man or woman. These inarguable empirical facts strengthened his argument against a two-state solution, highlighting Israel’s human rights violations. The legalized racial discrimination in Israel brings to his memory Apartheid in South Africa and the Jim Crow Laws in the United States before the Civil Rights Movement.
If these facts do not hit home with students in the United States, perhaps Makdisi’s emphasis on discrimination might be more resonant with students, specifically, the numerical evidence of discrimination within Israel’s education system. There are 1,600 day-care centers in Israel; only 25 exist in Palestinian towns. There is a 3:1 ratio for the amount spent on education for Jewish Nationals in respect to the amount spent on Palestinians. In 2007, 553 Israeli communities were granted the highest priority status for education; only four were granted to Palestinian communities. Only 10 percent of undergraduates, 3 percent of doctoral students and 1 percent of university lecturers in Israel are Palestinian.
What most people might find shocking is Makdisi’s departure from the popularly glorified two-state solution. While the two-state argument appears to be the obvious choice in order to reach a peaceful solution, Makdisi reassures his audience of its physical impossibility and spatial inability to offer any real solution to the bigger problem of human rights violations. He believes in the future of a one-state solution, an experiment that transcends nationalism, “a single state composed of a more complex political and social identity.” I believe it was somewhere after this statement that the cracks and discriminative qualities of all nationalisms began to show.
I salute Makdisi’s rationale because of its ambitious attempt to challenge human boundaries between ethnicity and solidarity, also because of its rational display of facts as to why a two-state solution could only result in catastrophe. At the very least, this enlightening presentation that, in my opinion, sought to establish a humanitarian paradigm rather than a political decision, forced me to question the role borders and states really play in protecting and serving mankind.
Makdisi advises that Israel ends its project of a Jewish state under the guise of fabricated democracy, and instead, create a new state that treats all its citizens equally and justly. Ending on an inspirational note, Makdisi encouraged students to read, write and speak. For without conscious action we render ourselves helpless to the faculties that seek to govern our lives. The presentation will be posted on the SJP UCLA Facebook page.
By Andrew Newton
Photo Credit: @PalestineToday
Two recent opinion pieces published in The Daily Bruin, Tammy Rubin’s article entitled “Apartheid wall does not facilitate healthy dialogue on Arab-Israeli conflict” and Emily Resnick’s “Bruins must promote peace, understanding”, were intended to admonish Students for Justice in Palestine and their allies for actions during last week’s Palestine Awareness Week. Both articles were rife with factual errors and rhetorical fallacies, only a few of which I can properly illuminate within this response.First I shall address Tammy Rubin’s article, which suggests that SJP’s display of the apartheid wall in Bruin Plaza was a burden to those who “simply hope to get to class on time”. It only takes a moment of reflection to recognize the absurdity of this comment, as we did not in any way preclude students from proceeding to their classes.
Rubin then goes on to say that Bruin Plaza was not an appropriate venue for SJP’s permitted political speech. This perplexes me, as the university has historically been a site of political engagement, from the movement to end the Vietnam War to the recent Occupy UCLA encampments. Nelson Mandela himself claimed that the UC system’s divestment from South Africa was a major catalyst in the movement to end apartheid in the 1980’s and 90’s, thanks in part to the 61 UC Berkeley students who were arrested after building a shantytown in front of their chancellor’s office. UC students have played a vital role in international social justice movements of the past, so why not now?
In closing, the article refers to SJP’s mock wall as an “intimidating, one-sided presentation”. Many of us feel as though the actual wall that carves through the West Bank, separating farmers from their farmland and limiting Palestinians’ access to health care, work and education, can be described using those same words.
And what of Bruins for Israel’s yearly celebration of “Israeli Independence Day”, known to Palestinians as “al-Nakba” (“the catastrophe”) in that same venue? Is it appropriate to celebrate the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their land, or is it an event that, to borrow Rubin’s words, “severely marginalizes thousands of students on campus”?
Next we have Emily Resnick’s piece, which constitutes a similar attempt to dissuade the reader from critical thought. The article is a condemnation of SJP’s silent protest against an event organized by StandWithUs, wherein two soldiers were invited on campus to whitewash the crimes of the Israeli Defense Forces during Operation Cast Lead, a military offensive in 2008/09 that took the lives of over 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
Over 50 students silently stood up during this speech and filed out the door, only to have hate speech leveled at them during a subsequent rally outside the building. During this time, a pro-Israel student shouted to us, a crowd of largely people of color: “you all look like terrorists!” and yelled derogatory remarks about Muslim women’s hijabs, evoking the all-too-recent images of racist and sexist slurs scrawled against apartment doors. Instead of using her position of power to show support for these marginalized populations facing the very real concerns of racism and Islamophobia, Resnick glibly equivocates our criticisms of the Israeli state with accusing all Israelis of genocide.
To the contrary, SJP is delighted to work with Israelis and Jews who denounce the occupation and support equal rights for Palestinians. Among us in this walkout was Jewish Voice for Peace activist Estee Chandler, who recently had a poster put up on the front porch of her home featuring a picture of her and reading “WANTED for treason and incitement against Jews”. The poster included the names of her nieces and nephew and revealed her work address. Also among us was a young Jewish woman who cannot be named because of the threat of being disowned by her family and community for supporting the Palestinian people. It is not our intention to tokenize them in such a way as to say, “look, we have Jews too!”, but merely to show that the plight of Jewish anti-Zionists is indeed very real, not unlike the struggle of young whites who sympathized with the movement for the equal rights of blacks in the segregated South.
Much like the effort to integrate our own country, the struggle for true peace and justice in Palestine and Israel will require the concerted efforts of people from all communities affected. This includes us, the American taxpayers who send $8.2 million per day in military aid to Israel, more than we send to any other country.
Despite all this, Resnick uses her position of power in USAC to determine that “campus climate” is something that can be somehow defiled by non-violent protest, but she refuses to denounce the acts of hatred on the part of counter-protesters. Should we defer to her opinion, or look to the longstanding history of social justice struggles and third world solidarity on this campus as integral to the fabric of student life?
The incident itself was documented in a recent YouTube video entitled “Why Don’t We Dialogue?”: SJP-UCLA’s IDF Walkout. I invite readers to watch this video and decide for themselves whether or not SJP’s action was inappropriate conduct.
By Asra Ziauddin
As students of UCLA, many of us are familiar with the attention grabbing wall put in Bruin Plaza once a year during Palestine Awareness Week. The information presented on the wall may seem convincing, but we do not know the extent of its validity when reading statements that aren’t always cited. Throughout the week, one panel seemed to be the most hotly contested, titled “Dispelling Myths: Face the Facts.” Since no sources were included on this problematic panel, I conducted my own research. There were a total of five supposedly dispelled myths- of which I detail my findings below. The words in italics are those taken directly from the panel.
Myth: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. Fact: This democracy only works for Jewish citizens. Six million Palestinian refugees have not been granted the right of return. Most would agree that respectable democracies exercise policies which apply equally to all citizens and protect their basic rights. However, upon examining current policies in the state of Israel, Israel’s government doesn’t seem to function as a normal, impartial democracy should. For instance, land ownership is not granted equally in the country; 90% of Israel’s land restricts non-Jewish individuals, even citizens, from owning it. Since 1948 the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 194, stating that all refugees wanting to return to their homes peacefully should be able to do so, has not been honored by the state of Israel. The Fourth Geneva Convention describes the refusal of repatriating displaced people as a violation of basic rights; violating basic rights is not the correct conduct for a respectable democracy.
Myth: Palestinians are the source of violence. Fact: The occupation of Palestine is the root cause of violence. Israel was formally established when Britain withdrew control on May 14, 1948. Arab states came to fight against Israel on May 15, according to official UN reports. However, examples of violence were noted long before May. More than one source recalls a violent massacre by Israeli forces occurring in April 1948 in the Palestinian town of Deir Yassin. The New York Times even reported on it, stating that a couple hundred people in the peaceful village were killed. Accounts from authors such as Henry Cattan, who wrote Palestine, the Arabs and Israel, said Israeli forces occupied Palestinian towns before May 14 as well. Thus, if Israeli forces occupied Palestinian lands before the Arab armies came in, and partook in massacres like that of Deir Yassin, the Palestinians were not the source of violence. The occupation began the violence.
Myth: Israel struck military targets only. Fact: The eyewitness accounts and images of mutilated women and children show that Israel struck the civilian population. Findings gathered by B’Tselem, The Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, depict grim statistics. Both Israeli and Palestinian children, who we can definitely consider non-military targets, have died in the course of the conflict: 124 Israelis and 1,452 Palestinians to date since September 29, 2000. This data supports that fact that Israel and Palestine have killed civilians and not just “military targets.” It is important to take into consideration that these statistics illustrate an imbalanced number of killings, however.
Myth: Hamas violated the ceasefire, which led to the recent carnage in Gaza. Fact: Israel violated the ceasefire when it killed several Palestinians on November 4, 2008. The ceasefire mentioned here, beginning in June 2008 between Israel and Hamas, contained specific agreements. They included the expectations that Israel would halt all incursions into Gaza and Hamas would stop all rocket attacks into Israel. On November 5, 2008, BBC News reported on Israel’s incursion into Gaza, killing six Palestinians, prompting Hamas to retaliate with rocket attacks. We see from the news report that Israel violated the ceasefire first, followed by Hamas.
Myth: Muslims and Jews cannot get along. Fact: Prior to the to the occupation of Palestine in 1948, they lived in harmony. Several historical accounts illustrate that conflict was not always the case in the region. Don Peretz, a professor as well as author of The Arab-Israeli Dispute, recalls how there was virtually no conflict between the Jews and Arabs at the time. Sami Hadawi, writer of Bitter Harvest, describes the harmony evident between immigrant Jews and inhabitants of North Africa and the Middle East extending back to the Middle Ages.
To sum up, these myths are, essentially, myths. I urge anyone with doubts to my research or any statements I have included to visit the website www.ifamericansknew.org, which provided me with my sources. If anything, I hope examining the statements above somewhat clarified the issues revolving around Israel-Palestine and show that a proper understanding of political conflicts is crucial to understanding them.