Following a decade-long tradition, Students for Justice in Palestine is hosting its annual Palestine Awareness Week this week to raise awareness about the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the daily struggles of the Palestinian people. With evening talks featuring distinguished speakers, live musical performances, and interactive education as well as daily activities, Palestine Awareness Week allows the space to have critical and robust conversations, and to broaden students’ perspectives in ways which may not occur in the everyday UCLA classroom.
Every year, Palestine Awareness Week has some theme or focus. Two years ago, the week was co-hosted by IDEAS at UCLA and drew on the intersections between the U.S.-Mexico border here in our backyard and the apartheid wall in the West Bank. Last year, Palestine Awareness Week focused on the case for divestment and built student support for UCLA’s successful undergraduate student council resolution to divest from companies that profited off of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
This year, we want to build on that progress by focusing on the question of intersectionality. We aim to have insightful, thought-provoking, and powerful events which draw on the connections of oppressive systems and highlight the need for coalitions across identity groups. Our central focus is to emphasize the broad spectrum of resistances which occur within Palestine, by integrating narratives of Palestinian refugees, queer folks of Palestine, Israeli peace activists, and more. Inspired in part by the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, we hope that Palestine Awareness Week will provide the space for critical dialogue on the interconnectedness of power and oppression systems and allow us to build these much needed coalitions.
On Tuesday, we held a student run teach on about the ABCs of Palestine. Wednesday, we are pleased to host Israeli peace activist Miko Peled and outspoken author and journalist Max Blumenthal who will speak about their experiences and the ever growing movement in the Jewish community to advocate for a just solution to the Palestinian question. Thursday will draw attention to the personal histories and struggles of the people of Palestine through the daring research of Palestinian professors Ahlam Muhtaseb and Sa’ed Atshan. These stories will highlight the experiences of refugees expelled from Palestine in 1948, as well as discuss the politics of being queer in Palestine.
It is an unfortunate reality that few classes on campus talk about Palestine at all, and even fewer talk about Israeli and Jewish support for Palestine, queer liberation, or refugees. But these issues are crucial to a holistic understanding of the issue. Although many think that students at UCLA are here just to learn, PAW is an important example of how we can also serve as teachers, and show each other information that has yet to make it into our textbooks and classrooms.
Finally, at a time when the progressive community is increasingly supportive of Palestinian rights and freedom, we hope this week of events helps make the case that one cannot be progressive without supporting Palestinian freedom. This is why our events focus on explaining what is happening in Palestine and what we think needs to be done to support a just solution to the conflict. Therefore, we especially invite progressive students unfamiliar with these issues to learn why supporting the human rights of Palestinians is central to their ethic of supporting other progressive issues. We hope that the student body can come and engage, that individuals not familiar with the Palestinian cause can gain insightful knowledge, and that returning members can continue to understand various aspects of the Palestinian identity and narrative.
Press Release: SJP at UCLA Announces Winter 2016 Palestine Awareness Week
Students for Justice in Palestine
For Immediate Release
Monday January 25,2016
Monday January 25th will mark the first day of SJP’s annual Palestine Awareness week. This year, the week aims to educate the campus about Palestine, have discussions about solidarity, and present panels about underrepresented narratives.
The week will start off with a concert in collaboration with the USAC Cultural Affairs Commission (CAC), featuring Palestinian artists and musical performances Monday evening (7pm) in Kerckhoff coffeehouse.
Tuesday January 26th will be the first of two days during which the mock Apartheid wall will be displayed in Bruin Plaza from 9am to 4pm. There will also be a Palestinian cultural celebration with Dabke performances, calligraphy, and poetry. The wall will also be on display on Thursday January 28th in Bruin Plaza at the same time.
Tuesday evening’s event, “The ABC’s of Palestine: Apartheid, BDS, and Campus Activism” will be a presentation followed by a discussion about Palestine, the BDS movement, and what Palestine solidarity activism looks like on the UCLA campus, and campuses around the nation.
On Wednesday January 27th, SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace-LA will present “Jewish Voices for Palestine featuring Max Blumenthal and Miko Peled”. Our speakers, Blumenthal and Peled will be presenting about the situation in Palestine today and their experience of becoming a part of the Palestine solidarity movement.
On Thursday, in addition to the second day of the mock apartheid wall display in Bruin Plaza, we will close the week with an event in the evening exploring underrepresented narratives of Palestinians. At the event “Palestine Through My Eyes: The Queer Movement and Oral Histories of Palestine”, our speakers Dr. Sa’ed Atshan and Dr. Ahlam Muhtaseb will be exploring the LGBT Movement in Palestine and oral narratives in the construction of Palestinian identity.
We hope that these events provide points of interest for students of all types - from those who wish to learn the basics about Palestine, to those interested in specific questions about intersectionality, pink-washing, refugees, and progressive Jewish and Israeli views.
For more information, please see www.sjpbruins.com as well as www.facebook.com/SJPatUCLA.
2014-2015 was a momentous year for our organization, which accomplished many of the long-term goals that activists had been working towards for several years. In the following post (as in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014), we try to re-cap the most important moments for our organization this year.
After a Multi-Year Campaign, SJP Passes Divestment
SJP has worked to pass a divestment resolution at UCLA for several years. In February 2014, the campaign put forward a vote that narrowly failed to pass, gaining 5 of the required 7 votes to pass. However, by bringing the issue to the public in this manner, SJP was able to garner a great deal of public support and broad awareness about the issues at stake. This momentum carried into the fall of 2014, prompting SJP to attempt once again to pass divestment.
During Fall 2014 quarter SJP UCLA held Palestine Awareness Week, an annual tradition. This time around, however, the decision was made to incorporate PAW into our next divestment campaign. In addition to a screening of the film “Roadmap to Apartheid” on the first night, there was also a panel featuring Sherene Seikalay and Nasser Barghouti on the moral imperative to support BDS, of which divestment is one component. These events, coupled with the daily presence of the mock wall that includes facts about what Palestinians experience under blockade, occupation and legal discrimination, and which also focused on the effects of the 2014 Israeli attacks on Gaza, allowed for us to utilize diverse and creative ways to educate the general student body about the importance of supporting divestment in particular, and BDS more broadly.
Following PAW, we continued our divestment campaign. In an attempt to increase transparency and reach more students from across the political spectrum, we both held a town hall where students were able to come and voice their concerns and make requests about what would be included on our divestment resolution, and created an online forum where additional feedback could be provided. These efforts, as well as the years of work put in by members of SJP in years past, were vindicated when, by an 8-2 vote, USAC passed “Resolution Calling for the UC Regents to Divest from Corporations Violating Palestinian Human Rights” on November 18th, at that time making UCLA the 6th UC to pass a resolution calling for divestment (Since then, UC Davis has become the 7th UC to pass divestment). The overwhelming show of support from the students who came out to provide public comment as well as the fact that 32 student organizations endorsed our resolution and 15 co-sponsored it as equal partners was a definitive blow to the tired myth of divestment being “divisive.” It’s impossible to even count how many students contributed to divestment's success in some way - through educating their peers, sharing information, attending the town hall, talking to council members, presenting to student groups, and so on. Tellingly, groups opposed to divestment failed to make a case against the substance of the resolution itself, resorting instead to attacking the process and organizations supporting this cause.
This victory culminated years of campaigning that began in earnest in 2012. Long thought to be one of the most difficult UCs for the Palestine solidarity movement, the resounding and bi-partisan victory was one of the most impressive indicator of how significantly public opinion has shifted in support of Palestinian freedom.
Divestment Momentum Continues at UCLA and Statewide
SJP UCLA’s divestment resolution passing through USAC was not the only important divestment victory of the year. During the following month, UAW 2865, the Graduate Union representing over 12,000 Academic Student Employees, passed its own resolution calling on the Regents to divest (passed by 2/3rds of voters) in addition to including a personal pledge signed on to by over 50% of its voting members to uphold the academic boycott of Israeli institutions that failed to support basic Palestinian rights. Furthermore, on February 8th, 2014, the University of California Students Association (the official voice of the student body of the University of California, representing hundreds of thousands of graduate and undergraduate students across the UC system) passed not one, but two different resolutions calling for divestment from companies that violate Palestinian human rights. This measure cemented the position of the UC student body: firmly in support of Palestinian rights and opposed to ongoing investments in companies that assisted in the Israeli government's violation of those rights. With the majority of schools in the UC system having passed resolutions calling for divestment at so many different levels, the student desire for divestment from these companies is beyond dispute, and the effort started by activists in the early 2000s is much closer to realization today than ever before.
Nevertheless, divestment is only one aspect of SJP’s work. It is in this spirit that, in January of Winter quarter, we hosted a report back with former Afrikan Student Union Chairperson Kamilah Moore. Moore spoke about her recent trip to Palestine with the Interfaith Peace Builders, highlighting both the need for intersectional solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as well as the necessity of remaining attuned to the facts on the ground.
Difficult Moments during Winter Quarter
But there were also difficult moments: starting Sunday, February 22nd, UCLA students reported seeing a series of hateful posters labeling SJP members terrorists and anti-Semites. Over the next few days, it became clear that this was part of a national campaign, as the same flyers began surfacing at different campuses across the country, from UCLA to De Paul to the University of Massachusetts. On February 24th, right-wing agitator David Horowitz admitted that he was behind the flyers, though he claimed that students on each of the campuses had posted the flyers themselves. To date, it remains unclear which students on our campus collaborated with Horowitz.
Following the discovery of the malicious and inflammatory posters circulated by David Horowitz on university campuses across the nation, SJP-UCLA felt it was necessary to have a community check-in and collectively collaborate with our fellow students on appropriate strategies to combat these types of occurrences. We held a Town Hall on Thursday, February 26th around the theme of “Confronting Islamophobic and Anti-Palestinian Hate Speech.” As described in a subsequent Daily Bruin article, the event provided a forum for individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds and political affiliations to collectively dialogue about the damage that can be caused by dehumanizing depictions and associations of particular groups regardless of political stances. One of the attendees secretly took notes for Horowitz’s website, which were posted only a few short days after the event. On April 16th, new posters in Horowitz’s anti-SJP campaign were again sighted at UCLA.
Furthermore, despite SJP’s lack of involvement with the incident, the offensive interview of then-potential JBoard appointee Rachel Beyda was often blamed on SJP and Palestine solidarity activism, to the extent that we were forced to issue formal statements affirming both our lack of involvement with Beyda’s interview and why our opposition to it is morally consistent with the tenets of BDS. Meanwhile, USAC members who were involved in the interview published their own apology, and on Tuesday, March 10th, USAC unanimously passed a resolution authored by UCLA Hillel and Avinoam Baral entitled “A Resolution Condemning Anti-Semitism” with no modifications, despite the fact that the resolution might be seen as conflating criticism of Israeli actions and policy with anti-Jewish bigotry. On a positive note, the authors of the resolution assured the public and voting council members that they did not consider the resolution to affect issues of Palestine activism such as divestment.
Continued Activism and Education Throughout the Spring
Two more winter quarter events further emphasized additional aspects of Palestine solidarity activism; the first, “BDS in Action,” featured Rabbi Alissa Wise from JVP and Nancy Kricorian from Code Pink, and delved into how increasing BDS victories across the nation reflect that public perception about the Palestinian struggle is changing for the better, using various boycott campaigns undertaken by groups like CodePink as cases in point. Our final event that quarter, “Artists Against Apartheid: Fred Moten and David Shorter in Conversation,” explored, among other issues, how and why it is incumbent upon all of us as students and academics to respect the Cultural and Academic boycott of Israel as another means of calling attention to the systemic disenfranchisement the Palestinian people are currently facing.
During week 5 of the Spring quarter, following a General Body meeting about SJP elections, we had a talk by Israeli peace activist Miko Peled; titled “Beyond Zionism: Hope in Peace for Palestine,” the presentation was a frank assessment of the untenability of the status quo regarding Israel/Palestine, and the subsequent need for a radical reformulation of state policy and international involvement.
After this came SJP’s “Nakba Week:” the first event of its kind put on by SJP UCLA, “Nakba Week” featured both a teach-in about the current situation of Palestinian refugees that emphasized the necessity of Israel respecting the Right of Return, in addition to a panel of Palestinian UCLA students discussing their families’ experiences of displacement, as well as reflecting on being a Palestinian in the diaspora and what the Nakba means to them. With Nakba week, SJP UCLA sought to bring a new dimension to its work, allowing for more of a focus on the plight of the Palestinians outside of the occupied territories. It is our hope that the conversations we began on these issues will continue to be explored in the following year.
Despite these victories, there is still much work to be done. With UCSA having passed two resolutions calling for divestment, the emphasis must now shift to following up with the Regents to ensure that this measure is taken. No doubt this will be the most difficult part of the process.
On the campus front, SJP UCLA must remain attuned to the need to balance BDS efforts with solidarity work with other communities, as well as conversations and events about the Palestinian experience, including outside the occupied territories. And, of course, all of this will need to transpire in the face of opposition from anti-Palestinian groups and administrators. But if the past year is to be any indication of what’s to come, all of us, board, active, and general members, will no doubt rise to the occasion.
A makeshift wall in Bruin Plaza and a discussion event in the Humanities building today are part of the annual Palestine Awareness Week, hosted by the Students for Justice in Palestine.
The student group, which promotes justice and human rights for Palestinians, hosts the event every year to educate students about Palestine and its people’s rights, said Rahim Kurwa, a graduate student in the UCLA Department of Sociology and board member of the student organization.
The week will feature a series of events, many of which will be held near what Students for Justice in Palestine members call a “mock apartheid wall.” The wall is intended to symbolize the controversial separation barrier that borders the West Bank territory.
The week will culminate in a Palestinian cultural celebration Thursday night at the Los Angeles Tennis Center Clubhouse.
For many supporters of Palestinian self-determination, central issues to the Israel-Palestine conflict include the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the right of return to Israel and the Palestinian territories for refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the end of a years-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Kurwa said this year’s events will build upon a growing segment of the campus and international population who recognize the rights of Palestinian people.
“We want to make that section (of students) bigger and bigger,” he said. “We hope it eventually becomes a general consensus that (Palestinians) should have equal rights.”
Bruins for Israel, a pro-Israel group at UCLA, plans to make a presence on campus this week as well, said Jonathan Gilbert, a fourth-year political science student and president of the organization.
Members of the group intend to educate students about their side of the issue and pass out informational flyers on and near Bruin Plaza, he said.
“We’re taking action to be out (on campus) and discuss the Middle East with fellow Bruins,” Gilbert said. “We’re pro-peace and also support Israel’s right to security.”
Kurwa said the Students for Justice in Palestine started a push last November to call for a public debate on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“So far, no one has accepted our offer for a neutral debate,” he said. “We’d like to use this event to ensure (students) are aware of this invitation.”
Another new focus this year will be the University of California’s role on the issue, Kurwa said. This will be present in the group’s event on Wednesday, called “Do UC What I See?: University Investments in Israeli Apartheid.”
“(The UC’s role) has always been a part of our event, but it is especially featured this year,” he said.
Compiled by Katherine Hafner, Bruin senior staff.
Click here to read this article in the Daily Bruin.
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.