By Omar Zahzah and Dana Saifan
On May 26th, the Daily Bruin ran an opinion piece co-authored by Inbar Goren and Tali Moore entitled “Jews not to blame for Palestinian displacement.” The article was a response to a submission several of us Palestinian members of SJP had written explaining what Nakba Day means to us, and how we will continue to share our families’ stories of forced exile and advocate for Palestinian rights in the face of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing and displacement of our people.
Unbeknownst to us, an outcry followed the publication of our piece: an article by Shani Shahmoon claims that “As a result, 15 members of the Jewish and pro-Israel community wrote an email to the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Jerry Kang, and The Bruin’s outgoing editorial board, insisting that publishing such language was ‘offensive’ and a form of bullying that can ‘marginalize’ members of their community.” Shahmoon describes this letter as an “attempt against limiting opinion.”
Unfortunately, the Daily Bruin seems to have caved in to this attempt--Goren and Moore’s piece appears to be an edited version of this letter turned into op-ed form, as it contains all of the hallmarks of the email, accusing us Palestinian UCLA students of introducing “divisiveness, ignorance and hate” to the UCLA campus due to our use of the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The Daily Bruin subsequently refused to run a rebuttal piece by an SJP member explaining why the term “ethnic cleansing” was in fact an accurate description of Israel’s practices. Indeed, no matter how uncomfortable it may make some individuals, use of the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe Israel’s actions is not unheard of even for Israeli sources--for instance, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé wrote a book entitled The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. The outcry over our article seems even more strange when we consider that this was not even the first time that SJP members had used the term in reference to Zionist policies (which were also compared to Manifest Destiny).
So, why the backlash all of a sudden?
Simply put, our piece represented Palestinians taking full agency over our narratives and refusing to be cowed into silence, or to accept propagandistic rewritings of historical injustices. It is not hard to understand why those invested in maintaining an oppressive status quo would find such agency intimidating, but to call it bullying is nothing short of laughable. Our family members were displaced and continue to face the repercussions of their traumatic expulsions. Having our family histories denied, and further having our narratives turned against us in accusations that we are victimizing others by telling our families’ stories, is inexcusable.
It is unfortunate that the Daily Bruin, an official publication with all of the support and backing of the institution, seems to have been intimidated into practicing censorship by limiting our ability to respond to these accusations. As individual students, we cannot expect nearly the same protection, but we will nevertheless not give in to these attacks on our character or our narratives, no matter how formidable the opposition may be or how willing our institution may be to block pro-Palestinian views out of fear of reprisal.
Furthermore, while we revealed our SJP membership for the sake of transparency, we find it disturbing that neither co-author Tali Moore nor the Daily Bruin saw fit even to mention that as of October 2015, Tali Moore was a campus fellow for the Zionist Organization of America, a formidable lobbying organization that regularly tries to curb pro-Palestine activism on university campuses and falsely describes Students for Justice in Palestine as a group promoting “hatred and intolerance,” even going so far as to equate SJP with the Klu Klux Klan. Moore’s position requires students to engage in various forms of pro-Israel advocacy on campuses in exchange for a $1,000 stipend and a trip to Israel. The distinction is crucial, as SJP members engage in grassroots advocacy and activism for nothing except dedication to the cause of a free Palestine, only to come up time and time again against powerful lobbying groups that disguise their efforts to shut down all debate around Palestine/Israel through the appropriated rhetoric of powerlessness and victimization (something that Oren and Moore’s piece also tried to do while calling for the Daily Bruin to stifle the perspectives of pro-Palestine and Palestinian students in the future). Whatever one’s stance on Palestine/Israel, it is at least important to acknowledge this stark imbalance of power and resources. Unlike what Moore and Oren claimed for our co-written piece, we are not saying that the Daily Bruin never should have run this submission. We are simply saying that not revealing this affiliation gives the reader an impression of authorial objectivity that is decidedly false, especially given the material incentives the Zionist Organization of America fellowships offer their fellows for regular pro-Israel advocacy.
We may have been displaced, but we will not be silenced, and we will never stop sharing our families’ stories until Palestine is finally free.
We, the undersigned, are Palestinian graduates of the University of California who live and work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. We want to thank you for considering Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA's Divestment Resolution and to urge you to support this important legislation.
As proud alumni of the University of California, the importance of academic freedom has been engrained in our identity and in our responsibility to advocate for the protection and rights of our families and communities.
We are lucky to have been a part of the UC system - to be a part of an education system that allows for freedom of expression, for ability to study subjects freely, to learn from renowned professors and enrich our academic, social and professional careers. Each of you are in this room because you believe in getting involved in student activities because your work, your choices and your activities will make a difference on our campus and in the world.
Your colleagues in universities in Palestine have been stripped of these rights that we take for granted in the UC system. Your colleagues at Birzeit University near Ramallah live under Israeli military law.
These laws mean that thousands of books are deemed illegal - and possession of them will mean a prison sentence. Imposed curfews mean that the university is closed - sometimes indefinitely - hindering students ability to complete their studies.
And maybe most importantly to you - student activists - the Palestinian students, who, like you, join student organizations - are put in prison, sometimes under administrative detention meaning they are held without charge or trial, indefinitely, for being involved in student life and student government. In the last five years alone - five hundred Palestinian students from Birzeit University have been arrested and detained in Israel’s military prisons - including subjected to harsh interrogations, denied visits from families and in many cases tortured and abused.
We believe in the right to be a part of student life.
In a right to obtain an education.
In a right to be part of student movements that have an impact on the world we live in.
In the right to live freely.
We are alumni of the UC system that taught us that we must set the precedent for change - that change in society begins with the change from one person, or from a student body - who stands up to the status quo and fights for justice, rights and dignity not only for ourselves but for students and people everywhere.
As you know, our daily lives in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are marked by forms of oppression that are currently being financially supported by the University of California through its investment choices. These forms of everyday violence range from the Caterpillar bulldozers that tear down homes and olive groves to make way for the wall and settlements to the Hewlett Packard electronics that are used in checkpoints throughout the West Bank and the GE and Northrop Grumman technologies that go into the Apache AH-64 Helicopters used to bomb the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
By investing student tuition into these companies, the University of California is directly contributing to forms of violence against our communities and against us as its former students. The choice you are faced with now is whether to knowingly continue investing in the violence and discrimination that we and our families experience on a daily basis, or to end that financial complicity and support our right to equality.
We sat in the same lecture halls as you, learned from the same professors as you and attended events in the same student centers as you. We believe in you to use our shared education, values and respect for dignity and human rights to vote for a bill divesting student tuition from companies that profit off of occupation policies that are illegal, immoral and unjust.
Today, you have an opportunity to be part of the right for freedom of a population that has suffered occupation for more than 60 years.
Palestinian graduates of the University of California at Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego now living in the West Bank.