By: Nerden Mohsen and Israa Najjar
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a national growing activist organization that many students have brought to their campuses in hopes of having the Palestinian voice heard.
SJP promotes self-determination, liberation, human rights, and justice for the Palestinians. SJP also actively educates many college students on the issue who have little to no prior knowledge of the Palestinian side due to the suppression of the Palestinian voice in the media and the education system of the United States.
It is important for our voices as students to be heard and expressed when it comes to such a crucial situation. Here in New York many CUNY’s already have an SJP, and as students at CSI we feel it is our moral obligation to bring SJP to the College of Staten Island. We feel that in a collective and organized manner we are able to get a lot more done rather than having our voices projected individually.
Our dedication and stance is clear, we have the passion and the willingness to make it work, all that was left to do was to take action so that is what we did when we established the SJP club on campus.
The process of establishing the SJP was a long and tedious one with many roadblocks that consistently appeared to make things more difficult. In fact, it was so long that we decided to take the initiative and screen “Roadmap to Apartheid”, an award winning documentary narrated by Alice Walker that draws comparisons of the plight of the Palestinians to South African apartheid.
We had to present it as an unaffiliated student group as our contribution to Israeli Apartheid week. We also thought of it as a trial to view the reactions we would most likely receive when we actually became established as a club. It was also a way for us to determine the awareness level of the occupation of Palestine among the CSI demographic.
To our dismay we received much opposition from a pre-established club known as the Hillel club for Jewish campus life at CSI. Of course as Palestinians we invite all people from different religions, races, and ethnic backgrounds to our cause. The issue of Palestine is not merely a Palestinian, Arab or Muslim one it extends far and beyond ethnic, cultural, religious, and racial boundaries. It is a global concern due to the fact that it is a violation of human rights, and threatens justice as a whole because an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere.
At the end of the screening we opened the floor for discussion and questions amongst the viewers of the film. However, some people took this as an invitation to start up a debate based on fallacious and belligerent comments. We attempted to address these concerns in a civil like manner, however we were accused of screening a racist, anti-Semitic, and one sided film by the faculty advisor of the Hillel club and a former IDF soldier.
They seemed so affected by the movie that several of the hillel club members made many pro-Palestinians uncomfortable by following them to their classes and cars. It seemed as though the advisor was more concerned with clearing the Israeli name rather than focusing on the human rights violations by Israelis on Palestinians showcased in the film. However we urged everyone else to restrain themselves from retaliating since it was not meant to be a dispute, but rather an informative documentary that exhibits the severity of the issue.
Due to our pacifistic approach, the discussion ended with the Hillel club provoking the students by inviting everyone to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the creation of Israel. A time that coincides with the 65th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) in which Palestinians mourn the loss of their land, ethnic cleansing of their people, and horrific memories of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who became displaced forever.
Although we believe this kind of action was taken to discourage us from starting an SJP, it only amplified our motivation to have our voices be projected in contrast to how they were suppressed on that day.
We were able to move on unaffected by the negativity that was spouted at our attempts and continued our efforts of moving towards a recognized entity on campus that spoke up for the Palestinian cause. However, we were met with greater challenges at this point as we needed a faculty advisor to represent our club.
Many of the faculty members did support our cause but due to the controversial nature of the occupation, they opted to stay away from being involved in the matter. Several professors even expressed their concerns of being affiliated with something that has a political agenda because it has affected Professors negatively in the past. One professor had the audacity to say they he refuses to be part of a group that sympathizes with terrorists, which is what he claimed a Hillel club warned him about.
After many rejections from faculty advisors we finally stumbled upon a Jewish English professor who was more than willing on helping us. She has a background in supporting the Palestinian cause and is very aware of the issue with a clear stance that is parallel to our own club constitution.
Upon holding our first interest meeting we realized we gained the support of 32 students, and those were only the ones who could make It to the meeting. After submitting the paper work we met more and more students who expressed their willingness to be involved in our student based social and political movement.
Since our establishment was officially recognized in May we figured the next course of action we needed to take is shed light on the Nakba, marked on May 15th 1948.
The catastrophe was the first instance of Palestinian displacement and exile for the creation of Israel, which is why we feel its so important for it to be recognized. We wanted everyone to know what the Nakba was, like they know what the holocaust was, the Berlin wall, South African apartheid, all tragic situations that are similar to the situation in Palestine.
As strong believers of collective student action we urged any and all SJP’s interested to join us in our efforts to raise awareness about the Nakba. We planned to wear all black for the entire week to represent our mourning along with the keffiyeh a Palestinian solidarity symbol, and a name tag with 1 out of the 531 villages that were depopulated during the Nakba.
We spent over 3 hours making about 120 name tags with different villages that we supplied to campuses that were interested in joining our movement. Each name tag had the name of a village with the “1/531” on one side and “#nakba” on the other. It was quick and to the point so any passerby could easily determine that each village was only one out of many, and we plan to extend this awareness of the tragedy by using social media networks.
We also passed out fliers that featured 8 quick facts about the Nakba to anyone who was interested in learning more about the issue. This was not an officially recognized event by the student affairs department of our university since it was too close to the end of the academic year. However, the fact that an individual initiative was joined by so many different campuses and students at our own campus shows the steadfastness of our ongoing efforts to promote justice, human rights, liberation, and self-determination for the Palestinians.
It also shows that when we actually do have events that are recognized by the student affairs department we will have a greater turnout of students willing to participate. And most importantly it exhibits the relationship that we have with other SJP’s in regards to unity, shared ideology, and collective action we take for our one common goal.
We foresee our club having a very prosperous future, with big ideas that will promote awareness and participation in being the voice for Palestinians. We are hopefully going to hold bake sales and sell novelty items in order to help Palestinians financially and fund greater events for ourselves. We are also taking approaches that will gain much recognition due to their prominent and straight-forward approach. This pertains to setting up mock check points that are meant to mimic a type of struggle that Palestinians face on a daily basis. Not only do they attract people’s attentions but it also provokes emotion through presenting real life situations that Palestinians deal with. If they are just offensive enough to cause someone to feel something, the same people might reflect on what Palestinians consistently face through shared emotions.
This also shows the real life human aspect of the occupation, rather than the dehumanizing solely political and statistical one. We plan to hold more film screenings that display the injustices occurring in the occupied territories. And also hold cultural events which include Dabke (a Palestinian line dance), food, poetry, art, music, and fashion.
This will elevate the Palestinian perspective that speaks on a level higher than politics and death tolls. This is our way of introducing Palestine to the world, a way of bringing back the human aspect which has been lost in translation, media, curriculum, and outright lies that are meant to demonize Palestinians. It is also a way to preserve the Palestinian culture that has been under attack since the creation of Israel. This is seen with Israeli companies manufacturing our goods such as hummus, falafel, and keffiyehs and claiming them as their own.
With the support of the club we aim to take part in promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) upon Israel. BDS is supported by SJP on a national scale and we believe it is an effective way of showing Israel that people are aware of what they do and do not wish to support their apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. We will support BDS in every way including academic, consumer, and cultural boycott of the apartheid state of Israel.
Our SJP is meant to promote peace among all; we make it clear to our members from the beginning that we do not condone any form of discrimination in our club.
We make sure to express that this issue is not a religious or an ethnic one but rather an issue of human rights, it is a humanitarian cause. Therefore our club focuses on solidarity in terms of humanity not nationality.
We believe that solidarity should never end at ethnic lines and that we must extend our humanity to a global scale of injustice.
We will not be silent for others facing injustice around the world, just as we would like them to be vocal about the inhumane situations occurring in Palestine.
Just as Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”