Activism Isn’t Comfortable

Last week, March 4-8, was National Israeli Apartheid Week in the U.S. The Claremont chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), of which I am an active member, organized a series of events to bring the important issue of Palestinian freedom to the forefront. Unfortunately, being in the Claremont bubble prevents a lot of important information from reaching us. 

The first event we had to kick off the week was a simulation of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) checkpoints throughout campus. There were three at different parts of the day. The first was at Walker Wall, the second at the Pitzer mounds, and the final one at Collins Dining Hall. The one at Collins had the most traffic and elicited the strongest reactions. Many of you may already know about the bias-related incident between one of our club members and a professor. I will not go into detail here, although it was appalling and should not be ignored. For more information, please read the article “Students Allege Bias-Related Exchange with Professor” in the March 8 issue of TSL.

Many people reacted strongly against SJP’s activist street theater because it made them feel uncomfortable. Well, I can’t help but say that I’m not sorry.

Occupation is not something we should feel comfortable about. It should not become an accepted part of daily life. By not being directly addressed and talked about, it is slowly becoming a part of the status quo and soon will no longer be questioned.

At last week’s screening of “5 Broken Cameras,” Dan Segal, Jean M. Pitzer Professor of Anthropology and History, brought up an important point that I think people often forget: Social movements that we now deem noble and important made people uncomfortable at the time they happened. Segal brought up Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches as an example of this. Although we now quote them without qualms, his words made many people uncomfortable at the time they were delivered. I’m sure the same can be said of Mahatma Gandhi’s satyagraha resistance movement, or Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid activism.

So if informing people of injustice means making them uncomfortable, then I’m not sorry. If SJP made people uncomfortable because they were faced with an unfortunate reality, then I’m most definitely not sorry.

The more I learn about the occupation, the less I feel inclined to apologize for the actions of last week, or pro-Palestinian activism in general. Activists who fought, and are still fighting, racism in the United States did not achieve what they got by being apologetic. One should not have to apologize for pursuing justice. 

Recently, members of SJP have been victims of harassment. Although harassment is a shocking and sad reality of occupation, it should not be a reality for students at a liberal arts college in Southern California. Rather than participating in such acts of aggression, engage with members of SJP. Come to our events, discuss, and ask questions. 

Also, I want to address the accusations of SJP’s Monday actions being anti-Semitic. SJP is an organization dedicated to promoting justice for all kinds of people. We are anti-occupation, anti-racism, and pro-equality. As far as I know, none of these things has ever been anti-Semitic. Such accusations are not only untrue, but also shortsighted. The IDF and their actions do not represent the beliefs of all Jewish people. In fact, SJP has hosted two events this year with speakers of Jewish origin—Estee Chandler, the founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, and Gabriel Piterbeg, professor of history at University of California, Los Angeles as well as an Israeli citizen. Also, on a technical note, the term “Semitic” refers to people of Jewish and Arab descent, both of whom are represented in SJP.

I’d like to think that these false and insulting claims are a sort of defense mechanism for those who felt uncomfortable. However, rather than taking those feelings of discomfort and turning them into the negative and untrue accusations that have been going around, think about the fact that perhaps people felt uncomfortable because they witnessed an injustice that occurs daily to people in the West Bank and Gaza. Perhaps they felt uneasy because of the inconvenience of it all. The goal of SJP is not to make people feel uncomfortable for the sake of it. Our aim is to turn discomfort into awareness and contribute to the movement for social change and justice.

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