The Case for Israeli Apartheid Week: Humanizing the Oppressed and Building Solidarity on Campus

In life, we simply come into existence,
without the luxury of choosing which family, which neighborhood or which
country we are born into. Due to the forces of history that precede our
births, we either suffer or benefit from systems of oppression. Because many of
us here at the Claremont Colleges were born into lives of relative privilege,
it is difficult for us to even begin to imagine the life of a child born into a
system of extreme injustice.

Throughout American history, mainstream
media has routinely demonized and stereotyped ‘the other.’ Historical media categorizations of
Native Americans and present-day portrayals of minority groups through a
criminal lens are just two examples of this dehumanizing process.

So it goes for the Palestinian people: It
is so much easier to believe the media narrative of a gun-wielding Hamas
fighter, surrounded by intimidating Arabic-embroidered banners, than it is to
envision a group of Palestinian children who want to play soccer on the beach
without fear of being incinerated by a rain of Israeli missiles. It is easier
to recall the bearded terrorist, a Hollywood stereotype, than it
is to think of the Palestinian mother and father brutally pushed to the ground
by Israeli Defense Forces as their 12-year-old son is arrested without
trial for “throwing stones.” 

Such stories of resistance to oppressive
structures are rarely, if ever, represented in the media.

Corporate media is dominated by clear
political agendas that uphold and maintain the current structures of power and
domination. The use of stereotyping and simplification allows the media to
reduce those born under systems of oppression into singular negative images instead of real human beings. This dehumanization makes it possible for us, in
the privileged bubble, to feel nothing when we are confronted with the daily
death toll of Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip. 

In order to explain the goals of Students
for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), let us start by
explaining what it is not. The purpose of IAW is not to
commence a dialogue with individuals who believe that the Palestinians are an invented people. It is not an expression of our desire to
collaborate with those who are in support of a U.S.-Israeli
peace process with the corrupt Palestinian Authority. These negotiations completely
exclude the voices of Palestinian civil society. It is not a critique of
the Jewish people or the citizens of Israel. 

IAW is a criticism of the hawkish regimes that have historically controlled the Israeli
government and military and the policies that they’ve enforced. The event is not
exclusively for students who have experienced the realities pertaining to the
Israeli occupation, or for those with prior knowledge of the colonial and
imperial history of the Middle East. 

The point of IAW,
rather, is to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people who are resisting
their occupation, subjugation and indiscriminate killing, of which the United
States is an ardent supporter. Through a set of educational events and advocacy
goals that seek to inform students about Israeli state policies, we seek to humanize
the Palestinians in a way that forces us to question and confront our own
complicity (our tax dollars) in these crimes against humanity. 

By holding IAW, we break into the
Israel-Palestine discourse in a way that neither those blatantly opposed to us
nor apathetic people on campus can overlook.

During this year’s IAW, we physically
showcased a scaled-down portion of the depressing and behemoth apartheid wall
that Palestinians are taunted by every day. Coupled with SJP’s demonstration,
members distributed fact sheets highlighting the unthinkable and devastating
repercussions of the illegal wall. 

We did not adequately translate what it is
like for Palestinian schoolchildren who are routinely turned away at military
checkpoints on their way to school. We did not do justice to the unnatural
separation of families and villages that the wall creates. And we certainly did
not recreate the despair of countless injured or ill Palestinians and pregnant
mothers turned away by checkpoints along the wall, while Israeli soldiers turn a
blind eye. These things are impossible to ever portray in full.

However, SJP was tremendously successful
in starting these conversations through grassroots action. Prospective
students, dining hall workers, faculty members and large swaths of the 5C
student body expressed admiration and support for our political actions. Many
were open to learning about the radically misconstrued situation, while those
who felt uncomfortable felt that way because it represented a direct challenge
to political ideologies that knowingly or unknowingly support systems of
domination. The demonstration proved that it is never too late to learn.

We benefited tremendously from the
intersectional nature of radical social justice activism. We worked with
students invested in other struggles against systemic oppression, such as the
brave students who broke into the defunct discourse surrounding racism by
participating in various die-ins earlier this year. Bystanders at the #BlackLivesMatter die-ins also expressed discomfort at this heroic and
disruptive action, which reminds us of the very reason we challenge the
status quo: Oppression is uncomfortable.

Azmi Haroun PZ ’15 is from Seattle, Wash. He is majoring in political studies and Middle East and North Africa Studies. 

Nicolas Tourani PZ ’15 is from Pasadena, Calif. He is majoring in political studies.

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