One week ago, the University of Connecticut organization, Students for Justice in Palestine, held their first rally of the academic year since the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers discussed the oppression and violence experienced by the Palestinian people, the connection of our university to such injustices and the role of community members in supporting Palestine’s fight for freedom.
Palestine is being subject to an ethnic cleansing carried out by the Israeli state. On a regular basis, communities in Palestine are forcefully evicted from their homes and made refugees for the purpose of Israeli settlers, in a process of the expulsion of Palestinians from the country continuing since the early 20th century. The largest milestone in this violent process was the Nakba, or “catastrophe” in English, during which 750,000 Arabs were forcefully expelled from Palestine by the 1948 Israeli government. To this day, colonization, land-grabbing and expulsion are the norm for Palestinians.
Israel-based human rights watch group B’tselem, or the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, finds that the military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank by Israel and the denial of human rights to Palestinians constitute apartheid. Palestinians, considered of distinct citizenship and ethnicity by the Israeli state, are consistently denied basic human rights under this state’s government and occupation.
We should be very clear in our support for groups advocating on behalf of the struggles, nationality and identity of anyone in the community at UConn. When Palestinian students demonstrate their grievances, we must take them seriously and learn how to support their efforts. Ultimately, this means holding the institution of UConn accountable for their ties to the military industrial complex, which manufactures bombs that are dropped on Palestinians, maintaining apartheid. But this is not the subject of our editorial today.
We are obligated to engage with groups like Students for Justice in Palestine in a respectful, supportive way. Last Tuesday at the seal on Fairfield Way, the UConn SJP organized their protest of UConn administration’s complicity in the occupation and colonization of Palestine. At the same time and place, the Jewish Student Advocacy Organization UConn Hillel tabled and distributed materials markedly against the perspectives forwarded by SJP. While attendant Hillel members interviewed by The Daily Campus claimed they “did not wish to disrupt” the protest, their materials tell a different story.
One sticker Hillel distributed reads “Peace and Prosperity For Israelis & Palestinians.” Such material ignores the ongoing ethnic cleansing, displacement and apartheid for the Palestinian people by the Israeli state, equivocating between oppressors and the oppressed. This rhetoric plays right into the strategy of maintaining the occupation and violent status quo in Palestine.
However, as mentioned in a recent petition created by UConn SJP, the worst of Hillel’s materials equated the movement for Palestinian liberation to Hamas, the political body governing occupied Palestine. More importantly, the pamphlet reads “Islam Must Dominate” and “Kill Jews” in reference to the Palestinian political party.
The distribution of these materials in counter-protest at an event which was not demonstrating support of Hamas but in support of the liberation of Palestine, and the cessation of UConn’s links to the occupation, is deeply problematic. The use of appeals to antisemitism in one Palestinian organization to dismiss the entire cause of SJP and their efforts is unfair and disrespectful. It is unfortunate to see UConn Hillel, an organization which has consistently opposed antisemitism on campus, distribute materials which forward other kinds of prejudice against Islam and Palestinian liberation.
We need to support members of our community protesting because their lives, loved ones and identities are threatened and disrespected. Further, we need to understand that the events in Palestine constitute oppression, ethnic cleansing and apartheid for Palestinian people. We need to hear SJP’s perspective about UConn’s relationship to Israel’s crimes. Perhaps most importantly, we must be clear and outspoken about these positions even or perhaps especially when they are controversial. The lives and freedom of Palestinians at UConn and in Palestine depend on it.