The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Occidental hosted several events aimed at educating students on the Palestinian perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in honor of “Palestine Awareness Week,” for the first time in the campus’s history.
“We just want students to be more educated on this issue because a lot of the conversation on this topic—especially in the U.S. media—is very one-sided,” SJP Co-President Beebe Sanders (senior) said.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict began in 1947 when the United Nations created the independent state of Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, many displaced by the Holocaust, migrated to the new country, causing tension with the original Palestinian population. Fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians has occurred ever since.
SJP’s first event, “Palestine 101,” took place March 16. During the event, SJP members discussed both the history and ongoing problems of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They covered topics ranging from myths and controversies to current actions of activist groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace.
According to SJP Co-President Janan Burni (senior), the goal of this event was to reach out to students and provide the Palestinian perspective on a conflict that she believes is often dominated by Israeli dialogue.
“I attended the event because I wanted to learn more about the issue,” Ivy Salinas (first-year) said. “I thought it was just a religious conflict, but now I realize it’s about human rights, and I was impressed by the students’ knowledge and by how they led the presentation.”
March 17, SJP organized a panel on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The panelists consisted of Electronic Intifada Editor Nora Barrows-Friedman, Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside David Lloyd and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) SJP Member Angelica Becerra.
Lloyd opened the event by explaining that the BDS movement is a non-violent effort that calls upon the global community to advocate for Palestinians through by placing economic and political pressure on the Israeli government.
Barrows-Friedman then gave background on various divestment movements that have taken place on UC campuses. BDS targets divestment from “products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions,” according to the official BDS website. Becerra offered advice on how Occidental students could go about starting their own plan of action, emphasizing the power of social media.
The names and ages of Palestinians killed during Israeli operations in Gaza this past summer were written in chalk on the quad pavement Thursday by the organization in an effort to show that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not equally harmful to both sides, Sanders said. According to her, the event gained a significant amount of attention.
“We wanted to highlight this [inequality] by showing the number of Palestinians who were killed in Gaza this summer—over 2,000 compared to not even 100 Israelis,” Sanders said. “All of the deaths were terrible, but the stark difference in military capability, power and influence internationally is so obvious.”
Sanders said that Occidental’s SJP created the chalk display as a medium to raise awareness of the issue in a different way.
“Oftentimes students don’t want to talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict,” Sanders said. “This was a way to speak to the students without directly talking to them.”
Although SJP chapters have existed on American university campuses for over a decade, this is SJP’s first year at Occidental. Burni said she founded Occidental’s chapter because she felt there was a lack of Palestinian perspective present in dialogue on the conflict.
The club appealed to its current members because the organization does not try to come up with solutions for the Palestinian people, according to Burni. Rather, it supports whatever Palestinians decide is best for their situation.
“It’s not our job to come up with specific solutions, but it is our job to support Palestinian led movements,” Burni said. “We’re in solidarity with Palestinians, but not speaking on behalf of them.”