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Thursday, October 22, 2015

10/22/15. This Week: Emergency Forum on Israel’s Escalation of Repression in Palestine

This week on Tuesday 10/20/15, in light of the recent outbursts of violence in Jerusalem, we hosted an Emergency Forum on Israel’s Escalation of Repression in Palestine. The room was packed. The air was tense. Earlier that day, we had been informed that pro-Israel students had poured water on the announcements that we had chalked on campus sidewalks for this event. Despite their efforts to censor our announcement and despite the presence of pro-Israel protesters holding signs (“I stand with Israel”) outside of the building where we hosted our Forum, we drew a large crowd of people – more than could fit into the room. There were Palestinian Muslims and Israeli-born Jews, as well as many concerned people of conscience. The discussion was impassioned.


This has been a bloody month in Palestine. Dozens killed. At least 1,600 injured. There have been over 130 instances of settlers attacking Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Access to Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site in Islam, has been denied to all Palestinians under 55 years of age. This violence is not reported by the mainstream media. We hosted this Emergency Forum to give voice to the Palestinian side of the story. SJP leader Manar began by relating to us the tragic news that one of her cousin’s neighbors had been killed. Another SJP leader, Shane James, brought to our attention live tweeted updates about Israeli home-invasions, shootings, and indiscriminate tear gassings against school children.

Manar told us more. Some of her family members with asthma, she told us, had no choice but to endure the tear gas that enveloped the entire Palestinian side of the city. Residents have been unable to leave their homes. Journalists have been targeted. Ambulances have been prevented from treating the injured. An elderly man was wrongfully arrested in Hebron.

Members of the audience at our Forum expressed their frustration: how could it be that such a deep injustice could happen for so long – and how could we help to alleviate it? How can we – right now, as students at the University of Maryland – stand up to the institutionalized racism, the government-funded oppression, the Jim Crow laws of our time?

In Palestine, people are deprived of regular access to water because the water has been diverted from Palestinian sources to Israeli pipes. In Israel, there are elected officials, such as Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, who openly refer to Palestinian children as “little snakes.” In Israel, the stain of racism is also evidenced by anti-immigrant stonings, lynchings, and shootings directed against Ethiopian Jews. In fact, an Israeli Jew was stabbed in the back by another Israeli who mistook him for an Arab.

Here in America, there is bipartisan support for military funding to Israel. This money enables a kind of oppression that many call apartheid. Just as in segregated America where Blacks faced lynchings and political disenfranchisement, and just as in apartheid-era South Africa where the ruling Afrikaners used their state to exploit and disempower the oppressed masses, in Palestine the situation is drastically inequitable: the Palestinians are never on any kind of equal ground with Israelis.

“How can you can have a ceasefire if it’s bullets against rocks?” asked one audience member.

This is no tit-for-tat. There cannot be equal ownership of responsibility. There cannot be equal blame for violence in a situation wherein one group has been stateless, has been under illegal military occupation, has been displaced, has been stolen from, and has been for generations deprived of their rights to movement, to assembly, and to religion.

“Palestine is a prison”, said an audience member.

This student told us about her first-hand experience in Palestine. There, the hateful sentiment is beyond expression, she said. It is the rage of being humiliated and restricted for generations. It is the anger of being unable to anticipate when your water and your electricity may be suddenly discontinued. It is the incompressible resentment of being unable to prevent the deprivation of all your rights and freedoms.

How can there be peace in the region? A number of audience members agreed that the number one thing Israel can do for peace is to stop building illegal settlements on appropriated Palestinian land. But Israel grows increasingly right-wing as more settlers come by bus and by plane, and as increasing numbers of settlers raise their children in occupied territories. An audience member asked: what can SJP offer as a solution?

SJP leader Shane James responded by emphasizing the importance of Palestinian self-determination. It is not for us to decide for the Palestinian people what will be best for the Palestinian people. Their freedoms have been stolen and now their freedoms must be restored, including the freedom and right to select their own governance. But what we can do, and what we are doing, is this: we can increase the awareness of the injustice occurring in Palestine. What we can do is apply pressure to Israel by way of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), which we plan to employ in solidarity with divestment efforts against prisons, militarized police, fossil fuels, and other forms of military-industrial exploitation. What we need is structural change.

“Kids are taught to hate. None are born with hate in their hearts,” said SJP leader Manar.

The need for peace is undeniable. The possibility of peace was evidenced by the conviction of those present at our Forum: a conviction for justice, a refusal to look away, and a concern for our fellow humans that unites us. We gathered as Arabs and Jews and more, as students outraged by acts of violence overseas facilitated by the US government. For many of us, the violence literally hits home. We must open our eyes to the violent systems that our predecessors have established. We must withhold our resources from those that seek to destroy our earth and contaminate our hearts with fear and prejudice. We, Students for Justice in Palestine, urge all people of conscience to join this effort for human rights, freedom, and peace. We need this world to know. We need this world to change.
Leon Li, writer. Edited by Shane James, co-president. Students for Justice in Palestine, University of Maryland, College Park.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We Should Hold Israel Accountable for its Human Rights Violations

By William Matchin

Two weeks ago, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, gave a lecture at the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at this university. His fundamental point was that we shouldn’t hold Israel to normal standards of international law because Israel has unique security concerns. The take-home message was that when Israel kills Palestinians and maintains an illegal occupation, we shouldn’t complain too much.

Dermer pointed to Israel’s small size as evidence of this position. “Tactical threats” become “strategic threats,” because Israel’s small size means that military operations and rocket fire threaten its existence. Because of this, Israel is justified in bombing Gaza, which included the killing of 500 innocent children, because it “can’t afford to make any mistakes.” Likewise, Israel is justified in maintaining the brutal occupation of the West Bank and its illegal settlements.

One wonders whether Israel’s actions are truly motivated by security concerns. However, it is clear that the policy Israel has pursued, with U.S. complicity, has less to do with security and more to do with the expansion of Israel and the acquisition of resources because this policy exacerbates legitimate Israeli security problems at the expense of its people.

Let’s apply Dermer’s logic to the Palestinian perspective. The Palestinian territories are smaller than Israel. Because Israel has repeatedly terrorized Palestinians, wouldn’t Palestinians be concerned? Would Palestinians feel safe surrounded by those who repeatedly have bulldozed their homes? With this logic, the Palestinians should be asking for an expansion of a Palestinian state into Israeli territory, walls that break up the Israeli population and a military presence inside Israel.

However, Palestinians are not asking for more rights than they are entitled to. The current president
of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who is pursuing a two-state settlement in response to the overwhelming international consensus, declared, “The government would be under my command and my policy. … I recognize Israel, and it would recognize Israel. I reject violence and terrorism.”
The ambassador stated that even if Palestinian leaders were to accept a two-state settlement, the Israeli government couldn’t trust this to percolate to the Palestinians. In other words, Israel will never accept an agreement because you can’t trust the terrorist snakes; you just have to occupy their land

 Israel is asking for lowered standards, but the world is not asking for much. All the world asks is for Israel to obey the law. The occupation is illegal — international law dictates “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” The separation wall of the West Bank is illegal — the International Court of Justice ruled that “the construction of the wall, and its associated rĂ©gime, are contrary to international law,” and the international community has repeatedly condemned the illegal settlements.

Moreover, U.S. aid to Israel is illegal under U.S. law. The “Leahy Law” prohibits the funding by the U.S. government to foreign entities that are consistent human rights violators, including Israel, as documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. It is deeply hypocritical for us as U.S. citizens to condemn human rights violations elsewhere and to continue to support them in the Palestinian-occupied territories.

I can’t be too frustrated with Dermer over these issues because his job is to sell his country’s interests to the U.S. population. I can be appalled at us. We listen to Dermer and our own politicians’ morally degenerate arguments, funding Israel’s defiance of international law. Let’s hold Israel and ourselves to the same standards to which we hold other countries and enforce the law to let the Israeli and Palestinian people live in peace.

(also published in the Diamondback on Tuesday, November 18th)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Walking Out on Apartheid

Last week, dozens of students and community members walked out of a lecture by the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Stories Beneath the Shell reporter Sierra Kelley-Chung reports on the action.

"A lecture by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer sparked opposition among students, who walked out and held signs in protest last night at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

Dermer gave a lecture about the Israel-U.S. relationship and the role of Israel in the Middle East. The event was held at Gildenhorn Recital Hall in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, broadcasted live on UMTV and open to students and public.

During his lecture Dermer began to speak about the Israel Palestine conflict, stating that there was rocket fire in Israel, and one third of Israel was in bomb shelters for the first 50 days. A Palestinian student present at the lecture stood up and left, and a group of organized student protesters followed suit. They left the lecture quietly and held protesting signs that read, “end the illegal settlements,” “free Palestine,” and “apartheid not welcomed at UMD."

Read more here!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

End Hate Speech in the Diamondback!

Sign the petition here

*Updated 1/29/15*

Racism has been allowed to cozy up to our student paper. The Diamondback has published a series of advertisements paid for by a far-right think tank called FLAME (“Facts and Logic About the Middle East”) that whitewashes the documented human rights violations of Israel.

These ads are anti-Arab, Islamophobic propaganda. One ad, published in the September 30th, 2013 edition of the paper, begins by denying the existence of the Palestinian people—it characterizes all Arabs as a monolithic group of people with no cultural, historical, or linguistic distinctions. So, it follows, the Palestinian people don’t exist —therefore Israel really is a land without a people for a people without land. Except that, inconveniently for the FLAME’s narrative, Palestinians have lived on that land for centuries, and are in fact a distinct people with a rich culture.

 The ads continue by denying that the West Bank or the Gaza Strip have ever been occupied territories—ignoring that the United Nations, Amnesty International, and virtually the entire international community consider the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem to be territories militarily occupied by Israel in violation of international law. Amongst other things, these ads allege that while Israel has always vouched for peace, their efforts have been thwarted by “the Arabs,” who just refuse to sit down and negotiate, when in fact for more than 63 years Israel has been disposing Palestinians, expelling them from their land and homes, creating one of the largest and longest standing populations of displaced persons in the world with 6.6 million refugees and 427,000 internally displaced persons. Israel, as an occupying power, has an obligation to obey international law -- including withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories and respecting the human rights of refugees.

            It’s troubling that the Diamondback published these advertisements for several reasons. First, they alienate many students on campus—for example, those who would take offense to using phrases such as “Arab aggression” or “Muslim terror” or “the unrelenting hatred of the Arabs against the Jews” to generalize the beliefs of all Arabs and Muslims. Secondly, our student paper should never condone hate speech, racism, Islamophobia, or imperialism. Yet by agreeing to publish ads that support all of these things in return for money, it’s done just that. That is unethical.

This is not the first time that students have had an issue with the Diamondback publishing FLAME ads. In 2011, students formed the “End Hate Speech at UMD” coalition in response to the ads, pressing the Diamondback for an apology. The Student Government Association also passed a unanimous resolution condemning the ads as hate speech and calling for the Diamondback’s advertising department to refrain from publishing any more ads by FLAME.

At the time, the Diamondback argued that “…We believe it is FLAME’s right to publicize its subjective opinion, just as it would be a pro-Muslim organization’s right to publicize an alternative viewpoint.”

We hope that the current editorial board can understand that this is about the ethics of running a paper, and ensuring that the experiences of an oppressed people are not marginalized by racist propaganda. Hate speech is not a respectable “subjective opinion”, and the Diamondback has no obligation to publish a paid advertisement advocating racist views. We would deplore any group’s decision to publish racist ads, including a “pro-Muslim organization.”

We therefore call on the Diamondback to discontinue the publication of these advertisements, and to stand with the student body and 2011 SGA resolution in opposing hate speech.


Students for Justice in Palestine at UMD
Organization of Arab Students, University of Maryland Chapter
Black Male Initiative at UMD

Political Latinos United for Movement and Action in Society
Gamma Phi Sigma "Hermanos Unidos" Fraternity Inc.
Coalition of Latino Student Organizations
Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Incorporada
Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc.
Pride Alliance
UMD Socialists
Student Labor Action Project at UMD
Legitimizing and Unifying a Network of Undocumented Americans
El Sol
Community Roots
Muslim Student Association

Society for Hispanic Engineers 
J-Street at UMD
Iranian Students Foundation
Pakistani Student Association
Asian American Student Union
D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) Coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine and Students Against Israeli Apartheid
Bengali Student Association
Ethiopian Student Association
UMD Social Justice Coalition

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Harvest of Empire" Screening

Screening of "Harvest of Empire", a documentary film about US imperialism and Latino immigration
Co-sponsored with El Sol, PLUMAS, and Community Roots!