Justice in Palestine Week is Enlightening and Appropriate
By Wafa Ben Hassine
“Thestands in solidarity with all oppressed peoples of the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious creed.” This is the first of ’s Muslim Student Association’s Guiding Principles for its annual Justice in Week.
As amyself, I realize that it is my personal duty to take on an active role in society, stand up for those who are oppressed and work to correct injustices. The MSA’s Justice in Palestine Week, a series of events taking place on campus last week, has provided ample opportunity for myself and other students and faculty alike to engage with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in an interactive, civil and intellectually critical way.
What I experienced was students asking questions of event organizers and participants in a free and engaging way that would not have been possible in the absence of Justice in Palestine Week. I witnessed two members of a pro-Israeli student group sit in a circle with their peers organizing the event, openly discussing the conflict. I witnessed a sense of community – the week is sponsored by a dozen major student organizations, and it shows.
I have attended Justice in Palestine Week all four years of my college career, and the latest – the 12th annual – was certainly the most stimulating: The Muslim Student Association has successfully taken larger proactive steps in presenting Palestinian narratives and histories. I learned about Palestinian art, food and music. I also learned about the daily injustices that these people endure. I learned about settlements and checkpoints and their detrimental effects on the average Palestinian’s daily life. I am learning abouttaking cues from the successes of Tunisia and Egypt and adopting tactics of nonviolent protest – which just this weekend was met with real bullets shot by the Israeli army.
Where normative discourses prevail, JIP Week has proved to be an invaluable aspect of our campus’ student life. More fundamentally, it is an avenue for civic engagement, giving light to an underrepresented narrative that is consistently omitted fromand only recently emerging in academia.
Over the years, however, there has been one steadily consistent feature of the week. It attracts many outsider individuals, some even flying in from out of state, who have a national agenda in mind. These individuals are perceived as going out of their way to create tension, ostracize the students and film every one of the events, and later twist the settings to fit into a fear-mongering, Islamophobic narrative. The clips are used in documentaries and interviews with the apparent goal of vilifying this grass-roots student initiative. It is a shame that such a valuable student-led initiative is severely misconstrued based on others’ agendas.
We must remember that advocating for Palestinians’ access to self-determination and human rights is in no way synonymous with being. Let us not succumb to such a substantially blind categorization. We can hope fervently that in the next Israeli elections in 2014 an Israeli government genuinely dedicated to pursuing actual peace and reconciliation is elected. In the meantime, we must continue our work through domestic interfaith community building efforts and the encouragement of economic development in Palestine, among other efforts.
On a more localized level, we should raise awareness through events such as Justice in Palestine Week. This venue is a channel of critical discourse that challenges accepted norms and narratives. It is a prime example of academic freedom on a university campus in which issues such as the Middle East conflict get an open hearing. If not on a university campus, where? It is on university campuses that any student is able to employ the level of intellectual honesty that stimulates genuine interest and discourse.
Subsequently, we realize that there is only one possible route to progress: openly and thoroughly addressing these ongoing injustices and howintersects with them. Perhaps by presenting the facts and narratives, we can all work together for justice and have our solidarity bear real, pragmatic fruit – both domestically and in the Middle East.
Ben Hassine was UCSD student body president for 2010-11. She is due to graduate in June with a degree in political science and public law.