Clarifying a Misrepresentation
By Noah Gordon '14
It is easy to assume that there are two sides to every situation. On the surface, all things political very often seem two-sided to us. We aren’t to blame. As recipients of a Western education, we think of the world in terms of states, parties and alliances. As citizens of the modern world, we are used to partisan politics. We learned in high school that “Americans” declared independence from the “British Empire”, and that World War II was a war between the “Axis” and the “Allies.” Yet, when we become too accustomed to this mode of thought, we start applying it where it does not belong, and people begin to fall through the cracks.

It is vitally important to mark the difference between people and the states or institutions representing them. It is even more important to recognize that not all people have the luxury of such representations. Such is the case with the “Israel-Palestine conflict.” The very name commonly associated with it implies two-sidedness, but this is an improper simplification. When we hear in history class about actions of “the Americans,” we commonly think of the U.S. government. How can we possibly think of “the Palestinians” in the same way? The situation surrounding the Palestinian people is not a battle between two sovereign states. It is a military occupation, paired with the struggle against it.

An article was published in the Nov. 17, 2010 issue of this paper which criticized the organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for presenting a “revisionist history” intended to “win students toward one side.” Unfortunately, the article miscategorized the Palestinian occupation as a two-sided conflict, and, because of this, it misrepresented the mission of SJP. The organization does not seek to represent any one “side” of the conflict. It does not condemn all Israelis, nor does it condemn the existence of the Israeli state. It does not claim to speak for all Palestinians or laud the violent acts committed by some of them. It is a group dedicated to universal human rights, but focused on the plight of disenfranchised Palestinians under Israeli occupation. It is a group of political activists criticizing policies, not people.

When I attended the “Palestine 101” presentation, I was not a member of SJP. I went not only a curious freshman, but a curious Jewish boy hoping to discover more about his identity. I have always been taught that Israel is my homeland, so the way the state treats other peoples has been a concern to me. I entered the event with an open mind, ready to delve into the complexities of this issue rather than brush it off as another battle between two equal forces. I wasn’t there with an argument to make, or any purpose aside from learning about myself.

My perception of that presentation was much different than the one conveyed by the opinion piece in last week’s issue. Yes, it was intended to create a sympathetic crowd, but not a crowd sympathetic toward one side —rather, a crowd sympathetic toward the plight of the many Palestinian people suffering under unjust Israeli policies. The presentation was about human rights violations and the suffering of people. There was no condemnation of the Israeli state’s legitimacy or the Israeli people at any time. Criticisms of the Israeli government were based solely upon its policy decisions. In fact, the presentation made that clear: among the six items under the heading “What We Want,” no demands were made of the Israeli state except that it comply with international law and that the persecution of Palestinians be ended inside and outside of Israel.

To say that criticizing Israeli policy is anti-Israeli was ridiculous. Supposing that Israel is a true democracy, this is akin to saying that criticizing the new American health care plan is un-American, or that all protestors harbor a malicious hatred for the American people. Furthermore, to suggest, as is suggested in the past article, that critics of Israeli policy are anti-Semitic is personally insulting to me and many others like me, not to mention irresponsible to the Jewish community as a whole. The membership of Amherst SJP is roughly half-Jewish, and many Jews around the world are critical of the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians. Does this mean that we cannot be truly Jewish, or that we secretly harbor anti-Semitic self-hatred? Not at all. It means that we have found a way to incorporate a value for human rights into our Judaism.

A dedication to human rights is at the core of SJP. We are an inclusive community, accepting people from all backgrounds, as long as they share a commitment to a certain set of principles: prioritizing human rights above politics and above statecraft. We are political to the extent that one must be political in order to solve one of the modern world’s many problems. And the suffering of the Palestinian people happens to have very political roots.

Their suffering isn’t part of a “revisionist history.” Nor is it “skewed data.” The information presented in “Palestine 101” was factual and supported by citations. It is a fact that the Palestinian people are suffering under Israeli occupation, and SJP is dedicated to ending this oppression via education and activism. Our mission is not to “win students toward one side;” this contradicts the set of principles we are dedicated to. It is to educate those who are willing to listen, and to open the ears of those who aren’t.

A few weeks after the “Palestine 101” presentation, still before I was a member, SJP held another event titled “Continuing Hope — Overcoming Obstacles in the West Bank.” Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian farmer and activist, came to us and explained not only his personal history, but also his efforts to build toward a solution. The author of last issue’s article wrote it off without a second thought: “The obvious goal of this presentation is almost laughable . . . This certainly will be a moving presentation and another cheap emotional ploy to win students over to one side. This is immature and shows that SJP is clearly not interested in a solution.” Again, the author’s over-simplification and judgment of the entire organization based on one event misrepresented our goals. Nassar did not come to harp on his unfortunate situation and garner emotional support. In fact, he spent the majority of his presentation speaking not about injustice but about an effort he is making to build bridges of understanding between peoples of different backgrounds. Nassar’s dedication to a peaceful resolution based on understanding and community is an excellent representation of Amherst SJP’s mission. At any rate, Nassar’s efforts are far more complicated and good-natured than presupposed by that author, and they are certainly more than “a cheap emotional ploy.”

I don’t mean to bicker or call out a fight. As a current member of SJP, I too am dedicated to truth and a peaceful resolution to the oppression of the Palestinians. My only goal is to correct a misrepresentation, because misrepresentations reached with brutish assertions are incredibly dangerous. It is vitally important to recognize the actual heart of Amherst Students for Justice in Palestine. We believe in human rights, achievable by whatever nonviolent means. We do not throw our support behind any one government. We do not endorse the Palestinian Authority (PA) or the various terrorist organizations dedicated to Palestinian liberation. We believe firmly that terrorism in any form is wrong. In fact, many of our members criticize the policies of the PA and the Egyptian government just as much as those of the Israeli government. Please don’t take us to be anti-Semitic radicals or corrupt politicians. Take us for what we are: activists dedicated to equal rights for all people.

The focus of SJP is not anti-Israel. It is anti-occupation. When Martin Luther King, Jr. demanded equality for black Americans, he was not anti-white. He was anti-segregation, anti-Jim Crow and pro-equality. When the world banded together to end apartheid in South Africa, the United Nations did not question the legitimacy of its government; they questioned the morality of its policies. The world was not anti-South Africa. It was anti-apartheid.

I welcome the establishment of a “Peace in the Middle East” club here at Amherst. I would be happy to be a part of it. But, please, recognize that this attempts to tackle issues bigger than those SJP attempts to tackle. SJP is concerned just with the basic rights of Palestinians; not solving the bigger problem of “peace.” I would welcome such a club, but I don’t welcome the misrepresentation of other organizations to generate support for it. SJP will continue to stand strong for what we believe in, and we will continue to act upon our principles.

Issue 10, Submitted 2010-12-01 01:18:37