Walker Bristol | Notes from the Underclass
Backing the Intifada
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 02:03
The human rights of the Palestinian people have been desecrated ever since the State of Israel was carved into their homeland in 1948. Today, the remaining Palestinian territories — the West Bank and Gaza — have imposed upon them racial segregation, annexation, detention, voter suppression and sadistic aggression under the military occupation. This all comes with America’s gleeful support, financially and culturally. We live in a Zionist culture. Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual national movement to rally and educate on the subjugation of the Palestinian people, drawing inspiration from the international divestment movement in response to the South African apartheid. In addition to stating the compelling analogy between the segregation of Palestinians and that of black South Africans, IAW promotes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) strategy to cripple the economic support for Israel’s occupying forces. I wrote last week how our own endowment is invested in certain corporations complicit in the illegal occupation — namely, IDF tracking computer system manufacturer Hewlett Packard. It’s thus natural that our campus should have a strong activist response to Israeli apartheid. Enter the Tufts chapter of the national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who in the last few years have emerged as an impressive purveyor of bada−−, enlightening action. SJP operates horizontally, directly involving members in decision−making, rather than a selected leadership board’s selecting the organization’s vision. Last week, SJP sponsored Tufts’ IAW, which involved a film screening, panel discussion, solidarity fasting and direct action. That action occurred on Wednesday, when a graffiti−clad barrier — among the spray−painted messages, “TEAR DOWN THIS WALL” — was erected outside the Tisch library steps. Students in keffiyehs stood silently in a line while some dressed in IDF garb checked their IDs, blindfolding some and having them sit along the wall. The display imitated the checkpoints that Palestinians in the West Bank (not only at the border, but indeed across the entire territory) undergo everyday while Israeli citizens pass freely on the roads adjacent. Onlookers were given slips of paper with stories of individual mistreatment at checkpoints. The intent was for imagery of segregation — indeed of those with original claim to the land — to be seared into students’ minds.
IAW at Tufts was meant to revolutionize the culture of thought surrounding Israel at Tufts. I reached out to emergent SJP organizer Munir Atalla and asked him to describe the community climate in which they were operating. He noted that several Zionist groups receiving outside funding, including Friends of Israel and Hillel, act to subvert the influence of those in solidarity with Palestine. “I felt a huge pressure upon entering Tufts to prove myself as one of ‘the good Arabs,’” Atalla recalled, “Meaning basically that I was expected to agree with American foreign policy in the Middle East, never criticize Israel and hold America on a pedestal as the greatest democracy on the planet.” We often forget, it seems, that Tufts — like American culture, and as a part of America — puts tremendous institutional, Westernizing pressure on its community to conform to the interests of its elites. Israel is flaunted as America’s “closest ally,” and our institutes of higher education produce leaders either too afraid or too indoctrinated to challenge that narrative. Nevertheless, programs like IAW have successfully drawn out independent thought in the local community. “Tufts students have proved very willing to challenge their pre−conceived notions, and those that have often find that SJP has opened their eyes to a previously unheard counter−narrative,” Atalla said. “[Over IAW], our events were extremely well−attended, our allies were unequivocally supportive and the true effect of our organizing is yet to be seen.”