Sunday, March 24, 2024

When "Free Palestine" Arrives at Your Home

"Free Palestine" Demands

The current version of the student Palestine movement has finally arrived at my college. Last month they held a protest demonstration when our Hillel and the interfaith chapel brought two speakers, an Israeli and a Palestinian, each to speak about their own take on the shared/divided history of Jews and Palestinians in the land. It wasn't really a dialogue, rather a side-by-side sharing of experiences and interpretations. I went to hear them and was left quite unhappy by what the Palestinian speaker had to say.

The protestors were also made unhappy, in their case by the mere presence of the Israeli speaker, whom they accused of being a "genocide supporter." They didn't disturb anyone going to hear the speakers, but held what a "boycott" demonstration in a nearby location. Nonetheless, a couple of the protestors came to hear the speakers for a while and then went to the protest. One of the signs at the protest was "genocide supporters not welcome." I wondered when I saw it whether they would consider me a genocide supporter. Other signs were typical of Palestine protests: "liberate Palestine" and "from the river to the sea Palestine will be free."

"Die-in" at the administration building

Yesterday, the group broadcast clips of their protest from the foyer of the administration building (including a die-in), with the college president watching. A group of about 12-15 students sat in a circle clapping and chanting "free free Palestine." The student newspaper reported on the event and provided more detail - in addition to the free Palestine chant, they also chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" and “When a land is occupied, resistance is justified."

Are all kinds of resistance justified?

I find the third slogan particularly troubling. This is a slogan used at many pro-Palestine demonstrations. What kind of resistance is justified? Non-violent demonstrations or other actions? Strikes?

What violent actions are permissible? Taking up arms against the Israeli army? On October 7, when Hamas invaded Israel, they attacked Israeli soldiers in bases right on the border, and killed several hundred of them. In a war, soldiers kill and are killed - this is normal in war, and the law of armed conflict does not prohibit it. What about terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians? Are they permissible? As we all know the Hamas fighters attacked, raped, mutilated, tortured, killed, and kidnapped Israeli and foreign civilians living in the kibbutzim along the border, in Sderot, and at the Nova party.

And who is doing the resisting? Is this slogan meant to apply to Palestinians living in Gaza or also to people in the US protesting the Israel-Hamas war? If the resistance is happening in the US, is violence an acceptable method? Would it be permissible to attack police who try to control pro-Palestinian demonstrations? Or damage government buildings? Or attack "Zionists," however they are defined? Would terrorist attacks be permissible in the United States?

This is the problem with a slogan that is completely open-ended, like "when a land is occupied, resistance is justified." There is potentially no limit to the tactics of resistance.

The first part of the slogan is also open to interpretation. What land is occupied? Does the slogan only apply to the land that Israel conquered in 1967 - the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights? Many of those protesting these days refer to Israel's 75-year occupation, going back to the founding of Israel in 1948, meaning that all of Israel is "occupied."

Good article to read on what resistance means: "Even the Oppressed Have Obligations," by Michael Walzer, in The Atlantic, November 6, 2023. The tagline is: "Not every act of resistance is justified."

Student demands

These are their demands:

They want the president of the college to "issue a formal apology and statement wherein she acknowledges the ongoing genocide in Palestine."

They also want the college to allow for a "BDS audit of their finances."

And finally, "All Birthright trips being run through Hillel cease indefinitely."

On their Instagram page they wrote "we presented [the president] our three major demands and made it clear that the ... student body will not rest until our demands are met." (Is the whole student body represented by the group that protested today? I suspect not, considering how small the group was).

In the fall, after the October 7 attack by Hamas, the president issued a couple of statements expressing her concern for Jewish students and community (the statement referred to the attack as "terrorist"). She hasn't made any further statements since then. Personally, I don't think she has anything to apologize for. Expressing concern for the impact of the Hamas attack on the Jewish community is not a political statement, in my opinion.

What would a "BDS audit" of the college finances be? Part of BDS is divestment (that's the "D" of the acronym) - are they thinking of what the college endowment is invested in? I don't think the college president has the power either to audit the endowment's investments, or publicly disclose them - that's within the purview of the Board of Trustees.

As for their third demand - this would belong to the "boycott" part of the BDS demands, in this case, preventing Hillel from running trips to Israel through Birthright. I don't know if our Hillel actually runs Birthright trips now, but there are certainly students from my college who go on Birthright trips at various times through the year. Even if the college told our Hillel not to facilitate those trips, it would not prevent our students from going to Israel. They could simply apply to go on trips sponsored by other organizations.

I am definitely opposed to any boycott of Israel, especially to the academic boycott of Israel. I don't think the college should implement any of these steps, but I feel the most strongly about the last demand, because it would directly impact our Jewish students.

No comments:

Post a Comment