On Wednesday, October 14, Wesleyan Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) displayed a banner in Usdan that read “Occupation Breeds Violence, Free Palestine.” While hanging the banner, we read a statement that included the names of all known people killed in Israel and Palestine as a result of recent violence, as of midday on October 14, since the beginning of October. We acknowledge that our banner unaccompanied by our statement could have been interpreted as provocation without explanation. We take this opportunity to explain what we mean by “Occupation Breeds Violence, Free Palestine.”
First and foremost, we affirm that violence perpetrated against civilians is inexcusable. Our banner neither condones nor justifies acts of violence by Palestinians against Israelis. Rather, we emphasize that cycles of violence in Israel and Palestine must be considered within historical, political context and physical reality.
SJP not only condemns terror, we go further by condemning the primary engine of the “recent surge in violence”: Israel’s illegal military occupation of the West Bank. Many of the recent Palestinian attacks upon Israelis are terrorist attacks. So too is the “horrific routine” (B’Tselem) that is Israel’s illegal occupation. Since 1967, Israel has violated international humanitarian law by relentlessly and systematically demolishing Palestinian homes and villages while extending its settler colonialism in the West Bank. Israel denies Palestinians legal equality, equal rights to property, and equal access to basic human rights such as water, electricity and medical care. Israel administers separate and unequal legal systems for settlers and Palestinians (settlers are afforded civilian status while Palestinians are subject to Israeli martial law). Israel grants settlements extensive tracts of land within the West Bank, and settlers (Israeli citizens or Jews) freedom of movement and protection within them. Palestinians are forbidden access except by special permit and their movement is greatly restricted by military checkpoints. Talal Jabari relates: “No Palestinian under 50 living in the West Bank, and to an extent the Gaza Strip, has known a day of freedom in his or her entire life.” While daily life for many Israelis is insecure and vulnerable, the constant reality for Palestinians living under occupation is vulnerability entrenched by state-sanctioned violence. Noam Sheizaf attests: “The ‘Israeli-Palestinian conflict,’ most of the time, exists for one side and one side only.” Jabari continues to tell us: “Averaged out, Israel has killed over 10 Palestinians per week over the past 15 years, according to statistics compiled by B’Tselem.” Even our own Secretary of State conveys the causality of the violence. The Institute for Middle East Understanding reports that on Tuesday, October 13, John Kerry noted during a speec h at Harvard University that “There’s been a massive increase in [Israeli] settlements over the course of the last years. Now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that’s growing.”
Despite this, on Friday, Wesleyan United with Israel displayed a banner across the room that read “Condemn Terror, Support Peace not Incitement, Wes United with Israel.” This is a contradiction. Uniting with Israel means supporting the incitement of terror and actively obstructing peace. The word “terrorist” is frequently invoked to brand, reduce and dehumanize Palestinians (and Muslims more generally) and rarely to implicate Israelis or the Israeli regime. For the most part, terrorism is discussed from a state-centric perspective: being perpetrated against the state, not by it. Noam Sheizaf reminds us that “the occupation is the ultimate terrorist infrastructure.” Peace, moreover, is a concept often invoked by the powerful and wielded against the powerless to suppress resistance. Israel’s expansion of settlements demonstrates that the government has no intention to acknowledge Palestinians’ rights to their territory. The Israeli government refuses to take any responsibility for its role in recent violence, instead declaring that it must be quelled with whatever force necessary. Rather than confronting the occupation, Israel strengthens it. Palestinians have issued civil calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a powerful non-violent tactic, since 2005. The same people who are quick to reduce the current violence to terrorism in a vacuum are quick to condemn the BDS movement. There is terrifyingly limited support for Palestinian tactics of nonviolent resistance. In desperation, many Palestinians see no alternatives to resist state-sanctioned violence against their bodies. We cannot expect peace to be born out of forcible oppression.
Let us at Wesleyan be mindful of the intersectionality of systems of oppression. One thousand students marched in last year’s Black Lives Matter march. A great deal of us consider ourselves feminists, queer, anti-imperialists and anti-white supremacists. We cannot continue to ignore the intersections between such movements and Palestinian Liberation. Many activists around the country and around the world have rallied to the call for standing in solidarity for justice in Palestine. This past summer, over 1,100 Black activists, artists, scholars, students and organizations (including Angela Davis, Cornel West, and the Dream Defenders) signed a statement of solidarity with Palestine, stating “it is to Palestinians, as well as the Israeli and U.S. governments, that we declare our commitment to working through cultural, economic, and political means to ensure Palestinian liberation at the same time as we work towards our own.” (2015 Black Solidarity Statement With Palestine) . Those of us who are U.S. citizens cannot claim neutrality. The U.S. government funds Israel’s occupation with three billion dollars of our tax dollars annually. Now is the time for us to confront our complicity in the constant violence, displacement and dehumanization of Palestinians. If not now, when? If not us, who?
Wesleyan Students for Justice in Palestine