Not only is Palestine not going away, nor are the American student groups speaking up for Palestinian rights, despite enormous and oppressive pressure. Jerry Haber’s column is followed by a statement from the students at risk, Columbia U’s Students for Justice in Palestine.
On March 10th, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner on Barnard Hall as an action for International Apartheid Week, (IAW).
By Jerry Haber, Magnes Zionist
March 20, 2014
In May 1948, a minority of Palestinian residents, mostly recent settlers from Europe, declared an independent state against the wishes of the majority. This was the latest in a series of inter-communal disturbances that had followed the passage of the UN Partition Plan, and one which precipitated an expected intervention of Arab armies from neighboring states. At the end of the war, Palestine was partitioned by the new State of Israel, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Egypt. Most of the inhabitants of Palestine, Palestinian Arabs, had been forced out of areas they had lived in, directly or indirectly. Some, many fewer, Jews suffered the same fate. Over the next few years, five hundred Palestinian villages were destroyed; Palestinian place names were changed, many of the native Palestinian, including Palestinians living in the state who should have been considered citizens according to the Declaration of Independence, were not allowed to return to their homes. In many cases. Jewish refugees were resettled in those homes. In a space of a few years, Palestine was literally and figuratively wiped off the map.
In light of the above, I am disturbed that Jewish students at Barnard are disturbed by seeing a map of Palestine calling for Justice in Palestine that doesn’t have the State of Israel on the map. If they are disturbed by the thought that the State of Israel is not on the map, why aren’t they disturbed at the actual destruction of Palestine that occurred in 1948? Do they think that Palestine ceased to exist after the British Mandate expired? That Palestinians have no homeland? That they came from Brigadoon or Atlantis?
“You can’t go home again,” wrote Thomas Wolfe. Tell that to the Zionists who to this day claim the Land of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Just as the Land of Israel exists, Palestine still exists, and will always exist as along as Palestinian Arabs remember it and wish its continued existence. I simply cannot fathom how any Zionist cannot understand this. Imagine the Romans saying to the Jews of their time, “Wishing to return to Jerusalem is personally offensive to us. Why isn’t Aelia Capitolina on your map? You lost. Get over it.” Would that carry any weight with Jews then or during the ages? Would it carry any weight with Zionists today?”
At Barnard the Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner stating, “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine,” (see above) and the administration took it down.
I don’t want to get into the free speech vs. private institution issue. If I did, I would say that I am pretty much a free speech absolutist, especially when it comes to college campuses.
I want to talk about the sign itself. I understand why pro-Israel students are disturbed by the sign, but from a moral standpoint, they should get over it. To this day, I am viscerally disturbed by some aspects of Christianity, and going into churches is not easy for me. That’s because as an orthodox Jew, I get that there is a fundamental incommensurability between the two religions,such that if I am right, they are wrong, and vice-versa. But while I do not agree with the belief that Jesus was the messiah, I can’t imagine protesting a banner that expresses this Christian belief. I would oppose, of course, a banner that says, “All Jews/Christians are going to hell” or “Throw the Zionists/Palestinians into the sea”.
So while it is understandable that some Jewish students have a visceral response to the banner, I would hope that they would have the sensitivity to understand, even if they don’t agree, that Palestine is eternal for the Palestinians, just as the Land of Israel is eternal for the Jews.
As for the J Street students who think that such banners are “unhelpful” for a two-state solution, I ask, “Why so?” After all, even if the Palestinians accept a small, truncated state in Palestine, it will never replace Palestine for them, no more than that state will have any effect whatever on Eretz Yisrael for me.
What I am saying is not rocket science. I live in what will forever be Occupied Palestine for Palestinians, and Eretz Yisrael for Jews. I will not support any ideology that wants to bring chaos and suffering to people who are justifiably in their land. I will try to seek for solutions that will maximize justice.
To my fellow Jews I say right now – Palestine never went away and is not going away. Palestine remembered is Palestine forever. Please read my post here about how Jews should relate to Palestine.
After all, the primary victims of the Zionist movement have been the Palestinians – so if sensitivity is required, then sensitivity for the weaker and more aggrieved party is in order, isn’t it?
By Columbia SJP
March 11, 2013
On March 10th, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine hung a banner on Barnard Hall. The banner was placed after members of CSJP went through the required bureaucratic channels and processes in order to give voice and presence to our weeklong events as part of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), a global period of action and awarenessraising that has been occurring throughout the world for the past ten years. This morning we awoke to find that our banner – which simply read “Stand for Justice, Stand for Palestine,” and featured the logo of our group (the silhouette of historic Palestine) – has been taken down by the administration of Barnard College after they caved to pressure from other groups. Barnard administration offered no explanation, and no warning that they planned to remove our banner.
Columbia SJP is a student group at this university—no different from any other group—and has equal access to the same platforms and resources that are made available to all students. Barnard College students went through the necessary banner placement review process, which included clearly stating the banner’s message in advance. Had our request been rejected, it would have been an act of censorship and an infringement on our freedom of expression as a student group at this university. The fact that our banner has been taken down now is a direct violation of our freedom of expression. The removal of our banner this morning has left members of Columbia SJP, Palestinian students on campus and other students that are often marginalized and silenced, feeling that Barnard College does not follow its own antidiscrimination policies. We are alarmed to know that ‘Palestine’ and ‘justice’ are not acceptable in Barnard’s educational space and that certain voices are discriminated against by the College.
We do not equate the State of Israel with all Jewish people, and we staunchly believe that making such a conflation is antiSemitic itself. Not only does the population of Israel include many nonJews, but increasingly Jews across the world (and in SJPs) affirm that the state of Israel’s discriminatory policies do not speak for them. Oppressive and violent policies of any regime, particularly one as closely and lucratively supported by the US as the Israeli regime of military occupation, should be criticized freely without censorship or backlash. As a group with members from multiple ethnic and religious backgrounds, what we are speaking of and calling for is justice and equality for all peoples. Students for Justice in Palestine is a diverse antiracist group; our national movement’s platform states that we are against all forms of discrimination, which includes antiSemitism. However, on this campus we are unable to even utter the word ‘Palestine’ without being called antiSemitic. This kind of accusation only works to silence our voices and to silence our respectful engagement with our community. It tells Palestinian students on campus that their university discriminates against the presence of the name of their country in its public space.
We have seen President Deborah Spar’s recent statement, which attempts to explain Barnard’s actions: “We are removing the banner from Barnard Hall at this time and will be reexamining our policy for student banners going forward […] Barnard has been and will remain committed to free speech and student groups will still have the ability to flyer and promote their events throughout campus, but until we have had time as a community to discuss the banner placements on Barnard Hall and better define a policy we will not be hanging student banners on Barnard Hall.” Lionpac has stated that they “believe that the banner space is not appropriate for any political message, by any student group,” and that “the banner was not taken down in order to suppress a particular political viewpoint.”
These explanationsare not consistent with Barnard’s previous record. It is disturbing that it has not been Barnard’s policy to remove political messages in the past and that it elects to remove only this particular political message, and changes rules only in response to this banner. This behavior suggests that there is, in fact,
a suppression of our voice.
Our banner aimed to publicize the events and conversations we are having this week as a student group, and we are outraged that our attempt to engage in meaningful and productive conversation about justice and solidarity with Palestine was faced with such backlash. Claiming that the existence of this banner is unacceptable is tantamount to declaring that Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine as a group should not exist, since the content in question is nothing that is not already part of our name and in our logo, as we have already stated. This does not stray so far from saying we should not be able to book Low Plaza or that we should not be able to organize events. This attack denies our voices and space as students on this campus, and we will not stand by as this happens.
It is our hope that Barnard College understands the great importance of protecting students’ freedom of expression. For years our group has contributed to the richness of this campus, provoking critical thought and conversation. We insist that Barnard Administration hear our voices and return the banner to its place. We also ask for a meeting with the administration in order to discuss the repercussions of this act of silencing on our community.
Notes and links
The US crackdown on pro-Palestinian students, plus a small selection of the many times we have posted maps:
Israel lobby hard at work to destroy free speech in US campuses
The Eastern Palestinian Archipelago
We don’t need to show title deeds – just the maps
Expanding Israel in maps
When facts about Palestine are seen as ‘antisemitic’ slander
The Conflict In Maps
Palestinians unite to demand ‘Open Shuhada Street’
Israel’s Ministry of Tourism incorporates all occupied territory, including Gaza, in its maps
Upheld – complaint about advert presenting Palestinian territories as part of Israel