The College of William and Mary’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, first founded last fall, participated in the nationally recognized Apartheid Week, created by the organization’s national chapter.
The coordinating members of SJP described the aim of the group as a mission to educate, empower and advocate for Palestinian voices.
The executive coordinating committee for the College chapter hosted presentations, movie screenings and open forums to discuss various topics including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the needs of Palestinian refugees.
The group hosted informational tabling at the Sadler Center during the week of March 26-30, where a banner of solidarity was available for people to sign. The group also hosted a screening and discussion of the short documentary, “Empire Files: How Palestine Became Colonized,” March 27 at 8 p.m. in Tucker Hall Theater. March 28, the group hosted a presentation on basic human needs in Palestine, in Tyler Hall. The final event of the week was a presentation titled, “Boycott. Divest. Sanction,” the afternoon of March 29 in Blow Memorial Hall.
“Apartheid Week was focused on educating the campus about Israeli actions that classify it as an apartheid regime,” SJP Executive Board Member Layanne Abu Bader ’21 said.
Members of SJP said that some students find the language behind their educational week to be loaded, but they believe that the use of the word “apartheid” is justified.
“Any type of regime that is discriminatory and oppressive is an apartheid regime,” Sarah Salem ’19, an executive coordinating committee member, said. “[It’s] just a very ‘us/them’ mentality.”
On top of the the College’s SJP chapter’s mission statement, its fundraising goals strictly go toward refugee foundations. Future endeavors include more fundraising campaigns and continuing education programs.
“I HAVE BEEN CALLED MANY THINGS FOR ADVOCATING FOR PALESTINIANS IN THE PAST; ANTI-SEMITIC AND TERRORIST USUALLY,” BADER SAID.
The Meridian Coffeehouse, the College’s student-run coffee shop and arts venue, hosted a “Living Together” open-mic fundraising event along with SJP Friday March 23. Donations from the event went to Ta’ayush, an Arab-Israeli activist group dedicated to direct action against Israeli occupation in Palestine. Ta’ayush is the Arabic term for ‘living together.’
Members of SJP, however, said they have encountered resistance to the group’s formation from students who do not support or believe in what the group stands for.
“I have been called many things for advocating for Palestinians in the past; anti-Semitic and terrorist usually,” Bader said.
SJP members said that it is a common misconception that their organization promotes violence, and that their activities on campus have been based exclusively on disseminating educational information about Palestine.
The ongoing struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians for areas including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has been occurring since the mid-20th century after U.S. President Harry Truman recognized Israel as an official nation and a national home of the Jewish people.
The fight for sovereignty between Israeli Jews and Palestinians is rife with cultural, religious and political disagreements that have escalated the use of violence. However, SJP is founded on the ideal that violence is not the way to enact change.
“The history of Palestine is so complex that there’s just so much to talk about,” Salem said.
She continued by explaining that the group’s official slogan, “educate, empower, advocate,” perfectly captures the goals of the group. Salem strongly emphasized the role of education in their organization, hoping to inspire those who learn about the conflict and the Palestinian refugees.
“WILLIAM AND MARY IS FILLED WITH SO MANY HARDWORKING, EDUCATED PEOPLE THAT I KNOW FOR A FACT ARE GOING TO BE WORLD LEADERS SOMEDAY,” SALEM SAID. “I WANT MY FUTURE WORLD LEADERS TO KNOW ABOUT THIS CONFLICT SO THAT THEY CAN INCITE CHANGE AS WELL. WE WANT TO INCITE CHANGE IN THE PEOPLE THAT ARE EVENTUALLY GOING TO INCITE CHANGE.”
“William and Mary is filled with so many hardworking, educated people that I know for a fact are going to be world leaders someday,” Salem said. “I want my future world leaders to know about this conflict so that they can incite change as well. We want to incite change in the people that are eventually going to incite change.”
Additionally, SJP executive coordinating members said they hope to facilitate an environment for students who identify with the cause, and to provide a safe space for Palestinian and Palestinian-American students to voice their opinions and show the culture and traditions of Palestine in a peaceful, just and open manner.
One of the closest organizational liaisons for SJP has been the Lambda Alliance. The LGBTQ+ student group organizing Pride Fest has coordinated with SJP, which will have a table at Pride.
Additionally, Yahya Hash ’18, an executive coordinating member for SJP and member of Lambda said that SJP has a common connection with Lambda because of their mutual concern with the phenomenon of “pinkwashing,” which he described as a term coined by Palestinian activists to describes the Israeli media’s promotion and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ tourism industry in order to falsely promote an image of progressiveness and tolerance.
Palestinian activists argue, Hash explained, that this portmanteau phrase is utilized as a facade to cover the asserted human rights violations occurring in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that little to no LGBTQ+-friendly legislation has actually been enacted in the area.
Members of SJP said that they recognize that a conflict such as this one has two significant sides to it, and the executive coordinating members said they desired open discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We want to create a safe space for discussion among any people who might be pro-Israel to just hear their side of the story, to share our differences and just learn about each other,” Salem said.