As a supporter of the freedom of speech and open dialogue, I am not opposed to Justice in Palestine Week. I despise that the hosting organizations use student fees to fund their events, although I understand that everything is all done in a university-approved fashion. The truly disturbing part of Justice in Palestine week is the one-sidedness of the information presented. The perspective of the material leads to reactions that contribute to a community climate that hinders my ability to carry on with my daily life.
The best way to express my feelings is through a story. Last year I was on the 201 bus heading back from the UTC mall. As I boarded the bus, I saw a middle-aged, overweight woman wearing all black sitting on the bench waiting to board the bus. As I sat down on the bus, she followed me onto the bus and took a seat not far away. The bus pulled away from the stop and what began as a bus ride back to campus turned into something far more memorable. This lady began to shout some of the most disgusting comments about Jews. At first I was confused as to her audience, but I soon realized that I was her target. Amongst other things, I was called a “filthy Jew”, a “baby killer”, a “kike” and I was told to get out of the Middle East before she killed me.
After that lady left the bus at the request of the bus driver, I was left in a state of utter confusion. How did she know that I was (a) Jewish and (b) pro-Israel? I wasn’t wearing a kippah, I wasn’t wearing an Israel shirt, and I don’t look overtly Jewish. And then it hit me. The only way that this lady knew who I am is because she must have been on campus during Justice in Palestine Week and must have seen me trying to portray a contrary opinion to the presented information.
Justice in Palestine Week creates a very uncomfortable environment for pro-Israel students, almost all Jewish students, and other people who feel that their space is being invaded. When walking down Library Walk, it is impossible to overlook the giant wall that is supposed to represent the wall separating Israel proper from the West Bank. Painted on this wall are pictures, short stories, and explanations of the conflict. People swarm around passersby like flies, passing out propaganda to spark sympathy and become a supporter of the cause.
The explanations on the wall discuss many different aspects of the Israel-Palestinian conflict all from the perspective of a Palestinian. I am not against the Palestinian narrative, but I am against the way that it is presented. What exactly does this wall stand for? Physically, as mentioned earlier, it is supposed to demonstrate the barrier between Israel proper and the West Bank. The writings on the wall will lead a person to believe that the wall is erected to keep Palestinians out of Israeli jobs and away from Israeli hospitals, whereas someone else might convey that the wall was built in response to keep out suicide bombers that plagued Israel during the Second Intifada. Emotionally, the wall and the people who put it up will convey that it represents the oppression of the Palestinian people. Other people will say that this wall is the emotional representation of grieving parents who had to bury their children after they were murdered in suicide bomb attacks. The real problem is that this other, pro-Israel perspective is not being represented. When the pro-Israel perspective is silenced, it leads people to believe that this conflict is only one-dimensional: the oppressed versus the oppressors.
When something is boiled down so easily into a right versus wrong situation, it is rather easy to create an environment of hate. This lady I encountered on the bus clearly only received one perspective of this conflict. She clearly only walked by the giant wall and was inundated with one perspective. She probably felt extremely sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as any person with a heart should, but was misguided by such overtly skewed information that she could not empathize with anything that was not immediately presented to her on a large display. Without a doubt, this hatred I experienced was clearly manifested by the creators of Justice in Palestine Week. I am not the person to judge whether or not the manifestation of this hate was intentional or not; regardless of intention, it exists. And as a collection of student groups put on Justice in Palestine Week, these groups should be held to the principles of our university. Instead of stifling dialogue by providing only one side of a two-sided issue, these groups should provide at least some insight into the other perspective in order to prevent the average person from being filled with hatred.
Steven is a junior in Revelle College majoring in international studies.