Editor’s Note: This opinionated piece does not suggest The Writer’s Bloc aligns with any specific cause – this is purely an independent contribution from a student activist.
It was very quiet.
About five women in black robes stood beneath the guarding shade of an olive tree. Still more men stood waiting closer to the distribution sight, where heavy sacks of wheat, smaller bags of lentils, and containers of olive oil were being rationed out amongst the people here. We were in a village just outside of Nablus, and as employees for the World Food Programme, we were here to gather assessments from those familiar with the products of raw UN distributions.
Do the portions serve your monthly needs?
Yes, praise God.
And children, how many?
6, praise God. We had seven once.
How is the quality of the wheat?
It melts like wax between my hands when I’m baking so I add some from my own.
Does the variety please you?
Praise God I can’t complain, but we used to receive sugar.
We replaced it with lentils.
We’d prefer sugar.
Men with light and dark colored donkeys, some with rusty cars, some with children, came to pick up their monthly rations. A man seated by the entrance to a mosque nearby took down the person’s name and gave them a slip they were to hand to the men inside the truck. Sacks of wheat would land hard against the dry dirt and send clouds of white shame to the men who picked them up.
It were better if I were dead.
God curse the devil, don’t say that.
But death would bring comfort.
Such a scene, however, is a regular occurrence. The poverty treated, both in the West Bank and Gaza, is an illness for which there appears to be a plethora of treatments, none of which are addressing the root causes of the problem – the illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the economic blockade of Gaza. Where were the men?
Many are sitting in Israeli prisons awaiting trial, sometimes for years on end without charges pressed against them by the occupying military authority. And in those households where the men were present, where were the jobs that could allow them to provide for their families? Where are the lands they once cultivated?
Water wells built without the permission of the Israeli government, which is seldom granted, are poisoned. Farm lands that once spanned tens of acres are cut short by the wall separating Israel from the territories it also occupies.
The largest challenge that the Palestinian cause faces, however, is not America’s unbending support for Israel, but the aggressive denial by many in this country that the Palestinian people live under any sort of oppression or occupation. Most of those from Israel with whom I have spoken cringe at the word apartheid and remind me, rather furiously, that that was a term used to describe the situation in South Africa. And while they do not deny the necessity of the wall, they insist upon their generosity with the Palestinian people.
For instance, numerous scholarly lectures have been organized to demonstrate the systems that Israel has developed to supply water to the Palestinians without noting that this water rests beneath the occupied West Bank and that the Israeli government controls its distribution, with its settlements receiving the largest apportionment.
Yet, Americans are not acknowledging this reality, allowing institutions such as this university and our government to continue supporting Israel’s occupation.
However, what is right does not need to be defended with bribery and weaponry of the state. Historically, it has always been the colonizers, the occupiers, the unjust and unwanted rulers that acquired the kind of defense forces and desperate support that the country of Israel has so succeeded in gathering.
We staged this protest because we believe that the celebration of a country that continues to carry out numerous atrocities against a population of occupied people is wrong and to make it known that there are students, professors, and workers on this campus that oppose these celebrations.
What is most troubling is that the festival is carried out in the name of a country that has set up a system of apartheid not very different from the one we opposed in the country of South Africa. But peace today has become confused with apathy, with the refusal to take sides. In truth, peace relies on our ability to always feel enraged over occurrences of injustice. It is when we lose this ability to feel anything, particularly anger, over such matters that we abandon our efforts for peace.
Over the years I have often heard protests being referred to as a demonstration of hate. When I was asking a friend if he’d like to join, he replied that violence was not the way to respond. I did not understand; when had protests become confused with violence and hate? The right to demonstrate is one of the first things to be banned under authoritarian governments and one of the first things guaranteed under democracy.
Protests are a reminder of our democracy, and the repression of them is a demonstration of the fear with which illegitimate governments are guarded by. It is not without confusion that I observed many Americans defending the protests of the 2011 Arab Spring while shunning from the ones that took place few footsteps away.
But the Arab Spring has been one of the worst things to happen to the Palestinians. Our attention, with the calculated guidance of the media, has shifted to other countries in the Middle Eastern and North African region, and with it, our anger.
Since 2011, settlements have continued to expand in the West Bank, violence perpetuated by both Israeli settlers and the IDF has gone largely unheeded by the international community, and a heightened military presence has kept the Palestinians in perpetual unease.
The Palestinian cause, not accidentally, has been repositioned to the margins of the international agenda. That is why we chose to peacefully protest the Israeli Festival and bring the discussion of human rights in Palestine to our campus through political demonstration.
Featured Photo Credit: Police Lieutenant Lisa Payne intervened at the protest when the students arrived at Israel Fest. (Photo by Julia Lerner/Bloc Reporter)
Aiyah Sibay is a junior English literature major who was one of the organizers of the protest held April 19. She requested this piece as a form of participating in the dialogue that has since taken place. She may be reached at Aiyah.firstname.lastname@example.org.