The Georgetown University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine held numerous events this week, including an exhibit in the Intercultural Center Galleria and a documentary screening to raise awareness for Israeli Apartheid Week.
The events aim to raise awareness of the conditions in the region and to educate college students about the issues facing Palestinian citizens and refugees in Israel and elsewhere.
“What makes it so important is that it is an opportunity for the Palestinian voice to be heard and for us to express the simple truth about their situation without the conversation being shifted away from Palestinians under the guise of ‘balance,’ which really values the needs and desires of their colonizer,” SJP President Leila Shebaro (SFS ’15) said. “When we talk about peace and resolution, we are always talking about it on their terms, never on balanced terms and certainly never on Palestinian terms.”
As the name of the week implies, the group aims to draw attention to Israeli apartheid.
“If you look at U.N.’s definition of apartheid, what Israel is doing fits that completely,” Shebaro said.
“Twenty percent of the population of Israel proper is Palestinian, but they still face discrimination and are second class citizens.” SJP member John Flanagan (SFS ’14) said.
The week’s events featured talks with American Studies Association member Steven Salaita and journalist David Sheen, as well as a screening of the documentary “Five Broken Cameras,” a film about Palestinian non-violent resistance in the West Bank.
The Salaita lecture discussed and supported a boycott of products made in Israel or its settlements.
“As with any boycott, it’s not about the economic facets. It’s more about the symbolic power and empowering the Palestinian people and raising awareness for their situation,” Flanagan said.
The group also built an exhibit in the ICC Galleria to make students aware of the week. The exhibit features a wall, which serves as a representation of the Israeli West Bank Barrier, which has been under construction since 2003.
“It provides a barrier for the permanent, illegal settlements and essentially makes them permanent.” Flanagan said.“It’s a blatant land grab, so we wanted to expose the wall and give people a sense of its symbolic power and also its material power.”
The week’s events elicited responses from other campus groups.
“The oppression that the SJP is seeking to highlight with this week is legitimate and is the same suffering that J-Street is seeking to end,” J Street U Georgetown co-president Elijah Jatovsky (SFS ‘16) said. “The conditions in the West Bank are oppressive and brutal, and the ongoing conditions ought to offend anybody who believes in democratic principals.”
However, Jatovsky said that J Street advocates for a two-state solution, which is not generally accepted by members of the SJP, according to Shebaro. Additionally, Jatovsky expressed concerns regarding the choice of the word “apartheid” to describe the situation in Israel.
“While there may be some commonalities, to apply the word ‘apartheid’ to Israel misuses and cheapens the term.” Jatovsky said. “We believe it oversimplifies a very complex issue into zero-sum, good versus bad issue.”
Some Jewish students on campus also expressed dismay over the presentation.
“It’s very personal for me, the way that my country is being portrayed,” Georgetown Israel Alliance Vice President Nitzan Gabai (SFS ’16), who formerly served as president of the organization, said.
Gabai is also an Israeli citizen who served in the Israeli Defense Force from 2008 to 2011.
“Completely negating Israel’s existence is counterproductive and completely polarizes the entire hope for peace in the region,” Gabai said. “Both sides have a stake in this, both sides should have a seat at the negotiating table, and both sides should have a right to exist. It’s not all or nothing.”
SJP, J Street U and GIA previously attempted a collaborative movie event in November but withdrew organizational support after SJP backed out, citing differences irreconcilable with their platform. Members from all three organizations still attended the program as individuals.