On Tuesday evening, J Street U Northwestern hosted an event to present both a “Palestinian perspective” and an Israeli one on “major milestones in Israel’s history.” The Israeli occupation of Palestinians cannot be reduced to a two-narrative binary. It is a history of colonialism, occupation and settlements, and the great efforts that have been put into uncovering its truths should not be pushed aside in favor of such a grand simplification. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,” for example, is not a Palestinian narrative but, rather, a well-done documentation of the Nakba, the systematic uprooting of Palestinians for the Zionist project and maintained by the Israeli state.
Alarmed by the apparent paternalistic nature of the event, we, Northwestern Palestinians and allies, mobilized to reclaim the Palestinian voice that J Street U, an organization that consistently rejects Palestinian calls for solidarity, had hijacked.
The Palestinians among us wore T-shirts with the words “Palestinian Perspective” across the front and an arrow pointing up to remind attendees that there are Palestinians on campus capable of delivering perspectives, and it has been happening: in articles, at events and through conversations. It is unfortunate when Palestinian narratives are only deemed worthy of listening to if facilitated by the privileged and delivered “side by side” with negations and/or more dominant narratives.
The event grew more problematic as the presenters began to explain the Nakba. The Nakba, which refers to the forced exile of over 700,000 Palestinians and the demolition of over 450 towns, is celebrated this week as Israeli Independence Day. Without citing evidence of the Nakba, the event showcased handpicked Palestinian narratives, reducing the Nakba from the ethnic cleansing of an indigenous population to a few video clips of stories. The stories were meaningful indeed, but presenting them without context does them, and the audience, a great injustice.
Also included with the “Palestinian perspective,” or “Nakba perspective,” was a video of a former Haganah fighter acknowledging the brutality of his organization and explaining the destruction of villages that he witnessed (the Haganah is widely regarded as a terrorist organization but was portrayed as an “underground military force” at the event). That this Israeli man’s account was included as a “Palestinian perspective,” or a “Nakba perspective,” demonstrates precisely the problem at hand: Facts on the ground either remain unsaid or are portrayed as biased toward Palestinians when they are in fact biased toward the truth.
On the other hand, the videos of the “Israeli perspective” painted Israel as a state that miraculously survived Arab onslaught. There was no mention of settler-colonial plans to forcibly remove indigenous Palestinians and the involvement of imperial powers. So in this way, the Palestinian narratives on display are posited simply as another perspective to hear, rather than the account of a tragic history of oppression that all must stand against.
We are not saying that J Street U should not seek out different narratives and discuss this topic. Rather, we are suggesting that when people are oppressed systematically by an apartheid system, it is on the rest of the world to heed their calls for solidarity. Oppressed peoples do not need facilitators or saviors, but rather, support in the stride toward freedom.
Hazim Abdullah, Weinberg ’16
Ruba Assaf, Weinberg ’17
Serene Darwish, Weinberg ’15
Dalia Fuleihan, Weinberg ’15
Moira Geary, Weinberg ’15
Hagar Gomaa, McCormick ’15
Zahra Haider, Medill ’17
Marcel Hanna, Weinberg ’17
Aneesa Johnson, Communication ’18
Alexa Klein-Mayer, Weinberg ’16
Omar Shanti, McCormick ’17
Noah Whinston, Weinberg ’16