Two weeks ago, our group, the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee, partnered with the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance to organize an event that dealt explicitly with the struggle to strengthen a Jewish identity that fights nonviolently for social justice and equality for all people in the Holy Land. Because of the event’s relevance to Jewish audiences, PJA originally reserved a room for the event in Harvard Hillel, the center of Jewish life on campus. Although we were delighted that Harvard Hillel initially agreed to have this dialogue take place in its building, the offer was suddenly revoked a week before the event. Due to pressure from Hillel International, the event was prevented from taking place in Hillel because PSC was a co-sponsor.
As rationale for excluding our organization from this dialogue in Hillel, Harvard Hillel’s executive director noted that PSC supports the nonviolent boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. BDS is a movement initiated in 2005 by Palestinian civil society in order to nonviolently demand an end to Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies, and it has since become the largest international, peaceful movement successfully calling for change to these policies. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, companies targeted by BDS have lost billions of dollars in contracts, and companies around the world have divested from Israel. In October, Richard A. Falk, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, called for a boycott of all companies profiting from Israeli settlements.
Harvard Hillel’s decision to ban us from co-sponsoring events at Hillel has silenced dissident voices in the Jewish community, a disconcerting act itself, given Hillel’s intention to be a space for all Jewish students. However, it has also made us wonder: if Hillel does not want to interact with pro-Palestinian groups that support nonviolent resistance for peace, how does Hillel expect people to resist Israel’s brutal occupation and well-documented human rights abuses?
Hillel International’s policies opposing groups which support BDS is a disgraceful attempt to silence critique and dissension against the policies of the State of Israel in the Jewish community. We appreciate the solidarity of the Progressive Jewish Alliance and that of countless other pro-peace Jewish groups and hope that Hillel will be able to evolve not only to accept modern discourse on a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also to accept viewpoints in its community that do not align with those of its main sponsors and leaders.
Last week witnessed a dramatic rise in violence between Israelis and Palestinians unprecedented in recent years. The fighting began last week when Israel ended a tacit truce with Hamas by assassinating the Hamas commander who was tasked with enforcing ceasefires and was in the process of negotiating a new one. In the following week, widespread Israeli bombings of Gaza killed at least 150 Palestinians. Hamas and other militant groups responded by firing rockets into Israel, killing five Israeli civilians.
The recent violence is the tragic consequence of over 60 years of Israeli dispossession of Palestinian lands and the continuing occupation and siege of the Palestinian people, which has ensured an unsustainable and unlivable reality, especially in Gaza. Between 2007 and 2010, Israel prevented even the most basic of goods—including staples like concrete and medicine as well as items like pasta, fruit juice, and chocolate—from entering the Strip, enforcing a siege by land while controlling and limiting Palestinian access to air and sea. Today, many imports and most exports are still banned by Israel.
The Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee is strongly opposed to the use of violence by any actor, especially violence targeted at civilians. However, we also recognize that Palestinian support for Hamas and participation in violent resistance is a response to a regime of occupation and human rights abuses that has lasted for over 60 years. This week’s events and Israel’s latest attack on Gaza demonstrate the tragic consequences of violent resistance.
The violence does, however, raises questions for all people who are interested in seeking a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli occupation and siege of the Palestinian population is immoral, and it perpetuates an unsustainable situation, resulting in a violent conflict last week in which Palestinians lost their lives daily and Israeli civilians were threatened with violent responses. If we understand this, then we must support resistance against Israeli policies: No government will change its policies if people do not speak out against them. Additionally, all occupied populations have the right to resist, defend, and reclaim their homes and land. It follows that if we truly seek peace in the Holy Land and reject violent resistance as a means to accomplish this, it is irrational and illogical to exclude nonviolent resistance from the available strategies. If Hillel seeks to be a relevant part of discourse on a just peace in the Holy Land today, it must stop silencing those voices that advocate BDS as a form of nonviolent struggle.
Alex R. Shams is an A.M. candidate in Middle Eastern Studies. Giacomo Bagarella '13 is a government concentrator in Currier House. They are both part of the Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee.