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Humanizing Palestinians Should Not Be Controversial

“Part of the challenge is just trying to be morally consistent — to have some sense of integrity, and to fundamentally acknowledge the way in which a precious Palestinian baby has exactly the same value as a precious Jewish baby.” African American Studies professor Cornel West’s words reverberated across a packed auditorium last week. While his words seem commonsensical, the reality is that the basic humanity of Palestinians is denied every day.

In Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on Earth, 1.9 million Palestinians — almost three-quarters of whom are refugees — are locked in an open-air prison, unable to leave the strip. Many of these refugees still have keys to their homes inside present-day Israel. However, to this day, Israel’s laws forbid them from returning, ever since 750,000 Palestinians were exiled in 1948. Repeated Israeli aerial bombings have killed thousands of innocent people and attacked schools, hospitals, and homes. In 2018 alone, Israeli Defense Forces killed almost 200 Palestinians peacefully protesting to demand their right of return. A recent UN report called this massacre a potential war crime.

In Israel, there are 66 laws that discriminate against Palestinians, reducing them to second-class citizenship. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stated that “Israel is not a state of all its citizens” and that “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.”

In the West Bank, occupied by Israel in 1967, over 600,000 Israeli settlers live in illegal Jewish-only settlements. Hundreds of Israeli military checkpoints impede the mobility of the Palestinians living there. While Israelis living in settlements, illegal under international law, are governed by Israeli civil law, Palestinians as young as 12 are tried in Israeli military courts, which have a conviction rate of more than 99.7 percent for Palestinians. Two sets of laws for two peoples living on the same land.

Apartheid, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, consists of inhumane acts committed in an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination by one racial group over another, with the intention of maintaining that regime. Israeli policy makes clear that Israel fulfills the conditions of the crime of apartheid as defined by the ICC. Israel is an apartheid state, and we must recognize it as such. It is only by recognizing this fact of the situation that we can productively move forward.

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Through Israeli Apartheid Week, the Palestine Solidarity Committee aims to raise the suppressed voice of Palestinians, share their pain, and connect it to other struggles against injustice. This is why we stand with Act on a Dream, Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, the Student Labor Action Movement, and many others fighting injustice. This solidarity was beautifully exemplified by the Wall of Resistance, which we proudly displayed alongside 14 other organizations.

This is also why we stand unwaveringly in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the face of anti-Semitism. We condemn anti-Semitism with the same conviction and moral clarity with which we condemn Israeli oppression. If it were our Jewish brothers and sisters oppressed by Palestinians, we would be the first to hold a Palestinian Apartheid Week. This conviction was exemplified at our Black-Palestinian Solidarity panel. When an individual unaffiliated with the PSC made anti-Semitic statements during the Q&A session, he was immediately shut down by the panelists, PSC organizers, and the audience. The room refused to tolerate anti-Semitism with the same vigor with which it engaged the content of the panel. Our vision for a more just world, just as it includes safety and security for our Jewish peers, must also include justice and freedom for all Palestinians.

This moral imperative, however, means that fighting for Palestinian freedom should not be any more controversial than fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. All that Palestinians are asking for is to have the same rights that all people should have — simply to be treated as human beings. This cannot be treated as ‘controversial’ any longer. Equal access to water should not be controversial. Safety from snipers during peaceful protests should not be controversial. The humanity of Palestinians should not be controversial. Everyone who believes in human rights should stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation.

The time for silence is over. Systematic defamation, intimidation, and suppression of Palestinian voices have created a climate in which silence is the default. Even PSC members fear putting their names on articles like this. We fear blacklisting by anonymously-run websites like Canary Mission, which can stand in the way of our careers and graduate school plans, and pose an extreme risk for students with homes and families in Palestine or Israel.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking example we have seen was when one Palestinian student backed out from speaking at a panel discussion during IAW, fearing the threat their statements could pose to themselves and their loved ones. Instead, they submitted somber words describing how in their time outside of Palestine, they have realized that much of what to them had seemed normal as a Palestinian — tear gas, the sound of military aircrafts, being held at gunpoint, and countless other staples of life under occupation — is, in fact, not normal. Even as a Harvard student in the 21st century, we saw firsthand how their freedom of expression and freedom of movement remain so vulnerable and easy to lose. We saw and heard how they felt suffocated, as they sat in silence while others read their story — at the very event, moreover, meant to amplify their voice and others like it.

Our silence will not protect families that have suffered under military occupation for three generations. As we speak out against mass incarceration or mass deportation, we also face a moral imperative to raise our voices for equal rights for Palestinian people.

Will Harvard once again fail to be on the right side of history, as it did with South African apartheid? Or will it be the force of change it has tremendous potential to be? We have been heartened by the support we received during Israeli Apartheid Week, and have hope that Harvard will choose change.

Miriam Alphonsus ’21 is a History concentrator in Lowell House. Katie M. Farkouh ’21 is a Human and Evolutionary Biology concentrator in Adams House. Christian B. Tabash ’21 is a Government concentrator in Lowell House. Alphonsus and Farkouh are members of the Palestine Solidarity Committee. Tabash is the co-president of the Palestine Solidarity Committee.

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