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Progressive, Except for Palestine

By Asmer A. Safi, Contributing Opinion Writer
Asmer A. Safi ’24, is a Government concentrator in Leverett House and a member of the Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee.

Saturday, May 15 marked 73 years since al-Nakba, or the “catastrophe.” At least 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes on the eve of Israel’s creation in 1948. Fifteen thousand Palestinians lost their lives, and upwards of 500 villages were ravaged to make way for the new state.

This year, Nakba day was again observed with atrocities to mourn for Palestinians. On Tuesday, May 4, assaults began on peaceful Palestinian protesters rallying against the impending eviction of Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah. Days later, Israeli forces wounded over 300 worshipers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, where thousands of individuals were gathered for prayer during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. State-sanctioned aggression and right-wing vigilante violence towards Palestinians began all throughout Palestine and Israel, along with the most intense airstrikes Gaza has witnessed since 2014. At least 256 Palestinians, including 67 children, have been killed.

These killings are not isolated incidents. Israel’s apartheid regime has imposed a hegemonic, authoritarian rule over Palestinians. Not only does the state control Palestinian lives militarily and economically, but it has subjected them to a plethora of discriminatory laws that leave Palestinian lives at the mercy of systemic violence and dispossession. Israel has placed restrictions on Palestinians’ access to water, electricity, their freedom of movement, and continued its incursions onto indigenous Palestinian lands that were protected and declared free of potential Israeli encroachment by mutual treaties and agreements. The recent wave of airstrikes alone has left nearly 2,500 people homeless in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials.

As violence raged on in Gaza, Israel, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Palestinian groups at Harvard came together to condemn the actions of the Israeli government and Harvard’s complicity in that violence by publishing a statement that now has the co-sponsorship of over 900 individuals and 92 student groups.

The statement called on Harvard to remove its nearly $200 million in investments in companies complicit in Israel’s acts of violence and illegal settlements and demanded the University publicly rebuke Israel’s use of excessive force.

The statement was signed by student organizations such as Act on a Dream, the Phillips Brooks House Association, Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard, the Racial Justice Coalition, the Jewish Coalition for Peace at Harvard College, and Harvard Graduate Students Union, along with faculty, affiliates, alumni, and current students.

This statement marks a promising start towards changing the narrative on Palestine and the Israeli apartheid regime — however, our work has not yet ended. While millions have expressed support for Palestinian efforts to organize on campus and beyond, we must ensure that this support is long-lasting and takes the shape of genuine allyship that centers on Palestinian voices. Even as the broader Harvard community commits itself to notions of equality, justice, and fundamental human rights irrespective of identity, our peers often make an exception for Palestinian suffering.

Universities, mainstream media outlets, and politicians are equally complicit in this double standard — often attempting to dehumanize Palestinians and regard pro-Palestinian voices as those on the fringes of political discourse and extreme in nature. It is incredibly disheartening to see people who passionately oppose regressive laws on immigration, mass incarceration, racial justice, gender equality, and BGLTQ rights dismiss Palestinian liberation as a cause not worth the same amount of discourse or attention.

Being “apolitical” or claiming that one “does not know enough about the issue” is, in fact, a political stance — especially in the face of widespread violence.

Further, the recurrent oppression is normalized in the media and often explained using anti-Arab racism and Islamophobic tropes — meaning it is imperative that future decision-makers challenge the narrative fed to them about Palestine. As students attending one of the most influential universities globally, one that stands for “Veritas” and fostering “citizen-leaders,” it is unjust of us to turn a blind eye towards incessant violence that has targeted innocents across generations.

While American voters consider ourselves far-removed from the conflict, no entity supports Israeli apartheid policies as much as the United States.

In 1995, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act despite the controversial nature of moving the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and in defiance of Palestinian interests. Diplomatically, the U.S. continues to prevent any attempt to hold Israel accountable, guaranteeing its impunity at various international organizations, including at the United Nations Security Council. Israel continues to be the largest recipient of U.S. foreign and military aid: In 2016, the United States passed the largest military aid package it has ever given to a country, providing $38 billion in military assistance to Israel over the next decade. In early May, the Biden Administration promised $735 million in weapons sales to the Israeli government by the Biden Administration. According to the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Massachusetts taxpayers alone gives over $128 million each year in military aid to Israel.

Even though a ceasefire has been negotiated after 11 days of atrocities, bombardments near citizens have continued, and there is no guarantee that Israel’s growing settlements, blockades, and apartheid laws will be terminated. We must organize behind the cause of Palestinian liberation until equal rights are guaranteed for all citizens in Israel and Palestine. It is worth all of us considering how the funding channeled to Israel is being used. It is equally vital to assess to what extent America’s support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” is encroaching on Palestinians’ right to exist.

The Nakba never ended. It continues with every Israeli airstrike on Palestinian homes, every new settlement made on indigenous Palestinian lands, and every time Israel attempts to silence pro-Palestine voices across the globe. It will continue as long as every upcoming generation of Palestinians is denied its fundamental rights. It will continue until we hold ourselves and our representatives accountable for perpetuating war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Palestine can not afford our willful ignorance.

Asmer A. Safi ’24, is a Government concentrator in Leverett House and a member of the Harvard College Palestinian Solidarity Committee.

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