On 2 December, the Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine organized a protest of an event entitled “Overcoming Terror: A True Story” which took place on the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst. Israeli army sergeant Kenny Sachs was the guest speaker at the event, an on-call speaker for Israeli propaganda groups Upstart Activist and Divestment Watch, and the event was sponsored by the Student Alliance for Israel (SAFI) and the University of Massachusetts Hillel House. Though the topic of discussion was what happened in Gaza, the event description never named Palestinians. Instead, “terrorists” was the term used to describe those who “attacked” Sergeant Sachs at the Erez checkpoint in northern Gaza. The rest of the description was a muddled account of a shootout between Sachs and aforementioned “terrorists” which resulted in Sachs losing his ability to play basketball after being shot in the leg.
The Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine organized this protest in solidarity with the Palestinians silenced by the illegal Israeli occupation. Similar to the silent walk-out protests at Arizona State University and University of Michigan, we taped the names of children murdered in Gaza during Israel’s winter 2008-09 attacks to our shirts. By intentionally using silence as a means of nonviolent protest, we were invoking the silencing effect of the Israeli military in Palestine — of the military occupation, of Israel’s wall in the West Bank, of the staggering number of Palestinians killed.
Kenny Sachs served in the Israeli military until 2003 in the occupied West Bank (including Jenin and Tulkarem), the occupied Gaza Strip and Lebanon. By touring soldiers like Sachs around US campuses, Israel is attempting to rebrand itself and humanize the occupation, to reverse the roles of a violent occupier into passive victims of “terrorist” attacks.
This, of course, leaves out the option for Palestinians to illuminate the reality of occupation and the struggle for justice. By ignoring this and consequently emphasizing the personal nature of this lecture — focusing on the sergeant’s inability to play basketball — Student Alliance For Israel at Amherst hardly delivers on its claim to create constructive dialogues, or foster pathways to peaceful coexistence for all peoples. This notion of coexistence and peaceful dialogue is false so long as Israel continues its ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Activists interested in justice must object to shallow attempts like this to depoliticize Israel’s oppression. Indeed, despite multiple opportunities, Student Alliance For Israel has declined to participate in any sort of moderated debate.
By protesting propagandistic events like this, we also uphold the Palestinian call for a boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Until Israel is held responsible for its crimes against humanity, ends its military occupation of Palestinian land, respects the right of return for Palestinian refugees displaced since 1948, and respects the full equality of Palestinians in Israel, we will continue to boycott Israel to the fullest extent.
Christopher Clark is a third-year student at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He is studying resistance communities and the Middle East. He is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine as well as Western Massachusetts Coalition for Palestine.