Building bridges between struggles at upcoming student conference

The development of a national network of SJP chapters has helped galvanize students across the US.

Sara Jawhari

More and more people are standing up against Israel’s injustices as its occupation and expansionism in Palestine continue to intensify. Now, more than ever, the movement for Palestinian rights is growing all over the world, and in particular, on college campuses.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has become a fast-growing network of campus organizations, representing chapters all over the United States from San Francisco to New York.

In 2011, Columbia University SJP made history, hosting the first National SJP Conference. The conference served as a springboard for newly formed chapters and added fuel to new victories that were made throughout the last year. The development of a national network of SJP chapters has helped galvanize students, giving them a renewed sense of purpose and excitement.

This year, the second National SJP Conference at the University of Michigan will gather both new and seasoned SJP organizers to connect, strategize, build and strengthen the student movement in the US.

Deep connections

What makes student organizing so crucial is its place on college campuses, the frontlines of intellectual thought. But too many Americans, and in particular, too many students, consider Israel’s military occupation of Palestine an issue separate from their lives, as one that is too distant or too controversial to tap into and too complicated to unravel for themselves. This couldn’t be further from reality.

For one, American tax dollars directly fund Israel’s illegal military occupation and settler colonialism. And as students, many of our universities invest in companies that facilitate Israel’s human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. This makes each and every one of us directly connected to these crimes, whether or not we choose to admit it.

But for us the connection runs even deeper. As Palestinians in the diaspora, we are refugees from 1948 Palestine (what is now known as Israel), we are from the Gaza Strip, and we are from the West Bank.

To us, Palestine is where our families have always talked about returning to live; returning to the villages from where they were forced to leave. But they are presently denied the right of return.

It is where our remaining families suffer ill-treatment and humiliation at Israeli military checkpoints in the West Bank, where drones and jets and gunships occupy the air and the sea and the Gazan land in between. It is where they face ever-increasing movement restrictions and segregation; and where their homes and livelihoods are hit with demolition orders.

When we organize campaigns, events, and activities with our respective SJP chapters, we do not see ourselves simply as Americans organizing in solidarity with those colonized because of our government’s complicity. Our commitment to this cause was passed down to us as we grew up, as we listened to our families’ stories and learned of the present conditions facing our loved ones.

Our past, present, future

We are Palestinian Americans from different backgrounds who met and connected through our work with SJPs on different campuses. We are in this struggle together because it is our past, present, and future. The enduring colonization, apartheid, and occupation of our people is something we cannot ignore and something we cannot allow our universities to ignore.

We are all connected. The Palestinian Call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) has given SJP chapters an opportunity to bring attention to how universities are directly connected.

In 2005, more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations called on people of conscience all over the world to implement BDS to pressure Israel until it ends the occupation, dismantles its apartheid wall, allows for equal rights for Palestinians under its jurisdiction, and respects the right of Palestinian refugees to return home.

Growing student solidarity

This call embodies the Palestinian struggle for equal human and civil rights, whether we are refugees, Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, or Palestinian citizens of Israel. And the BDS movement has grown on college campuses. More and more students are organizing campaigns to compel their universities to boycott and divest from corporations that directly support Israel’s crimes.

The BDS call has created a spark among students from every background to not only stand in solidarity with Palestinians, but to take clear, direct action and bring more allies into the work.

For example, SJP is establishing strong ties with Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.), a student organization founded on the principles of self-determination for the liberation of Chican@s (Chican@ is a gender neutral term for Chicano and Chicana).

At the 19th annual National M.E.Ch.A. Conference this past spring, National M.E.Ch.A. voted to endorse the Palestinian call for BDS, due to Israel’s military occupation and colonization of Palestine (“National MEChA Endorses Palestinian Boycott Call Against Israel,” M.E.Ch.A. website, 30 March 2012).

With allies like M.E.Ch.A., SJP chapters continue to build stronger coalitions against all forms of racism, oppression, and militarization.

Not only has SJP given students a chance to build connections and friendships with other SJP organizers, it has also allowed the opportunity to connect with and learn from other struggles. This year’s National SJP Conference will focus on drawing meaningful connections with other indigenous, anti-racist, and social justice struggles, as reflected in the title From Local Roots to Nationwide Branches: Bridging Student Movements.

Bridges between struggles

By linking with other movements, SJPs commit not only to Palestinian liberation, but to building bridges between struggles. This allows us to recognize our interconnectedness, and appreciate that none of us are truly free until all of us are free.

The second National SJP Conference will be a place where new bonds will form and old bonds will be strengthened as the movement builds and moves forward. All current and aspiring SJP organizers are invited to attend. People from all backgrounds who care about social justice are encouraged to support this growing student movement to hold complicit universities accountable and to support justice in Palestine.

As the late Palestinian academic and activist Edward Said eloquently stated, “it is a just cause, a noble ideal, a moral quest for equality and human rights.”

Together, we will continue to strive for freedom, justice, and equality for our people, and for all oppressed people.

You can register for the conference and get more information on the SJP website: sjpnational.org.

Shirien Damra, Sami Kishawi and Danya Mustafa are part of the ad-hoc steering committee of the National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference. Shirien is the granddaughter of refugees from 1948 Palestine, Sami’s family is based in Gaza City, and Danya’s family lives in Nablus in the West Bank. The three have been active in organizing with their respective SJPs and have come to connect and work with one another through SJP coordination.

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