From river to sea: Palestinian students in the UC system

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Content warning: Sexual violence and assault

We would like to preface our statement by acknowledging that we are on stolen land that rightfully belongs to the Ohlone people.

As James Baldwin said, “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

We collectively felt we needed to publish this op-ed in light of this tumultuous semester. Between being spat on, harassed, intimidated and threatened with genocide, we at Bears for Palestine needed time to recuperate and strategize our next steps moving forward.

Since the introduction of the ASUC resolution criticizing BFP’s display in Eshleman Hall, BFP members have been accused of being terrorists, terrorist sympathizers and anti-Semites. We have had our allies attacked with urine, students followed home and our hijabs torn off. We have been called godless, had our cubicle vandalized and our safety and personal space compromised by individuals being asked to take pictures of our cubicle from an ominous Craigslist ad.

We would like to first begin by telling Shelby Weiss, ASUC senator, that we do not appreciate her attempting to speak on behalf of the Palestinian community; not only is she not Palestinian, but she has advocated for a resolution that effectively marginalized and suppressed Palestinian voices on campus. The attempt to empathize with the suffering we had endured throughout the semester sounded condescending, patronizing and colonialist. It is irrational and ridiculous for an individual who believes in Zionism, a political ideology necessitating the expulsion and marginalization of Palestinians, to claim she can even comprehend the hardships we face, both before and after this resolution was introduced.

It would truly be shocking if Milton Zerman, former ASUC senator, who introduced the resolution, did not know that such a resolution would never be approved by the ASUC. If such a resolution were passed, we would file a lawsuit against the campus for infringing on our First Amendment right to free speech. The mere introduction of this resolution marginalizes and suppresses Palestinian voices on campus, as it would use institutional structures to reinforce the power dynamic that exists within many institutions regarding Black and indigenous people of color.

Previous op-ed writers have brought up how Rasmea Odeh was convicted for participating in the bombing of a supermarket, yet omit how Odeh was tortured and sexually abused by the Israeli army. According to The Nation: “But it was not until they brought in her father, threatening to force him to rape her, that she agreed to sign a confession stating that she had helped orchestrate two explosions in West Jerusalem that killed two civilians. Even then, her torturers raped her with a thick wooden stick.” The Israeli military’s torture of Odeh is very similar to how many Black and brown folks in the United States are systematically tortured and forced to plead guilty (with the most prominent example being the Central Park Five).

Regarding Leila Khaled and Fatima Bernawi, many individuals throughout history have demonstrated strategic means of resisting occupation and have been labeled as “terrorists.” Anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela was on the United States’ terrorist watchlist until 2008 due to his involvement in the military wing of the African National Congress, also known as the ANC. During Mandela’s time as its leader, the ANC destroyed fuel tanks to economically burden South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Had the anti-apartheid movement failed, we would most certainly harbor a radically different view of Mandela. And like Mandela, Khaled and Bernawi sought to bring attention to the brutal occupation of Palestinians. As millions of Palestinians have been expelled from their homeland and thousands of Palestinians have been killed during the Israeli occupation, it is only natural that Palestinians would militarize and resist the occupation.

It signals power and privilege to presume that individuals are “terrorists” without first asking what forces them to resort to protests. To individuals who seek to teach us oppressors’ morals, we respectfully say we do not take orders from colonizers. To quote the anti-colonial phenom Frantz Fanon: “When we revolt, it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”

In addition, previous op-eds mention Khaled and Bernawi for their acts to combat the occupation of Israel and label them as “terrorists,” yet they fail to mention the many atrocities the state of Israel has committed against Palestinians since the state’s inception (such as the fact that in 2018 alone, the United Nations reports that Israel was responsible for the deaths of 56 Palestinian children, with an additional 2,700 children injured).

The problems facing Palestinian activists go beyond simple resolutions and undemocratic representatives — the problem is much graver. It is a problem of systematic institutional inequalities, such as the inequality that exists when the campus assistant vice chancellor for executive communications is a former Israel Defense Forces officer and when the ASUC entertains a resolution violating our First Amendment rights. It is the inequality that exists when the chancellor’s office took weeks to formally respond to the rising rates of Islamophobic attacks and rhetoric on this campus; when many of us have to fear not only for our lives but for the lives of our families abroad; and when many of us fear being blacklisted on websites like Canary Mission, which publically shares the identities of activists, after which they become targets of harassment and death threats. Not to mention the inequality that exists when individuals continue to deny our right to self-determination.

As a pro-Palestinian organization on campus, we will continue to advocate for the rights of Palestinians on this campus, those who are part of the diaspora and those who continue to exist and resist in historic Palestine. While for some individuals this may be for personal comfort, we are collectively fighting for our very lives and right to self-determination. That is why, despite the numerous obstacles that we have encountered, we have pressured elected officials to step down from their positions, met with administration to advocate proper representation of Palestinian voices on this campus and will continue to advocate for the basic human rights of all marginalized communities.

All we have left to say is Free Palestine, Black Lives Matter, All the Walls Have to Go, Queer and Trans Lives Matter, and Free Kashmir.

The Bears for Palestine board represents the Palestinian community at UC Berkeley.

A previous version of this article incorrectly defined Zionism.