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On the neglect of Palestinian suffering

We at Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) get some emails every now and then telling us that what we talk about and what we advocate, despite it being true and ethical, is ‘divisive,’ and that it makes some uncomfortable. The same people sending us those emails would immediately imply that, by criticizing Israel’s abuse of indigenous Palestinians, we are offending some Israelis. We are then instructed to stop reminding students of what many human rights groups are saying about Israel’s policies, and of our student union’s complicity in them.

Statements such as these can only come from a cornered opponent who doesn’t know how to respond to reasoned arguments. If the reader wants to see an instance of such absurd claims being made, the last issue of the Gazette published a great example under the title ‘Students Against Israelis [sic] Apartheid: On the normalization of hatred against Israelis.’

In that example, Peter Svidler, the writer, repeated the now-outdated argument that, because talking about Israel’s unethical behavior made him uncomfortable, we should all just stop engaging in the subject. In saying so, he showcased his disconnect from the reality that Palestinians face, only to then proceed to accuse SAIA of (wait for it) “normaliz[ing] hatred against Israelis.”

Let’s be very clear. SAIA actually has Israeli members. We also collaborate with Israelis living in Halifax for many of our events. In fact, many of the speakers whom we’ve hosted in Halifax, or helped host, are Israeli. These Israeli members and speakers are some of our strongest allies working against their own government’s injustice.

If Peter was meticulous enough to read our previous articles in the Gazette, or attend some of our past events, he would have noted the many times we make it clear, in one way or another, that we are not against Israel for the sake of being against Israel. We are against Israel’s unfair policies towards native Palestinians.

Our criticisms of the Israeli government’s policies, and of Israel’s history of settler-colonialism, are echoed by virtually all human rights organizations, including Israeli and Jewish groups like B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights. We really do hope that Peter will fact-check us on that by visiting those groups’ websites. If he does, he would probably refrain from making offensive statements implying that the biggest problem facing Palestinians in Halifax is going to bed “knowing they will wake up to a cold Haligonian morning.” The weather may be Peter’s biggest concern, but to many Palestinians in Halifax, the story is much different.

Many Palestinian-Haligonians fear for their politically active friends in Palestine, who can at any point be the targets of Israeli authorities, simply because they called upon Israel to respect international law.

Those same Palestinian-Haligonians are scared that their relatives may be evicted from their lands and homes to make way for ever-expanding illegal Israeli settlements or military outposts.

If those Palestinians are students at Dalhousie, their biggest grievance may very well be that their student union invests in companies perpetuating the suffering of their families, their friends, and their people all-together.

It was surprising to hear Peter, who seemed to care a lot about his own feelings, disregard the feelings of the many Palestinians being marginalized by Israel’s occupation. His disregard showcased his double-standard when he implied that, because we renounce illegal Israeli settlements and the soldiers that protect them, we are part of “demonization campaigns… against anything or anyone that associates with [Israel].” Once again, Peter would do himself well by reading what Israeli human rights groups themselves think of illegal settlements and of Israeli soldiers.

Getting students talking about our complicity in human rights abuses, Israeli or otherwise, takes precedence over Peter’s feelings and unfounded accusations. We will not apologize for our pursuit of an ethical student union. We will not apologize for our refusal to neglect or forget the suffering of Palestinians. If that makes some uncomfortable, so be it.


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