Monday, December 17, 2012

On Being Jewish and Supporting Palestinians

Sara Smith speaks at a rally at UC Santa Cruz on November 27, 2012 opposing the recent violence that has occurred against Palestinians in Gaza by Israel. Smith is presently a teaching assistant for a UCSC course on the civil rights movement, and she declared at the beginning of her speech, "I am Jewish and I stand with the people of Palestine, I am also a queer Jew...and I stand with the queer people of Palestine."

On November 27, approximately 75 UC Santa Cruz students attended a rally held at Quarry Plaza to speak out against the recent violence against Palestinians in Gaza by the state of Israel. Students described the recent attacks as an, "overwhelmingly one-sided aggression on the part of the Israeli state, supported centrally by the U.S. government, and part of a long, continuing history of Israel's oppression of Palestine."

Israel's recent aggression, which occurred over a seven day period, ended with the deaths of 5 Israelis and more than 140 Palestinians, with at least 26 children and more than 70 civilians among the Palestinian dead. Students pointed out that this reality is far from the picture that major U.S. media outlets present as, "a back-and-forth conflict between two comparable sides." Students opposed President Obama's declaration that Israel is exercising its, "right to defend itself," as well as the massive financial and military expenditures by the United States that enable Israel.

Two major points students hoped to communicate at the rally were that the treatment of Palestinians by the state of Israel is comparable to the conditions of those under other apartheid systems of rule, and that the largest refugee population in the world is currently comprised of Palestinians, with 1.1 million of the total 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza considered refugees.


Sara Smith asserted that as a Jew, it was almost her personal responsibility to defend the Palestinian people in their current struggles. "As Jews, we should stand with Palestinians as they resist the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," she said.

"As Jews our history should have taught us to stand with Palestinians as they resist a system of Israel apartheid, a system reminiscent in very clear and very concrete ways of South African apartheid, a system reminiscent of Jim Crow segregation in our own country."

Smith pointed out that as a Jew, she could visit Israel at any time she wanted to and claim citizenship, even though she has never been there before. "Because I was born Jewish, the Israeli state has given me the so called right of return.....Palestinian refugees have no such right."

Smith detailed how Palestinian refugees expelled from their lands in 1948 and 1967 currently make up the largest refugee population in the world, and that many are still living in poverty in refugee camps. She described Jewish settlers as "good colonizers" as they have settled on some of the best land, and have claimed access to water and other vital resources. She noted the giant wall that the state of Israel is building around the West Bank, and discussed how check points exist on segregated Jewish and Palestinian only roads, which has the effect of cutting off Palestinians from medical services. Overall, she said, Arabs have rights in only 35% of the West Bank.

"So Jews have obviously have had, historically, the right to resist anti-Semitism, but not at the expense of other people, not on the backs of Palestinians."

Smith concluded her remarks by stating that, "It is Our responsibility as Jews to take inspiration from our own history of resisting discrimination to stand with the people of Palestine as they resist occupation and apartheid. As Jews in the U.S. we must not be blinded by the lies of our own government, by an allegiance to a Jewish state that was founded on the backs on another people."

The rally began with the acknowledgement that the land that it was being held on was occupied Ohlone land, and the event was described as having been organized by a "group of concerned students," with involvement by the UCSC student organization Students against U.S. Imperialism.

Approximately 6-12 students expressing support for the state of Israel also were present at the rally. They stood quietly at the periphery of the event, and several of them held signs with messages such as, "Israel Left Gaza in 2005," "Peace Takes Two," and "We're Ready to Talk Anytime."

The Palestinian supporters did not appear to communicate with those supporting Israel during the rally, though there was at least one brief and heated argument between several students before the rally began.

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