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Palestine Awareness Week is Bigger Than Ever, But Activists Still Want to be Anonymous

posted on: Feb 15, 2017

Simulation on the Diag at the University of Michigan draws attention during Palestinian Awareness Week.

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

Students across the United States, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and other countries are in the midst of Palestine Awareness Week 2017. Formerly known as Israeli Apartheid Week, Palestine Awareness Week is an international series of events aimed at informing people of Israel’s apartheid system, colonization of Palestinian land, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

Campuses and social justice groups will be hosting events throughout the week. Many of the events are inspired by real-life conditions of Palestinians, such as installations of apartheid walls on campuses.

Other events include lectures by academics and activists, documentary film screenings from people on the ground in Palestine, information sessions on BDS, and cultural celebrations, such as dabke performances, poetry recitals, and Palestinian potlucks.

Members of Students for Justice in Palestine at Santa Clara displayed symbolic images and stories depicting the impacts of the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a towering 8-foot facade in honor of Palestinian Awareness Week. Photo by Eric Bonilla.

Last year, more than 225 cities around the world participated in Israeli Apartheid Week. This year’s Palestine Awareness Week is expected to be more popular than ever, with many American chapters targeting President Trump’s policies toward Israel.

One University of Washington participant said, “Trump has shown himself to be very one-sided on this issue, even though there’s only the side of the oppressed and the side of oppressors. He’s very clear in that he’s not going to provide Palestinians with their dignity, their humanity.”

Many students are focusing on universal human rights, international law, and specific policies to get their messages across. Palestinians are systematically denied their rights to travel, live in their homes, access water, fair trials, and much more. What’s more, international community has stated many times that building homes on occupied land is a violation of international law. However, without an international governing body, Israel is allowed to persist its settlement building and deny Palestinians their human rights.

By taking this approach of using universal human values as their weapon, activists are able to educate and appeal to more people.

The students also want to end the myth that criticizing Israel is an anti-Semitic act, but rather, a form of free speech. Opposing the racist policies that keep Palestinians as second-class citizens is no different from opposing Jim Crow laws in the U.S. or apartheid laws in South Africa.

“If you see someone who’s being attacked because they are Jewish or because they are Muslim, make sure you stand up for them,” one University of Washington student said. “Because that’s how you can be an ally to Palestine, that’s how you can be an ally to marginalized folks everywhere.”

While activism for Palestine continues to grow on campuses, as does anonymity. Many students are afraid to attach their names to the cause for fear of being targeted by pro-Israel students or hate groups, such as the Canary Mission, which harasses activists of all backgrounds on social media and urges employers not to hire them.

Pro-Israel student organizations like Hillel have targeted BDS supporters in the past and excluded them from campus activities. Students fear that being involved in the justice for Palestine movement will lessen their chances of finding a job, making friends, or even getting the grades they deserve from professors. While the students should have nothing to fear because they are simply practicing their right to free speech, the stigmatization that comes from sympathizing with Palestinians is damaging. It is normal for activists to face backlash for their beliefs because the pro-Israel agenda is so strong in the U.S.

Yet, it is the dedication of pro-Palestine activists that are slowly diminishing the strength of the Israeli agenda. Anonymous or not, peaceful, grassroots activists continue to be Palestine’s most valuable allies. Since the American media and government cannot be trusted to provide truthful accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, activists have become the best source of information and hope for justice.