On Jan. 17, a rare event will occur at UCLA. Iyad Burnat, a Palestinian citizen of the West Bank village of Bil’in, will visit the campus to speak about non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory.
Burnat is the focus of the dramatic and acclaimed new documentary “5 Broken Cameras,” recently shortlisted for Oscar consideration. Burnat’s talk will highlight the real conditions that exist in the West Bank and dispel the often-repeated myth that the occupation is an issue of two equal sides.
As his film shows, the reality of the situation is that Israel operates on policies of racial segregation that involve political, legal and economic discrimination against Palestinians. These policies range from segregated roads to checkpoints, home demolitions and a separate legal system.
What we see is a system of discrimination similar to that which existed in Apartheid South Africa and even in the American South during Jim Crow. As Alice Walker, the author of “The Color Purple,” recently reflected, “It’s so much like the South of … 50 years ago, really, and actually more brutal, because in Palestine so many more people are wounded, shot, killed, imprisoned.”
In response to these oppressions, Students for Justice in Palestine supports Palestinian equal rights and self-determination. We are joined by a wide range of students on campus who also agree that Israel’s current policies of occupation and discrimination are wrong and should be ended, like the 138 nations that recently voted in favor of Palestinian self-determination at the United Nations. Students for Justice in Palestine prides itself in representing the viewpoints of both Palestinians and Israelis who are critical of the occupation and our membership consists of individuals of a variety of different races, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientations.
Although we are working to build a campus consensus supporting Palestinian equal rights, we are often portrayed as being totally against dialogue with other groups. However, this is a misrepresentation of our position. We dialogue and collaborate with many student groups on campus, from the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán to the Afrikan Student Union, but we believe that dialogue should only take place between parties that agree on two basic principles: first, that discrimination against Palestinians is wrong and should end, and second, that Israel and the Palestinians are not equally powerful parties. Israel is the military occupier and Palestinian civilians are the occupied people. Those legal realities must be recognized if dialogue is to have any real meaning.
We also understand that there are students on campus who oppose Palestinian rights, and we believe that because the university is a central setting for student groups to advocate for their respective causes, when groups have opposing messages, students should be able to draw their own conclusions.
Palestine solidarity groups and pro-Israel groups are not the first opposing groups to exist on college campuses and no pressure should be placed on these groups to come to any forced agreement. While we are not interested in dialoguing with those students, we reiterate our long-standing offer for a public debate. We first made this call in the Daily Bruin in November, but our offer has yet to be taken up by any pro-Israel groups on campus.
Meanwhile, we encourage students to join us in listening to Iyad Burnat present the reality of life under occupation and we hope that events like these continue to draw awareness to the Palestinian cause among students at UCLA. Co-sponsored with Jewish Voice for Peace – Los Angeles, this event will take place on Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. in Humanities A51.
Dana Saifan is a third-year psychology student and member of Students for Justice in Palestine. Rahim Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology and member of Students for Justice in Palestine.