Following a decade-long tradition, Students for Justice in Palestine hosted its annual Palestine Awareness Week this week to raise awareness about the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the daily struggles of the Palestinian people. With evening talks featuring distinguished speakers, live musical performances and interactive education, as well as daily activities, Palestine Awareness Week provided the space to have critical and robust conversations, and to broaden students’ perspectives in ways which may not occur in the everyday UCLA classroom.
Every year, Palestine Awareness Week has some theme or focus. Two years ago, the week was co-hosted by Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success, or IDEAS, at UCLA and drew on the intersections between the U.S.-Mexico border here in our backyard and the apartheid wall in the West Bank. Last year, Palestine Awareness Week focused on the case for divestment and built student support for UCLA’s successful undergraduate student government resolution to divest from companies that profited off of the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
This year, we wanted to build on that progress by focusing on the question of intersectionality. We aimed to have insightful, thought-provoking and powerful events which drew on the connections between oppressive systems and highlighted the need for coalitions across identity groups. Our central focus was to emphasize the broad spectrum of resistances which occur within Palestine, by integrating narratives of Palestinian refugees, queer folks in Palestine, Israeli peace activists and more. Inspired in part by the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, we hope that Palestine Awareness Week provided the space for critical dialogue on the interconnectedness of power and oppression systems and allowed us to build these much needed coalitions.
On Tuesday, we held a student-run teach-in about the ABCs of Palestine. Wednesday, we were pleased to host Israeli peace activist Miko Peled and outspoken author and journalist Max Blumenthal who spoke about their experiences and the ever-growing movement in the Jewish community to advocate for a just solution to the Palestinian question. Thursday drew attention to the personal histories and struggles of the people of Palestine through the daring research of Palestinian professors Ahlam Muhtaseb and Sa’ed Atshan. These stories highlighted the experiences of refugees expelled from Palestine in 1948 and discussed the politics of being queer in Palestine.
It is an unfortunate reality that few classes on campus talk about Palestine at all, and even fewer talk about Israeli and Jewish support for Palestine, queer liberation or refugees. But these issues are crucial to a holistic understanding of the issue.
Although many think that students at UCLA are here just to learn, Palestine Awareness Week is an important example of how we can also serve as teachers and show each other information that has yet to make it into our textbooks and classrooms.
Finally, at a time when the progressive community is increasingly supportive of Palestinian rights and freedom, we hope this week of events helped make the case that one cannot be progressive without supporting Palestinian freedom. This is why our events focused on explaining what is happening in Palestine and what we think needs to be done to support a just solution to the conflict.
Therefore, we especially invite progressive students unfamiliar with these issues to learn why supporting the human rights of Palestinians is central to their ethics of supporting other progressive issues. We hope that the student body can come and engage with the issue, that individuals not familiar with the Palestinian cause gained insightful knowledge and that returning members continue to understand various aspects of the Palestinian identity and narrative.
Tahir is a fourth-year biochemistry and gender studies student.