Events during Israeli Apartheid Week amplify Palestinian voices. Photos by Lauren Gdowski.
ALLIE MCKIBBEN | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the third week of March, Students for Justice in Palestine, SJP, at Butler University joined hundreds of SJP chapters across the world in hosting the organization’s annual Israeli Apartheid Week, IAW.
The student-led club holds IAW to educate students on Palestine’s history, culture and the struggle for justice. Yossra Daiya is a junior political science and psychology combined major and an SJP executive board member. She said the main purpose of organizing IAW is to spread awareness of the injustices against Palestinians and to clarify misconceptions about the conflict.
“A lot of people hear about Palestine and Israel, and they assume that it’s an equal fight or that both sides are fighting for religious reasons,” Daiya said. “This week is a chance to showcase that it’s not just a conflict — it’s apartheid.”
The events held during the week educated Butler students of the struggles of Palestinians as well as the resistance against the Israeli state through the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, BDS, movement.
Two educational events were planned. The first, “Palestine 101,” was held on March 15. The lecture centered around the history of Palestinians in Israel as well as the present-day injustices that continue to occur under the Israeli state. The presentation was given by sophomore biology major Zohal Atmar alongside Malkha Bird, the community advisor for SJP and a member of Jewish Voices for Peace, JVP.
Bird, who is Jewish, said being a supporter of Palestinian rights is important to her understanding of Judaism. She also said an understanding of Palestine’s struggle is fundamental to understanding human rights and social justice movements.
“Growing up, being Jewish meant to be on the side of the oppressed, and never the side of the oppressor,” Bird said.
The second event, “Student Voices: Harnessing the Power of Boycotts,” was held on March 16. SJP invited Taher Herzallah, the director of outreach and grassroots organizing for the American Muslims for Palestine, to speak about the importance of the BDS movement. Herzallah said during the event that Palestinians use boycotts because it makes their demands clear and involves making the conscious choice to refuse to participate in oppressive acts, all while being supportive in the fight for Palestinian justice.
He also listed several companies which BDS advocates for the boycott of, along with several companies that have joined the BDS movement by pulling their business away from Israel. First-year criminology major Coco Dailey said she not only enjoyed learning about boycotts, but also how devoted to the cause Herzallah was.
“I thought it was really interesting to hear about the importance of boycotts and how people can actually make a change” Dailey said. “ … The whole thing, I thought, was really powerful, and I liked how passionate [Herzallah] was about what he was talking about.”
In addition to lecture-based events, SJP also set up a wall and tabling event near Star Fountain on March 13 and on March 15. The wall, an eight-foot-tall, 32-foot-wide compilation of eight wooden birch panels, is a representation of the real wall, located in the West Bank of Israel.
Rami Daas, a junior finance major and president of SJP, said the wall in Israel divides Palestinian communities, including families, and due to travel restrictions, there are limited ways in which Palestinians can get around the blockade. He said SJP’s exhibit reclaimed the idea of the wall by transforming oppression into art.
Panels of the wall had different themes, such as a panel titled “The Truth,” which aimed to clarify misconceptions about the fight for justice for Palestinians. However, some of the walls ventured beyond the fight for Palestinan justice. Panels such as one titled “Anti-Blackness” tied in other social justice movements to SJP’s cause. Daas said SJP included other causes in their wall to promote the connection of their cause to other issues.
“No matter which marginalized group you come from, we all tend to have similarities between the struggles that we face,” Daas said. “Our events tend to be about subjects that are intersectional in nature.”
Daiya said because the wall was so noticeable, it drew students to their table to participate in discussion and education on Israel’s persecution toward Palestinians.
“We’ve had so many deep, insightful conversations,” Daiya said. “I know the wall sometimes brings a shock factor. But that’s part of it. You’re curious. You want to come up, and you want to ask the questions that have for so long been deemed too complicated because it’s easier to say they’re complicated and support the oppression that’s going on.”
The week was also balanced with the celebration of Palestinian culture, mainly through the cooking of traditional Palestinian foods. SJP coordinated with Bon Appétit to have the Marketplace in Atherton Union serve traditional Palestinian dishes. The dishes included tabouleh, a salad with various vegetables, parsley and bulgur wheat; maqloubeh, a chicken dish with vegetables and rice; and mujjadara, a rice dish with lentils and onion.
SJP also hosted a Palestinian culture night on March 13 as part of IAW. The event educated Butler students on traditional dress in Palestine, including clothes with tatreez, an embroidery style that is uniquely Palestinian. There was also an interactive portion of the night where attendees learned dabke, a style of Palestinian dance, which was taught by Daas. The culture night also came with its own assortment of food, including more well-known dishes like hummus and pita, and other dishes like kafta kabobs, which is a kabob of ground beef, chicken or lamb.
Some of the educational events had cultural aspects as well. “Student Voices: Harnessing the Power of Boycotts” was presented with baklava alongside American staples, such as chocolate chip cookies. Furthermore, each attendee of the event was given a keffiyeh, a square scarf normally worn as a headdress. Daas said wearing a kaffiyeh represents a person’s support for the Palestinian cause, and to acknowledge that their struggle is not forgotten.
Bird said she was excited for SJP to have the week as an opportunity to share their personal stories. She said the comprehension of liberation movements are fundamental to any comprehension of human rights.
“If you want to understand what’s happening to Black people in our country, if we want to understand what’s happening to immigrants to Latinx folks, all of that is all intertwined with what’s happening in Israel and Palestine right now,” Bird said.