As I stood at the Muslim Student Union table on Ring Mall last week, I noticed a young boy standing with his mother at the mock apartheid wall. David was 5 years old, and he carried a stuffed animal in his hand. As I approached them, his mother said, “I am usually at work at this time, but I just wanted my son to see this. I know it’s too much for a young child, but I want him to know that not everyone comes home at night without worrying that their house might have been destroyed or that their family may have been killed.” This year’s Palestine Awareness Week, “Never Again? The Palestinian Holocaust,” was an opportunity to educate both young and old people about the urgent humanitarian crisis and historical injustice in Palestine.
The mock apartheid wall, situated on Ring Mall from May 12 through May 15, was perhaps the main attraction of the event. Curious passersby stopped to read about Palestine, often realizing that they should investigate the issue before trusting the biased, limited and often plainly inaccurate image of the situation presented by the mainstream media. The change of heart came easily to many people because aside from the fact that Israel’s genocidal activities should be cause for concern, they discovered where $10 million of our tax dollars go every day.
Hundreds of people from many different backgrounds came to hear the eight speakers at the event. The speakers all agreed that Palestinian suffering and subjection to injustice had to end, but offered a slightly varied set of solutions. They demonstrated that people working for freedom for the Palestinians should unite, no matter how they think this freedom should be attained. The MSU stressed that the source of a problem must always be examined before a solution can be found. Therefore, while the MSU acknowledged the deaths on both sides, it reminded its audience not to ignore the historical and political context of the situation. The problem began with the theft of Palestinian land and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. This is why, as Rachel Corrie’s mother stated, there is no balance of power, and as Ilan Pappe stated, this is not merely a “conflict.”
Overall, the week succeeded in providing facts and historical background about the issue. However, it did not escape criticism. The most popular criticism of the MSU’s Palestine Awareness Week is that it is anti-Semitic, or more accurately, anti-Jewish. The MSU went the extra mile to clear up any misconceptions and to draw a distinction between the racist, genocidal Israeli apartheid and the Jewish faith. Four of the eight speakers were Jewish. In fact, a whole panel of the wall was dedicated to this distinction, acknowledging that the week’s events were not comprised of hate speech, but rather the truth about the injustices that Israel continues to perpetrate in the Holy Land.
In the very first lecture of the week, “What’s the Fuss? Is Criticism of Israel Anti-Semitic,” Norman Finklestein argued the same position to an audience of nearly 600 attendees. It is puzzling that people continue to insist that the Jewish faith would advocate Israel and its atrocities, but this insulting misrepresentation of Judaism is not supported by the MSU.
The two Muslim speakers also had unique criticism. It is interesting to note that while all eight speakers had a similar message, the Muslim speakers were accused of expressing “thinly-veiled hate speech” or being “radical.” However, the messages from the Jewish speakers were only labeled as “dramatizations.” The speakers were referred to as “misled” or “misinformed activists” with good intentions. Even more interesting is that Anna Baltzer had already predicted these criticisms. When Baltzer was asked how she handled criticism of her work, she said that she considered it “the light version of harassment.” She explained that people claimed she was just a naïve and misinformed young girl, whereas the hatred and criticisms that Muslims endure are much worse.
What about raising cultural awareness? The Palestinian people don’t have too much time to focus on that, as they’re too busy dying and being expelled from their homes. As David’s mother taught him, the world is not always a happy place. Besides, since Anteaters for Israel so thoughtfully took care of raising awareness about Arab culture by presenting the campus with Arabic food and Arabic music during this year’s iFest, MSU decided to focus on politics.
Why don’t we focus on what Muslims are doing around the world, instead? The MSU does not stand by the un-Islamic activities of self-proclaimed Muslim leaders, which is exactly what we ask of the Jewish people. Just as there is no Islamic country in the world today, Israel does not represent Jewish people. Although no oppressed people in the world today are as ignored or as directly affected by American foreign policy as the Palestinians, MSU also holds activities to help other oppressed people. For example, this year’s “Fashion Fighting Famine” event collected money to send to Darfur as humanitarian aid, and the “Fast-a-thon” was a fundraiser for all those hurt by the African Food Crisis.
Due to the awareness that the campus gained from this year’s Palestine Awareness Week, it is important to remember the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Using this as a guideline, people around the world can start to come together to work for true peace in the Middle East, finally ending what is often considered a never-ending conflict.