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Nearly half a dozen articles have been written attempting to decipher why Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine refuses to “dialogue” with Hillel and affiliated organizations. All the articles about C-SJP's stance disregard a fundamental point: “Dialogue” gifts the oppressor legitimacy and takes power away from the oppressed. In other words, participating in dialogue, even on college campuses, works to help Israel ignore and sustain the occupation and chokes Palestinian resistance.

C-SJP's policy has been characterized as “counterproductive” and stifling. In a recent op-ed, Jonah Liben stated that “by refusing to program events together,” C-SJP avoids “discussing difficult subjects. As students and future leaders, it is our duty to leave our comfort zones.” However, dialogue on campuses shifts the focus away from Israel-Palestine and onto our campus. What does that say about our power and privilege? As a group in solidarity with the Palestinians who face grave injustices every day, we seek to take students out of their comfort zones to realize that we as Americans are complicit in Israel's occupation. Conversing about semantics, the necessity of checkpoints, the definition of occupation, or whether or not an occupation exists evades the very essence of the actual situation. While dialogue is being presented as an option to create a solution, the reality is that, during these peace talks and attempts at dialogue, Palestine is shrinking while Israel is expanding. The type of dialogue that Hillel and other pro-Zionist groups on campus seek is one that completely ignores the power structure of Israel and the Palestinians. In solidarity with the Palestinians, C-SJP recognizes the power imbalance and refuses to perpetuate it by engaging in activities that deny the reality of the situation on the ground.

Sarah Ngu's article in The Eye last week suggests that C-SJP members and Hillel members have differing definitions of Zionism. She says “there is a disparity between” C-SJP's “perception of Hillel and Hillel's self-perception.” This is true. Inevitably, a Palestinian student at a checkpoint and those in solidarity with him would view Zionism and the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state differently than an Israeli solider or someone who supports Israel as a Jewish state would. This discrepancy is not because there is a lack of discussion between the two parties, nor is it because there is no codified definition of Zionism or apartheid. It is because at a checkpoint, someone is holding the gun and someone is at the end of the barrel.

Ngu states that dialogue would promote a “deeper understanding of both student groups” and describes groups like J Street as more “moderate,” suggesting that C-SJP would benefit from working with such groups. Regardless of its intentions, J Street attempts to put a more palatable, liberal face on a colonial project. Ultimately, these groups endorse the idea of Israel as a national homeland for Jews. Again, this goal is based on the absence of the indigenous people of the land. If blacks were fighting for emancipation in the antebellum South and the slave owners believed that in order to maintain the institution of slavery, they must treat their slaves better, this would not make slavery moral. The root of the problem is the institution of slavery, not the treatment of slaves. Similarly, asking Palestinians to accept the state of Israel as it stands today is asking them to participate in their own ethnic cleansing in order to seem “constructive” or diplomatic in the eyes of the colonial powers that seek to erase them.

Furthermore, the notion that Zionists may advise Palestinians on how to resist the same occupation that they refuse to oppose is tremendously problematic. You cannot simultaneously refuse to resist the occupation and dictate what “constructive” (read: legitimate) resistance looks like. You cannot write Israeli policy and, at the same time, determine how it may be resisted. The “uncomfortable” discussion Liben overlooks is the heart of the matter for Palestinians: As it exists today, Israel being premised on the death of Palestine and privileging Jews over all others is a process of ethnic cleansing.

Dina Omar is a graduate student in anthropology, Randa May Wahbe is a graduate student in public health, Tanya Keilani is a graduate student in anthropology, and Alaa Milbes is a graduate student in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. They are the Palestinian Women of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Students for Justice in Palestine SJP Hillel
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