Dear American Students for Israel,
I am an Arab and an activist. I am also a humanist and a pacifist. For four years on this campus, I expressed my Arab identity through several student organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine.
With SJP, I participated in organizing a multitude of events advocating justice, human rights, liberation and self-determination for the Palestinian people. Our events always include accomplished academics, internationally distinguished media and information from highly reputable sources. We also screened the internationally renowned documentaries Occupation 101, the Gaza Strip and Arna’s Children, as well as distributed literature and material citing respected organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and various United Nations bodies.
Members of American Students for Israel make a presence at every event SJP organizes. We always welcome your input and invite you to intellectual and diplomatic discourse. Unfortunately, time and time again, we are personally attacked, and our events are sabotaged. When we are tabling, there are counter tables set up directly across from us. On at least three occasions your members vandalized our displays. ASI members even pretended to be SJP members and passed out fliers outside several of our events.
We constantly emphasize in our meetings that SJP will not involve itself in such acts. Rather, we attend ASI events, ask intellectual questions and attempt to prompt academic debate. We don’t vandalize. We don’t pose.
Countless times, we have invited you to diplomatic discussions, to educational forums and to social events in attempts to reach out to the Israeli community on this campus. I have yet to see a single reciprocal effort. The administration even hosted a dinner for all Middle Eastern and Israeli groups last year in an attempt to promote discussion. Your response? You boycotted.
And here we go again. Last Monday, we set up a display commemorating the victims of Operation Cast Lead — an Israeli assault on Palestinians in the Gaza strip. In three weeks, Israel killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, at least 500 of which were women and children, and 13 Israelis also perished. The display used internationally recognized figures and mourned both Israeli and Palestinian deaths, yet by Tuesday it was vandalized — taken apart and thrown in the trash. Given the organization’s historical efforts at sabotage and intimidation, it is difficult to imagine individuals unaffiliated with ASI as culprits. Words of innocence ring hollow.
We are constantly exposed to harassment, sabotage and attempts at intimidation, and then accused of being a threat to the Israeli community’s safety. These claims by ASI are not only unfounded, but they are absurd. Our history of events and actions on this campus attest to our commitment toward fostering an educational environment through respect and diplomacy. These continuous complaints lead me to think any form of Palestinian expression is considered threatening by certain members of ASI.
If you stand behind your organization’s mission and the supposedly democratic state of Israel, then why do you find the expression of internationally recognized facts surrounding the consistent violation of Palestinian human rights so threatening?
After four years of varied experiences on this campus, I hold a negative view of your organization. I am writing this open letter challenging all members of American Students for Israel to prove that I am wrong.
Prove to me, and the campus community, that members of ASI at UCSB are tolerant, respectful and open to diversity. Prove that ASI is willing to have intellectual discussion about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Prove that ASI values an academic environment where all voices can be expressed.
Finally, prove to me that ASI is willing to recognize and accept me as an Arab, just as I accept Israelis, and without discrimination.
One of your members told me last year “an enemy is someone whose story you’ve not yet heard.” In my last year on this campus, please let me leave with an improved view of American Students for Israel at UCSB.
Faris Shalan, on behalf of all members of Students for Justice in Palestine.