UC Santa Barbara Students for Justice in Palestine held Palestine Liberation Week from May 15-19, hosting several events and demonstrations to educate the campus community on the Israel-Palestine conflict and Palestinian struggle.
Third-year sociology major and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) president Jwan Haddad said the week was a way for the organization to build community and educate campus members.
The week’s first event was a Nakba Rally, commemorating the displacement of Palestinians during the establishment of Israel in 1948. May 15 marked the 75th anniversary of the displacement and the first time the United Nations officially commemorated the event.
“Over 100 thousand Palestinians are living under Israeli military rule. The Nakba started in 1948, but it did not end here because Palestinian political rights and peoplehood are denied today,” Haddad said during the rally. “Palestinians in Israel are second class citizens subject to violence, brutality, juridical and infrastructural discrimination and erasure.”
Community members gathered at Storke Tower — equipped with signs and Palestinian flags — at the onset of the rally, then marched to the week’s most visible organizing imaging: a symbolic apartheid wall in The Arbor.
“The wall is supposed to represent the apartheid wall that’s currently in occupied Palestine, constructed to separate the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from Israel today,” first-year biology major and SJP Outreach Coordinator Maha Husain said.
The wall — standing in The Arbor from May 15-19 — contained various panels regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. The demonstration was met with both support and dissent; Instagram account United Gauchos formed on May 16, sharing a post stating, “What the anti-Israel wall at the Arbor won’t tell you” and outlining the wall’s alleged fallacies.
“The Jewish community at UCSB was deeply disappointed by the misinformation presented on the anti-Israel wall this year,” a United Gauchos member said in a statement to the Nexus. “Undeniably, Jews and Palestinians have deep historical and emotional connections to this land, including their indisputable indigenous rights to the land, making it unrealistic to expect either group to abandon their claims.”
Haddad said that the sheer size of the wall was a way to spread awareness on injustices in Palestine and said several community members passing the wall engaged in conversation with SJP members to learn more about the issue.
“It’s a really good way for people to learn about Palestine. The wall is so big and beautiful and massive and has a lot of information on it, so you get curious and stop and look,” Haddad said.
Along with the rally and wall demonstration, Palestine Liberation Week featured several discussion-based events with invited speakers.
The Queer Palestinian Liberation discussion was held on May 15 at the Graduate Student Association (GSA) Lounge, featuring Palestinian poet Feras Hilal speaking on Queer Palestinian life and the phenomenon of “pinkwashing.”
“Pinkwashing refers to the ways Israel tries to portray itself as a LGBTQIA friendly state,” Haddad said. “Ways that it does this is by saying, ‘we have Queer Israelis in our military,’ but doesn’t talk about how their military kills Palestinians regardless of their identity and sexual orientation.”
An Organizing for Palestine 101 event took place on May 16 at the GSA Lounge, covering tenets of pro-Palestine activism such as divestment from companies contributing to human rights violations in the region and “reinvesting into community resources,” according to Haddad.
The week’s final event was a discussion on Israel’s use of torture, led by UCSB sociology professor Lisa Hajjar.
“We had a big number of faculty that was able to show up and discuss the relationship between Israel and the U.S.’s use of torture and how it shaped movements today,” Haddad said. “We were looking at how these countries and regimes justify their use of torture, and it was a really good talk. Really amazing speaker.”
SJP is continuing the momentum of Palestine Liberation Week through their organizing and holding a fundraiser this week in collaboration with the Afghan Student Association (ASA) to raise funds to support Palestinian families and provide starvation relief for families in Afghanistan. SJP and ASA are splitting the collected funds for their respective causes.
“We are currently working with another organizer that knows a family in Gaza in need of emergency relief, so we are hoping to give our half of the funds to that community,” Haddad said.
The organizations are tabling outside The Arbor from May 23-26, selling stickers, henna and chai..
Haddad said SJP has cultivated relationships with organizations across campus and the broader Santa Barbara community and said that the organization is “going in strong” moving into next year.
“We’re really working with other social justice oriented organizations to create a solid foundation for hopefully the next generations of organizers on campus,” Haddad said. “We hopefully will keep building community and educating the student body, but also ourselves, on the intersectionalities between our movements with other movements.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 3 of the May 25, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.