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March 18, 2020 6:20 am

Students for Justice in Palestine Doesn’t Care About Justice for Palestinians

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avatar by Naomi Grant


A worshipper walks in front of the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City March 13, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/ Ammar Awad.

As a student at the University of Maryland (UMD), I didn’t get the chance to do everything that I had hoped to do before graduating. Attending a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) meeting was never on my list, but on Tuesday, March 10, I decided to go as an alumna.

The college’s SJP chapter hosted an event that evening called “Corona and Countering the Occupation” — yet another blatant “intersectional” effort to connect Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians to unrelated issues. This event was open to the public, and SJP had made an open Facebook event to promote it.

During the event, a PowerPoint presentation provided basic information about the coronavirus and how Palestinians are coping with the outbreak.

The SJP presenter mentioned “the occupation” a few times, and said that Israel’s government wasn’t a “real government.” But, to her credit, there was no mention of the perverted claim that Israel is trying to hurt Palestinians with COVID-19, an antisemitic calumny that’s been frequently offered up in recent days.

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Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to even hear an admission of the truth: that Israel is collaborating with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to address the pandemic in the West Bank and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has provided medical aid and supplies.

After the presenter finished, she opened the floor for questions.

The first student to raise his hand asked the obvious question: “What can we do to help?”

She struggled to answer, then finally suggested, “I don’t know, maybe donate medical supplies?”

The response is emblematic of SJP and other groups affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement — they have no plausible solutions to assist the people they profess to care about. They’re clueless when it comes to understanding the needs of the Palestinians, and don’t support initiatives that can actually help them.

Recommending that a UMD student donate medical supplies to Palestinians is an implausible and cockamamie idea. Putting aside the fact that the average undergraduate doesn’t have respirators, tracheotomy equipment, or even basic supplies laying around, nor the ability to purchase them, Hamas (and the Palestinian Authority) have a history of obstructing the flow of health aid and medical supplies into the territories that they govern.

In May 2018, Hamas denied entry into Gaza to two truckloads of Israeli medical equipment. Injuries that Palestinians had incurred by rioting against the US embassy move to Jerusalem outpaced the hospital infrastructure. Despite having a volume of patients 25 times the capacity of the emergency department, according to Shifa Hospital emergency department director Ayman Al-Sahabani, Hamas refused to accept Israeli aid.

In June 2017, hospitals in Gaza were short of essential medicines by one-third and over 270 pieces of medical equipment needed in operating rooms, because the PA had refused to send medical supplies for three months, according to a Jerusalem Post report.

All this is to say that the “solution” — as the SJP activist at my alma mater put it — isn’t a viable one. That’s indicative of BDS in general. The way to come up with a solution is through dialogue and collaboration, but the movement doesn’t offer specific steps toward a resolution of the conflict or any detailed peace plan. It opposes working with Israel or the Jews there in any way. In fact, it detracts from taking steps toward a resolution in that many, if not most, BDS supporters oppose “normalizing” Israelis. From this perspective, any kind of exchange with the hated “other” is intolerable and must be avoided at all costs.

SJP at the University of Maryland might have wanted to somehow tie the coronavirus to countering Israel’s “occupation,” but what the event actually did was underscore the real ties between Israelis and Palestinians and the engagement that inevitably happens when experts — security, economic, and in this case scientific — work together to resolve immediate challenges.

What if  BDS were to fully succeed? Imagine that in the US, all academic institutions divested from Israel. What exactly would individual Palestinians gain?

The Jerusalem Post reported, as did The Christian Science Monitor, that COGAT and the PA are collaborating to tackle COVID-19. For example, COGAT is offering workshops for Israeli and Palestinian medical staff so they can learn together how to better  protect themselves from the virus while caring for infected patients. SJP’s demand that its “anti-normalization” guidelines be strictly followed could mean not only an absence of peace, but a loss of life.

If SJP wanted to improve Palestinians’ quality of life, they’d galvanize opposition to the brutal and corrupt Hamas and PA, and demand these governments provide necessities like medical supplies to their citizens — and that militants stop hiding weapons in schools and hospitals. But SJP doesn’t actually care about justice for Palestinians; its prime goal is to promote the demonization of Israel, all while uplifting virulently anti-Israel students on campus as paragons of virtue and the voice of the oppressed.

Naomi Grant is the operations associate at Academic Engagement Network. She graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019 and lives in Washington, DC.

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