Students for Palestinian justice

By Heather Scroering

For decades, Israelis and Palestinians have fought over land ownership without a solution, but students at Columbia are taking a stand through the creation of a new organization: Students for Justice in Palestine.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict arose out of a territorial dispute between the indigenous Palestinian population and the Zionist Movement, which believed in establishing a Jewish state in

Palestine that the Jews claim as a historical homeland.

SJP is a humanitarian organization that raises awareness about the conflict and how it is affecting the Palestinian people.

“It’s a way for all groups of all different backgrounds to come together and discuss an issue that is very relevant right now because it is a history that continues to unfold on a daily basis, an hourly basis,” said Iymen Chehade, adjunct professor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department and faculty adviser of SJP.

Chehade, who teaches a course called the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict, said the organization was specifically designed to give students an opportunity outside of the classroom to look more in-depth at the conflict and to further reach out to the Columbia community.

One objective of the organization is to shed light on a subject that is not typically discussed, said the organization’s president, Ashley Deakins, senior photography major. She said it is especially valuable for students at a liberal arts college to be aware of the issue.

“It’s really important for us to highlight human rights issues and to utilize what we have as artists to show when there’s poverty and things like that happening in the world,” she said. “I think it’s important as artists to be concerned with those things.”

According to Deakins, SJP is a nationwide movement, and Columbia is one of the last colleges in the city to gain a chapter. This is partially because the Palestinian population at Columbia is not as large as those at other colleges, Chehade said.

Deakins said the organization is non-discriminatory, and all are welcome at the meetings. The group is geared toward human rights of all people, according to Chehade.

“The key is to highlight human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Chehade said. “This is not an organization that is interested in making somebody look good or somebody look bad.”

Jacob Eckert, senior Art & Design major and member of Hillel, Columbia’s organization for Jewish life, was asked to comment.

“I think it’s always healthy for any group to form as long as they’re willing to use their group to bridge toward solutions to problems,” he said, “As long as you’re open to other opinions or other viewpoints and have the end result be something that can sustain both parties.”

Eckert emphasized that he was speaking individually rather than on behalf of Hillel.

He also said he would like to see Hillel and SJP have a conversation, provided the dialogue is civil.

Deakins stressed the importance of awareness on a national basis because the media does not communicate the issue well.

“There are two sides to every story, and that’s the basis of what we’re trying to do,” Deakins said. “We’re not trying to make this a black or white issue. We’re trying to make this a human rights issue. We’re trying to make it about people getting whatever a human being deserves, which is basic, basic things.”

Rather than focus specifically on finding ways to solve the conflict, the group wants to address how to help people right now. Chehade said there are millions of people living in conditions that are unfit for their survival, and the point is to develop ideas to make basic needs available to them.

SJP held its first official meeting on Oct. 13 at The Loft, in the 916 S. Wabash Ave. Building. According to Chehade, approximately 40 students were present.

The organization is planning a concert event for November that will feature both Jewish and Palestinian hip-hop artists and a spoken word poet, Deakins said.

“I want to be able to utilize the creativity and open-mindedness that I have seen on Columbia’s campus to help people who are at a disadvantage,” Deakins said. “Use your art for something important and really worthy of everyone’s attention, something that can really change the world.