By SASHA HART
For the past couple years, Colorado College has welcomed an Arabic Cultural Program Coordinators (CPC) from Tunisia. This year the Arabic CPC, Mahdyia Abudalal, is from Palestine. Last week, Abudalal gave a talk called “What Do You Know About Palestine?” drawing upon her personal experience living and working in Gaza.
She described Gaza as an “open-air prison,” in that it is extremely difficult for Palestinians to get into and out of Gaza. When she came to the U.S. to work at CC this year, she had to apply for permission from the Israeli government to reach the border, a process that can sometimes take up to a year. Once at the border, patrol officers looked through her luggage, took her computer, and forced her to take off all her clothes before allowing her across.
In giving her presentation, Abudalal attempted to present a different view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She showed videos of children killed by bombs in Gaza, as well as videos taken of homes destroyed in her neighborhood and bombed-out UN schools. One of the problems that she described is, “Israelis don’t allow many journalists to get into Gaza. Only journalists who have Israeli interests in mind are allowed in.” She explained that news coverage from Gaza is often only spread through civilian videos sent to local news agencies. Because of the lack of Palestinian coverage, she noted that Palestinians are portrayed as terrorists.
This lack of coverage of the Palestinian side of the conflict is something that J Street U, a student-run organization at CC that works to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and generate discussion, tried to address in their Social Justice Sukkah that was erected outside Worner Student Center from Oct. 4 to 11. Sukkahs are temporary places of refuge for displaced peoples. In the case of Sukkot specifically, practitioners commemorate the Jews’ displacement after being expelled from Egypt by spending time in a Sukkah during the holiday week.
J Street U brainstormed ways to raise awareness of these issues on campus, particularly within the Jewish community, because Jewish people have a significant influence over the Israeli government. As Elam Boockvar-Klein ’20, one of the student leaders of J Street U, noted, “The Sukkah is a very visible structure on campus, and the media rarely, if ever, questions Israel. That is why we chose to use the Sukkah as a vehicle for our political message—to reach a wider audience, to contextualize the current occupation within an ancient tradition, and to generate more visibility.” The organization also felt that it was important to make the connection between the current displacement of Palestinian people and the historical displacement of Jewish people on a holiday like Sukkot.
The ultimate goal of J Street U at CC is a two-state solution, but given the current political climate, they don’t believe that is feasible in the near term. This year, they have shifted their focus to defending Palestinians against the human rights violations of the Israeli government, paying specific attention to an Area C campaign, focusing on an area particularly vulnerable to demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government. They decided to politicize the Sukkah because, as Boockvar-Klein said, they “felt it was important to make the connection between Sukkot, a day that commemorates the Jewish peoples’ displacement, and the current displacement and occupation of Palestinian people.”
On Monday, J Street U will host speakers Karen Isaacs and Daniel Roth, who started a program called Achvat Amim, which brings diaspora Jews to Israel to experience the realities there first hand and to teach them community-organizing skills. Achvat Amim was recently defunded by an Israeli agency that considered the program too political. J Street U at CC hopes to continue to raise awareness of social justice issues in Palestine through this speaker series. They hope to have a big turnout of people to show solidarity for the work done on social justice in Palestine.