“Don’t come back,” was the last thing I heard as I walked out of Stanford SJP’s (Students for Justice in Palestine) “Tears of Gaza” screening recently. The reason for this enmity directed at me? I asked two questions.
I did not phrase my questions antagonistically. I did not criticize the director. During the Q&A, I asked the director: (1) Did she document footage of Hamas exploiting Palestinian citizens’ suffering as a tool to bolster international hatred against Israel? (2) Did she observe the actions by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) to save Palestinian lives throughout the ongoing war?
The film neglects to show Hamas’s use of Palestinians as human shields to protect terrorists from rocket fire in civilian centers. It also fails to show that before each of its air raids, the IDF dropped leaflets in Gaza to warn Palestinians of impending danger, and urged them to move away from targeted areas. Nor did it show some of the 180,000 Palestinian citizens – 30 percent of whom are children – that have received care from Israeli hospitals, and the programs created by Israeli physicians to train Palestinian doctors. The audience does not learn that Hamas hijacks the humanitarian aid meant to be distributed to the Palestinian population for its own organization, namely for the production of terror tunnels and ammunition instead of the construction of infrastructures like schools, mosques and hospitals.
Some people in the film characterize the “economic blockade” as a deliberate tactic by Israel to inflict widespread suffering and collective punishment on the Palestinian citizenry. In reality, the blockade was and remains a security mechanism to defend the Israeli people against both the acquisition of firearms by Hamas and suicide bombers who find refuge in Gaza.
Moreover, by not mentioning Hamas, the terrorist organization that simultaneously serves as the government in Gaza, “Tears of Gaza” portrays the war as Israel versus the Palestinian people. If a movie described WWII as the U.S. versus the German people, and neglected to mention the Nazis, I would also stand up and question why the context was ignored. By the same token, when SJP and SOOP alienate Israel, they disregard that the war in Gaza is not a war against a people, but a war against a terrorist government, Hamas, that inflicts equal – if not worse – harm on its own citizens.
When one understands that Israel is fighting a terrorist regime, and not the Palestinian people, it is clear why Israel goes above and beyond to save Palestinian lives, even during the course of its war against Hamas. A former British Armed Forces Commander reported to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council that, “During its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
When I tried to bring context to the conflict as portrayed by “Tears of Gaza,” I was stared down by SJP supporters, peers and faculty members in attendance, and told, “don’t come back.” I was ostracized and made to feel highly uncomfortable.
I am discouraged to know that I am not the only student who has felt silenced and marginalized by SJP; as a result, many students are afraid to speak up about similar personal interactions. The stories that I have heard and continue to hear concerning the divisiveness of SJP and SOOP events hosted in the wake of the ASSU divestment bill vote illustrate the strident climate and vitriol on campus that it breeds. Sadly, this has been the experience of students on other college campuses as well.
When students decide that their mission is so blindly committed to a cause that they do not make an attempt to present Israel’s rationale, they are the creators and propagators of harmful one-sided rhetoric. As perpetrators of this hurtful propaganda, they are not the vanguard of the solution, but rather an integral part of the problem. And when they go so far as to create and condone an environment that is hostile to and suppressive of intellectual inquiry and debate, they are violating Stanford’s mission to facilitate the free exchange of ideas and respect for diversity.
Ultimately, information without context is the root cause of the polarization between the two camps of beliefs on this campus, those against divestment and those for it. Information is malleable; when treated like a narrative, it changes the kinds of questions that you ask and the kinds of conclusions that you extrapolate. A one-sided narrative prescribes you to judgments that are highly misguided and offensive to many among our Stanford community.
Sophie Schulman ’15
Contact Sophie Schulman at soschul ‘at’ stanford.edu.