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Clarissa O’Conor
From Palestine to Penn

Credit: Clarissa O'Conor

For some reason, we are conditioned to praise those who argue that an issue is too complex to take a position. This approach may indeed be useful in interpersonal conflicts, but when it comes to situations of oppression and injustice, the moral bankruptcy of this stance becomes clear.

What is happening in Palestine and Israel is not an interpersonal conflict. It is not about individual Israelis or individual Palestinians, as many would want you to believe. It is about the efforts of the government of Israel to rid the land of Palestinians.

According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, these efforts began in 1947 and 1948, when upwards of 750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes and communities by Zionist militias. These Palestinian refugees were not and still are not allowed to return to their homes, and their displacement allowed for the creation of the State of Israel. Refugee camps in nearly every Palestinian city are a testament to this fact. Having driven through what Palestinians call ’48 and others Israel, I’ve seen firsthand the ruins of these homes and communities.

Many, myself included, use the term “settler-colonialism” to describe what Israel is doing. We all know what settler-colonialism is. We owe our existence in the land that we call the United States to one of the most successful settler-colonial systems in world history — one that succeeded in wiping out most of the indigenous population.

We do not use this term lightly because we know of the tragic effects of settler-colonial systems in places like South Africa and Australia. We use it here because what Israel is doing — from ’48 to today — falls in line with strategies used by settler-colonial systems in the past.

The difference is that this settler-colonial project is not yet complete. Every demolition of a Palestinian home, every revocation of a residency permit of a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem, every new illegal Jewish Israeli colony and every arrest and detention of a Palestinian child is one step closer to Israel’s ultimate goal.

Again, I am not talking about the actions of individual Israelis. While they are complicit as settlers and the majority in participating in the maintenance of Israel’s system of apartheid, this is about the actions of a state that maintains total control over Palestinians. In this sense, the actions of the State of Israel are not complicated, and they are not complex.

Every time I encounter viewpoints that claim that what is happening in Palestine and Israel is full of complexities, which makes taking a position on the injustice being committed impossible or even irresponsible — often encountered at Penn — I am reminded of something that Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

The position of saying things are too complex serves no one but those who wish to rid the land of Palestinians. It allows what Israel is doing to continue unabated, while giving you the cover of appearing rational and not stirring things up too much.

Driving through the checkpoint on my way to school, manned by armed Israeli occupation forces soldiers with the power to act with complete impunity towards Palestinians, I am reminded of who is the elephant, and I become more determined not to remain neutral.

It may be convenient to use the fact that individuals have differing viewpoints on what is happening as an excuse to avoid confronting the larger picture of Israeli policies and their ramifications in the lives of Palestinians.

But despite the many nuanced opinions of individuals in the system, the overall picture and the aim and result of Israel’s policies are not complex, and we should feel compelled to take a position on it. To avoid doing so and claiming neutrality in the face of injustice is complicity in that injustice. People have never succeeded in ending oppression and injustice by being afraid to take polarizing positions.

Clarissa O’Conor is a College junior from Lititz, Pa., who is studying abroad in Palestine this fall. Her email address is View her tumblr here. “From Palestine to Penn” appears every other Tuesday.

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