My Response to Penn Students for Justice in Palestine
The teddy bears placed around Locust Walk this past Thursday by Penn Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) undoubtedly evoked strong emotions. However, we must not allow this powerful imagery to dictate our understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as it attempted to silence productive discourse by manipulatively portraying Israel as a heartless oppressor. The demonstration and its accompanying editorial did not accurately portray the complexity of the crisis surrounding Umm al-Hiran, rather it perfectly reflected the anti-Israel movement’s goal to wage a vicious propaganda war against Israel, through a process of demonization, aided by lies and half-truths.
As a national organization, SJP’s “vision” is questionable. Does a true proponent of the Palestinian cause focus all their attention on demonizing Israel instead of acknowledging the anti- Palestinian discriminatory policies in fellow Arab countries such as Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria? The motive can be linked to the undeniable and prevalent anti-Semitic attitudes displayed by many members of SJP. Many SJP members engage in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities including praising terrorists such as Leila Khaled (plane hijacker), promoting Holocaust denial, equating Zionism to racism, advocating for counterproductive divestment, placing double standards on Israel, posting anti-Semitic slurs on social media and receiving funding from donors that contribute to Hamas, an internationally recognized anti-American, anti-western terrorist organization calling for the elimination of Israel and extermination of Jews in its charter.
Penn SJP’s newest campaign? Israel demolishes homes illegally. They claim Israel does this through: A) illegal administrative demolishment, B) precautionary demolishment and C) punitive demolishment.
Penn SJP argues that “houses are often demolished if Palestinian homeowners have not procured a building permit, as was the case in Umm al-Hiran.” Under Article 55 of The Hague Regulations, the controlling body, Israel, is granted responsibility for the management of public land and the implementation of zoning and urban regulations. Just as the American government demolishes illegally built structures and homes, the Israeli government, also has the right to remove illegally built homes that pose a threat to urban development, the environment and the inhabitants. Specifically, in Umm al- Hiran, Bedouins were building on land belonging to the Israeli government without legal permits. Even after committing these illegal acts, the Israeli government still fairly compensated each Bedouin family before removing their homes. Furthermore, the Bedouins agreed to this deal, as they were granted more land and paid up to 50,000 shekels to relocate to a neighboring village. Penn SJP also claims that the majority of Palestinian building permits get rejected due to “racist policies,” conveniently ignoring the many Israeli building permits that are rejected along with entire communities that are evacuated.
The argument of illegal precautionary demolishment for counter-terrorism objectives is another example of misleading information concerning Israeli policy. When questioning the legality of this practice, one can refer to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention stating, “Any destruction by the occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the state, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) only demolishes homes when there’s sufficient evidence proving residents are storing weapons. It’s too often that we see terrorist groups forcing civilians to contain weapons in homes, mosques and UN schools. Unsurprisingly, these weapons are used in attacks against civilians and the IDF must confiscate them.
Attempting to decrease Palestinian violence in the Second Intifada — a Palestinian uprising involving murder and violence directed at Israeli civilians — punitive home demolishment was reestablished. The British mandate originally instituted this policy (Regulation 119 of the Defense Emergency Regulations of 1945). While it’s unfortunate that the Israeli government must take this course of action, it must remain vigilant in fighting terrorism. Furthermore, claiming this is collective punishment is inaccurate. The homes are legally demolished as a result of the perpetrators’ actions alone and collectively belong to them and their families. As mentioned in Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the demolishment of collectively owned homes is legal when deemed necessary by the military. Additionally, many relatives of potential terrorists have foiled plots to avoid demolition. This is a clear indication that punitive home demolishment effectively deters terrorism.
While we, as students, cannot resolve the conflict, we can demonstrate what successful peace would look like — rooted in mutual respect. Instead of hanging teddy bears from lampposts, talk to an Israel supporter. Instead of equating Zionism to racism, ask us why Israel is so important to us. During such a divisive time, let’s do our best to find some common ground. Maybe we’ll spend our time focused on our love for hummus, but hopefully our shared longing for peace will help inspire others to extend a hand.
ARI is a freshman in the College, studying international relations.