Op-Ed: Real justice in Palestine

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As part of its Israel Apartheid Week, Tufts Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP) is protesting cooperation between American and Israeli police departments — again. SJP’s campaign is part of a broader one by Jewish Voice for Peace called the “Deadly Exchange,” which peddles a conspiracy theory claiming racist policing in the United States is the result of practices learned from the Israeli police and military. SJP tried to launch a similar campaign last spring, which we responded to then, but it fizzled. This year, SJP has repackaged its message and is delivering it to the student body, incongruously, by way of a drag show. SJP’s attempt to align itself with progressive movements fighting for civil rights in the United States in order to demonize Israel while ignoring the abuse of Palestinian civil rights as recently as last week at the hands of their own totalitarian governments, should be called out by all those interested in real justice in Palestine.

It is hypocritical of Tufts SJP to host a drag show to promote its campaign for the rights of Palestinians while failing to highlight the persecution of LGBT+ people in Palestine. Homosexuality and transsexuality in Gaza and the West Bank, like in other neighboring Arab countries, is taboo and, often illegal. Hamas, the Islamic terrorist organization that has governed Gaza since a 2007 military coup, has even executed its members for alleged homosexual acts. Broadcasts on its TV network have likened those accepting of homosexuality to animals and declared that “homosexuality carries the death penalty.”

In both the West Bank and Gaza, LGBT+ people have no protections under law. Both the Constitution of Palestine and the Hamas Charter establish Islamic Shariah law as the basis of legislation in the Palestinian territories and its fundamentalist interpretations have resulted in the persecution of LGBT+ people elsewhere in the Muslim world. Thus, SJP’s use of a drag show to condemn the United States, which has moved to embrace LGBT+ equality, and Israel, an oasis of LGBT+ rights in the Middle East, while ignoring institutional discrimination against homosexuals in Gaza and the West Bank, is tone-deaf.

Tufts SJP’s whitewash of Palestinian persecution of LGBT+ people is not an innocent omission. At no point during its week of anti-Israel programming — which, ironically, comes just ahead of national elections in Israel — will SJP offer a presentation on how Palestinians have been denied the right to elect their own representatives in their own governments for more than a decade. The current president of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, is now serving the 14th year of his four-year term and Hamas has failed to hold genuine elections in the Gaza Strip since taking control in 2007. Instead of using funds to build Gaza’s economy and infrastructure, Hamas has continued to funnel funds towards building tunnels and rockets aimed at terrorizing Israel civilians.

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These are priorities Gazans cannot object to because, for the past 14 years, they have not been offered the right to freely elect their leaders.

One speaker this Friday will be Eran Efrati, a former Israeli soldier who is free to share his opinions and experiences and to protest Israeli policies with which he disagrees without fear of repercussion. This remarkable freedom to challenge one’s own government, and to advocate for change, is a right Americans often take for granted. It is a right critical to all those seeking justice in Baltimore, in Palestine and throughout the world. Yet, during Israel Apartheid Week Tufts SJP will not offer any programming focused on the fact that, within just the past month, Hamas has violently suppressed peaceful demonstrations by Gazans protesting daily hardships in Gaza. According to the New York Times, “The [Hamas] security forces beat demonstrators, raided homes and detained organizers, journalists and participants, about 1,000 people in all. Along with the uniformed officers, masked, plainclothes Hamas enforcers armed with pistols, batons and wooden rods attacked the protesters, according to witnesses, and prevented journalists and human rights workers from documenting the events.”

This sort of brutality against peacefully protesting civilians is an issue those interested in justice for Palestine should be discussing.

Yet, at a recent event, Tufts SJP itself condoned the muffling of visiting Gazans from criticizing Hamas. Specifically, in February, SJP hosted Lama and Amel Abed, a mother and daughter from Gaza, who speak about their daily lives and the effects of the ongoing joint blockade by Israel and Egypt. When the floor was opened for questions, one Tufts student asked them what it is like living under Hamas’ authoritarian regime. The Abeds’ organizational chaperone, however, intervened, saying the Abeds would not be able to answer because they feared repercussions at the hands of Hamas when they returned to Gaza. It is apparent that Hamas’ intimidation of its citizens, including their right to speak their minds without fear of retribution, reaches as far as Tufts University.

Tufts SJP does not advance the cause of justice for Palestinians by devoting an entire week of programming to single-minded condemnation of Israel while ignoring basic human rights abuses perpetrated by Hamas and Fatah, the political entities best positioned to have a beneficial impact upon Palestinians’ daily lives. Rather, Israel Apartheid Week demonstrates that those claiming to seek justice in Palestine only speak up for the rights of Palestinians if Israel can be implicated in their infringement.

A drag show in Medford will not alter the reality that Palestinian leaders have behaved counter to the values of the progressive movements SJP has attempted to align itself with. Indeed, it is particularly disingenuous — and demonstrative of a true lack of understanding of, or refusal to acknowledge, the reality of individual rights in the modern Middle East — to use a drag show to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians when a similar display could not be staged in any part of historical Palestine, unless it were held in Tel Aviv. There will not be justice in Palestine until those eager to criticize Israel are equally willing to recognize and speak out against the authoritarian Palestinian regimes that crush the values that progressive groups purport to champion.

Editor’s note: Since we published this op-ed, The Tufts Daily’s Managing Board has published this statement discussing the claims in the op-ed and reaffirming our journalistic standards.

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