By Amanda McQuade
This past Wednesday on February 20, Clarkies Helping and Advocating for Israel (CHAI) brought two Israeli soldiers to speak at Clark for their Israel Peace Week. CHAI held a number of events throughout the week meant to “promot[e] and advocat[e] for Israel.” While the event certainly did promote Israel, it seemed a strange choice during “peace week” to bring soldiers who had participated in the military occupation of an indigenous population.
They came from the international group StandWithUs, an organization that in 2009 released a statement arguing that the national J-Street was anti-Israel. Their justification? J-Street had received funding from Arab donors.
The soldiers told their audience briefly about their backgrounds as well as a few anecdotal stories about Gay Pride Tel Aviv and their time in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A number of students, outraged that members of an occupying army were speaking at Clark, staged a short protest in which participants stood bearing the names of civilians killed during Israel’s November 2012 attack on the Gaza Strip.
The personal stories told by the soldiers gave a flattering view of the Israeli Army but deliberately ignored the context of the situation in the Palestinian territories. For example, one of the soldiers told of a roadblock put up by the Israeli army in a Palestinian town that kept a wheelchair bound student from getting to school. He did not, however, mention the fact that this roadblock was just one of thousands of similar physical barriers to movement throughout the West Bank as a part of Israel’s decades long military rule.
Discussing personal narratives without acknowledging the realities of the occupation and siege of Palestinian land is disrespectful to Palestinians upon whom these forms of military rule are carried out every day. Hosting members of an occupying army from a right-wing Islamophobic organization during “peace week” is both offensive and inappropriate. There is nothing peaceful about occupation and siege.
StandWithUs Concerned About J Street