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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students for Justice in Palestine aims to spread awareness, not argue

Students for Justice in Palestine, a new club at the University of Massachusetts, aims to teach the student body about the civil rights violations against Palestinians by the Israeli military.

The club was founded last year by senior Zafar Nizami and alumnus Paul Racco and Hannah Friedstein. Their weekly meetings are used for discussions on current events, often led by hired speakers as teaching tools for the campus and community.

Independent research inspired Nizami to start SJP along with Racco and Friedstein.They have received overwhelming support from the student body in the year since its founding, which they attribute to escalated violence in Israel and Gaza this summer.

Nizami, the current president of SJP, and public relations manager Mohamad Barham forgive those who do not know much about the conflict.

The primary goal of SJP is to spread awareness of the underreported human rights’ violations committed by the Israeli military, a side silenced in much of the western media according to Nizami.

“We essentially act as a microphone for Palestinian society,” Nizami said. “The Palestinian narrative is not one that is explained much in the U.S. To understand it, it is a matter of doing your own research and coming to your own conclusion.”

A club of about 16 members, SJP is open to all students and faculty with meetings regularly drawing up to 30 attendees. Meetings are held every Monday at 7 p.m. in Herter Hall room 111 to discuss a variety of topics, including recent news and upcoming campus events.

“For this semester our goal is mainly education and to spread awareness,” Barham said. “Ultimately what we want to do aside from just spreading awareness is have the school divest from Israel and implement a BDS.”

The Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement, or BDS, is a global campaign that aims to place economic and political pressure on Israel to secure a set of three basic rights for the Palestinian people. This set of rights mirrors the three pivotal principles of SJP; the right for Palestinians to not live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, their right to equality as citizens in Israel and the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.

“Any political solution could be a viable solution as long as it fits these three criteria,” Barham said. Other than the BDS stipulations, SJP does not push for any specific political agenda and only concerns itself with humanitarian issues.Attempting to understand the depth of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complicated in itself, made even more so by the pro-Israeli bias of western media. To combat this, Nizami and Barham suggest reading a variety of news sources representing both sides to balance out the bias.

For SJP, part of being unbiased means also criticizing its own side.

“Don’t take our words as fact,” Barham said. “Challenge us. Go do your own research, honestly.”

“I condemn all rocket attacks on civilians, I have to, it’s my logic,” Nizami said. “If I condemn what Israel does by killing civilians I have to condemn what Hamas does by targeting civilians. It’s not right; it’s a war crime, its wrong.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected].

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  • R

    rob gDec 23, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    You see, this is why SJP is having a difficult time battling the Israeli lobby. You guys should be united with one message: Apartheid. IF you have multiple chapters calling for just human rights, you allow the Israeli lobby to change the subject by invoking Syria, or women in Saudi Arabia cant drive. Stick to apartheid, because that’s what it is.

  • C

    ConcernedOct 23, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    And to Arazin,
    I am not even going to validate your “historical version” with a response to its particular content, simply because it is one-sided and not a full narrative. I would be genuinely impressed if you could tell me the origin of the word “Palestinian” and when the people who identify today as “Palestinian” first used that designation. Palestine refers to the plishtim, or Philistines. They were considered in ancient times to be the Jew’s greatest enemies, so when the Romans destroyed the Jew’s temple in Jerusalem they sent out most of the people living there, destroyed as much as they could of the relics of Judaism, and named the land after the Jew’s sworn enemies in an attempt to completely eradicate the people and their culture. The Roman Empire’s influence spread throughout much of the world, and because they controlled education their naming of the land as Palestine stuck. Even until 1948, everyone in the land was called Palestinian because the British Mandate designated it as such. The scattered Arab tribes in the land were designated as Palestinians and there was not a sense of any national identity until 1968, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization deemed every Arab who had lived in modern Israel before 1948 a Palestinian. The national identity of these scattered tribes has been thrust on these indigenous people time and time again, most notably by the PLO (an organization that was launching rockets into Israel from 1967 to 1970, notably before they had designated those living inside as Palestinian!!). Until that time it was not unusual for Jews to identify as Palestinian. What is today called the Jerusalem Post was called the Palestine Post until 1950. Palestinians deserve a state or equal rights, and certainly not to have their lives and needs designated or exploited by others. Look into to see that the people who live there are being poisoned against Jews and Israelis. How could peace ever come when these people are not afforded the chance to form their own opinions or believe in coexistence? Look into Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother, Yonatan. How is Benjamin ever going to make peace when his brother was killed by terrorists and when Benjamin himself served in an elite commando unit to attack terrorism? Both sides need a drastic change before any true peace is possible. You wrote that “BDS is going to isolate Israel little by little until Zionism crumbles.” Trying to suffocate Israel until it rots is hate-mongering, not peace-supporting. I implore you to advocate for peace, not hate.

  • C

    ConcernedOct 23, 2014 at 11:57 am

    The situation in the Middle East is one of the most complex in the world. I couldn’t agree more with the remarks of Barham and Nizami that one should be willing to be self-critical and to consult multiple sources with different leanings, but I do not agree with the bringing of a Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement. BDS is a hate movement, plain and simple. Asking the faculty to divest from John Deere because they build in the West Bank does not help what is going on in Israel. Israel killed innocent civilians, and that is a tragedy that truly cannot be expressed in words. Hamas terrorists killed civilians, and that is a tragedy that truly cannot be expressed in words either. But UMass Amherst deciding to not contract organizations that work in Israel is a sign of regress, not progress. Israel and the Palestinians have issues that they have to work out. Leadership in Israel has to change. Education in the West Bank has to change. Radical terrorist organizations have to have their influence removed with a minimization of death. BDS causes none of those things. BDS sends a message that we hate one side and support another. If we really want things to change in Israel, both sides need support. Being pro-peace means being pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. Being anti-anything just breeds intolerance and halts all ability to move further.

  • A

    ArazinOct 22, 2014 at 1:37 am

    David Lloyd,

    It’s amazing to see how someone who can put things as articulately as you, can be so far from the sphere of reality. Nothing you said was of any rational or empirical substance. Just a tirade of misguided defense for the state that practices systematic generation, not much unlike South African apartheid. In fact, some would argue it’s worse. And that’s why it’s absurd to say that Israel is a democracy. The insane radical Muslim countries and Israel actually have a terrifying amount in common, but Israel claims to be doing its own killing and ethnic cleansing in the name of defense. Defense, that’s laughable. Israel is a military superpower, so don’t give me that lame talking point. Israel isn’t a democracy, sir. It’s a racist regime with US backing. Nothing more.

    This isn’t a matter of the Jewish people. Jews have been living in historic Palestine for centuries. Plenty of Jews and Jewish organizations stand firmly against the state of Israel, and they’re scrutinized wrongly for it. It was only the ideology of Zionism that wrought the land with bloodshed. What else do you expect to happen when trying to establish an ethnic state on a land where the majority of the people don’t fit the ethnic criteria?

    This past summer, Israel was never close to being “offed” at any point. Gaza however, was massacred. Innocents. 500 children. These aren’t just figures and names. They were real people. Israel pulled the trigger, Israel dropped the bombs, and Israel must be held accountable. The propaganda to whitewash the atrocities of Israel is unfathomable. It’s so intricate in that it somehow absolves Israel of any responsibility. Take for example, Birthright. Of course plenty of umass Amherst students can attest to how “beautiful” Israel is. They’re given a very elaborate picture. Not much unlike North Korea.

    BDS is gong to isolate Israel, little by little until Zionism crumbles and everyone in historic Palestine, whether Jewish, Arab, African, or anyone else, can live equally.

  • J

    Josh KatzOct 21, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    They would rather just call the one democracy in the Middle East an apartheid state rather than debate with facts and reason Moshe. They just hate Israel and that’s it.

  • M

    Moshe KayeOct 21, 2014 at 2:04 pm


    You have the right to believe anything you want. However this does not give you the right to make stuff up to fit your narrative.

    Why won’t you answer the questions?

  • D

    David LloydOct 21, 2014 at 9:26 am

    There is only one country in the Middle East that has a free and vibrant press; freedom of religion (including for Christians, Jews, and Muslims); full rights for gays and lesbians; freedom of assembly; free and open elections; full rights for women; a strong and independent labor unions; a free market (not just for those connected to the ruling class; and independent judiciary and rule of law; protection of religious minorities; a haven for immigrants from over one hundred countries; and a flourishing arts and music community. Yes, there is only country in the Mideast that honors and respects progressive values. This country is the State of Israel, which this past year celebrated its 66th year of independence. Meanwhile, the so-called Students for Justice in Palestine, a national group, linked to the theocratic Muslim Brotherhood, calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. It is ironic that SJP seeks to demonize and destroy the only country in the Mideast with which the United States shares values. This reveals the incredible moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of SJP. Hamas tried to kill off Israel this past summer. It lost, and will continue to lose, as the Israeli people are a free, proud and resilient. The sad thing is that SJP is not progressive, as it seeks to enable an anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-female, homophobic, and anti-democratic Islamist regime in Hamas occupied Gaza. None of the self-styled progressives in SJP would last one week living under Islamist rule. There are many hundreds of UMass Amherst students, including many Christians, who have visited the beautiful State of Israel, and who can attest that SJP offers a false narrative. I feel sorry that members of SJP are so consumed by their hatred of the State of Israel, the Jewish national homeland. Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. There are over 30 Arab Moslem states in the world, but the existence of the very small State of Israel, in the historical Jewish heartland, is is just too much for SJP. Diversity and multiculturalism is an ideal, except Jews need not apply. The bigotry and hypocrisy of SJP is plain to see. Not to worry, the State of Israel has the friendship of the American people of all denominations, and will remain an island of progressive and pro-Western values in a very dangerous Middle East. We all know that BDS is just shorthand for anti-Jewish Hate.

  • A

    ArazinOct 21, 2014 at 12:26 am


    Literally everything you just said is factually incorrect. It’s jaw dropping to see the ignorance out there when there is so much info available.

    Let’s look at the historical version.

    In 1948, mass Zionist immigration displaced 750,000 people living their simply because they did not fit the ethnic criteria. What I accuse “her” of is exactly that. And from then on, bloodshed. Murdered children. All done in by “her.”

    Palestine was under the control of the Ottoman Empire until the British took it over. Just because there wasn’t a sole holder of authority doesn’t just magically dispel the fact that a bunch of people (INCLUDING indigenous Jews) were already living there. Deny it all you want, but Palestinians? They exist. Get over it.

    And what nonsense international law are you talking about? Clearly not the one in real life. Israel regularly tramples international law by violating the fourth Geneva convention. Yes, it’s a thing. Look it up. and Israel obliterating populations of civilians with illegal weapons.

    Wake up.

  • M

    Moshe KayeOct 20, 2014 at 3:18 pm


    1) I do not accept your premise that Israel has committed the blood libels you accuse her of. If anyone has a claim it is the Jews who were ethnically cleaned out of their countries in 1948 without compensation. On the other hand, you can easily find copies of flyers from the Arab leaders of the day for the Arabs to leave their homes to make killing the Jews that much easier. International law is quite clear however, the land won as part of an aggression against them is theirs, ethically and legally irregardless of any UN resolution claiming otherwise. There are no disputed lands. That is fiction just like the “Palestinians”

    2) If you want to have an honest dialog let’s start with the facts not fictional accounts of “people hood”. Please answer the questions above.

    If you cannot we have nothing to discuss.

  • P

    PaulOct 20, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Solid article and much deserved exposure to a great organization.

  • N

    notaswestieOct 20, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Non of those questions justify the ethnic cleansing and violation of international law that Israel has committed.

  • A

    AnonymousOct 20, 2014 at 11:36 am

    One very simple question:

    Does your branch of Students for Justice in Palestine endorse the two state solution: a Jewish State of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine, living alongside each other in peace within borders based on the pre-1967 armistice lines?

    Just a notice: if that is something you want, be aware that the National SJP organization specifically does NOT want that, and actively tries to undermine it. If you want to spread awareness, fine, just be up front about what you are spreading awareness about.

  • M

    Moshe KayeOct 20, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Let’s start with the basics:

    1) What was the capital of Palestine?

    2) Who was/were her leaders? What were their names?

    3) What was the name of the coinage that was in use?

    4) When did she exist as a independent nation?