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]