The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been controversial on college campuses. When I began my pro-Israel advocacy in my sophomore year at Pomona College, I was startled at the vitriol I encountered from students who disagreed with me politically. I welcomed these political arguments, because I knew I could learn from them. But this year, anti-Israel students in Claremont crossed a line by vandalizing a pro-peace mural created by pro-Israel students less than two days after it was painted.
Shortly before the start of winter break, Claremont’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine painted a troubling and hateful mural on Walker Wall that called for the eradication of Israel. SJP’s anti-Israel mural contained a map of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza shaded in by the Palestinian flag. This image, coupled with the words “Right to Resist” next to a raised fist, implies support for violence against Israelis and the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.
In response to this threatening message painted on our campus, students (including some from the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance) decided to paint a second, different mural expressing support for a two-state solution by portraying Israel in an Israeli flag and the West Bank and Gaza in Palestinian flags. We purposefully painted our mural next to the one painted by Students for Justice in Palestine, rather than covering up their hateful mural. We support Israel because it is a bastion of liberal democracy in the Middle East, and part of living in a democratic society means respecting free speech. Therefore, we decided to exericse our right to free speech by painting a message promoting peace and coexistence for all. We believe this message is critical to finding a peaceful, lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Less than two days after we painted our peace mural, anonymous vandals covered it in yellow dots purporting to be Israeli settlements. The vandals left no clue as to their identity, except to sign their defacement of our peace mural “Not SJP.” Their vandalism, which placed Israeli settlements in Gaza, was wildly inaccurate; there have been no Israeli settlements in Gaza for a decade. More troublingly, it showed the other side’s penchant for silencing the voices on the pro-Israel side of this debate. Our group’s mission is to work toward a resolution by keeping an open, healthy dialogue about the very complex and painful conflict. Our goal is to do this with respect for each other, and without threats of violence. Students for Justice in Palestine, along with their anonymous supporters who defaced our mural, has shown with their artwork that they are vehemently anti-peace and anti-dialogue.
As a leader of the Claremont Progressive Israel Alliance, I hope that we can approach these debates with open hearts and open minds. As students, community members, and future leaders, we will have more opportunities to discuss our ideas of how to work toward peace both here on our campus and around the world. And as fellow students and neighbors, we also bear a responsibility to treat one another with respect. I look forward to a fresh start for us all when we return to campus in the new year.