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Mark Brilliant
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What kind of ‘Justice for Palestine’?

By drawing no distinction between the West Bank and Israel, SJP turns every Israeli civilian into a target for violence
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather for a protest at Columbia University, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators gather for a protest at Columbia University, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, File)

The city where I live and the university where I work pride themselves on being a vanguard for social justice. So it is fitting that an organization with “justice” in its very name – Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) – should have its origins at the University of California, Berkeley.

But what does justice mean to the National SJP, which offers “tools” to help build a “student movement” on behalf of “Palestine liberation” to over 200 affiliates at campuses across the country?

Well, how about the eradication of Israel and the mass murder of Israelis? (Inexplicably, the New York Times and Haaretz omitted this not so trivial detail in their recent profiles of SJP).

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, let’s turn to the words of the organization itself, as expressed in its “Day of Resistance Toolkit.”

That document provides talking points and guidance for SJP chapters and affiliates for holding “resistance” rallies, beginning on October 12th, at “college campuses across occupied Turtle Island,” i.e., North America. Fortunately, non-Native American Turtle Islanders can rest easy. Land acknowledgments will suffice for us. Israelis, however, must vacate their occupied premises.

The SJP Toolkit, whose words have been recycled at myriad protests, opens with a celebration of the “historic win [on October 7th] for the Palestinian resistance.” By drawing no distinction between Hamas and Palestinians, this formulation, ironically, strips Palestinians, many of whom disavow Hamas, of intellectual sovereignty. Worse, it renders Hamas terrorism synonymous with Palestinian emancipation. Indeed, it makes no mention whatsoever of the 1,200 Israelis raped, burned, and butchered by the “Palestinian resistance,” not even as regrettable collateral damage. 

As for the Palestinian “martyrs,” the SJP Toolkit insists that their deaths were not in vain. They fell to the “iOF,” Israel Occupying Forces, meaning the Israel Defense Force plus all other Israelis, in the service of reclaiming “our colonized homeland.” After “over 75 years” of fighting for freedom, “[19]48 Palestine…will be liberated from the river to the sea.” 

The SJP Toolkit draws no distinction between Israel’s boundaries after 1948 and after 1967, including the West Bank, which many Zionists themselves, consider “occupied territory” and where Jewish occupants self-describe as settlers. Instead, it insists, all Israelis are settlers, and all “settlers are not civilians” per “international law.” 

This, in turn, renders all Israelis, from the river to the sea, “military assets” because they reside on “stolen land.” All Israelis, from infants to elderly, from the river to the sea, are “settler colon[ialists].” All Israelis, from infants to elderly, from the river to the sea, are fair game for resistance hunters. And all Israelis, from infants to elderly, from the river to the sea, bear sole “responsibility” for all deaths inflicted upon the “zionist entity.” 

Simply put, as Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky e-mailed me after reading it, the SJP Toolkit “flat out defends killing all Israelis.” 

Forget about microaggressions and dog whistles. SJP minces no words. Israel and Israelis are not only legitimate targets for elimination, but they have only themselves to blame for their erasure. 

No wonder they are “fleeing” in fear, as the SJP Toolkit claims, before fantasizing, “Their ‘dedication’ to the settler colony is easily broken.” 

*****

Over dinner recently, my 12-year-old daughter spoke about a walkout for Palestine that took place at her Berkeley public school earlier that day. I don’t know who was behind that walkout. The one at her brother’s Berkeley High School the previous month had been promoted by a group that, like SJP,  “holds the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence…across historic Palestine.” 

My wife and I discussed with our daughter the meaning of words and deeds like these. We parsed the chilling pronouncements of SJP, as reflected in its toolkit. We puzzled over the calls for an “immediate ceasefire,” issued by the San Francisco and Oakland teachers unions, which rightfully deplored the loss of so many innocent Gazan lives, yet made no mention of releasing the hostages in exchange, much less calling for the release of ordinary Gazans from the fascistic grip of Hamas.

“Must justice for Palestine mean injustice for Israel,” our daughter asked us. Of course not, we replied, even if SJP and kindred groups insist otherwise. 

“Resist that,” we told her. 

But resist, too, the inverse. 

Just as justice for Palestine need not, should not, and must not mean injustice for Israel, so, too, justice for Israel need not, should not, and must not mean injustice for Palestine. From the river to the sea neither Palestine nor Israel will be free if it means only one or the other. 

There is no other way

About the Author
Mark Brilliant is an associate professor of History and American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
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