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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

SJP UChicago Statement on Recent Events in Palestine

Students+created+an+art+installation+on+the+quad+to+memorialize+Palestinians+killed+since+October+7.
University of Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine
Students created an art installation on the quad to memorialize Palestinians killed since October 7.

Note from SJP: The following statement was originally issued by SJP UChicago on October 11, shortly after reports first appeared of Palestinians breaking out of Gaza and at a time when Israel’s campaign of genocidal retaliation was still in its early stages. This statement was released in an effort to correct various widespread misconceptions and factual distortions about the preceding days’ events, some of them reflected in the University’s statement on October 9. Given its date of composition, much has happened in the last month that is not addressed in this statement—both in Palestine and on the University of Chicago campus. We’ve included a brief addendum at the end of this article summarizing these more recent global and on-campus developments, as well as recommending news outlets that have done a commendable job covering the situation in Palestine. We encourage readers to follow us on Instagram or Twitter for more regular updates. 

The events of the past week have been historic and unprecedented by all measures. Last Saturday, for the first time in history, Palestinian resistance groups broke out of Gaza, reclaimed land from the Israeli occupation, and seized control of numerous Israeli military posts. Scrambling to recover from this humiliation and collectively punish Palestine’s population for the accompanying violence inflicted on Israeli soldiers, settlers, and civilians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has—predictably—resorted to openly genocidal tactics. In addition to bombing Gaza’s population centers with white phosphorus and systematically targeting its hospitals and shelters, Israel has announced a “total blockade” on the besieged enclave, endeavoring to starve the 2.3 million Palestinians held captive within it into submission—or worse. Israel’s war minister made the occupation’s exterminationist aims explicit yesterday, declaring that “there will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. We are fighting against human animals, and we are acting accordingly.”

In the face of these alarming developments—not to mention the escalating involvement of the U.S. military and the wholly inadequate and unacceptable statement issued this week by the University—it is necessary to underscore a number of crucial facts that have been consistently and deliberately obscured by mainstream media coverage and Zionist propaganda. These forces continually attempt to frame the conversation around condemnation of individual atrocities while ignoring the structural causes of violence. It will not be possible to address the root causes of this situation or bring a just peace to the land until these basic realities are acknowledged, confronted, and addressed directly.

First, Gaza is a concentration camp. This is not hyperbole. The Israeli occupation has herded millions of Palestinians into a strip of land just 25 miles long and six miles wide. More than two-thirds of these Palestinian hostages are refugees, more than half of them children. Since 2007, Israel has subjected Gaza to a merciless blockade by air, sea, and land, deliberately denying its inhabitants access to food, water, electricity, and life-saving medical treatment. On top of these structural violences, Israel has subjected Gaza to a series of massacres and military assaults over the last two decades in an effort to “punish, humiliate, and terrorize” its captive civilian population into submission.

Second, this latest conflagration isn’t about Hamas, or even primarily about Gaza. The Western media has a strong stake in framing this as an Israel-Gaza war, in which the allied “democratic” state of Israel defends itself against barbaric Hamas terrorists. This “War on Terror” framing appeals to a U.S. audience that has for decades been propagandized by racist tropes of barbaric Arab/Muslim terrorist movements opposed to Western freedoms, consisting in a vaguely—often absurdly—unified, evil front of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and ISIS. According to the War on Terror narrative, these movements are supported by countries that U.S. imperialists (at their strategic convenience) deem state sponsors of terrorism: Khamenei’s Iran today, Saddam’s Iraq yesterday. Never acknowledged is the role of U.S./Israeli imperial aggression and geopolitical maneuvering in producing the growth of these very same movements. Hezbollah grew out of the Lebanese civil war and Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which was itself intimately related to Israel’s displacement of Palestinians across the Lebanese border. Hamas itself was initially “created” by Israel in a project of cultivating Palestinian factionalism. Those countries demonized as “rogue states” and “sponsors of terror”—principally Iraq and Iran—have long been counterbalanced against each other through succeeding waves of U.S. support aimed at preserving U.S./Israeli hegemony in the region. By contrast, U.S. and Israeli collective punishment of civilian populations through punishing sanctions, regimes, and illegal wars of aggression against these “terror-supporting countries” is never acknowledged as itself terroristic.

In reality, the past week’s events have nothing to do with a Western fight to preserve freedom, democracy, or security. Instead, they constitute a particularly violent and spectacular continuation of Israel’s century-long settler colonial war on Palestine, along with the desperate resistance it inspires. In the past year alone, Israel has perpetrated numerous anti-Palestinian rampages in Huwara, accelerated ethnic cleansing in Masafer Yatta and Jerusalem, and killed more than 200 Palestinians in the militarily occupied West Bank. Palestinian resistance leaders have themselves emphasized that this week’s uprising was inspired by the repeated desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque and other Muslim and Christian holy sites by fascistic Jewish settlers (more heavily represented than ever in the current Israeli government), as well as by the campaign of violence and dispossession that Israel has waged for decades throughout the entirety of Palestine. This is without mentioning the various forms of “slow death” Israel imposes on Palestinians by displacement, economic immiseration, constrictions on movement and education, attacks on children, medical negligence, and the destruction of Palestinian history, homes, dreams, and ancestral landscapes. This slow death affects not just Gazans but Palestinians in diaspora who are traumatized by the attacks on their family back home and denied the right of return. It also affects Palestinians within 1948 lands and in the West Bank, exposing them to increased state and settler repression in an increasingly polarized and violent Israeli atmosphere that promotes collective punishment and vigilante revenge. Israel’s tactics of slow death affect other people of color around the world as well, who are subjected to the military technologies and propaganda campaigns developed in Palestine and exported to their oppressors by the Israeli regime.

Third, Palestinians did not “start” the violence we are now witnessing. Legally and morally, besieged and occupied peoples have the right to free themselves by armed resistance. The Israeli occupation is the original, foundational, and primary violence at play in this situation: Its siege of Gaza constitutes an ongoing crime of aggression and state of war. That this latest conflagration of fighting was initiated by the Palestinian resistance does nothing to change that fact. Slave revolts and concentration camp uprisings throughout history have been initiated by oppressed and captive populations as well. It would be utterly perverse to call the Jews of Warsaw or enslaved African Americans “aggressors” for waging surprise attacks on their captors. Neither should Palestinians be called aggressors for struggling to break free from their decades-long captivity under murderous siege and occupation.

Fourth, war conduct and war aims are distinct things. There is no denying that Nat Turner’s men committed a number of atrocities during their historic revolt. So did the French Resistance when fighting Nazis. So did Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress when resisting apartheid. Indefensible as these atrocities may be, it would be completely unacceptable to justify the prolongation of transatlantic slavery, Nazi occupation, or South African apartheid on the grounds that some victims resisting them have resorted to unconscionable tactics. The same applies in the present case. Emphasizing Palestinian war crimes as a means of discrediting the just cause Palestinians are fighting for—or worse, as a means of justifying the slow genocide Israel has inflicted on them for the last 75 years and counting—is a cowardly and disgraceful cop-out, no matter how well-intentioned. Palestinians deserve freedom, dignity, and self-determination—full stop. Not because they’re saints or angels, not because they can do no wrong, but because they’re human beings.

Fifth, violent resistance is a last resort. Palestinians are people, not rabid fanatics. They don’t “enjoy” war. They certainly don’t take pleasure in watching their communities be bombarded by Israeli missiles or in watching their loved ones be killed. But they are also a people without power or options. For decades, Palestinians sought a negotiated peace settlement with their occupier; Israel and the United States not only refused these offers but used the resulting “peace process” as international cover for further expansion and land theft. Palestinians also tried various forms of popular protest; Israel met these, invariably, with violence and military repression. (Take, for instance, 2018’s nonviolent protests in Gaza known as the Great March of Return, when Israeli snipers shot over 6,000 unarmed demonstrators.) Finally, Palestinians tried forming an international boycott movement on the South African model; Israel and its supporters demonized them as antisemites for it, compared them to Nazis, and fought to criminalize boycott wherever possible. Contrary to Islamophobic press coverage, what is happening today is a reflection not of some innate Palestinian zeal for violence but of Israel’s decades-long refusal to end the illegal regime of apartheid, military occupation, and ethnic cleansing that it has imposed on Palestinians without abatement from 1948 to the present.

Sixth, Israel and the Palestinians are not in “conflict” with one another. Israel is an expansionist ethnostate bent on colonizing as much of historic Palestine as possible while ridding it of as many non-Jews as possible. (This is, incidentally, why it’s the only state on earth that has never declared or recognized its own borders.) The Palestinians, for their part, are a largely defenseless Indigenous population struggling to protect their lands, homes, and families from a genocidal colonizer. Whereas Israel boasts the world’s fourth-largest military and the support of the entire political West, Palestinians possess no army, no airports, no political rights, and virtually no international allies. To frame the Israeli-Palestinian relation as a “conflict” obscures its radically asymmetrical nature, implying a war between two states, rather than an Indigenous population facing incremental dispossession and genocide at the hands of a superpower-backed colonizer. The apt historical analogy here would not be the war between Russia and Ukraine, in other words, but the project of Westward Expansion and Native Genocide perpetrated by Western powers on Turtle Island.

Finally, Israel is not an independent or “foreign” actor in the region. It is rather, as Nixon once put it, one of America’s “cops on the beat” in the Middle East. There is no action or crime the Israeli occupation has perpetrated in the last half century without U.S. support, tax dollars, arms, and diplomatic protection. In recent days the Biden administration has committed U.S. warships and weapons to helping Israel subjugate the Palestinian resistance and “deterring” neighboring actors from supporting it in any way, while backing down from its own hollow calls for peace in the region. If you are a U.S. citizen, then, you will be directly and materially complicit in every murder, massacre, home demolition, and act of torture Israel carries out in the coming days and weeks. You have a fundamental, ethical, and political responsibility to speak out against Israeli repression, and in favor of Palestinian liberation and decolonization, irrespective of how far-removed it may seem or feel to you, precisely because Israeli colonialism is just one egregious dimension of the entirely egregious project that is U.S. imperial hegemony in the Middle East.

No people deserves to be driven from their lands, militarily occupied, and confined to ghettos and concentration camps. History will honor the Palestinians for striving decade after decade, against all odds, to finally break free from theirs. And it will look back with shame and bewilderment at those who refused to support them. SJP UChicago stands in full solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle for liberation and unequivocal opposition to Israel’s escalating war of erasure, ethnic cleansing, and extermination.

Addendum: Shortly after this article was written, Israel began unleashing the full force of its military arsenal on the captive civilian population of Gaza. Having already cut off all food, water, fuel, and electricity to the besieged enclave, the Israeli military initiated a brutal ground invasion and escalated its genocidal bombing campaign to unprecedented levels. The goals of this operation have been twofold: first, to render Gaza “unfit for living,” inflict maximum damage on its “civilian infrastructure,” and collectively punish its population for the events of October 7; and second, to force as many Palestinians as possible into the Sinai desert, thus displacing them permanently from their ancestral homeland and paving the way for further Israeli colonization. While Israel has yet to realize the latter goal, it has done its utmost to achieve the former. By November 10, Israel had already killed well over 11,000 Palestinians (including at least 4,500 children), internally displaced 1.5 million civilians, attacked at least 135 health facilities, rendered 68 hospitals and health care centers inoperative, damaged or destroyed 70 mosques and churches, and fully flattened more than 40,000 Palestinian homes. The genocidal scale of this assault can hardly be overstated: In the space of just one month, Israel has already killed more civilians than Russia has killed in its nearly two-year-long war against Ukraine and slaughtered more children than have been killed in all the world’s war zones combined for each of the last three years. These figures would be horrific and indefensible under any circumstance, but their hideousness becomes all the more apparent when one considers that Gaza’s population had already been undergoing a slow genocide, confined to a concentration camp, and subjected to periodic massacres for nearly two decades before the current Israeli onslaught began. What is still more disheartening is the fact that neither the U.S. government nor the University of Chicago has been willing to take the most basic of moral stances in the face of this unfolding genocide: divesting from Israel’s military and calling for an immediate ceasefire. Instead, the Biden administration has deployed U.S. troops and shipped U.S. weaponry to the genocide’s perpetrators, while the University has spent weeks refusing even to meet publicly and transparently with its students about its investments in Israeli arms suppliers. We encourage students to follow UChicago United for Palestine’s ongoing campaigns against the University’s complicity in this atrocity and to follow news outlets that report on Palestine with the factual credibility and moral consistency so often lacking in corporatized U.S. media. We particularly recommend Middle East Eye, The Intercept, Electronic Intifada, Jewish Currents, Mondoweiss, Peoples Dispatch, Al-Jazeera, +972 Magazine, and Al-Mayadeen.

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  • J

    Jack / Dec 14, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    Lmao at SJP recommending Al-Mayadeen as a trustworthy source. You can’t trust US media per them, but you sure as hell can trust Hezbollah’s media outlet!

    Reply
  • J

    Joe / Dec 1, 2023 at 3:16 pm

    Unfortunately, the leaders of SJP cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist entity and committed terrorism. Hamas did not “break out”, they planned the attack for 2+ years, instead of spending 2 years trying to solve the conflict.
    They killed, raped and decapitated as many people as they could.

    Israel is not a colonial state, despite what it’s haters want to say. Jews are indigenous to Israel, more than Arabs. Jews have never stopped praying to return to Israel, and for almost 2,000 years there has been a Jewish presence of some form in Israel. The Jerusalem Talmud was written in Israel in the 600’s.

    There never was a Palestinian state, Palestine was part of the British Empire and for hundreds of years before that, part of the Ottoman empire. Before that, various caliphates form Egypt or Syria governed the land. In 1800, there were only about 250,000 people in the land and in 1890 500,000 (today there are 10 million). Contrary to popular myth, most Arabs had not been there for centuries, rather they arrived alongside Jewish migration, as Jews developed the land little by little and economic opportunities opened up.
    In 1948, when the Jews accepted the plan to divide up the land and declared a state, the Arab states went to war hoping to annihilate every Jew on the land.
    Israel had no US backing, no European backing, little access to weapons. The Arabs were confident that Israel would be no more.
    Fortunately and no doubt against all odds, Israel won. That defeat is the origin of the what the Arabs called coined the Naqba – disaster.

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    • A

      Ashley / Dec 7, 2023 at 2:40 pm

      I mean if we’re playing by your own rules, Israel also did not exist before the Balfour declaration…..and if Hamas has killed all the people they could they’ve shown immense restraint looking at the death toll. Your comment also highlights the FACT that the fight for Palestinian statehood is older than the Zionist concept of Israel located in West Asia as a “homeland” for Jews. It’s one thing to propose a separate state in your own homeland as many jews have done in the past, it’s another to forcefully immigrate into other people’s lands for said homeland to replace the population, this is genocide. There are jews from many ethnicities, how can there be a homeland for all of them, does this exist for literally any other religion…….? Also the Unites States and the Soviet Union supported Israel in 1948….literally because of it’s strategic location, the plan was always to use it for influence in the region this is common knowledge

      Reply
      • J

        Joe / Dec 9, 2023 at 9:36 pm

        Ashley, Israel existed as the homeland of the Jews for the better part of 1,000 years until the Roman Empire destroyed and exiled most of them. In fact, the only people to ever govern the land from within the land were the Jews until 70CE.
        That Israel is the Jewish homeland is known to every student of history. It’s in the bible and every archeological dig brings up evidence of Jewish history in Israel.
        As opposed to Islam that has almost no major history in the land, in fact Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Quran even once.
        The USA eventually supported the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, but maintained an arms embargo.

        How exactly is Israel in a strategic location and how does it help the USA in 1948? That is quite an absurd statement.

        Here’s the bottom line, if the Arabs had gotten away with it, the 1948 war would have killed every Jew in Israel. Imagine, Arab armies from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt attacked Israel which had no weapons to talk of. Yet, Israel won and the Arabs have complained ever since.
        Oh, and those countries went and kicked out the Jews that had been loving there for centuries. 700,000 approximately.

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        • A

          Ashley / Jan 20, 2024 at 1:58 pm

          So because there were Jews of an unknown ethnicity in 70CE random modern Jews from all over the world, even converts, have the right to forcefully remove Palestinians from their homes? What law is that? Are you not living in the United States of America, a Christian settler colony, that was allowed to r/pe and kill their way through the indigenous population by papal decree so you could leave your nonsense comment on the page of this great colonial institution?? Using your own logic the indigenous of this land should be at your doorstep(as they should).
          Why are we pretending that Judaism denotes some sort of ethnicity or connection to a “homeland”? Was this racialization of Jews not the entire reason for the Holocaust?

          Reply