Welcome back to campus, UChicago! As the new school year begins, we at J Street UChicago would like to look back upon the UofC Divest campaign and its aftermath. When UofC Divest launched last March, students split into like-minded groups and the campus dialogue around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unlike the occupation itself, came to an end. Students exchanged insults and accusations as the campus climate grew increasingly polarized.
Though the College Council voted in favor of UofC Divest’s resolution calling for divestment from companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in its occupation of the Palestinian territories, the campaign produced no improvement to Palestinian lives. The administration came out against divestment, and, like similar divestment campaigns, the only change that resulted from UofC Divest was the deep chasm that now separates the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine communities on campus.
This summer, J Street UChicago members spent time on the ground in Israel and Palestine learning about and working against the occupation. We engaged with Palestinian students active in the organization Zimam, whose lives and aspirations are impeded by the occupation, and heard about their efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Israeli student activists in groups like Darkenu, Young Labor, and Young Meretz are similarly advocating for two states. Thanks to UofC Divest, the anti-occupation movement at UChicago is nowhere near the level of productive engagement we experienced in Israel and Palestine. Our campus can and should be able to unite to take concrete steps to end the occupation and work toward a two-state solution.
At the end of the summer, the Israeli government announced that a decision was imminent regarding the demolition of the Palestinian village of Susya, in Area C of the West Bank. Weeks earlier, we visited with residents of Susya and walked with them back to the site of their previous homes, from which they had been displaced. They remembered growing up and raising their families in these homes. They recalled the fear and trauma of losing their homes so suddenly and watching settlers take over. Encountering the place where his children used to play, one man said, “this feels like seeing the dead.” The children of Susya are now at risk of experiencing the same trauma as their parents. Demolishing the village would be another injustice against Palestinians struggling to live their lives, and yet another setback for the prospects of ever reaching a negotiated two-state solution.
J Street responded by mobilizing activists across the country to weigh in against the demolition. We lobbied Secretary of State John Kerry and leaders in the American Jewish community to come out in support of Susya. Thanks to our efforts and those of other groups standing up for Susya, we saw important results. The State Department made it clear that the U.S. government strongly opposes the demolition of Susya.
Thanks in large part to this pressure, the demolition decision has been delayed to November 15, and we are still urgently organizing to prevent over 100 residents of Susya from losing their homes. As we begin the new school year, the student body must stand up for what is right and just. We ask all students who support human rights and a better, peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians to help us #SaveSusya, and to stand up to the settlement expansion that threatens to derail all hope of a solution.
—J Street UChicago Board Members Zachary Spitz ’19, Isaac Johnston ’19, Rikki Baker Keusch ’17.