The things I miss (confessions of an activist)

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Photo on 2 10 12 at 3 16 PM 6
Self portrait of a Palestinian (Photo by Sarah Aziza)

I began really engaging in activism for the Palestinian cause about a year ago, and I’ve lost a few things along the way. Among the things I miss from my pre-activism days are:

1. Being anonymous.

It’s hard to realize how sacred privacy is until you begin to lose it. Once I began taking a visible stand on my campus, I became a “controversial” figure, and soon realized I had actually made “enemies.” My name, identity, and even phone number became objects of public discourse as the “scandal” that was pro-Palestinian activism began to gain momentum at my university. The reality of this shift took a huge toll on me mentally, as I often encountered strangers who possessed pre-formed opinions about my character, “agenda,” and background. I began to feel nervous while walking between classes or attending events and social functions; would I be noticed? Would I be subjected to hostility? Those strangers across the room, did they, too, believe that I “supported Hamas”? Maybe I shouldn’t wear my keffiyeh today….

2. Being generally well-liked.
See above.

3. Having free time.
Contrary to my Zionist “activist” counterparts, who have the seemingly limitless resources of our Hillel center (think: multiple paid staff members and a full-time, politically active rabbi, generous budgets, and overt administrative favoritism), being a pro-Palestine advocate on my campus has proven to be an extremely exhausting and consuming undertaking. My fellow SJP-ers and I have dedicated countless hours to the cause, often forced to come up with extremely creative ways to overcome our shortage of finances and manpower.

4. Friendships with Jewish students
Although my campus SJP includes several, highly active Jewish members, I’ve sadly seen many relationships damaged as a result of the emerging pro-Palestine presence on our campus. Although I have many Jewish and Zionist friends who have maintained civility and respect despite our differing politics, the constant conflation of Judaism and Zionism has done much unnecessary harm. Indeed, I feel that Judaism itself is often one of the greatest victims of the venomous nature of this “debate.”

5. Relationships with Professors
Perhaps the most shocking result of my and my colleagues pro-Palestine activism on my campus is the toll it has taken on rapport with certain university faculty members. While some have valiantly defended the right of us as students to engage in this cause on behalf of Palestinians, other professors and administrative officials have vehemently opposed us. The level of engagement, and in some cases, antagonism, was a completely unexpected and extremely stressful development for students involved in our SJP. We have been faced with real doubts about our ability to express ourselves freely and anxiety about incurring the anger of outspoken university personnel. The dearth of support for “pro-Palestinian” activists and the unfair atmosphere of being “singled out” for an “unpopular” point of view has been an extremely disappointing and unfortunate experience for many members of our SJP.

….Why have I taken the time to write up this rather depressing list of what my co-SJP president calls “vanguard-movement problems”? Not to evoke sympathy or praise for any sort of self-sacrifice; no, but to remind all those struggling for this cause in their respective spheres, you are not alone. I know the obstacles we face in my SJP and BDS circles are far from rare; sadly, I’m aware that many of my co-activists face even harsher suppression, more vehement opposition, and more twisted spin machines. Yet, I’m sure I am not the only one who feels, to my very core, that this struggle, in all its absurdity and injustice, is a worthwhile one.

Indeed, between the early winter mornings spent building mock apartheid walls, the late-night organizing meetings, the endless and fruitless attempts to get fair press coverage, and the inevitable personal attacks and groundless accusations, I have found a deep joy in knowing I stand on the right side of history. In this journey to bring the plight of Palestinians (and, subsequently, the Israelis who are victimized by the violent reality of colonialism) into a discourse of true justice and peace, I’ve discovered I am walking in incredible company. While luminaries like Archbishop Desmond Tutu affirm our mission, I’ve also met “ordinary” men, women, and children with a passion for humanity that constantly revives my own sense of hope. I would never trade such genuine inspiration for the superficial calm that comes from succumbing to the status quo.

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The Shehadas are a great family. Sarah comes from a fine pedigree. There is a street named after them in Hebron.

And it goes without saying that the zionists are vicious. They have it all to lose and they know it.

Sooo much pathos .
/Indeed, between the early winter mornings spent building mock apartheid walls, the late-night organizing meetings/
this can’t be real right, it has to be satire, please tell me it’s satire …

From 1960 through 1969, campus activists for civil rights and Black power faced much more hazardous obstacles. They paid the price so that we can advocate for BDS without facing more than the occasional hostile remark from a Zionist who is far more isolated than you might imagine. And so you pay that comparatively small price — still, it’s a scary price to pay! Especially when actual professors and administrators give you the Glare of… Read more »

Well said, Sarah. Thanks for your indispensable work.

Thank you for this excellent essay, which will touch so many hearts that you will not even know about!

I am especially moved by what you say about having found “a deep joy in knowing I stand on the right side of history.” I think that you may be finding the “pearl of great price” that is described in the parable found in Matthew 13:45.