On Wednesday, July 11th, a group human rights defenders disrupted a Jewish National Fund event at St. Louis University (SLU) Law School. The event was titled “Israel’s Borders in International Law” and featured an Israeli lawyer, Eugene Kontorovich, a settler who lives in an Israeli colony near Bethlehem. In his talk, Kontorovich spoke directly to Jewish National Fund’s vision, justifying Israel’s settler colonial project in Palestine and the violence required to maintain Israel’s displacement of millions of Palestinians.
The JNF, which controls and holds a majority of the land in historic Palestine for Jewish-only use, continues to be central in the ongoing settler colonial occupation and theft of Palestinian land. The organization does this by displacing indigenous groups and using their land for Jewish settlements and developments. The JNF is part of the Israeli project in Palestine to control a maximum amount of land while demographically limiting the population to a minimum number of Palestinians. The fact that the JNF was hosted by St. Louis University School of Law reinforces the reality that law is a tool of the powerful meant to reinforce the status quo.
In keeping with this history of displacement, earlier this week, the Israeli Knesset passed the Jewish nation-state bill, which effectively enshrines Jewish supremacy, apartheid and discrimination against Palestinians into law. Clauses in the bill encourage Jewish settlement anywhere in historic Palestine, remove Arabic as an official language, and call for Jerusalem to be the “united capital of Israel”. Tellingly, Prime Minister Netanyahu proclaimed that this bill is “very important to guarantee the foundations of our existence, which is Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”. This statement, like JNF colonization policies before it, makes clear how settler colonialism and racial exclusion are central to the core logic of the Israeli state, rather than aberrations in an otherwise democratic society. As a de jure continuation of JNF policies, this bill highlights why activists must look beyond the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to the very founding of the state, a point we hoped to center in last week’s action.
During last Wednesday’s event, disruptors stood up and shared the stories of those who’ve lost their lives to Israeli state violence. One of the stories shared was that of Palestinian paramedic Razan Al-Najar, who was fatally shot in the chest while tending to the wounded during the Great March of Return at the Gaza barrier zone. Another was of Saji Darwish, and 18-year-old who was shot in the head by Israeli forces in 2014 in the West Bank village of Beitin while feeding his goats. As this story was shared Kontorovich burst into laughter, displaying a sheer disregard for Palestinian lives. Each disrupter was escorted out the room immediately after sharing.
In staging this disruption we sent a clear message that the Jewish National Fund and supporters of ethnic cleansing and colonization are not welcome in St Louis. We took this action in support of the Great Return and in memory of the more than 140 Palestinians massacred by Israeli snipers for peacefully demonstrating at the Gaza barrier zone. We, many of whom were on the streets following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, recognize that state violence is always justified through misinformation campaigns, dehumanization of victims, and unjust laws. After all, St. Louisans learned from Palestinians how to cope with tear gas. We stand in solidarity with all oppressed peoples from St. Louis to Palestine.