By Sharon Jackson
It was the summer of 2014, and I was on Facebook. My news feed looked like a war zone, as I scrolled past image after bloody, depressing image, sickening me, saddening me. Why, during the war in Gaza, did I even bother going on Facebook? Force of habit, I guess. As I am friends with both Jews and Muslims, I could see what others could not see: both sides screaming out in pain, in anger, in helplessness – but neither of them could hear the other. I am in the middle. I always have been, and this is both a blessing and a curse.
The curse is that either side can easily call me a traitor, if I give voice to the Palestinian narrative to someone pro-Israel, or the Israeli narrative to someone pro-Palestinian. But the blessing is, I can also potentially serve as a bridge. But it is not me who determines whether I am a traitor or a bridge.
It is you.
I am Jewish, and I need to confess something: I am scared. I know that pro-Palestinian activism can sometimes cross the line into anti-Semitism. I know that on other campuses with this kind of activism, Jewish students have been threatened.
That day I was on Facebook a year and a half ago, I came across a pro-Palestinian post by one of my friends. I can’t remember what she’d written, but it was something to the effect of, “How could anyone possibly side with Israel?” In my comment, I showed empathy for her point of view, and tried to describe what it was like to grow up in some Jewish communities, reading Jewish newspapers that show Israel as a country whose soldiers go out of their way to avoid killing, who prosecute any Jewish citizens who attack Arab citizens, who allow Arabs in the Israeli Parliament, and so on. I told her, this is one side of the story, but this is the story they know. This is what they’ve grown up with.
Her reaction was to tell me that I was just making excuses for them, that there is no way you can justify not siding with the Palestinians, that you’d have to be cold-blooded, heartless, inhuman.
Queens College, for a long time, has been relatively peaceful compared to other campuses when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I think it may have been somewhat of a false peace, one of fear of rocking the boat. If students want a chapter of the SJP, but are barred from creating one, then the silence on campus is not healthy.
But if the silence on campus is to be broken, we cannot break it by raising our voices while shutting our ears. If we are unwilling to see the other as human, not monster, if we refuse to listen to the narrative of the other side (and we don’t have to agree with it), we will be recreating the war right on our campus.
Yet, as trepidatious as I am, I know that if there is any campus in the world that can host an SJP while still allowing its pro-Israel students to feel safe, it’s this one. This one, with its Hillel and MSA right across the hall from each other. This one, with the Center for Ethnic, Racial & Religious Understanding. This one, with all the interfaith friendships that begin here.
I have faith that the students on this campus can voice their truth without labeling one another. Please, Queens College community – let’s do this right.
Sharon Jackson is a writing tutor at the QC Writing Center, as well as a research assistant and intern at the QC Center for Ethnic, Racial & Religious Understanding. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.