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J Street U discusses ‘What is Occupation?’

By Ethan Berceli

Section: Front Page, News

October 30, 2014

On Wednesday evening, Oct. 29, J Street U Brandeis hosted the event “What is Occupation?” which was open to the entire Brandeis community in the Pearlman Lounge. The assembled members and visitors discussed various definitions of occupation: what it is, what it means and how it applies to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The event is part of a larger series of educational meetings and events relating to a conflict that J Street U Brandeis holds close to their hearts. J Street U Brandeis is the Brandeis chapter of a the national non-profit J Street U, whose slogan is “Pro Israel. Pro Palestine. Pro Peace.” The organization’s mission is to work to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through positively influencing American diplomacy as well as creating a space for open and meaningful conversation about the conflict within the American Jewish community.

The atmosphere for discussion was both charged and accepting. Hannah Kober ’16 emphasized the safe zone J Street U creates.

“This is a respectful discussion,” she said. “All viewpoints, opinions and backgrounds are welcome, but remember that if you disagree, you disagree with an idea, not a person.”

Although the event lasted only an hour, the night was packed with information and perspective. After the necessary introductions, Yaakov Malomet ’17 opened the evening with a personal anecdote that illustrated what occupation meant to him. On his most recent trip to Israel, he and a friend visited the Palestinian city Ramallah for the purpose of tourism. In what proved to be major complication since his friend had dual Israeli-American citizenship, and anyone with an Israeli passport, dual or not, was prohibited from visiting these Palestinian zones.

The two decided to visit anyway and attempted to exit through a fence on the outskirts of town, trying to skirt punishment. After being interrogated by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and feigning Hebrew language ignorance, they were allowed to leave. Yet the story was in stark contrast to what Americans are used to. Ramallah is a city in the West Bank and the capital of Palestine, and with the occupation, the phrase “border patrol” has quite a different meaning as well.

Malomet’s story was one of many shared at this event that showed the individual effects occupation has on everyone who comes in contact with it. There were countless other stories told of harsh treatment of Palestinians under military rule and of Israelis relocated from their homes. All the stories pointed to a much bigger picture.

The Educational Coordinators for J Street U Brandeis, Kober and Cooper Boyar ’17, followed Malomet. They gave a brief background on the history of the conflict, starting in 1947 with the formation of the state of Israel.

Currently, the West Bank is divided into three different zones. The A zone is controlled by the Palestinians, the B zone has joint control, and the C zone is controlled completely by Israel. The occupation topic centers mostly on the A zone but really is applicable to any area where locals are being controlled by an authority they did not elect. Occupation is fraught with misunderstanding and contradiction, and while the history provided some context, there is a myriad of forces at hand.

Following the histories, the attendees split into four groups for more personalized discussion. Each group was given a specific topic, and here, the audience divided itself by personal preference. The discussion topics were “Is Gaza Occupied?” “The West Bank Under International Law,” “Occupation and Everyday Life” and “The Government’s Role in Occupation.” Attendees participated in the topic in which they were most interested.

Malomet finished the event by reminding the gathered students of the bigger picture and what is at stake.

“Reflecting on ‘What is occupation?’ is not only important for the present,” he said, “but how that meaning can apply to the future resolution of the conflict.”

J Street U Brandeis meets every Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Schwartz Hall. At the next meeting, the group will focus on its newest initiative: a fundraiser for water sanitation projects in Gaza and southern Israel. All are welcome to attend.

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