Student activist group builds shelter to raise awareness of Palestinian settlement

Oct. 25, 2016, 12:00 a.m.

During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, J Street U Stanford raised awareness for the Palestinian settlement of Susya by holding discussions and a sleep-in in a “sukkah” (temporary shelter) of their own construction.

J Street U built sukkahs in White Plaza to raise awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (RYAN COHEN/The Stanford Daily).
J Street U built sukkahs in White Plaza to raise awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (RYAN COHEN/The Stanford Daily).

Susya is a Palestinian settlement that might face demolition after the Israeli government reaches a decision in November on whether to uphold a previous demolition ruling. While the Israeli government claims that the Palestinian villagers have settled illegally on the land without obtaining building permits, the national J Street organization claims that the Israeli government’s refusal to grant Palestinians permits leave them with little choice but to build their homes illegally.

As Stanford’s chapter of the “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine” activism group J Street, J Street U Stanford aims to promote the two-state solution by having Israel withdraw to the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. Together with its national counterpart, J Street U Stanford sees Susya as an emblem for the greater Israel-Palestine conflict.

During the two-day event, club members fused their observance of the concurrent Jewish holiday Sukkot with their activism by building a temporary shelter at White Plaza. The holiday calls upon Jewish people to remember the wandering of the Israelites in the desert according to rabbinic tradition. J Street U Stanford co-chair Rachael Stryer ’17 explained the significance behind their decision to merge the two events.

“There is the really interesting parallel there, which is the temporary home and temporary structures, so we want to both observe that holiday, and also call attention to what’s going on there,” Stryer said.

For Stryer and other student leaders, the concept of homelessness reflected an imbalance in the Israel-Palestine power dynamic and the accompanying human rights concerns. For instance, Stryer was concerned that the Palestinians are not guaranteed a just legal process in Israeli courts, and are not sure if their homes will be allowed to stand permanently.

International student Mansi Jain ’19, who stopped by the event, echoed the concern with human rights issues as she recounted the difficult situation of her friends in Palestine.

“We think liberty [is] of so much importance, yet all the basic rights of liberty and freedom of speech continue to be tested,” Jain said. “[The Israel-Palestine conflict is a] challenging issue which forces us to confront our ideals and see how those ideals are used selectively and that continues to perpetuate oppressive structures.”

Majd Quran ’19, co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine, viewed the event as a “great initiative” to bring a crucial perspective to the campus.

Quran said, “It’s really important for students to value the work of Jewish students, to really break down that illusion … [that] if you are Jewish, you can’t question Israeli policy, that you can’t recognize Palestinian suffering.”

To J Street U Stanford, the sukkah served as a physical space for students like Jain and Quran, who come from different backgrounds and hold different viewpoints, to meet and engage in dialogue. Growing up in a Jewish household where she was mostly exposed to the pro-Israeli narrative, Stryer feels the dialogue she had at Stanford constantly challenges her and gives her a fuller picture of the conflict.

“To be able to live with that, and say that both of the narratives are true, even though they contradict one another, is really hard and uncomfortable,” said Stryer. “But I have to live with both of those and acknowledge both of their truth because they’re true to different people.”

Contact Celia Chen at xinuo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Celia Chen is a sophomore from Hangzhou, China, studying philosophy. She has covered news for the Daily, and after feeling inspired by various experiences in her freshman year, she decided to have a personal voice and join the Opinions. In her column, she writes things dear to her, including culture, justice and meaning of existence. In her spare time, she likes to jam with friends, take colorful pictures and take on adventures.

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