This past Thursday, I attended an event hosted by CAMERA and UF Hillel titled “Less Hamas, More Hummus.”
As if the title alone wasn’t ridiculous and incredibly offensive to Palestinians, I think the statements by speaker Dr. Anat Berko also bordered on insanity. At surface level, her talk appeared to be about the plight of suffering Palestinian women; however, it wasn’t hard for me to see the thinly masked racist Orientalism hidden behind faux-feminist remarks.
It seems to me that Berko, despite her guise as a “progressive” or even possibly a “feminist,” actually uses the very personal anecdotes of women to justify the massively oppressive actions of Israel. In my opinion, there is nothing progressive about using the struggles of women to promote a disgusting, repressive occupation. I think she undermines their plight and also conveniently leaves out the systematic human rights violations the Israeli Defense Forces carries out against Palestinian women every single day.
In protest of her speech, Students for Justice in Palestine held a walkout to make it clear our campus doesn’t feel comfortable with what we see as hate speech. Four members of SJP stood up during her talk wearing signs that read “Hamas isn’t the problem, Israeli occupation is,” “The IDF kills women and children,” and “Gaza is under siege and blockade.”
One female member read a short statement denouncing the event, and furthermore the overall demonization of Palestinian culture. In response, Berko completely lost her composure, screaming at the members and responding with threats. Sadly, this behavior wasn’t surprising to me, as I think it’s typical of Israeli apologists to respond to any sort of resistance with hysteria and a zero-tolerance policy for any sort of dissent.
As a representative of the Israeli occupation, Berko herself helped hammer home the point SJP wanted to bring to light: Israel and its apologists have no room for free thought, resistance or any sort of Palestinian voice. It is not Hamas that occupies the West Bank and Gaza, denies women basic health care or access to hospitals where they can safely give birth to their children, kidnaps Palestinian children, divides families, bulldozes homes and shoots teenagers in the back for throwing stones at tanks rolling through their neighborhoods.
Ask a Palestinian woman about her struggles and she will surely tell you about checkpoints, sons murdered by IDF soldiers, the need for electricity and the fact that she has no clean water to survive on. The IDF arrests 500 to 700 Palestinian children per year. Berko’s attempts to place the blame for oppression in Palestine on Palestinians themselves is nothing other than a racist means to solidify Israel’s systemically oppressive tactics.
There is no excuse for holding events like this one, which completely marginalize Palestinian voices and forget that Palestinians are actual human beings. Come on, Bob Graham Center for Public Service: I know you can do better than this. I’ve attended genuinely inspirational and progressive events here. Please, live up to that name, and stop giving a voice to individuals whose only goal is to ignore the worth of an entire group of people and maintain the status quo.
If you would like to hear voices from Palestinians themselves, join Students for Justice in Palestine, and be on the lookout for Palestinian People’s Week in the last week of October.
Farah Khan, Rami Okasha and Eric Brown are members of Students for Justice in Palestine. This guest column ran on page 7 on 10/14/2013 under the headline "Palestinians are people with a voice"