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Commentary: Palestinian plight postponed

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The speaker that raised the motion to postpone indefinitely during the Fall 2014 Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) General Assembly (GA) said that by postponing indefinitely, “we’re saying we don’t want to touch this. Let’s postpone this [until] forever.”

There’s a reason why some students “don’t want to touch this,” and it’s because it’s bloody and horrible, and confronting that reality is uncomfortable. The “No” campaign claimed that this motion, if passed, would make some students feel uncomfortable. As reiterated, time and time again, this motion did not seek to negate Israel’s right to exist nor condemn the Israeli state as whole—but only that which is beyond a doubt indisputably condemned by the international community: The inhumane war and siege on Gaza, which has cost thousands their livelihoods, homes, right to education, health, and lives, as well as the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements, which have created hundreds of thousands of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Failure to recognize these horrific events, for me, is agonizing. If recognizing them makes some students feel uncomfortable, I cannot be sorry.

Other supporters of the postponement argued that this issue “did not affect students at McGill,” and that SSMU should be using its time and resources on matters “more relevant,” such as the construction on McTavish. This complete disregard for students at this university who are directly affected by this ongoing conflict, and who have lost family, friends, and homes at the cost of the occupation—students who are here now, and are being denied their right back into their land, is nauseating. Saying that this issue does not affect students at McGill not only dismisses the experiences of our fellow Palestinian and Israeli students, but it also blatantly disregards our complicit roles in the conflict by paying tuition to an institution that helps to develop harmful military technology used in the occupation, despite the fact that it was brought up several times in the debate, as well as through an entire separate motion. Moreover, openly trivializing 60 years of human rights abuses and violations of international law displays a shameful level of privileged apathy. To those who believe it is a crisis to have to walk a few extra metres to get to your world-class academic buildings that still stand very much intact, I cannot be sorry.

Continuously, supporters of the postponement argued that they would entertain a debate, but that SSMU was not an appropriate channel through which to do so. However, SSMU claims that it offers a safe space. The speaker enforces safe space to the best of his/her ability. There is security on-hand throughout the building. And even then, students were heckled, insulted, and disrespected at this year’s GA. If this is how our student body conducts itself in a space where this policy is enforced, how will we conduct ourselves through other unmediated channels, especially when students already feel uncomfortable expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments on this campus? Furthermore, claiming that there are more appropriate channels for this debate is implying that students just want to “talk about the conflict,” with no intended outcomes. What if we are tired of simply talking about the conflict, and we are ready to take action? The motion proposed two very tangible outcomes that SSMU could deliver, and it would have been beneficial to hear the constructive opinions of others from the community on what those resolved clauses would have meant and done for them.    

A Palestinian friend of mine thanked me today. He said he knows he never supports or attends any events surrounding the issue, but it is only because he is unable to emotionally cope with insensitive comments. He thanked me for “the work” we were doing for Palestine. To him, I would say that on Oct. 22, an unfortunately large part of our student body refused to acknowledge the plight of the Palestinian people. As a student body, we failed to uphold our duty as privileged and educated “leaders” in matters of human rights and social justice. Instead, prioritizing our own comfort and privilege, we chose to postpone it indefinitely. For that, I am extremely ashamed and truly sorry.

With that being said, this was not  a loss. Bringing this motion to the GA has put Palestine on the forefront of campus media and discourse, and the frantic efforts of a group of students to sweep it under the rug has raised the eyebrows of many. Since the GA, over a dozen students have reached out to actively join the cause, while many more have expressed new or renewed solidarity. With these continued efforts of raising awareness, peer-educating, and conducting open discussions and forums, I am confident this movement will grow. And hopefully, in the near future, our student body will be more open to taking a proactive stance on this issue of injustice, or at least, be more open to discussing the possibility of doing so.

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