SGA Recognizes Students for Justice in Palestine

Students at Pace in New York Cite represnent their chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Photo from @PaceU_SJP

Students at Pace in New York Cite represnent their chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Emily Wolfrum, Editor-in-Chief

The Students for Justice in Palestine organization (SJP) was officially recognized by Student Government Association (SGA) on Fri., Nov. 7, according to SGA Executive Vice President Dan Garcia.

This establishment follows the creation of an SJP chapter at the Pace New York campus this past spring.

Both the Pace Pleasantville and New York chapters of SJP share advisor Dr. Susan Maxam, Assistant Vice President of Undergraduate Education.

The organization, which exists on multiple college campuses nationwide, seeks to educate and advocate for ongoing Palestinian issues.

“I think a lot of people are misinformed and uneducated about the issues, so I thought SJP would be a great way to break those stereotypes and misconceptions,” said founder and President of the Pleasantville organization Nihal Al Qawasmi, whose SJP interest began while she was still in high school.

Among the misconceptions Al Qawasmi seeks to address is the belief that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is merely a dispute over land.

“People look at it like a headache, like ‘those people, they just keep fighting over land,’ but it’s not just land—it’s basic human rights,” she said. “It’s more like an oppressed-oppressor relationship than a war.”

SJP Vice President Seja Alkhatib added that even the precise history of the conflict is something that many do not know.

“Prior to the establishment of Israel, and contrary to popular belief, Palestine had a place on the map. It was home to millions of Palestinians and many Jews living peacefully together,” Alkhatib said.

In addition to combatting misconceptions about Palestinian issues, SJP seeks to eliminate stigma attached to the organization.

“I don’t want people to feel intimidated and think of just the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel like they can’t be a part of it.”

Although Al Qawasmi is Palestinian, she notes that SJP’s e-board is comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds.

“I had known very little about the human right’s issues in Palestine myself,” SJP Treasurer Mariah Jusino said, “but after speaking with [Al Qawasmi] and doing a bit more research on my own, I decided SJP was something that I found important and worth being a part of.”

According to Al Qawasmi, this connection to the cause can be made by anyone.

“People don’t know that the [chemicals and tear gas] used on people in Ferguson [Missouri] are always tested on Palestinians. They’re like lab rats,” Al Qawasmi said. “[We can connect] those two struggles, and show how colonialism and militarism aren’t just third world issues. Oppressed people need to stand together.”

This specific connection was also a topic of conversation at this year’s National SJP Conference at Tufts University. Al Qawasmi, who attended the conference, noted the impact that a reverend from Ferguson had when he spoke at the event.

“It was one of the most inspiring weekends of my life,” she said. “It motivated me even more to come back [to Pace] and push the recognition process.”

Al Qawasmi was born in Jordan, where her grandparents immigrated to after the establishment of Israel.

“We’re a family of refugees, and knowing the struggles that they went through is the ultimate connection. For me, always having that history and carrying it with me everywhere makes me who I am,” she said. “For people to misinterpret my story, it motivates me to go out there and do whatever I can to educate.”

While Al Qawasmi says she would like to be able to fundraise, limited access to Palestinian borders makes global aid difficult.

SJP’s e-board plans to begin tabling in Kessel to increase awareness of their organization and its presence on campus before hosting events to educate students about issues.

“It is always important for those witnessing unjust actions to speak up for the voiceless. SJP is about spreading awareness regarding the Palestinian issue to those who are unaware, especially since we are the leaders of tomorrow,” Alkhatib said. “We hope to bring forth many events for the students to participate and engage in, while learning a few new things as well.”