9Sophie SchulmanSWIB Headshotavatar
9Sophie SchulmanSWIB Headshotavatar

Students for Justice in Palestine violates Stanford values

“Don’t come back,” was the last thing I heard as I walked out of the recent screening of “Tears of Gaza” by Stanford’s Students for Justice in Palestine. The reason for this enmity directed at me? I asked two questions.

I did not phrase my questions antagonistically. I did not criticize the director. During the Q&A, I asked the director: (1) Did she document footage of Hamas exploiting Palestinian citizens’ suffering as a tool to bolster international hatred against Israel?

(2) Did she observe the actions by the Israel Defense Forces to save Palestinian lives throughout the ongoing war?

The film neglects to show Hamas’ use of Palestinians as human shields to protect terrorists from rocket fire in civilian centers. It also fails to show that before each of its air raids, the IDF dropped leaflets in Gaza to warn Palestinians of impending danger, and urged them to move away from targeted areas.

Nor did it show some of the 180,000 Palestinian citizens — 30 percent of whom are children — who have received care from Israeli hospitals, and the programs created by Israeli physicians to train Palestinian doctors.

The audience does not learn that Hamas hijacks the humanitarian aid meant to be distributed to the Palestinian population for its own organization, namely for the production of terror tunnels and ammunition instead of the construction of infrastructure like schools, mosques and hospitals.

Some people in the film characterize the “economic blockade” as a deliberate tactic by Israel to inflict widespread suffering and collective punishment on the Palestinian citizenry. In reality, the blockade was and remains a security mechanism to defend the Israeli people against the acquisition of firearms by Hamas and the suicide bombers who find refuge in Gaza.

Moreover, by not mentioning Hamas, the terrorist organization that simultaneously serves as the government in Gaza, “Tears of Gaza” portrays the war as Israel versus the Palestinian people. If a movie described World War II as the United States versus the German people, and neglected to mention the Nazis, I would also stand up and question why the context was ignored. By the same token, when SJP and Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine (SOOP)  alienate Israel, they disregard the fact that the war in Gaza is not a war against a people, but a war against a terrorist government, Hamas, that inflicts equal — if not worse — harm on its own citizens.

When one understands that Israel is fighting a terrorist regime, and not the Palestinian people, it is clear why Israel goes above and beyond to save Palestinian lives, even during the course of its war against Hamas. A former British armed forces commander reported the following to the U.N. Human Rights Council: “During its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

When I tried to bring context to the conflict as portrayed by “Tears of Gaza,” I was stared down by SJP supporters, peers and faculty members in attendance, and told, “Don’t come back.” I was ostracized.

I am discouraged to know that I am not the only student who has felt silenced and marginalized by SJP; many students are afraid to speak up about similar personal interactions. The stories that I have heard and continue to hear concerning the divisiveness of SJP and SOOP events hosted in the wake of the Associated Students of Stanford University’s divestment bill vote illustrate the strident climate and vitriol on campus that this bill breeds. Sadly, this has been the experience of students on other college campuses as well.

When students decide that their mission is so blindly committed to a cause that they do not make an attempt to present Israel’s rationale, they are the creators and propagators of harmful one-sided rhetoric. As perpetrators of this hurtful propaganda, they are not the vanguard of the solution, but rather an integral part of the problem. And when they go so far as to create and condone an environment that is hostile to and suppressive of intellectual inquiry and debate, they are violating Stanford’s mission to facilitate the free exchange of ideas and respect for diversity.

Ultimately, information without context is the root cause of the polarization between the two camps of beliefs on this campus, those against divestment and those for it. Information is malleable; when treated like a narrative, it changes the kinds of questions that you ask and the kinds of conclusions that you extrapolate. A one-sided narrative relegates you to judgments that are highly misguided and offensive to many among our Stanford community.


Sophie Schulman is a senior at Stanford University. A version of this essay originally appeared at www.stanforddaily.com.