An Overabundance of Silence: On Israel and Protest

Last Saturday, Amherst Hillel and Amherst Students for Israel cohosted “Lila Levin: A Blue and White Night” in the Powerhouse in honor of Israel’s 67th birthday. Continuing a string of many seemingly benign cultural activities, this event was not neutral, but was instead a wounded space, one created by the blood, tears and bodies of Palestinians. Israel’s Independence Day is not a celebratory occasion in honor of which we should throw parties and socialize. It is etched into the minds of Palestinians as the Nakba, the “Day of Catastrophe.” It is a day of haunting memories, of the catastrophe that led to the forced expulsion of the Palestinian people and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns. Most importantly, it symbolizes a day of injustice and the beginning of the illegal occupation.

We understand that many students involved in Hillel and similar organizations are unaware of and uneducated in the extraordinary atrocities committed by the Israeli state. They neither realize nor condemn the destruction of human and social life resulting from the horrendous acts of the Israeli Defense Forces as well as the near-bipartisan support from the U.S. for the continued colonialism of the Israeli state. However, for too long at Amherst, we have disregarded Palestinian lives. As the commemoration of American independence includes within it the three-fifths dehumanization of black lives and the homage paid to Lord Jeffery Amherst includes the massacre of Native Americans, the celebration of Israel’s independence includes a celebration of the forced displacement of over 700,000 Palestinians.

With these histories in mind, we want to educate our fellow students, staff, faculty and administrators at Amherst regarding the injustices taking place in Palestine. We want to show that Amherst students, allegedly trained in critical thought, have turned a blind eye to the specific injustices taking place today in Israel. We hope to demonstrate that any continued political, financial and military support of Israel is complicit in the colonialization and abuse of freedom and human rights committed by the Israeli state. We claim that Israel’s Independence Day and its accompanying party in the Powerhouse are not and can never be apolitical, but, rather, recapitulate the founding violence of that state.

Towards this end, many of us, a group of students allied in our wish to bring to light the unacknowledged political nature of this school-sanctioned event, staged a die-in to reenact how the Israeli state celebrates dancing atop the graves of Palestinians. Despite our blatantly nonviolent agenda, we were met with considerable barriers. We were informed by an Amherst College police officer that our signs, which were meant to inform onlookers of our cause, were considered weapons and were thus not allowed to be brought into the Powerhouse, despite being made from mere construction paper and markers and despite the presence of other potential weapons such as our belts, shoes, pens and jewelry. The projector, music and lights were shut down for the duration of the die-in, student security at the scene was intensified and the organizers of the event demonstrated their unwillingness to engage with the irony of celebrating in “silence” a politics which tramples over the voices of an entire people: A “silent” event that attempted to silence the voices of a group of students hoping to raise awareness.

We do not take the infantilization of our actions, the trivialization of our cause, lightly. Silence is always in support of the oppressor. We refuse to support our institution’s decision to invest in a state that systematically engages in an apartheid against the Palestinian people, and thus we refuse to be silent. If anything, the reactions of the organizers of the Israeli Independence Day event signal that there is an even greater effort required to inform the Amherst community of its responsibility to be aware of the issue at hand, implicated as it is in the conflict. To those who wish to organize more events in support of the current political agenda of the Israeli state: Though we promise action, we threaten nothing, for knowledge and truth cannot threaten justice.

Kari-Elle Brown ’15
Ethan Corey ’15
Marc Daalder ’18
Kyle Ferendo ’17E
Alexander Jiron ’15
Caroline Katba ’15
Edward J. Kim ’15
Rashid Kosber ’17
Eunnie Lee ’18
Andrew Lindsay ’16
Laura Merchant ’15
Noor Qasim ’18
Kali Robinson ’17
Samuel Rosenblum ’16
Siraj Sindhu ’17
Savannah Sutherlin ’18
Frank Tavares ’18
Brian Z. Zayatz ’18
John Zayatz