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21S Palestine Solidarity Activism: Reflections & A Brief History

Sept 5, 2021

By Palestine Solidarity Coalition

 

In late April, the Israeli state, along with Zionist settlers, tried to evict Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in line with their demographic projects and policies regarding the area. When Palestinians rose up in resistance, Israeli police and troops responded by brutally cracking down on the protesters and conducting attacks on the historic al-Aqsa Mosque. The subsequent violence and colonial terror, inflicted in classic disproportionate fashion by the Israeli Occupation Forces, left over 200 Palestinians dead in Gaza and West Bank, thousands injured and maimed, and over 70,000 displaced. The events were followed by demolitions and evictions in Silwan, as well as continued legal and repressive terror in Sheikh Jarrah. While a temporary ceasefire briefly put an end to Israeli bombings of Gaza, the largest open-air prison in the world, Palestinians continue to suffer what has now become universally acknowledged as crimes of apartheid and ethnic cleansing committed by the State of Israel. 

 

While this is so, the escalation of the crisis has also seen an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity, both among Palestinians all across Occupied Palestine, who struck and rose in protest from the river to the sea, and also internationally, with an immense rise in pro-Palestine activism on all continents and a noticeable and significant shift in narrative in favor of the Palestinian cause. These developments remind us that the spirit of the Intifada is alive and well and is gaining traction. 

 

Throughout the May aggression, college campuses in the US have been key centers of struggle for decolonization in Palestine. All across the country, students, workers and faculty have organized and pointed out the complicity of universities in the plight of Palestinians. Dartmouth has not been spared from this wave of solidarity. 

 

The Palestinian Solidarity Coalition was formed this spring in early May with the initiative of several experienced student organizers. Previously, Dartmouth had been home to some Palestine activism, including a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, but it had largely petered out by the late 2010s; as such, no organized formation has existed since. As such, the May events also posed to the organizers the challenge of laying down infrastructure.

 

The Coalition’s initial project was to organize a rally on the Dartmouth Green on Nakba Day, May 15th, in conjunction with protests that were to occur on the same day all around the world, as well as in Palestine. After an initial group of student organizers got together, a brief discussion on whether or not to hold a rally took place, mainly due to a cap on attendees placed by the College, which was 20 people for gatherings without event permission and 25 for those with permission. Eventually, it was decided that the situation in Palestine was too dire for a teach-in or a milder activity, and a rally was decided to be the proper course of action. Eventually, more than 160 people would attend the rally, with people attending not only from Dartmouth, but also Hanover and the larger Upper Valley community. 

 

In the run-up to the rally, student organizers got together with community organizers in the UV area, including the Jewish Voice for Peace Vermont-New Hampshire, Showing Up For Racial Justice of VT/NH (SURJ), and the Red Banner Anti-Imperialist Collective, to work out the logistics. Community organizers would provide the event with Palestine flags, speakers, and protest marshalls that would allow for a peaceful march following the event. A call for the rally was put out from social media accounts of student organizations. Shortly after, the Dartmouth Palestine Solidarity Coalition (PSC) would be formed.

 

Shortly after the call, a statement was put out, asking for signatures from the community. A brief discussion regarding the statement will be appropriate. The statement summarized the situation, set terms for its discussion (ethnic cleansing and apartheid instead of conflict and crisis, for instance), and made concrete demands to the Dartmouth administration. Its demands included the condemnation of the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, a total commitment to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a cancellation of affiliations with institutions on the Academic Boycott like the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an end to programs infringing on the Cultural Boycott like the “Israel: Timeless Wonder” alumni trip, and an apology for past statements made to whitewash Israel (for instance, President Phil Hanlon’s 2013 slander and disavowal of the Academic Boycott). The statement was put out with initial signatures from a great number of student organizations, including all those mentioned above, in addition to Native Americans at Dartmouth, Dartmouth Asian Americans for Action, the Phoenix Senior Society, Upper Valley DSA, Black Praxis, as well as the Graduate Student Council, which signed on to the document after a vote was held in which members of the PSC defended the statement successfully. Shared on social media, the statement was prefaced with a black square including the phrase “WE CHARGE GENOCIDE!” in white letters. This phrase has a significant history in the United States: it was the title of a paper written by the Civil Rights Council and submitted to the United Nations which accused the US of committing genocide against Black people, detailing crimes of lynching, disenfranchisement, segregation and systematic inequalities across the country. It was signed by many Black revolutionaries and intellectuals, including W.E.B. Du Bois, and as such, our use of the phrase drew analogical and historical power, if not to compare two historical realities, to emphasize an imperative J’accuse.  

 

The statement was brief, concise, and in line with a majority of the statements published by other organizations in other colleges. Eventually, it would be signed by over a hundred people in the community, including full professors, post-grads, and student workers. Although the reception of the letter has been significant, what cannot be ignored is the apathy and indifference exhibited towards it by privileged persons, by both faculty and students. One unacceptable development that occurred was a demand to open the option to sign-on anonymously to the letter, made by members of faculty at Dartmouth, who occupy much more privileged positions than student organizers, who in contrast, are obstinately precarious in the College. Although the PSC decided to open this option, a self-criticism of the organization can perhaps be put as such: alongside the aforementioned concern, this may have further contributed to a culture of fear that was already being cultivated heavily by Zionists on and outside of campus. While providing no significant quantitative addition, anonymous sign-ons create the sense that there is something to fear from coming out in support publicly, which leads to an abuse of the anonymity option. The more open, the more public the support, the more comfortable the activists: relative anonymity is always better than private anonymity.

 

PSC faced no shortage of challenges from provocative interventions by Zionists. Shortly after the demand letter was released, we found out that a prominent campus Zionist had sent a letter to President Phil Hanlon requesting that he not capitulate to PSC’s demands. The same individual would try to uncover the identity of the person running the PSC’s social media account, a doxxing tactic used to intimidate pro-Palestine activists. That the Coalition appealed to the Dartmouth community in an open, signed letter while our adversary delivered their demands privately to the President highlights the inherent differences between the Zionist and anti-Zionist positions. This, of course, was not to be the only Zionist provocation. 

 

The rally was attended by over 160 community members from Dartmouth, Hanover and the wider Upper Valley region. We were surprised to discover among ourselves elder residents of the town, some of whom had come fashioning their keffiyehs. They expressed that they had heard of the rally from an article in UVNews, and wanted to come out in support. A few had brought their foldable chairs, and indeed their presence gave the rally a rooted atmosphere. Apart from them, the majority in attendance were Dartmouth students, most of whom not directly affiliated with the PSC. After speeches and rallying slogans delivered by student leaders and Palestinian & Jewish community members, a brief march took place, which crossed the entirety of Main Street and eventually culminated in front of Phil Hanlon’s lawn.

 

 

One interesting sight during the rally was the presence of a small Zionist group positioned very close to us, merely standing there, arms crossed, donning a rather uncertain grin. They occasionally spoke to each other, and have not done much else. It is not certain what exactly they wished to achieve by this act, as the crowd sensed the presence of a cloud of nervousness near them quite easily. Their callousness to perform what they hoped to be a mockery of sorts came out in contrast to the heartfelt cries of a dispossessed Palestinian community member telling us of lost relatives, lost hopes, lost futures.

 

Shortly after the rally, the flagship reactionary group on campus, The Dartmouth Review, wrote on their Twitter account that a “pro-Palestine demonstration [had erupted] on the Green”, and that “in an ugly chant, protestors [were] decrying Israel as a ‘terrorist state’ [sic].” Tagging far-right doxxing organizations like the Daily Caller and Campus Reform, they noted that a piece was to come, which never did. 

 

Our conscience is clear; we advocate for nothing but liberation. The Dartmouth Review, however, can never apologize enough for its past. When they printed an anti-Semitic quote from Adolf Hitler on Yom Kippur ‘90, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, a crowd of over 2000 students, faculty and staff showed up for the “Dartmouth United Against Hate” rally in protest. We claim the honorable legacy of that very spirit. They claim the rotten legacy of hatred. 

 

Following the rally, the PSC got to work to collect more signatures for the statement. For the day of action called for by activists, it decided to hold a vigil for murdered Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank and Occupied Palestine, and further to publicize this event by making chalk art and stapling our demand letter as well as vigil flyers all around campus. The event was to be a solemn moment of commemoration, an hour or so of our lives dedicated to Palestinian life. And it indeed was: over a hundred community members joined us as we lit 200 candles at the center of the Green. Prayers were spoken, songs of peace were sung, and tears were shed. Letters to Palestine echoed from a forgotten corner of the world, in a lowered valley surrounded by the dense Appalachian landscape. That night, Hanover became one of the million Palestines scattered around the world: a blossoming, a germination of Palestinian life that enshrouded us all.

 

It is exactly due to this sense of solidarity that the vandalization of PSC material all across campus, including vigil flyers, by both College forces and Zionists, caught us by relative surprise and absolute indignation. The day of the vigil, we had already heard of our flyers being vandalized in dorms and other public locations by students, and by the next day, save a few of those located near PSC leaders, all of them were ripped out of their positions. In addition, we soon found out that upon receiving “complaints” from community members, the College had hired a power-washing team to wash away all pro-Palestine chalks on campus. The PSC has condemned both of these actions unequivocally as vandalizations and desecrations in a statement released shortly after: 

These actions demonstrate the brutality and vileness of the Apartheid: it grants no peace to Palestinians, not in life nor in death. While such acts of hatred are not foreign to Dartmouth’s past, this new round of reaction is a testament to their increasing powerlessness. Reactionaries think they can suppress the fight for freedom by defacing our symbols and material. They are wrong: our calls to action are heard louder than ever before, and this past week’s events have witnessed the Dartmouth community unite in an unprecedented fashion to defend Palestinian life.

 

Briefly after the erasure of our chalk art, before we had official confirmation that it was Dartmouth who had washed them away, we intended to re-do one of the most visible chalks on campus. Mere seconds after two PSC members got to work, a Dartmouth Safety and Security Officer approached them and started demanding their Dartmouth IDs, unheard of in such situations. While the members tried to let the officer know of the legality and legitimacy of chalk art, the officer insisted on blocking the right of freedom of expression of PSC members, as well as relying on the patent intimidation tactic of the recording of IDs. Following the event, the PSC relayed its complaint to the SNS office, specifically Keysi Montas, the Director of Safety and Security, and has received no satisfactory or clear answer as to why this occurred nor promise to work to prevent such excessive policing in the future. 

The PSC wishes for this to be known: it is not intimidated by Zionist scare tactics or excess policing, and it refuses to let its political line falter, as such things are not foreign to those who choose to defend Palestine.

 

Throughout this process, the PSC met with several different members of faculty to discuss responses to the statement, and to chart a proper course with sympathetic academics. The WGSS, English and RMS faculty showed the most interest, and have signed on to several letters, including ours. The lack of support from the remaining vast majority of the faculty is a testament to the lack of intellectual conscience and moral courage that would be otherwise expected from people whose careers depend on the endless scrutiny of centuries of class struggle.

 

In the process, we also found out that several members of faculty served as watchdogs for far-right Zionist groups outside campus, often relaying personal information to registries meant to doxx and intimidate pro-Palestine activists. This, coupled with the fact that many faculty openly collaborate with and provide critical research to elements of the war machine, point out the high stakes of the battles that take place on Dartmouth’s campus. 

 

One item to note and face up to is the lack of a significant number of signatures. A brief discussion of this should be appropriate. We believe the following may be counted among reasons: (1) the narrative is still not ripe enough. While the May events have certainly tilted the ideological struggle in favor of liberation, Zionist reaction has also been powerful, as exemplified in the bad-faith framing of The Dartmouth article published on us (see, for instance, the parenthesis characterizing the slogan “From the River to the Sea” as antisemitic). Also detracting from the publicity of our statement may have been (2) the underdevelopment of communicative channels. All political activism on campus faces significant challenges regarding publicity, the least of which is limited access to the all-campus Listserv. Not only are up-and-coming student organizations often not COSO-recognized, but even for those ally organizations which are, there await bureaucratic challenges: the approval of certain listserv emails are the responsibility of the Student Assembly, which, needless to say, is not an organization that is friendly to liberation movements, wherever they may be. The Muslim Student Associations’ Ramadan message, which included a supportive message for Palestine, being delayed until the 5th day of Ramadan is a primary example. Of course, we should also note (3) overall repression by college and college-aligned far-right forces. The vandalization of our material, chalk art, and other publicity media certainly prevented us from having a significant on-campus presence—and absolutely contributed to a culture of fear that made signatories afraid of reprisal. Another cause may have been (4) a heterogeneity of signatories, whereby the various student groups members felt it redundant to sign when their group representatives had already done so. Finally, we owe it to the Palestinian cause to engage in (5) self-criticism. At certain points, we may have neglected the demand letter—for instance, no in-person event directed specifically at collecting signatures occurred. We could have circulated sign-on forms at the rally and the vigil, or could have set up stands on campus to do so. Finally, we made no significant attempt to receive a response from the administration, and although it was certainly not easy to do so, certain possible mediums existed: an editorial in The Dartmouth was talked about, but never materialized. At some point, we speculated on whether we were too focused on rallies and in-person events, but in hindsight, it appears that this evaluation was faulty. Creative direct action could have drawn greater attention to us, and could have forced the administration to provide a response. It is also perhaps our reliance on faculty support which has prevented a greater focus on collecting student signatures. These are critical errors that must be corrected in principle and in line if the Palestinian struggle is to continue on the Dartmouth campus. 

 

The end of the spring term has brought a relative halt to the operations of the PSC, due to the injunction of the summer term. We hope, in due time, to pick back up the momentum on the project of Palestinian liberation. Dartmouth’s history has much to provide in terms of pessimism, but if one learns to listen carefully, hidden below the tar and dirt that are the crimes of this College, there is a proud, powerful, immortal heart that pumps revolution. The timbers that once held Mandela Hall* up high on the Green have now become spines for sordid thrones—it is our duty to rip them out and put them back where they belong.

 

From the river to the sea,

Palestine must be free,

The Palestine Solidarity Coalition

*The Mandela Hall was a shanty constructed on the Dartmouth Green by student activists during the protests against South African apartheid. It was vandalized by reactionary students.

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Protesters gathered before Phil Hanlon's lawn during the Nakba Day Rally. Image credit: Deborah Jung

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Dartmouth United Against Hate rally in protest of Dartmouth Review. Image credit: Rauner Library

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The before and after of the power-washing.

 

The Dartmouth Radical