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Opinion: Voices of OU Palestinian students cannot be ignored on topic of Jerusalem

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Students gather on the South Oval on Dec. 6 to protest President Trump's recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

On Wednesday, Dec. 6, the same day that President Donald Trump announced he was moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a group of concerned students launched a demonstration on campus in order to protest the administration’s latest blunder, as covered in an OU Daily article. The article, while providing a brief summary of the march, failed to offer our complete views on the event, making us feel underrepresented — despite the fact that many of the students who attended were Palestinian or aware of the struggles ordinary Palestinians go through every day under Israeli occupation. These struggles are set to be exacerbated by the recent Jerusalem decision.

Jerusalem is a city sacred to Christians, Muslims and Jews. According to international law, Israel is illegally occupying the eastern half of the city, which is primarily inhabited by Palestinians. The residents of East Jerusalem have long suffered from discrimination, with many being classified as permanent residents rather than Israeli citizens, effectively making them second-class citizens. Israel is accused of waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them, often demolishing their houses and revoking their residency in an effort to move in Jewish settlers to “Judaize” the city. The residents suffer major shortfalls in resource allocation as well, with a large disparity in funding between Jewish and Arab sectors of the city such as schooling. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has an entire section devoted to the lack of rights of East Jerusalemites. Clearly, the Palestinians of East Jerusalem suffer a great deal from the Israeli occupation.

Trump’s most recent announcement is likely going to make life even more difficult for these residents. The international community has refrained from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital due to the fact that half the city is illegally occupied and its status is supposed to be determined by the “peace process.” Trump’s move basically does away with this, as he implicitly acknowledges the legitimacy of the occupation, demonstrates that America is clearly not an honest broker and makes peace much more difficult to achieve.

As concerned OU students, we felt it was our responsibility to take a call to civil action. Many students were unaware of the geopolitical catastrophe that was happening, and our march was able to inform them of the injustice. We were joined by protests across the world who believe in a “Jerusalem for all,” not just one under Israeli occupation.

We would also like to address comments made by Alan Levenson, director of OU's Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies, on the same article. While Levenson is entitled to his own opinions about Students for Justice in Palestine, we would like to address his following remark: “People would be better served to listening to a lecture on the subject from somebody who really knows what they're talking about.”

There are two issues we would like to address here: First, most of the students who participated in the event are directly affected by the conflict and the decision, while others were deeply intrigued by the conflict and sought to learn more about it. Many students come from the occupied territories of Palestine and from refugee camps around the world, where they and their loved ones have experienced the cruelty and injustice of the conflict at every stage of their life, and they feel that it is important to reach out to people to raise awareness about the issue and create an open dialogue to help solve it. This is particularly true of the OU community. The purpose of such a demonstration is to spread awareness about different outcomes of the decision made by the Trump administration. We believe that it is important for the OU community to have an open and transparent discourse about such issues that affect millions of people around the world — among them, communities at OU and in Norman. As an academic institute, we believe this is the best place to have such conversations. Levenson’s comments were dismissive and counterproductive to such discourse and, ironically, ran contrary to his desire for "an academically well-balanced action."

Maaz Khan is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and a biochemistry and chemistry senior.

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