Letter to the Editor: Razan Anabtawi

A liberal arts education advocates freedom. In most cases, Lawrence advocates free speech and clear and open debate. However, after a series of incidents, it has come to my attention that this is not being upheld in certain circumstances.  While I still have the utmost respect for Lawrence University and its policies of tolerance and respect, I believe these matters need to be addressed publicly, instead of through a series of passive gestures.

A few weeks before the end of Winter Term, I started a campaign to communicate the struggle of every-day Palestinian life through hanging up posters around campus visualizing the Israeli occupation of Palestinians. The posters encompassed a variety of aspects of the Israeli occupation of Palestine from the illegal separation wall built by Israel, to the issue of the indefinite administrative detention. Tammara

Nassar, another Palestinian student here at Lawrence, put up various posters visualizing Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land between the years of 1947 and 2012. To our shock, all of these posters got torn down a few days after we had put them up. This is not disputed information and we had only aimed at raising awareness on campus, yet for some reason someone felt compelled to remove them. This is a direct act of opposition and oppression to freedom of speech and expression.

A couple of months ago President Mark Burstein and Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows, released a statement where Lawrence University committed to opposing the academic boycott of Israeli educational institutes that directly thrive from the ongoing suffering and discrimination Palestinians face everyday. This statement also touted the benefits of dialogue as a necessary component to promoting conflict resolution and mutual understanding. Of course, opposition of this kind produces a variety of drawbacks for Palestinian civil society. It is important to recognize that there needs to be a Palestinian lead struggle against the occupational force of the Israeli government. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement is perhaps the last of what the international community can do to assist this Palestinian lead struggle.

As renowned philosopher and BDS advocate Judith Butler asserted, interfering in the Palestinian choice of this form of resistance is an infringement on the Palestinian right to express self-determination. The BDS movement is not only asking for international solidarity with the Palestinian cause, it also aims to represent Western corporate, cultural, and academic involvement in the reproductive nature of the discriminatory policies and inhumane structure of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinians.

Here, I find myself questioning the university’s opposition: if you’re going to reject the military tactics of ending the occupation, you can’t also reject the major non-violent tactics to ending the occupation. (You can be pro-occupation, but that’s for another conversation.)

Part of the Lawrence statement also reads: “The longer we live and work within an academic community, the more deeply we are convinced that our most precious possession is the freedom to speak what we think, and to listen thoughtfully to one another.“ As much as I value this sentiment, I find myself filled with conflicted feelings about being affiliated with an institute that does not recognize my people’s right for self-determination much less an institute that hosts members that are actively working to silence our voices. Mediating conflict of this kind has proven to be very frustrating, particularly within the boundaries of our shared community. One of the biggest drawbacks of such actions is that if you view me through a stereotypical lens, I will automatically be marginalized in a community that I strive to be part of.

In the coming weeks, Tammara and I will actively work to provide a platform for discussion, dialogue and debate on The Question of Palestine. So please, if you have something to say, an opposition of any kind come talk to us rather than sabotage us.