Saturday, May 18

Op-ed: Peace cannot be achieved by disregarding dual narrative of pro-Palestine movement

In response to the shocking and terrifying violence of counter-protesters Tuesday night, some close friends, classmates and I joined hundreds of other students outside of the Palestine solidarity encampment Wednesday night. We sought to form a peaceful community presence to witness and guard against further acts of violence from any outside actor.

Five hours later, at around 3 a.m. on Thursday morning, dozens of police in full riot gear lined up in our vicinity in Dickson Plaza near the flagpole. They were facing us and not the encampment. I became frightened. My knees started to shake. Some students linked arms to protect the rest of the peaceful presence. I saw that the police wielded black batons and face shields. The students, in contrast, were wearing T-shirts and carrying tote bags.

Before I could process what was going on, the police lines started to advance toward us. I heard an incredibly loud explosion in our area, my friend grabbed my hand, and we ran in the opposite direction. We realized that the explosions were police throwing flash-bang devices at the students. I involuntarily flinched every time the sound of another explosion ripped through the air and echoed off the buildings. I had seen terrifying videos of fireworks being thrown at groups of students that very morning, so the sound of explosions was upsetting in a visceral way.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so scared.

After safely returning home, I felt a growing sense of unease about more than just the violence. I showed up in solidarity that night because I believe that student voices are powerful and should be heard. The world was watching, and we had the opportunity to bring attention to the dire situation of Gazans who are being starved, murdered and orphaned by the Israeli government. I sought to express my firm belief that every human being deserves security and dignity – rights that have been denied to Palestinians for far too long.

My experience outside of the encampment was complicated. The hundreds of students around me made themselves heard through repeated chants. I joined the chants regarding Israel’s illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the immediate need for a full ceasefire. By contrast, I was uncomfortable and silent for chants that used different language: “There is only one solution: intifada, revolution,” “Long live the intifada” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Another chant equated the Los Angeles Police Department, Israel Defense Forces and the Ku Klux Klan.

While I share many convictions with my peers in the encampment who oppose the IDF indiscriminate and unconscionable violence against innocent Palestinians, I don’t find myself in ideological harmony with all of the chants I heard. For example, while some may interpret “intifada” in its Arabic form, meaning to “shake off” through acts of civil disobedience, others see “intifada” as synonymous with violent uprisings against civilians that trigger a never-ending cycle of vengefulness and death.

In similar fashion, for some, “from the river to the sea” represents the peaceful, equal coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians in a single state. To others, this phrase constitutes a violent vision in which Jewish Israelis are forced out of the country that has become their safe haven and home.

From my perspective, the aforementioned chants are ineffective because they can be construed to represent a zero-sum liberation ideology, rather than a desire for a just and lasting peace.

“Intifada,” for me, is not the “only solution.” It stands at odds with my belief that Palestinian and Israeli safety, security and dignity are forever intertwined. We can and must cry out against the devastating military assault on innocent Palestinian civilians. At the same time, we can and must condemn Hamas and the unspeakable violence that they committed Oct. 7, along with any violent attack on civilians as a legitimate means of resistance.

To stake out any reasonable way forward, we must condemn wanton violence from wherever it comes.

Hours before the police sweep of the encampment Wednesday night, I engaged in a different demonstration that affirmed this vision. It was my first time with Standing Together LA, a grassroots organization of Israelis and Palestinians working together for a just peace. We silently stood in Dickson Plaza – coincidentally, in the same spot at which my friends, a number of hours later, were wrestled to the ground, zip-tied and arrested for their peaceful presence.

At Standing Together, we held signs that read “War has no Winners,” “There is no Military Solution” and “Humanitarian Relief Now!” Another sign called for both an immediate ceasefire and a hostage deal. In contrast to some of the chants I heard Wednesday night, these statements accurately reflect my moral imperative. They imagine a movement that acknowledges the humanity of both groups.

Above all, they recognize the pain, trauma, grief and, most importantly, potential of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Cecelia Fischer is a third-year Arabic and history student at UCLA. She is involved in the UCLA Dialogue Across Difference Initiative and will begin a joint research project in Islamophobia and antisemitism at the UCLA Initiative to Study Hate in Fall 2024.

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