Sophomore Sima Dajani’s grandparents left Palestine years ago, with the intention of going back, but were never granted the right of return.
Approximately 800,000 Palestinians like Dajani’s grandparents were expelled in the aftermath of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, according to the United Nations Relief Works Agency.
Many Palestinian refugees still haven’t been allowed to return home.
Dajani, an international affairs major, was the first member of both her immediate and extended family to ever have visited Palestine. .
She spent two weeks last summer in a cultural exchange program in the West Bank.
This trip inspired her to form the new campus club Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
Dajani spent time in refugee camps and villages in the West bank, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv—a city that was once called Yafa and was once her family’s home.
“After seeing all [of] the devastation, I felt obliged to educate the UMW community about it,” she said.
SJP is an awareness club that focuses on aspects of human rights and the trials of the Palestinian people, according to Dajani. She described the Palestinian side of the story as one that is “not getting reported nearly enough in mainstream media.”
The club’s advisor, Ranjit Singh, a political science professor who specializes in Middle Eastern politics, said he feels most Americans are unaware of the degree to which the Palestinians suffer.
“When [Americans] learn of the conditions of life under military occupation–the unrelenting confiscation of land and the broader history of the conflict—[they] tend to become sympathetic towards Palestinians,” Singh said.
One of the most damaging aspects of the issue, according to Singh, is the promotion of the false idea that one must be either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian.
“You can support the human rights, security, and advancement of Palestinians and Israelis simultaneously—it is not a zero-sum situation,” he said.
Dajani believes the problem stems from “the people not being heard.”
Giving a voice to the Palestinian people is the ultimate goal of SJP.
“[We want to] spread awareness to hopefully one day achieve everlasting peace between Palestine and Israel,” she said.
The club is in the process of obtaining approval from OSACS and is currently functioning under the Students for Educating and Empowering Diversity club (SEED).
SEED recently sponsored an event that introduced SJP to the student body. The award-winning documentary “Occupation 101: The Voice of the Silenced Majority” was shown, followed by a discussion on the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and possibilities for reaching peace.
SJP does not favor a particular solution in regards to the conflict, but Dajani stated that an effective approach would include terminating the occupation in Palestinian territories and formulating a just resolution to the Palestinian right of return and repatriation of Palestinian refugees.
“I think people underestimate the progress [that] students can make when they work together,” she said.