Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine seeks to promote understanding

Ben Kearney, News Reporter

Whitman Students for Justice in Palestine (WSJP) has a strong presence on Whitman’s campus as one of several global awareness groups. WSJP is composed of a diverse group of students who work to educate the Whitman community on the violence in historic Palestine/Israel, which has been ongoing following the United Nation’s attempt to divide Palestine into Arab and Jewish states in 1947. With a history of conflict spanning almost eight decades, there is a lot for students to discuss.

Junior Feras Natsheh is one of the leaders of WSJP and an international student from Palestine. 

“It’s the one way I can voice my words in a way that is rewarding and effective,” Natsheh said. “Having an organization that advocates for justice in Palestine is a very healthy way for me to channel my thoughts and show my resistance.”

In his involvement with the club, Natsheh has seen the club participate in on-campus events and local activism. 

“Campus has been getting more active and outspoken on [these] issues [than] in previous years, and WSJP has seen a good turnout of attendees and regular members in the past three years,” Natsheh said.  “We have led protests for two consecutive years and had more than 100 people marching in Walla Walla and around campus each year. I’m really happy with the engagement levels of the organization.”

Junior Alissa Berman and sophomore Nadja Goldberg have been scheduling workshops to engage Jewish students in meaningful conversations about Israel and Palestine while reflecting on personal experiences. For Goldberg, there is a vast amount of misinterpretation around the issue.

“People often frame this issue as a two-sided conflict,” Goldberg said. “Growing up Jewish, you’re supposed to support Israel in some sort of way, but I’ve come to realize that it is definitely not two equal powers on both sides. One power [is] Israel inflicting violence and displacing Palestinians from their land.”

Sophomore Franko Omair, one of the leaders of WSJP, stated that the club has been around on campus for five to six years. Omair, who was interviewed by The Wire last autumn, reflected then on his experience growing up in Palestine before journeying to Whitman to pursue a major in politics. Since the previous article, Omair shared how the situation has evolved in his home city.

“I think the situation is getting worse, unfortunately,” Omair said. “The dynamics of real life are that civil union people are faced by a military power that is supported by billions of dollars from the U.S. My city, Nablus, has been under siege for two to three weeks, and it’s going to continue to be under siege until Israel elections end. They use it as a political tool.”

When asked about false information surrounding the overall situation, Omair spoke about the influence of outside media.

“Media has played a role, especially Western media,” Omair said. “For example, the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist that has been reported [in] Western media [as], ‘The death of this journalist might be [due to] IDF [Israel Defense Forces]. It [also] might not.’ A few months later, the IDF issued a report saying it was done by one of their soldiers, but they weren’t going to do anything about it. For media, it is not a two-sided issue; it shouldn’t be a two-sided issue, and media tried to play with that.”

When asked how accepting the college has been towards Palestine and other Middle Eastern conflicts, Berman pointed out a lack of education within the student body.

“I think there is a large gap in knowledge amongst students, which is fair [because] it’s a complicated issue” Berman said. “I think often that can translate into apathy; [the idea that] just because you don’t know something you can’t care. I think there is a barrier students have yet to get over [to] become educated. A huge part of what WSJP wants to do is make that more approachable for students.”

For any Whitman students wanting to take a course regarding Palestine, Natsheh recommends RAES-305: The Palestinian Question with Professor Zalloua and HIST-322: History of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.