Founded this April as a provisional group, the Students for Justice in Palestine club seeks to provide Hopkins with another point of view regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Freshman Maysa Elsheikh, co-founder of the new group along with junior Basmah Nada, explained that she and a few friends sensed a one-sidedness to the attention given to the conflict.
“We wanted to provide a political atmosphere regarding this conflict and to show more of the Palestinian side of what has been going on,” Elsheikh said.
The mission statement of the provisional club lays out its intentions in a simple, sweeping phrase.
“The purpose of Students for Justice in Palestine is to draw awareness to the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation.”
When the club first began the process necessary to gain recognition from Hopkins, there were concerns about the ways in which members would communicate their message to the campus community.
“When we had our interview, we explained that we weren’t going to be disruptive of other organizations on campus,” Elsheikh said.
Elsheikh also stressed her group’s constructive intentions.
“We don’t plan on disrespecting anyone else’s freedom of speech,” she said. “We just want our voices to be heard as well.”
Though the group was approved by the SGA, the vote was not unanimous. Elsheikh and her friends attended the meeting at which members of the SGA voted on its authorization.
“The majority [of votes] were yes, but there were quite a few abstains, and a few people said no,” Elsheikh said.
The mission statement of the Department of Student Life, the unit to which Students for Justice in Palestine was granted acceptance, leaves open the opportunity for a wide range of student groups, highlighting the importance of diversity.
“The Mission of the Department of Student Life is to support the holistic development of students and provide programming to the University community,” it reads. “We encourage the active engagement of students in diverse social, educational and cultural programs, which compliments their academic experience and fosters personal and professional growth.”
In accordance with its own mission statement, the group has already planned to make clear to students that more than one opinion exists in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The club hopes to begin by showing a film depicting a Palestinian civilian’s resistance to the Israeli army.
“We’re hoping to have our first event open to the public and show Five Broken Cameras, a documentary nominated for an Oscar,” said Elsheikh. “We’re trying to have the director of the film, Emad Burnat, contact us via Skype [at the event] for people who have questions.”
Elsheikh detailed the positive responses she has received and is excited about quickly increasing club membership.
“Right now we’ve been having more organizational meetings and dealing with the constitution, but lots of people on campus have been interested,” she said. “[At our first event] we also want to discuss our plans and just tell people more about our club.”
Regardless of personal views, students at Hopkins respect the importance of a well-represented community. Sophomore Laura Kokotailo recognizes and promotes diversity at Hopkins.
“I think it’s really important that diverse student groups are represented on campus so that we can get a full view of opinions from people from different backgrounds,” she said.
Specifically concerning the provisional Students for Justice in Palestine, Kokotailo feels this cause is as just as any other already advocated on campus.
“It’s definitely an issue that everybody should be considering,” she said.
A discussion surrounding the formation of a group that would result in Students for Justice in Palestine began early in the fall of this year, and quickly garnered support from a number of graduate students as well. Paul Kohlbry, a graduate student from the Anthropology Department, was particularly interested. He was then selected as adviser for the club.
“We thought he seemed very invested and that he would be a great adviser,” Elsheikh said.
Elsheikh elaborated on how rapidly the group has been moving through the process of becoming recognized.
“We’re pretty much done with organizational things required to become a real club,” she said. “Our plan is to be up and running by the beginning of next year.”
Regarding alternate methods of raising awareness, Elsheikh shared plans of forming a blog that would be kept updated with current events on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as other more general occurences in Palestine. The co-founders intend to focus on the spread of information as a way to establish a voice for this alternate viewpoint at Hopkins.
Elsheikh believes that the club will begin by holding its own events, but also hopes for future collaboration and joint discussions with other student groups.
“I think it all depends on how the event would be framed,” she said. “We’ve been talking about this because other groups have talked to us about working together, but it would have to be on something that agrees with our values and our mission statement.”