A letter by Palestine Societies in the UK to NUS VP FE Shakira Martin

Dear Shakira,

Palestinian students and Palestine societies in the UK are gravely disappointed by your announcement to visit Israel on 18th January on a Union of Jewish Students (UJS) funded trip.

At the time of writing this letter, you are on your way to a state that maintains a cruel system of occupation, settler colonisation and apartheid against the Palestinian people and has been widely accused by leading human rights organisations of committing war crimes and grave violations of human rights. At the time of writing this letter, a Palestinian from the Bedouin village of Umm el-Hiran was murdered by the occupation forces for resisting the demolition of his house, soon to be replaced with a Jewish settlement. At the time of this writing, Gaza is still under siege, Palestinians denied access to the outside world. Your decision stands in stark contrast to your anti-racism activism and you risk being part of Israel’s attempt to “re-brand” and whitewash its apartheid system.

We urgently ask you, as a NUS representative, but most importantly, as a well-known activist on issues of social justice and equality, to cancel your trip, break all ties with UJS and make your own itinerary in Palestine. Use your visit to engage with Palestinian groups resisting the occupation, like Youth Against Settlements, Women in Hebron, International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS), Jordan Valley Solidarity, ADDAMEER Prisoner Support, BADIL Refugee Rights, or Boycott from Within — to hear and see a grassroots honest perspective from people living under occupation, and to refrain from engaging in “occupation tourism” which exploits people’s suffering for the entertainment of foreigners with no real understanding of what is solidarity and empathy, and which is most likely going to be offered by UJS.

Your personal and professional journey has been an inspiration to students and activists in the UK who are fighting for justice alongside the Palestinian people; do not undermine your record and this admiration by turning a blind eye to the realities of Israeli apartheid. We fondly remember you were part of history when BDS became an official policy of NUS in August 2014 — at the time, Israel’s horrific military attack on Gaza had let to over 1,000 deaths (over 3,000 by the end of the assault) and the Israeli army was accused of using illegal weapons including white phosphorus bombs.

Your re-election speech left everyone in awe: “Conference, I believe the student movement should fight for a better world, free from war, free from nuclear weapons and climate change. And I’m proud to support peace and justice for Palestine, because everyone has a right to free education, and not military occupation.”

But Shakira, standing with Palestine means more than holding flags and verbal solidarity — not only did you fail to live up to your words, but you are using your power and agency to normalise apartheid. Indeed, you were asked by many Palestinian students and friends like Malaka Mohammed, to reconsider your trip but you chose to deny their voice. Any solidarity that deviates from the current demands and aspirations of Palestinians is meaningless and is complicit in the settler colonial tactics to further inferiorise an indigenous population.

Your announcement is even more unfortunate in light of the recent investigations made by the Al Jazeera investigative documentary which clearly shows NUS VP Richard Brooks colluding with the Israeli embassy to undermine democracy in the student movement and oust our National President.

As stated by Palestinian students themselves in a letter: “As Palestinian students, we have long believed there to be Israeli Government interference in the UK and on our campuses. Our events have routinely been monitored and filmed and student organisers harassed, both in the UK and on their return to Palestine. Palestinian students in the UK are an important part of the national student movement, and it is due to this that both the Palestinian students and the wider student movement feel disturbed at what has been shown to transpire between Brooks and the Israeli Embassy.

Your funded trip by UJS, an openly pro-Israel organisation, has an official policy to oppose BDS on UK campuses while also receiving funding from the openly Zionist United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA), known through their “Birthright” trips. The purpose of these trips is to move the focus away from the ‘conflict’ and supposed ‘anti-Israel’ deceit.

At the time of writing this letter, while you are enjoying an all expense paid pro-Zionist organisation trip to Israel, Palestinian students in the UK find their narratives time and time again silenced, Palestine societies are under enormous attacks struggling to exist, surveilled, intimidated, censored and prevented from speaking on campus. Your visit in Israel as an NUS VP is the equivalent to having visited Sun City during South Africa’s apartheid era, in violation of the international boycott unanimously endorsed by the oppressed South Africans. We urge you to listen to Palestinian voices and your membership, to uphold your election speech and comply with the boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it recognises Palestinian rights and fully complies with international law.

We end this letter with Malaka’s powerful words:

“Shakira, I wonder how someone would get educated when they’re going on a sponsored-trip representing one side of the conflict. Would they get you to see Palestinian families who lost their loved ones in occupied territories? Or those detained for no charge or trial? Or maybe families of over 400 children in Israeli jails? Or those whose lands are confiscated? Or maybe my family in Gaza who lost many of their neighbours and friends? The answer is unfortunately no… You will get educated for sure but on what they want you to see and learn.”

For freedom, equality and return.

If you wish to add your society’s name, please email kclactionpalestine@googlemail.com.

Signatories:

King’s College London Action Palestine (KCLAP)

Exeter Friends of Palestine

Sheffield University Palestine Society

SOAS Palestine Society

UCLU Friends of Palestine Society

Goldsmiths Palestine Society

BDS Campaign University of Manchester

UCLan Friends of Palestine Soc

Cambridge University Palestine Society

Sussex Friends of Palestine Society

University of Birmingham Student Justice for Palestine

Queens Mary University Friends of Palestine Society

York Palestinian Solidarity Society

Kent Palestinian Solidarity Group

University of Liverpool Friends of Palestine

Strathclyde Students for Palestine

Lancaster University Friends of Palestine Society

University of Surrey Palestine Society