A Word on Palestinian Activism at MIT

In my four years at MIT, I have observed that every effort to present a viewpoint that is somewhat critical of Israel or that is promoting a more fair-handed approach to achieving peace in the Middle East is met with negativity and attempts to stifle expression.

As a Palestine Awareness Week (PAW) 2007 organizer, I was deeply offended at the defamatory posters that replaced PAW publicity materials across campus. The posters depicted images of suicide bombers and replaced “MIT Palestine Awareness Week” with “MIT Ignore Hate Week” and “MIT Ignore Terrorism Week”. To express our surprise and regret at the tasteless and hateful flyers, the organizers wrote a letter to The Tech on May 4, 2007 (http://tech.mit.edu/V127/N23/letters.html).

In early February of this year, an artistic display featuring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the MLK Exhibit in Lobby 10 mysteriously disappeared (The Tech, March 3, 2009). When the non-partisan Lecture Series Committee (LSC) decided to screen the internationally acclaimed film Paradise Now, it was met with harsh opposition and wild accusations of supporting terrorism and suicide bombers. Additionally, public show of support for the people of Gaza during the recent brutal and disproportionately tragic assault by the Israeli Defense Forces was met with scorn and contention by some.

Contrary to the claims made by a few, Palestinian activism at MIT is not limited to the annual Palestine Awareness Week. In the past four years, several exhibitions of Palestinian culture have been organized, including the 2005 Simon Shaheen concert, the 2005 El Funoun dance show, and the 2006 art exhibit, as well as efforts to promote educational achievement among Palestinian youth by the Arab Students Organization’s College Admissions Arab Mentorship Program.

In response to the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, MIT’s Muslim Students Association hosted a successful inter-collegiate fundraising dinner to benefit the people of Gaza. Of course, members of the Palestinian activist community at MIT, including Palestinians and those of other nationalities, have also participated in efforts like MEET and MISTI Israel.

It is incendiary and divisive to suggest that PAW organizers promote hate or disunity by hosting events that present information from a point of view that may not be palatable to some. The Palestine Awareness Weeks at MIT do not include hateful and inflammatory events. Organizers aim to present the humanitarian and historical background of the conflict in Israel and Palestine in the most accurate and factual way. After all, isn’t that what we are taught to do at MIT: challenge conventional opinions by examining weak arguments and base our arguments upon facts?

MIT is a place where different thoughts and ideas are allowed to be heard without fear of facing intolerance from the surrounding community (as it should be). PAW is integral to that notion, promoting discourse and voicing opinions and ideas that might otherwise lie silent. We live in a society where we have the freedom to hear and express diverse ideas. When people start suppressing that speech through hateful posters, disappearing exhibits and accusatory responses — that is a real cause for uproar.

Overlooking and suppressing painful truths that make us uncomfortable does not bring us closer to a just and lasting peace and dismissing honest efforts to promote understanding on such a widely misrepresented issue surely does not serve to promote open dialogue. As Susan Hockfield said, “At MIT we accept many ways of voicing ideas and sharing dissenting opinions. However, the privilege of working and studying here carries a concomitant obligation to share our views respectfully.” We only expect respect and the chance to be heard.

Iman Kandil is a member of the Class of 2009.