Anti-occupation U.S. Jewish Students Fight Israeli Plans to Demolish Palestinian Villages

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Children playing in the W. Bank village of Sussia
Children playing in the W. Bank village of Sussia, Feb. 10, 2106.Credit: Hazem Bader/AFP

An organization of American Jewish students opposed to the Israeli occupation kicked off a campaign Sunday aimed at pressuring the Israeli government into ending the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

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The campaign was launched by J Street U, the student arm of J Street, which describes itself as a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization.

Hoping to mobilize support for their effort, J Street U activists plan in the coming weeks to meet with American elected officials and leaders of the American Jewish community, as well as with students on campuses across the United States.

“There is not a lot of hope for a two-state solution these days, but there are steps Israel is taking, which make it even less likely,” Zoe Goldblum, a Stanford University senior and the president of J Street U’s national student board,said in a telephone conversation with Haaretz.

“We feel it is our responsibility to assume leadership and preserve the possibility of a two-state solution,” she said, referring to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The demolitions, she claimed, were part of a policy of “creeping annexation,” which allowed Israeli settlements to consolidate and expand at the expense of Palestinian villages.

In its new campaign, Goldblum said, J Street U drew inspiration from the success of the international campaign, in which her organization participated, to prevent demolitions and evictions in the Palestinian West Bank village of Sussia, located in the South Hebron Hills. Last month, a delegation of U.S. Congressional leaders met with residents of Sussia during a visit organized by J Street. The Israeli Supreme Court is slated to rule later this week on whether demolitions will go ahead in the village.

Palestinian villages slated for demolition: Sussia, Jabal al Baba, Um al Khair, Abu Nuwar, Khan al Ahmar and Jubbet ad-DhibCredit: Haaretz

As part of the new campaign, each of J Street U’s six regional offices in the United States will adopt a Palestinian village under threat of demolition and advocate on its behalf. All the villages are in Area C — the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control. Three are east of Jerusalem and the others are south of the city. In addition to Sussia, which is the best known of the six, the campaign is also focusing on the villages of Jabal al Baba, Um al Khair, Abu Nuwar, Khan al Ahmar and Jubbet ad-Dhib.

J Street U, which was launched about eight years, has 65 chapters active on U.S. college campuses today. More than 1,200 students participated in its last annual conference.

In a letter announcing the launch of their campaign, J Street U leaders wrote: “By destroying communities and potentially leaving thousands of people homeless, these demolitions violate our core values. By severely undermining the possibility of creating a viable independent Palestinian state, they threaten Israel’s future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people. By entrenching the occupation, they erode the basic principles on which Israel was built.”

Unlike the situation under the Obama administration, they added, the White House can no longer be relied on to take Israel to task for its actions. “Now, it’s on all of us in the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement to step up and raise the alarm about this issue — and to rally our communal leaders and our members of Congress to push back in order to help these communities and defend the two-state solution,” they wrote.

Ben Elkind, the director of J Street U, said the new campaign reflected the organization’s desire “to play a more pro-active role than we have in the past in pushing back and being a counterweight to policies that undermine the two-state solution.”

The launch of the campaign coincided with the opening in Los Angeles of the annual convention of the Jewish Federations of North America — the largest Jewish event of the year outside of Israel.

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