The latest teach-in highlighted one view point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Growing up in a conservative Chicago neighborhood, Jeff Picker was always taught to keep his political opinions to himself, he said. His self-described “intensely private” family never participated in activism or demonstrations, so when he dabbled in the anti-war movement as an eighth grader, his parents hoped it was a phase. Then he decided he wanted to go to college in Palestine.
“I realized…it was really important for me, particularly as a person with white skin privilege and class privilege to work directly with marginalized communities,” Picker explained to students at the Dissent in America Teach-in Friday, April 6.
After breaking the news to his parents, Picker said, he shipped off to Birzeit University in the West Bank.
Picker wanted to experience firsthand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue that has received increasing amounts of attention in recent years.
In an incredibly condensed history, Picker explained to students the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people during the course of the past half-century. Their land has progressively shrunk in size, he said, to the point where the current available farmland is not nearly enough to sustain its people.
Along with geographic reduction, the rights of the Palestinian people have been effectively rendered nonexistent by an oppressive Israeli military force.
“One entire side, Israel, enjoys some semblance of security,” Picker said. “They enjoy political agency, they have freedom of movement, access to education…and almost an entire side, Palestinians, lack those basic rights.”
In an effort to convey the human element of this oppression to students, Picker shared some of his activism experiences. As a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Project, Picker has worked extensively in the Palestinian town of Beit Ummar, located outside of Bethlehem.
Picker said, despite daily Israeli forces in Beit Ummer, he helped to cultivate unarmed resistance through activism.
This unarmed resistance, which includes moving roadblocks, tax boycotts and other nonviolent tactics, has breathed new life in to the Palestinian cause, he said, and has garnered support from Israeli citizens who also believe the Palestinian oppression is a travesty.
“The lines are being redrawn now,” said Picker, who was thrilled with Israeli involvement in solidarity initiatives. “It’s not Israeli versus Palestinian, it’s not Muslim versus Jew. It’s people who are supporting and continuing the occupation policies [versus] those that are working to resist them.”
As Picker and his fellow activists look forward to future resistance efforts, he hopes that Americans can learn from the example of his own parents; once adamantly opposed to his global interests, they are now at every demonstration, and are actively spreading awareness of the conflict.
“This is a really exciting time,” Picker concluded. “It’s a precious opportunity for Americans to get involved in the global discussion of human rights.”
Ali Watkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.