On March 7, Emma Klein, a graduate student at Seattle University, visited campus for a discussion on her experience visiting Palestine. Klein is a Jewish American who grew up in Boston, Mass.
“My perspective really comes from my Jewish education,” she said during her introduction.
Her presentation was sponsored in part by Jewish Voices For Peace, an organization in Seattle, and Justice and Service in Tacoma, or JuST. She is a dancer and a performance artist, and her work with the Israeli-Palestinian movement has led her to testify as a proponent for human rights.
Klein’s presentation focused on her visit to the West Bank, a Palestinian territory surrounded by Israel on the north, south and west.
Klein opened with a brief history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. She then spent the bulk of her time discussing her own experiences during her visit to the West Bank.
“As an American, and as a Jew, I have the right to travel freely in the West Bank,” she explained, “But I chose to go across the border as a pedestrian.”
Klein described what she saw during her visit to the West Bank and focused on the difference between Israelis and Palestinians traveling between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
She described the difficulty many Palestinians experience crossing the Israeli West Bank Wall, which cuts through Palestinian territory. She also talked about the Israeli perspective on the issue and likened it to the American relationship with Iraq and Afghanistan.
The political efforts are motivated by Palestinian desire to attain basic human rights while Israelis are concerned with their safety due to the constant threat of violence, and almost all interactions are mediated by armed soldiers.
She also shared emotional stories about Palestinian families living in Israeli territory who owned their land before the U.N. mandated separation of territory.
During this anecdote, she explained that Palestinians in Israeli territories are denied the right to build on their own land due to the process required to obtain permits; Palestinians are very rarely awarded these permits, whereas they are not difficult for Israelis to obtain.
She also shared a story about a Palestinian family who owned a seven-home complex with 52 children and many adults, which was demolished. They were given fewer than 24 hours’ notice and they were taxed the equivalent of $135,000 for the purposes of demolition and clean-up.
Finally, Klein discussed courses of action that individuals can take to help stem violations of human rights. She accentuated the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” campaign, a non-violent effort to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, enforce basic human rights and protect Palestinian refugees under U.N. law.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions encourages boycotts of “companies that profit from apartheid,” such as SodaStream and Victoria’s Secret. The speaker pointed out instances of success in the campaign, including Caterpillar, a company that produced bulldozers used by Israeli forces to demolish Palestinian homes in Israeli territory.
She also talked about her involvement and the support of TIAA-CREF, an organization that meets the needs of non-profit companies across the world.
At the end of her presentation, Klein opened the room up to questions and discussion from the audience. During this time, a heated discussion about the nature of the conflict and some historical events erupted, and Klein was met with slightly hostile resistance due to the use of the word “apartheid” to describe the events.
Klein ended by reiterating that she is not a historian and that her speech was about her experience in Palestine and not her own cultural or religious interests.