Social Justice Beyond the Gates: Understanding the Gaza Crisis as Spelmanites

The AUC S.I.C.C. and SJP clubs have worked together to mobilize the community.
Young boy holding hands with an older man as her waves a Palestinian flag. Photo From Pixabay.
Young boy holding hands with an older man as her waves a Palestinian flag. Photo From Pixabay.

You may not have known, but the world is shaking. Yes, shaking– but if you have looked up, you have seen the number of deaths rise by the minute. If you haven’t heard the lonesome cries of sorrow and the emotional sighs since before October 2023. In that case, you may have heard the rumble of conversations that have grown stronger as the topics become needles, bursting your safe bubble of Spelman College. You have felt the shake as you scroll through social media as the shares of innocent, mutilated bodies show up on your screen. You assume you can’t relate, but all you can think of is Emmett Till’s face in his casket as his mother cried to heaven above for justice. You see the same blue tears on the faces of tired, sick, scarred, injured, hungry, dusted parents who hold what’s left of their child’s body that has taken their last breath and thought with the latest targeted blast on their home. As scholars trying to reach our goal of “changing the world,” we cannot ignore what is happening in Gaza. The attack that is happening is not a tale of a religious conflict but of a genocide of innocent people, indigenous on the land that the world has now called Israel. It is a tale as old as time, the reason why you live on “American land” today, as Spelman College lives on Muskogee land. You are witnessing transnational events that can affect capitalism, your matriculation at Spelman, and the livelihood of Black and Brown Atlantans. As Black women, we must understand that caring for others is the first fundamental action to change the world. With this love and care, we can read and listen to international outcries that the world and nations are actively attempting to muzzle to satisfy their greedy and capitalist plans.

In the short five months, over twenty thousand humans have lost their lives, half being children, while the millions that are alive are forcefully moved to Southern Gaza without sufficient medical help, food, and water. As the world debates if the actions of Israel have resulted in genocide, Palestinian pregnant women have been giving birth without any anesthesia, and many women and young girls are without menstrual products and have begun using tent scraps. Many Palestinian men and young boys are kidnapped, stripped, and humiliated by Israeli soldiers, who claim that they are Hamas on their media. Israeli soldiers have bombed multiple hospitals in the Gaza Strip, assuming that they are headquarters for Hamas; now, there are only nine hospitals for the 1.4 million people still in Southern Gaza. Along with the supply blockage by Israel, Palestinians have been without any access to emergency supplies, food, and water, causing a rise in death by disease, starvation, and dehydration. With the bravery and action from South Africa, Israel has been taken to the International Court of Justice and convicted of violating the Genocide Convention. The ICJ has given Israel a month to correct its wrongs as Israel’s president continues to claim that they will not stop publicly.

The history of Israel’s occupation in Palestine is rooted in the rise of a movement seeking a homeland. The 1920 to 1948 British Mandate intensified conflicts between the Palestinian and Israeli communities. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War began a year after the United Nations proposed a partition plan. The 1967 Six-Day War expanded Israeli territory to include the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Oslo Accords in 1993 aimed to create Palestine as a nationally identified state, but has been hindered due to territorial disputes. For over a century, Palestinians have begun to lose their homes piece by piece. It wasn’t until 2007 that Palestine experienced a political split, which led to Hamas having control over the Gaza Strip and Fatah controlling the West Bank. Israel decided to blockade Gaza to stop Hamas from gathering weaponry, which hindered the traveling of goods and people in Palestine. The relationship between Palestine and Israel is a compassionate and tangled conversation that has traveled to Atlanta as institutions participate in discussions.

The term “international” comes with the assumption that the topic is not close to home. For Spelman College, the international issue of Palestine and Israel is right outside our gates. The city of Atlanta’s police foundation has been a topic of conversation for many years as participants in the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) and the creators of the Atlanta Institute for Social Justice, also known as Cop City. Created at Georgia State University, GILEE’s mission, which is found in their subsection on the university website, is to “[shape] police executive leadership development through global engagement by investing in exceptional peer-to-peer experiential practices of homeland security and community policing with emphasis on protection of civil rights and liberties.” GILEE affiliates itself with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel and Germany. Atlantan activists have already demanded the cease of this program in 2019 as statistics showed that police-involved shootings doubled with evidence of Israel’s actions towards Palestinians. With more profound research, activists discovered that the organizations supporting the GILEE program have also backed the 85-acre Cop City in South Dekalb. Cop City has been a popular topic in the AUC as student activists displayed forms of protest at institutional events in the AUC. Along with Morehouse’s public statement on October 16, 2023, condemning Hamas, supporting Israel, and “encouraging” their community to educate themselves on Israel’s war on Palestine. The Spelman’s Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, responded by hosting many educational events on the timeline of Palestine and Israel, passing out papers with unbiased education, a letter signing in response to Morehouse’s statement, and offering other options for tea from Palestinian cafe owners. SJP publicly supports the boycott of Starbucks, which is one of the most prominent financial backers of Israel’s war, by encouraging AUC students, staff, and faculty to stop drinking from the Starbucks site on Spelman’s campus. The once popular restaurant known in the AUC for its long line has now been deserted.

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A Spelman scholar describes her experience as an SJP member and advocating for Palestine since October 7. In a short interview, she details many critical perspectives as a student actively involved with international activism at Spelman College. One of the biggest misconceptions in the AUC that she combats is that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a Black issue, where she lists many ways that Israel is connected to the United States and Atlanta. She educates her colleagues about how the treatment from Israel is not just religious bias but racial bias as well with the Black Ethiopian Jewish community. When asked how she balances her academics and activism, she explains, “I am very, very, very good friends with my planner. I like to make sure that I am prioritizing my academics first… I can’t do advocacy on Spelman’s campus if I’m no longer able on Spelman’s campus.” She advises her AUC siblings to read and question the mainstream narratives they receive information from. She also encourages AUC scholars looking for more knowledge about the conflict to look at @aucsjp and @auc_sicc on Instagram for resources on their Linktree. After the interview, she parted with the statement, “I think activism is extremely approachable. You don’t have to be an expert. I’m in no way an expert on what’s happening in Palestine, but I’m still going to share the narratives of people that are. I’m still going to continue to educate myself. I’m still going to get involved in grassroots organizing and going to protest around. There is most definitely one group that’s already working on this somewhere near you. You can ask them first and see where to go from there.”

This is not about Starbucks, religion, or who’s been doing the most for the movement. This is about innocent people: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, and children losing their lives or families over the greedy expansion of one country onto another’s home. It is essential for Spelman to openly discuss these international events as the home of aspiring leaders of social justice, women’s, international, and religious studies. With empathy, we have to learn about current and historical events while connecting local problems to international programs. We can educate ourselves without the attacks of racial biases by finding credible sources and not shutting down the voices of both sides, as people sacrifice their lives to report these events.

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