Penn Law School students formed a new student organization, Penn Law Students for Justice in Palestine, to support Palestinian liberation and petition against University-backed trips to Israel.
The Israeli police raided al-Aqsa Mosque — one of the holiest sites in Islam — on May 7, prompting the Palestinian militant group Hamas to fire rockets towards Jerusalem. Israel retaliated with airstrikes on Palestine, and the 11 days of fighting resulted in 248 people killed in the Palestinian territory of Gaza and 12 killed in Israel.
PLSJP released a statement — which has received more than 50 signatures — on July 2 discouraging students from participating in itrek, an annual academic trip to Israel for business, law, policy, and STEM students. Penn Law Israel Society fundraises to allow Penn Law students to participate in itrek — which will take place from Aug. 15 to Aug. 22 this year — at a subsidized cost.
“While it may be presented as ‘neutral,’ ‘balanced,’ or ‘nonpolitical,’ itrek is part of a well-organized and well-funded campaign designed to improve Israel’s image among Americans and deflect attention from its ongoing human rights abuses,” the statement reads.
The statement also cites the displacement of Palestinians, the low rates of COVID-19 vaccination in Palestine, and the links itrek has to the Israeli government as reasons not to participate in the program.
“I think that to go right now on what is essentially a vacation and to enjoy yourself — while a few miles down the road you have people being forced to demolish their own homes, being displaced, and essentially becoming refugees — feels very irresponsible, unethical, and immoral,” incoming first-year law student and PLSJP Co-President Tasneem Warwani said.
Warwani added that although the program allows participants to meet with Palestinian professors and visit the Palestinian city Ramallah, she believes the program still serves as propaganda for the Israeli government.
“On trips like itrek, even though you’re exposed to Palestinian voices, a lot of it is portrayed very neutrally or very much as if there are two sides,” Warwani said. “When you have situations of oppression and apartheid, you don’t have two equal sides. These trips are specifically targeted towards students who are the leaders of our future in order to get them to advocate for Israel when they come back as leaders in society.”
Incoming first-year law student and PLSJP Co-President Alara Hanci said she connected with other universities’ chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine when she was deciding which law school to attend, which helped her develop a chapter at Penn Law.
She added that graduate chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine help PLSJP promote their events, including a panel PLSJP held on July 13 about advocating for Palestinian rights.
The panel featured Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Human Rights Program Jamil Dakwar, Co-Founder of the International Solidarity Movement Huwaida Arraf, and UC Hastings College of the Law Professor George Bisharat. The panelists discussed the Palestinian Liberation Movement, Israeli apartheid, and PLSJP’s opposition of itrek, Warwani said.
Hanci said PLSJP’s goals for the upcoming academic year are to establish a presence on campus through activities that educate the broader Philadelphia community about Palestinian identity. She added that the organization plans to start a book club to support Palestinian authors and host Palestinian movie and food nights to share Palestinian culture with attendees.
Warwani added that PLSJP also plans to support other social justice movements.
“We talked a lot about how movements are all interconnected — Indigenous lives movements, Black Lives Matter, and even supporting our Jewish brothers and sisters as they fight against antisemitism — all of those are interconnected with the Palestinian Liberation Movement,” Warwani said. “Our focus should be to bring those movements together and to show up and show out for those other people, while also showing up and showing out for the [Palestinian Liberation Movement].”