Queen’s University should be ashamed of its complicit silence and inaction in the face of the sustained oppression and violence inflicted upon its Palestinian students.
The events of Oct. 7 elicited a fervent outcry from the public, urging global institutions to confront the ongoing catastrophe in historic Palestine, which has unfolded over the past 75 years.
Saturday’s attacks on Israel by Hamas, the governing body of the besieged and imprisoned Gaza Strip, resulted in the deaths of 1,300 Israelis and left 3,400 wounded. In response, the Israeli government implemented its customary measure of collective punishment. So far, there have been at least 2,215 Palestinian casualties, including 724 children. This punishment has left 8,714 Palestinians injured.
Israel’s collective punishment manifests through ferocious and indiscriminate airstrikes on the civilian population, as well as cutting off electricity, fuel, water, and all humanitarian supplies. These actions are purportedly aimed at deterring Palestinians from supporting Hamas and achieving the mission of ethnically cleansing historic Palestine of its Indigenous Arab population, as envisioned by the pioneers of the Zionist colonial project.
The harrowing images and videos emerging from Gaza are indescribable. They leave an everlasting imprint on the minds and hearts of both Palestinians and their allies, who struggle to comprehend how such a blatantly cruel massacre can unfold with unequivocal support by Western leaders who are quick to proclaim their love for peace and democracy.
It’s crucial to shed light on the inaction Palestinians and their allies attribute to Western leaders—particularly those within educational institutions—who choose to overlook the plight of Palestinians and dismiss the accusations of apartheid levelled against Israel by the most reputable international human rights organizations.
Saturday’s events aren’t isolated incidents, but are rather a response to the prolonged suffering of Palestinians—specifically those in Gaza—since the establishment of the Zionist state.
Misconceptions and presumptions within the ivory tower as to whether these events are unprovoked reveal liberal academic institutions have aided and abetted the destruction of Palestinian society with their silence on the longest occupation and refugee crisis in modern history.
As Palestinians have long been saying, silence is complacency and an acceptance of a status quo with Jewish supremacy between the river and the sea.
Principal Patrick Deane’s statement issued last weekend exemplifies the ignorance demonstrated by academic institutions over the last 75 years. Deane’s remarks about the “distressing” events of the past week for both the Israeli and the Palestinian communities downplays the ongoing distress Palestinians experience daily.
Such rhetoric views the situation in isolation and disregards the daily humiliation Palestinians face within a system that suffocates them through military checkpoints, arbitrary detentions, and prolonged family separation. These colonial tactics coincide with outright murder and mutilation of children, women, and men.
Deane’s sudden concern for the region encapsulates our institution’s selective outrage, which humanizes the settler and delegitimizes the oppressed. Though he might intend to provide solace to the student population, Deane’s carefully orchestrated words reveal a disregard for Palestinian suffering.
Following Deane’s statement, I reached out to two other administrators and asked them to endorse the Joint Statement by Queen’s Palestine Solidarity Groups on the Situation in Palestine. Both administrators refused, and one stated they lacked “the due diligence required of both a leader and a scholar to understand the issues and groups involved in a rigorous fashion.” The other indicated they didn’t have the option to endorse more than Deane’s original message.
Perhaps Queen’s foresees the unattractive nature of siding with Palestinians, as supporting their cries for help may invite scrutiny and potential backlash from powerful political entities and donors aligned with the pro-Israel cause.
Regardless, this isn’t an excuse or justification to shy away from supporting Palestinian students who are fighting for survival. Students, faculty, administration, and community members must be held accountable for permitting the ongoing genocide in Gaza to transpire.
It’s time to resurrect the era when academics were courageous in their advocacy. In the words of Palestinian-American academic and literary critic Edward Said, academics ought to become individuals who “cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d’être is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug.”
Principle Deane has two choices. He can continue to accept apartheid as the preferable legal system between the river and the sea—in which Queen’s Palestinian students continue a life of subjugation and suffocation—or he can heroically pull the issue from under the rug and provide a platform for the University to educate the masses on the settler colonial issue plaguing the Middle East.
Historically, the primary message of Western peace proponents—sometimes known as the
so-called Lovers of Peace—was to simply advocate for restoring calm in the region. However, their selective ignorance and lack of empathy toward Palestinians hindered their ability to recognize this “calmness” effectively translated to exclusive peace for Israelis.
Patrick Deane and his administration are a perfect example of the Lovers of Peace. By choosing neutrality in the face of oppression, they perpetuate the same systemic violence they claim to oppose to safeguard their institutional interests at the cost of abandoning the moral imperative to advocate for oppressed and marginalized people.
Calls for pacifism essentially amount to endorsing the apartheid system that silences Palestinian voices advocating for equality.
Deane and other Lovers of Peace are undoubtedly complicit in what’s happening in Gaza. Calls for calmness by these Western orators are framed delicately, lacking any real urgency for proper change.
This can be observed in the recurring cycle of mounting pressures for peace culminating in a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants, often initiated by the West. However, this is consistently followed by a deafening silence concerning Israel’s persistent occupation and dehumanization of Palestinians in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
It’s unfortunate that in the last 20 years, the most disheartening voices amidst the discourse on Palestine have been the apparent democratic and multicultural Lovers of Peace in the West.
To Palestinians, the notion of “peace” was weaponized by the colonialist to suppress Palestinian voices and pleas for assistance. Peace has transformed into a coded term that authorizes the Zionist regime to adjust its ethnic cleansing strategies, while simultaneously allowing peace advocates to believe, by momentarily restraining their colonial partners, they are serving the Palestinians a great justice.
It’s important to understand what peace really looks like. For the Lovers of Peace, peace is synonymous with a nuclear armed colonial state dropping over 6,000 bombs in the span of six days on one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Peace ignores the genocidal political rhetoric from figures like Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and his American ally US Presidential candidate Niki Haley who actively encouraged the colonial regime to “finish the job” and “mow the lawn.”
Peace—the way the West advocates for it—unequivocally supports a setter colonial regime that has been occupying, displacing, and erasing native inhabitants for the last 75 years.
To you oh lovers of peace
I shout “beware their masks deceive”
Your utopia is a mirage, an elusive make-believe.
For in your serenity, the oppressed are confined,
Your version of peace is simply just a treacherous bind.
To avoid reinforcing Israeli occupation and oppression, the foundational simplicity of the equation must be understood—one side is the oppressor and the other is oppressed.
To alleviate Palestinian plight and aid Palestinians in their quest for liberation, Queen’s must begin by acknowledging what’s clearly and legally defined as a prevailing apartheid system between the river and the sea, as well as providing assurances, resources, and safe spaces for Palestinians and Arab scholars to educate the Queen’s community on what Palestine and its people are all about.
Free Palestine—yesterday, today, and always.
Layth is a fifth-year ConEd student, and a Palestinian student at Queen’s University.
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