This week, the Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA (SJP) held their annual event, Palestine Awareness Week (PAW). According to SJP’s Facebook event description, PAW is a “week full of events to raise awareness about the Palestinian struggle for justice & the Palestinian people’s resistance against the Israeli occupation.”
SJP hosted different events each evening and presented a Mock Apartheid Wall at various areas on campus during the day. In response to this display, the pro-Israel and Jewish community on campus organized a campaign called #ChooseLove. As part of this campaign, Bruins have been urged to add a filter to their Facebook profile pictures, featuring a graphic of the word “love” written in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Members of the pro-Israel community also tabled on Bruin Walk every day, offering students passing by Israeli snacks and swag. At times, Israeli dance music was also added to the festive environment, as people dance and show their support for Israel.
On Wednesday, the highlight of the day on Bruin Walk was the t-shirt making activity, during which students stamped the term “love” onto shirts that they could later take home. Like the profile picture graphic, the shirts had the word “love” written on them in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and students were encouraged to even add their own flair.
Alexander Amir Kashfi, the vice president of the Bruin Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC) lead the t-shirt activity at Bruin Walk when I stopped by. For Amir, the purpose of this whole week is to “promote positivity, coexistence, understanding, mutual recognition, and respect.” Pro-Israel Bruins want to help spread Amir’s message and engage with the wider campus community. Given that numerous Bruins will have walked past the Mock Apartheid Wall, the pro-Israel community wants to show a middle ground to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, Amir explains that his goal is to make the “Israel[i] and Jewish community feel comfortable championing their identity.”
#ChooseLove leaders also distributed flyers featuring organizations such as the Peres Center for Peace, Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization, and Women Wage Peace; these are all organizations striving towards peace and coexistence. While I was at the table, multiple students — who appeared to not know about the conflict — stopped to ask about what was happening. Several of these students eventually participated in the festivities and created their own “shirts of love.”
This week of love culminated this evening with the “CommUNITY” barbecue at Hillel at UCLA. The ultimate goal of the barbecue was to bring the campus community together for a chance to relax and reflect on the past week.
Inbar Goren, the president of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA, remarked that he has been “really happy to see the Jewish community come together as one to support the Jewish students on campus.” To him, these events serve as “proof that the pro-Israel and Jewish communities on campus are strong.”
In addition to featuring the term “love” in several languages, Bruins for Israel’s profile pictures also include the following caption: “In a world that thrives off of division and cynicism, it is always important to Choose Love.” Despite the terror and hate that continues to pervade our world, the pro-Israel and Jewish communities at UCLA have chosen to not follow the world’s suit and, instead, to bring students together in an effort to create a place for them to take pride in their identities and not be afraid to represent their Jewish and pro-Israel values.