Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine is now entering its 6th year in continual existence as a recognized student group at Hampshire College. Since turn over can often make it challenging to retain a sense of institutional memory we have attempted to outline below some of the important historical moments of SJP. A large focus is given to explaining SJP’s successful Divestment campaign.
For a more audio visual history of Divestment check out:
Hampshire SJP was formed officially in 2006. SJP’s first work was to raise awareness on campus about the Palestinian struggle for liberation from the Israeli occupation. By 2007 students and faculty in SJP began to discuss the possibility of a divestment campaign, as called for by Palestinian civil society.
Out of these discussion came the Institutional Statement in February of 2008. This statement defined “divestment” as well as laid the foundational framework for the campaign. The statement was what was then used to petition around campus to gather signatures in support of divesting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
During the next three semesters SJP continued to host many educational events, protests, and street theatre, all the while gaining signatures and educating the campus about BDS. Simultaneously SJP members worked to reactivate a sub-board of the Board of Trustees that focused specifically on socially responsible investing (Committee at Hampshire on Investment Responsibility (CHOIR) which was created after Hampshire college divested from South Africa Apartheid). Other SJP members were able to join the sub-board investment committee, and finally the actual Board of Trustees.
After doing thorough research into the college’s investments SJP found six companies that were directly profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Those companies where; Caterpillar, General Electric, United Technologies, Motorola, Terex, and ITT.
Students presented a power point outlining why these 6 companies fail to meet the schools policy on socially responsible investing to CHOIR (the board sub-committte). After this board agreed it was proposed to the investment committee and then finally to the Board of Trustees.
During spring 2008 students of color on Hampshire campus organized a week long action called action awareness week in response to continuing acts of racism on campus as well as long last institutional racism. The organizers created a list of demands for the administration such as, more permanent staff for the cultural center, stability in financial aid packages, and recruit more people of color and queer students. One of the demands was
14. For Hampshire to live up to its current plan of responsible investment, keeping with historical precedent of divestment from South Africa, we demand that Hampshire should cut financial ties with countries that occupy and practice racial apartheid.
Action awareness week was fundamental to the convening of the committee on socially responsible investing, which ultimately made divestment possible. Many of the other demands are still not met to this day.
In January of 2009 Israel launched a brutal assault on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip using weapons made by GE, Motorola, and Caterpillar, all of which were companies we were working on divesting from. SJP at Hampshire was involved in organizing marches in Amherst center. During these marches there were conversations about divestment and our responsibility as US students to hold Israel accountable for the war crimes it commits.
In February of 2009 the Board of Trustees voted to divest from statestreet mutual fund which contained all 5 (the mutual fund had already dropped United Technology) companies SJP had identified as profiting off of the Israeli occupation.
The President at the time, Ralph Hexter, refused to make a public remark. SJP students spent a week straight creating a media strategy and writing a press release. The news went out simultaneously to the world and to Hampshire students via the campus newspaper. Within a few hours the president of the college mass emailed everyone attempting to de-politize the divestment.
During the next few weeks SJP was put against the wall by the administration due outside pressure from Israeli lobbyist such as Alan Dershowitz who wrote fearmongering public letters to the Hampshire president insinuating that SJP was anti-semitic. SJP refused to be silenced and continued to create information for the Hampshire community. SJP hosted a community forum to talk about Divestment and explain what was going on.
During the Fall of 2009 Hampshire SJP hosted the first US and Canada BDS conference. The conference brought students from all over the US and from some parts of Canada. There were work shops on how-to divest,technology, Gaza, anti-racism, culture jamming, politics of solidarity, and more.
In the spring of 2010 SJP continued to promote Palestinian narratives on campus and reinforce the historical memory of Divestment at Hampshire.
As a student group turn over is always a factor and in the spring of 2010 many of the original SJP members graduated, leaving SJP to a new generation of Hampshire students.
During the winter of 2011 a Hampshire alumn and one hampshire student brought an Israeli Soldier to come speak on campus. SJP organized a comprehensive response including first a public letter to the community explaining why bringing a soldier to the campus is against community norms and a violent act. We then organized a demonstration including: creating informational pamphlets to hand out before the event, bringing a group called the Raging Grannies to sing anti-war songs before hand, a vigil for those killed in Palestine outside the event, and a coordinated set of disruptions inside the event. Due to high level of security and huge influx of off campus attendees the tension in the event was much larger than expected. Rather than just a few coordinated disruptions the audience refused to sit silently while this man spoke not only mis-information but attempted to dehumanize Palestinians while rationalizing war crimes.
The fallowing day the intern president sent out a letter to the community denouncing SJP’s actions. SJP followed by writing our own letter to the community re-explaining the reason for demonstrating this event.
Spring Semester 2007
- Group begins to host weekly film screenings, and organizes a few facilitated discussion
- Critical mass to the town of Amherst coordinated with women in black, and UMASS Campus Anti-War Network.
- Mariam Said comes to show movie about the divan orchestra.
- Screening of the movie Arna’s Children with a discussion led by director Juliano Mer Khamis.
Fall Semester 2007
- November to early December we began drafting the Institutional Statement
- Anarchist Against the Wall members come to speak at Hampshire College
- Mock apartheid wall and exhibit constructed and erected for the first time
- Two women activists, one an Israeli and one a Palestinian, come to speak against the occupation
- SJP’s Institutional Statement officially released to the community
Spring Semester 2008
- Demonstration in downtown Amherst in conjunction with Israeli Apartheid Week
- Film screening of “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land” with talk by Sut Jhally
- SJP Begins to collect signatures on the second version of the statement.
- Hampshire Faculty Panel on Palestine, featuring Stephanie Levin, Omar Dahi, Sayres Rudy, Aaron Berman, and Ralph Hexter.
- Emergency candle light vigil and poetry reading on library lawn for over 120 in Gaza and 8 Israeli students in Jerusalem who lost their lives
- Dialogue with Jewish Community and members of Jewish Student Union and Union of Progressive Zionists, facilitated by Dean of Faculty Aaron Berman.
- SJP presents a divestment proposal to the Committee at Hampshire on Investment Responsibility (CHOIR) and demonstrated how the activities of six corporations in Palestine violate Hampshire’s own policy on socially responsible investment.
- The day after the same presentation was given to the Board of Trustees by representatives of SJP
- CHOIR recommends divestment to the Board of Trustee
Fall Semester 2008
- Teach–in, in memory of Mahmud Darwish. SJP members Anas Maloul, Quincy Saul, Noam Bahat, Hannah Allen, Kanya d’Almeida, Jay Cassano, and Alex Cachinero-Gorman, give presentations about the history of the conflict, the current situation in the Occupied Territories, along with reading from Darwish’s poetry.
- Poets for Palestine. Palestinian poet Remi Kenazi reads poetry from a book of poetry he edited
- Mock apartheid wall for family and friends weekend
- Dialogue session held, cosponsored by SJP and Union for Progressive Zionists and moderated by students from both SJP and UPZ.
- Dr. Nancy Murray presented a talk an photo exhibition entitled “Apartheid: From South Africa to Israel-Palestine
January Semester 2009
- Meetings with Ralph on making statement condemning the offensive in Gaza
- Five College Protest from UMass to Amherst in solidarity with Gaza
- Open forum on SJP, Divestment, and the Occupation of Palestine.
Spring Semester 2009
- February 4th Hampshire College Board of Trustees votes to divest from 6 US companies who were profiting off of the Israeli occupation of Palestine
- Same day, the President of Hampshire college refuses to make statement.
- February 10th SJP announces to the media and to the campus the news: HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE FIRST US COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY TO DIVEST FROM THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION OF PALESTINE!
- President immediately begins a campaign to discredit SJP do to pressure from Israeli Lobbyist such as Alan Dershowitz.
- SJP hosts a community discussion about divestment and what happened.
Fall 2009 Semester
- SJP hosts the first US and Canada BDS conference, with key note speaker Ali Abunimah
- We continue conversations with administration who refuse to acknowledge that divestment was a political statement.