Hundreds of pro-Palestine student organizers from across the country gathered at the University of Minnesota over the weekend for the National Students for Justice in Palestine annual conference.
Leadership from the University’s SJP chapter welcomed attendees — many donning keffiyeh scarves — into a buzzing lecture hall Friday evening to kick off the three-day conference.
University SJP members introduced attendees to the chapter by providing background about the group’s recent activity. The members noted the success of past divestment campaigns at the University, which ultimately resulted in the passing of a campus-wide referendum in 2018.
The University SJP members also drew attention to the congressional district that much of the University is in, which is represented by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who has expressed support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
The conference is NSJP’s ninth since the organization’s establishment in 2010. It was themed “Beyond Struggle: From Roots to Branches Towards Liberation” and addressed the growing visibility of Palestine in mainstream politics with several workshops, panels and sessions.
“This is a new turf for Palestinian organizing,” said conference attendee Alex Salah, noting the election of Omar and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., both of whom have publicly spoken about the Palestinian conflict.
“We’ve always existed in the grassroots political context,” Salah said. “With the emergence of Palestinian voices and those in solidarity with the Palestinian people in this more electoral space, as organizers, it’s important to understand to be tactical and strategic in how we engage with these spaces.”
In addition to several guest speakers, the conference also featured a panel of experts who discussed the importance of approaching the Palestinian struggle in relation with other forms of oppression, such as anti-blackness, homophobia and transphobia as well as the oppression of Kashmiris and Kurds, among other people.
The Palestinian movement is an intersectional justice movement, meaning it is advocating for the liberation of all oppressed people, experts on the panel said.
“[Intersectionality] has always been part and parcel of our work…” said Raphael Eissa, a member of the NSJP steering committee which organizes the conference. “We also know that the struggle against oppression extends beyond a single people. It’s always been central to our work, and that’s how we grow as a movement.”
Many pro-Palestine student organizers face difficulties from their university administrations when it comes to hosting pro-Palestine events.Though pro-Israel groups called on the University of Minnesota to condemn or cancel the conference, the University did not respond to such requests. However, a small group of people formed Saturday outside of Tate Hall — where workshops were taking place — in protest of the conference, leaving Israeli flags and posters in front of the building.
“We’re still standing resilient trying to persevere despite the attempted intimidation,” Salah said.
The love for Palestine and its liberation supersedes the fear of being oppressed, he said. “I hope what people get out of [the conference] is the affirmation and validation they need to continue this work despite the struggle,” Salah said.