Narrowing down Palestine, Israel and divestment

BY AMER G. ZAHR
The Progressive Pen
Published March 4, 2002

This past weekend, we have seen what is a common occurrence in Israel and Palestine. Both sides have committed violent acts, each calling its action a response to some act of the other. Our state department has called for restraint, Ariel Sharon has labeled Palestinian acts as "terrorism" and Yasser Arafat has pleaded with the world, exclaiming once again that he is powerless. This final point may be true, but it is only partly due to his restricted freedom of movement and much more due to his own corruption, inabilities to lead,and overall incompetence. The result of all this is both an uneasy Israeli population and an imprisoned Palestinian populace that simply falls further into uncertainty, powerlessness, homelessness, and seemingly farther than ever from any sort of self-determination.

Paul Wong
Amer G. Zahr, The Progressive Pen

It seems to me that there need be some clarification as we do our best to focus in on what the real issues at hand here are. The main obstacle here is of course the ongoing illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (I'm leaving out Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights in Syria, although it is as illegal as any other). Recently, there has been a peace sketch put forward by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, which calls for an Arab normalization with Israel, provided it returns to pre-occupation borders. Other Arab states have already rejected the proposal on many grounds and there doesn't seem to be much hope for wide acceptance. Arab leaders have not given much reason for their rejection, but the truth there should not even be such a plan to reject. Crown Prince Abdullah is in fact not proposing anything at all other than outlining to the world what Israel is required to do under international law (although I'm sure he only meant to score some points with American policy-makers).

The problem in most analyses of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that they rest on faulty assumptions. The first is an assumption of parody, and Israel and its supporters in this country, including on this campus, knowingly forward this misconception. What we are talking about when referring to the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis is not the relationship of one nation with another, but rather of a military occupying power with a civilian occupied populace.

The second deficient assumption surrounds the issue of control. Most speak as if the Palestinians and Israelis have equal control. In other words, most discourses revolve around the incorrect supposition that the Israelis control Israel and that the Palestinians control Gaza and the West Bank, while in fact Israel exercises complete military control in most of the West Bank and Gaza and complete discretion in the rest of it. This is evidenced every day as Israel demolishes homes, places leaders under house arrest and sets up degrading and protracted checkpoints for Palestinians as Israeli settlers travel freely through the occupied lands.

It seems pertinent here to briefly address suicide attacks since it is the conditions I have described that leads to them. Israeli occupation does not justify attacks against civilians of any sort, whether through a suicide bombing or otherwise. In the same tone, suicide attacks and the like do not justify military occupation. Palestinians have a right to legitimate resistance, but no one has the right to target civilians, and it is worth noting here that while Arafat does nothing to stop the targeting of civilians by certain factions, perhaps even his own, Sharon constantly engages in military operations that are meant to make Palestinian civilian life a living hell.

Finally, the most damaging misconception has its nexus not in Israel or Palestine, but rather right here in America. Most analysts who speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict talk as though our officials in Washington and around the country can be even-handed. The facts are that American politicians and policy makers aid the Israeli military and government to the tune of $5 billion yearly. Israel is the recipient of the largest amount of aid we dole out every year, eating up about one-third of our annual foreign aid budget. Another $2 billion goes to Egypt every year. It seems that that $7 billion would be much better spent on American education and efforts to erase American poverty than to aid the governments of two countries that cause so much strife and oppression within their borders.

American presidents have recently attempted to show neutrality while calling Palestinians terrorists and Israelis defenders, Palestinians aggressors and Israelis victims. American leaders have repeatedly stressed their support for Israel's policy of return for Jews from around the world to Israel while thumbing their noses at international law as they deny the founded legal right of Palestinian refugees around the world to reclaim their own right of return to their lands in Palestine. They have repeatedly supported corrupt Israeli and Arab leaders like Sharon, Arafat, and Mubarak, all the while taking no time to critically analyze what those who are on the ground actually think and feel.

Well, I think the time has come for American officials to see how we Americans, especially students, feel. We can have some sort of impact in demanding for fair-handedness in dealing with Israelis and Palestinians. This all starts with a call for own university to divest from Israel. Similar movements have ended university relationships with the apartheid government in South Africa, and university relationships with Israeli companies and governmental agencies fall into the same boat. Because of the gross injustices being committed against Palestinians with American money, and more importantly with our tuition money, it is of utmost importance to begin the discourse of divestment. Let those of us with moral conscience lead the way.

Amer G. Zahr can be reached at zahrag@umich.edu.