Maryam Shafie-Khorassani/MiC.

University of Michigan students, led by a Students Allied for Freedom and Equality initiative, gathered in protest of Vice President Kamala Harris’s arrival at the University on Thursday. Protestors assembled in front of Hill Auditorium and marched towards Rackham Auditorium — the site of Harris’s speech — waving Palestinian flags and voicing chants that challenged the Biden-Harris administration’s unwavering support for the state of Israel.

“Not another nickel! Not another dime!

No more money for Israel’s crimes!”

The White House previously announced that the Vice President would be in Ann Arbor to partake in a discussion “highlighting the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic and ongoing work to combat the climate crisis.” Students took this opportunity to bring attention to the ongoing crisis in Palestine that has recently included Israel’s national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, ordering a ban on public display of the Palestinian flag — confirming the far-right Israeli government’s commitment to furthering the erasure of the Palestinian identity. Additionally, students brought attention to the hypocrisy of climate efforts that are made in conjunction with supporting the Israeli occupation’s continuous disservice to the climate.

For decades, trees have uniquely symbolized the hostility of settler colonialism on Palestinian land: with native, time-honored Palestinian olive trees being forcibly uprooted to make way for exported pine trees, Israeli settlements and the infamous Apartheid wall. Extending over 700 kilometers wide, Israel’s West Bank Wall, also known as the Israeli Apartheid wall, is a pivotal point in the conversation of climate change, as it serves as a cruel, tangible reminder of the violent annexation of Palestinian land. This barrier, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004, required the removal of thousands of olive trees. As it continues to expand, piercing through the once fertile land beneath it, it is threatening biodiversity and fragmenting ecosystems.

The Apartheid wall surrounding the West Bank does not stand alone, as its implications stretch across to the Mediterranean coast, where Gaza exists as the “largest open air prison in the world.” Surrounded by a 65-kilometer iron wall, Palestinians in Gaza stand helpless in the face of Israeli bombardment through airstrikes and violent warfare that sometimes includes chemical weapons such as depleted uranium and white phosphorus — which both have long-standing repercussions on environmental pollution.

Decades of power imbalances and land control have proven that Israeli control of Palestinian identity and livelihood goes hand in hand with their disregard for the land that Palestinians are indigenous to. And as the United States continues to funnel money into these efforts, they are further fueling the climate crisis that they claim to be addressing. 

Since World War II, Israel has been the largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States, with foreign military financing exceeding $3 billion under the Biden-Harris administration. This money is a key enabler of Israeli colonial projects, which are simultaneously displacing Palestinians and causing indelible destruction to the climate. And with Israel’s ecological footprint reportedly exceeding its biocapacity, it is absolutely crucial that their strategic efforts to greenwash their military occupation are exposed.

The United States has long been complicit in Israeli abuses of land and people alike, but the Biden-Harris administration has the power to end this cycle.

Standing outside of Rackham Auditorium on Thursday, students were calling on Harris to end her support for the greenwashing of this colonial entity.

“Kamala, Kamala don’t you know? 

Greenwashing has got to go!”

The Israeli claim of having “made the desert bloom” is transparently false, and it is time for the international community to introduce accountability into what has long been misconstrued as a conflict.

Joseph Fisher is a sophomore at the University, and has been a member of SAFE for the last year. He currently serves as activism chair for the SAFE board. 

“Kamala claims to care about the environment, but continues to approve thousands of new oil and gas drilling permits, which further climate change, disrupt habitats and place nearby populations at risk for a wide range of diseases,” Fisher said.

This sentiment is shared by many other members of SAFE, who were waving their Palestinian flags high in the air and standing in solidarity with Palestinians who are being penalized for doing the same. 

“Palestinians will not be moved,” said Noor O. Sami, a junior at the University, currently serving as SAFE’s education director. “No colonial law will ever make us abandon our flag or our land. From Jerusalem to Gaza, from Akka to Jenin — our flag will fly until Palestine is free.” 

SAFE is committed to amplifying the needs of Palestinians living under occupation and ending the normalization of Israeli apartheid. In response to Thursday’s protests, SAFE activism co-director and senior at the University Zaynab Elkolaly, says she envisions a future where the University, as an academic institution, recognizes the power imbalances between the occupier and occupied, and acknowledges that the resistance of Palestinian people is justified. 

“Palestinians at the University don’t have to justify themselves to their oppressors, or welcome politicians like Kamala Harris who have actively threatened their livelihood,” Elkolaly said.

Like the Palestinian olive tree that can resist some of the harshest forms of destruction, the Palestinian cause will never tire. Last Thursday, 50 Palestinian flags rose upon Kamala Harris’s arrival at the University. Side by side, Palestinian and non-Palestinian students stood in opposition to proponents of the Israeli regime in hopes that one day, their flags could fly over a free Palestine. 

Juan Gonzalez Valdivieso/SAFE.

MiC Columnist Maryam Shafie-Khorassani can be reached at mshafie@umich.edu.