This past Tuesday, members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality proposed a resolution to the Central Student Government titled “A Resolution For the University of Michigan to Divest From Socially Irresponsible Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights.” The resolution calls on the University of Michigan to re-evaluate its financial investment in corporations that unethically profit from and facilitate the violation of Palestinian human rights. The companies in question include United Technologies, Caterpillar, Heidelberg Cement and General Electric. All these companies are explicitly linked to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and ongoing human rights abuses.
United Technologies possesses millions of dollars in contracts with the Israeli Air Force for the manufacture of armed Blackhawk helicopters, which have been used by the Israeli military in offensive campaigns against Palestinian communities, resulting in many civilian deaths and casualties. In addition, United Technologies produces the engines for the F-15 and F-16 aircraft used in strikes that result in the killing of innocent civilians. F-15 and F-16 aircraft were used in Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09, when 1,400 Palestinians were killed over a three week period, the vast majority of them innocent civilians.
Caterpillar produces the D9 military bulldozers that are used to illegally demolish Palestinian homes. Its bulldozers and civil engineering tools have also been crucial to the construction of the separation wall and settlements on Palestinian land. The #UMMockEviction campaign SAFE organized last semester raised awareness about the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes. Since 1967, more than 27,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished.
Heidelberg Cement is involved in the exploitation of natural resources in occupied Palestinian land for the benefit of the Israeli construction industry. It operates two concrete plants and one asphalt plant in the West Bank and has provided the cement used for the building of illegal settlements as well as the building of the separation wall.
Lastly, General Electric sells engines for a variety of Israeli military aircraft and provides the propulsion systems of AH-64 Apache helicopters that have been used in terrorizing raids against Palestinian towns and villages.
The human rights violations in which the University is invested are severe. Five million Palestinian refugees are forcibly prevented from returning to their homes. In the West Bank, Palestinians live under a military occupation, in Gaza they are under constant siege and Palestinian citizens of Israel are explicitly denied equal rights under the law. Israel arbitrarily and punitively destroys Palestinian homes and farms, imprisons and tortures Palestinian children and has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians since the year 2000.
Investing in companies that profit from military occupation and violence, no matter where or why, is wrong. And with thousands of viable alternatives, it is not necessary. In asking for the divestment from companies that continue to cooperate with the violation of Palestinian human rights, we are merely holding our University accountable to its stated moral and ethical standards. The President’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights at the University of Michigan states that its role is to “monitor code enforcement and promote University leadership in corporate citizenship with respect to fair labor practices, human rights and sustainability in its licensing operations.”
The University has reflected its commitment to ethical practices and human rights in its corporate investments in the past, when student pressure led to divestment from apartheid South Africa in 1978 and from tobacco-related companies in 2000. By calling attention to this issue, we are continuing the spirit of the thousands of University student activists who have been and continue to be committed to social justice and equality for all people — not just those who demanded divestment from apartheid South Africa, but also the courageous students that vocally opposed the Vietnam War, that pried open the doors of higher education to people of color and those that continue to fight for equal access to higher education.
Instead of being cause for controversy, the respect for human rights should be a commonly acknowledged principle. When the student representatives vote next Tuesday on the resolution, they will face a simple choice: whether to stand in solidarity with Palestinians’ non-violent resistance to occupation and violence, or to remain as accomplices in human rights violations and indigenous displacement.
The voting for the resolution will take place tomorrow, March 18 at 7:30 p.m. in the Chambers room of the Michigan Union. Please join us if you would like to show your support and stand in solidarity. Additionally, Ali Abunimah, the founder of Electronic Intifada, will be speaking about his latest book The Battle for Justice in Palestine and the future of Palestine and Israel March 17 at 7 p.m. in the Rackham Amphitheater.
This article was written by members of the Students Allied for Freedom & Equality.
A letter of support drafted by the Students Allied for Freedom & Equality and signed by campus organizations can be found here.