After living and working in Ramallah in the West Bank, Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a Research Fellow at the School of Public Health, said she has witnessed the horror of the Arab-Israeli Conflict first hand. “It’s the most humiliating and dehumanizing conditions I have ever lived under. It’s dehumanizing in a sense that you are not in control of yourself,” Savabieasfahani said.
Growing up in the West Bank, Rackham student and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality member Amenah Ibrahim also experienced the direct effects of military occupation.
“I can’t imagine a worse life than the life of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza under occupation. Stripped of any human rights by an oppressive regime – based on their ethnicity. It didn’t matter if you are Christian or Muslim, you were targeted because you are Palestinian. Occupation is oppression,” Ibrahim said.
These members of the University community and others attribute these conditions, in part, to the University’s investment in companies economically tied to Israel. They will be speaking out on the issue at a conference this weekend.
The Second National Students Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement, sponsored by SAFE, aims to educate members of the University community, SAFE co-founder and LSA senior Fadi Kiblawi said.
“We’re using this campaign to increase awareness, to open the circle of debate and spark interest in people who are otherwise apathetic or indifferent,” Kablawi said.
In an e-mail to members of the University community, President Coleman wrote “As a matter of University policy, we do not believe political interests should govern our investment decisions.”
Kiblawi said the current situation in Israel resembles a past period of injustice when the University chose to divest from its tobacco and South African economic interests.
“Look at precedence. (The University) divested from South Africa which is the paradigm we’re using to divest from the Israeli occupation,” he said. “Apartheid is a big term right now because South Africa’s apartheid heroes … have been outspoken in making the correlation between their struggle and the Palestinians’ struggle.”
The suppression of civil rights can end if organizations stop funding Israel, Savabieasfahani said.
“The focus of divestment is to get rid of military occupation. There’s a lot to study about this,” she said. “It leaves scars for life. It must be eradicated. Occupation is affecting Israelis. You cannot turn off violent behavior – it is within you.”
The reasons for divestment are not anti-Semitic in nature, SAFE spokesman Eric Reichenberger said, adding that divestment is not an attempt to deconstruct Israel.
“Divestment is a movement based on moral concerns arising from the oppression of the Palestinian people,” he said in a written statement. “It is the only way effective pressure can be placed on the Israeli government to convince it to discontinue its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The objective of divestment is not, and has never been, the destruction of Israel. If I honestly believed that, I could not support this divestment movement.”
Supporters of divestment said cutting the financial ties between the University and Israel will not solve the conflict in the region, but will be a step towards ending the occupation.
“Divestment is a huge step,” Savabieasfahani said. “The only thing divestment will address is an end to military occupation. Once military occupation ends, they will have a much clearer head to figure out what is wrong in Israel and the Middle East. An end to occupation will be a blessing to Israel. Divestment is something that has worked in the past and I think it will work here.”
In the end, Israeli military occupation will only create two possible outcomes in the future, Reichenberger said.
“Israel will comply with international law and withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip or wide-scale divestment will take place. The ball is in their court, and justice is on our side,” he said.
The University’s response came after two “spoofed” e-mails were sent from Kiblawi’s account. Kiblawi said he was offended by the inappropriate timing of Coleman’s statement.
“I found it disturbing. It’s the first time I have ever seen the president use a crime against students as the pretext to springboard her own political disagreement with those students. I find it particularly irresponsible because it exacerbated the unsafe atmosphere I have been put in as a result of this spoof e-mail,” he said. “By referring to the divestment campaign, she prejudiced debate effectively attempting to shut down open and civil discourse.”