As an undergraduate at the University in the mid-1990s, I was incredibly optimistic about the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed an historic accord in 1993, resulting in the establishment of the Palestinian Authority exercising a limited degree of autonomy over areas of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip from which Israel had redeployed. In 1996, Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in these territories held elections for president and a legislative council. It seemed to me that negotiations were headed in a positive direction and would end in the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, an outcome which, I believed at the time, would be a fair and just resolution to this seemingly intractable conflict.
However, by the time I graduated in 1997, I had come to understand that this “peace process” would not result in a true, sovereign Palestinian state as Israel continued to relentlessly colonize occupied Palestinian lands. Nor would these negotiations redress the legitimate claims of Palestinian refugees, ethnically cleansed from their homes to make way for the establishment of Israel in 1948, or dismantle the discriminatory laws that Palestinian citizens of Israel endure living in the “Jewish state.” In reality, at that time, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was deliberately grinding this process to a halt, boasting about it to Israeli settlers in a video recorded in 2001.
With Netanyahu’s victory in Israel’s election earlier this month, the prospects for a negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinians appear infinitely bleaker than they did when talks began more than 20 years ago. In the intervening decades, Israel’s settler population in the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem has nearly tripled from approximately 260,000 to 650,000. And Netanyahu cruised to a convincing win through ugly and vitriolic last-minute campaigning. He admitted that Israel’s colonization is designed to hem in Palestinians, slammed the door shut on the possibility of a Palestinian state and engaged in racist demagoguery against Palestinian citizens of Israel, claiming that their voting “in droves” constituted a “danger.” His post-election attempts to walk back these inflammatory comments have widely been greeted with incredulity.
Now that Netanyahu has definitively foreclosed the option of Palestinian statehood, what can people of conscience do to support freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel’s oppression? One answer is to respond to the Palestinian civil society call for campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanction against Israel and corporations that profit from Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians. BDS provides a compelling strategy for concerned citizens and students to take matters in their own hands and generate social change from the bottom up.
On campus, the group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality has been doing an admirable job spearheading a campaign calling on the Central Student Government to pass a resolution urging the University to divest its holdings from four corporations — Boeing, Caterpillar, G4S and United Technologies, all of which directly profit from Israel’s killing and jailing of Palestinian civilians. In addition, Boeing’s fighter jets and its attack helicopters, along with UT’s, help Israel enforce its illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel uses Caterpillar bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes, often injuring and killing civilians, such as U.S. college student and protester Rachel Corrie, in the process. And G4S prisons have been implicated in Israel’s jailing of Palestinian children, a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
More than two dozen student governments, academic associations and graduate student unions across the country have passed similar BDS resolutions.
To provide the campus community with additional information about this important resolution, which was introduced to CSG on March 24, and the historical, contemporary and ethical reasons why the University should divest, I’ll be speaking on Monday, March 30 at 1:00 p.m. in the Michigan League’s Koessler Room. All are invited to attend this free event.
The University has a sterling record when it comes to students organizing for justice. Ann Arbor was the virtual birthplace of the student movement against our war in Vietnam and the University played an instrumental role in divesting from apartheid South Africa. Divesting from corporations profiteering from Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land and human rights abuses of Palestinians is the next link in this proud chain.
Josh Ruebner is a 1997 University alumnus. He is the policy director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of “Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”