Thursday, November 1, 2007

"UC Must Divest From Israel’s Apartheid"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Daily Californian (Berkeley)

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Last semester, President Jimmy Carter challenged students to visit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to determine whether his charge of apartheid is correct.

One step ahead of you, Mr. President. In Summer 2005, I visited the area to conduct research on behalf of human rights for both Israelis and Palestinians. As an American Jew, I was horrified by what I witnessed. I share this report as the ASUC plans to debate tomorrow night the nature of the U.S. relationship with Israel.

Israel has indeed constructed an apartheid system in the Palestinian territories occupied in the 1967 war. While visiting the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, I witnessed Israel’s army bulldoze a Palestinian home in order to construct a road only Israeli colonizers are allowed to access. According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Israel has demolished over 18,000 Palestinian homes since 1967, with plans to demolish thousands more.

For decades, Israeli governments have sought to expropriate as much Palestinian land as possible and displace the indigenous population. As Carter says, Israel has stolen huge tracts of Palestinian farmland, built illegal colonies that house over 500,000 Israeli colonizers in Jewish-only state-subsidized housing, uprooted millions of Palestinian olive trees, built an illegal wall deep inside Palestinian land that separates Palestinians from their farms, schools and jobs and instituted a harsh regime of movement barriers that make it impossible for most Palestinians to travel more than a few miles. Palestinians receive one-sixth the amount of water as Israel’s colonizers.

The Palestinian territories are large prisons in which normal life is impossible, and scared Israeli teenagers carrying U.S.-supplied guns are the jailers.

If anything, Carter’s book withholds important criticism of Israel. Inside the borders of “Israel proper” (the part of Israel that does not include the territories occupied in 1967), over 100,000 Palestinians live in villages that the government of Israel refuses to recognize. Although the villages predate the 1948 founding of Israel, the villages appear on no Israeli map and are denied garbage collection and electricity services.

Furthermore, millions of Palestinian refugees—would-be citizens of Israel who were driven out by force in 1948 in what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls a systematic and carefully planned act of ethnic cleansing—have been denied the right to return to their homes in peace.

During my time in Israel/Palestine I met with numerous political leaders and it became clear that the roadblock to justice and peace lies with Israel and the United States, not Palestine. The entire Arab world (including the Palestinians) has offered to establish normal relations with Israel in exchange for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders and a “just, mutually-agreed” resolution to the refugee crisis. Israel’s leaders rejected the proposal, preferring colonization and territorial expansion to peace and coexistence. The United States continues to bankroll Israel’s occupation and conquest of Palestinian land to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” opens an important debate. If the United States is making the situation worse by funding the occupation, how should U.S. foreign policy change? And given that South Africa’s apartheid regime only ended after universities and governments divested, what is the university’s moral obligation?

Should the University of California divest from corporations that support Israel’s apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories? I say yes, for the benefit of my fellow Jews, Arabs and all humanity. Nothing could benefit Israel more than to end its addiction to colonization and occupation and establish peaceful relations with its neighbors. We must send Israel two messages: yes to coexistence and no to colonization.

--Matthew Taylor is a UC Berkeley student. Reply to .