Tuesday, March 24, 2009

University of Wisconsin:

Students demand divestment against the Israeli occupation.

The Badger Herald

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s premier independent student newspaper.

"Students can help fight oppression"

by Samir Jaber

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In the BADGER-HERALD (University of Wisconsin), at:


Anytime the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been brought up in the company of my friends, fellow students and peers, I’ve always received the same general response: The violence needs to stop.

I’m the last person who would disagree with that sentiment. As a Palestinian from a small town called El-Bireh, I’ve personally encountered the consequences of the brutal occupation. Our family home in El-Bireh — the place where my father grew up, his father grew up and was home to many of my relatives — was leveled by an Israeli rocket in 2001. I’ve had countless relatives who’ve suffered as a result of the brutality of the Israeli occupation. I’m not a fan of violence.

The Israeli invasion of Gaza was particularly brutal. Recent estimates have placed the Gazan death toll at 1,400, with nearly 6,000 casualties. Dr. Issam Younis, director of the Al-Mazen Centre for Human Rights, told the BBC that he estimates that 85 percent of those killed were non-combatants. In addition, the BBC reported 4,000 Gazan homes were destroyed and 400,000 Gazans were left without running water. The international community condemned Israel for its vicious assault on Gaza, with one notable exception: the United States of America.

Among the American people, however, a new rise of activism has taken place on the home front in response to Israeli incursion into Gaza and America’s refusal to stand against it.

In particular, universities throughout the country have faced increasing pressure to divest from corporations that profit from human rights violations and war crimes. In February, Hampshire College divested from several companies which profited from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. After this victory, a coalition of student groups at NYU peacefully occupied the Kimmel Center, calling for the university to commit to socially responsible investment. The actions of the courageous demonstrators have served to build momentum around the desire to cut financial ties to human rights violations.

Our wonderful university has a history of committing to socially responsible investment. University of Wisconsin investment policy 97-1 stipulates that the Board of Regents will seriously reconsider investments in companies that “violate, subvert or frustrate the enforcement of rules of domestic or international law intended to protect individuals and/or groups against deprivation of health, safety, basic freedoms or human rights.”

In that vein, the UW System Board of Regents became one of the first university administrative groups to divest from companies which did business with the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1978. In the late ’90s, the university also became one of the first to divest from companies that profited from the humanitarian crisis in Burma/Myanmar. Most recently, in 2006, the university also divested from companies which profited from the genocide in Darfur.

It’s not far-fetched to draw a connection to Palestine, especially when South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu did the work for us by describing the Israeli occupation of Palestine as “another apartheid.”

A growing coalition of student organizations on this campus are calling for our Board of Regents to uphold and enforce investment policy 97-1 and divest from specific companies that profit from human rights violations in the Palestinian territories. Among the most egregious of these investments is in Caterpillar, a company that manufactures the bulldozers responsible for the destruction of nearly 12,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, homes that are replaced with Israeli settlements. Other companies that the university invests in, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop-Grumman and Raytheon, are particularly culpable since they manufacture weapons that allow the Israeli army and security services to cause substantial suffering to the Palestinian people.

During the next week, Justice for Palestine, Student Progressive Dane and a coalition of other student organizations are analyzing the occupation of Palestine in a series titled “Eyes on Palestine.” This series, which starts Tuesday, March 24 and runs through Friday, March 27, will take place at 7 p.m. every night in Humanities 2650. Each night, a different perspective will be taken on the occupation of Palestine, including two student panels that will offer a present-day and long-term look at a potential peace process and two films that will analyze the conflict through the eyes of Palestinians, Israelis, Americans and the international community. We invite the entire campus community to participate in this fantastic series of events.

But this week only serves as the beginning of a long struggle to fight for peace and justice for the people of Palestine.

The first thing we can all do is wash our hands of the occupation by demanding our university commits to divesting from companies which profit from it. The next thing we can do is demand that our government does the same. I’ve always believed that small victories lead to great changes, and that you must, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Samir Jaber is a member of Student Progressive Dane and can be reached at sjaber@wisc.edu.