Friday, October 23, 2009

Boycotting Apartheid Israel, at the University of Pittsburgh

"Palestinian conference reveals Israeli-Palestinian debate on campus"

by Erin Bloch

University of Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania)

published: Thu, 22 Oct, 2009

On the Web at:

Rachel Corrie stood as one of the links in a makeshift human forcefield. In six or seven seconds, her life was taken by an Israeli Defense Forces bulldozer.

The bulldozer ran her over twice, and her efforts to save local Palestinian citizen Samir Nasrallah’s home abruptly came to an end.

Stories of untimely conflicts between the Israelis and Palestinians are frequent because of the constant conflict in the Middle East. Corrie’s story, however, is unique because it will be expressed through a theatrical debut at a Students for Justice in Palestine conference this weekend, entitled “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.”

The conference, which runs today through Sunday, focuses on building and enhancing the boycott, divestment and sanction, or BDS, movement on Pitt’s campus. Other participants in the conference include the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Hampshire Students for Justice in Palestine and Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The conference touches on a controversial topic not just in the Middle East, but also here on campus.

Panthers for Israel, Pitt’s pro-Israel organization, does not agree with the conference’s message.

Chelsea Zimmerman, vice president of Panthers for Israel, said the conference doesn’t promote equality between the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Each day of the conference is divided into several sections and includes workshops during which participants will learn about the BDS movement and the actors involved. Tonight’s opening event will feature Palestinian-American poet and presenter Remi Kanazi. On the final day of the conference, attendees will immerse themselves in a theatrical production of “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”

The BDS movement, according to Courtney Nassar of the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee, is a successful, non-violent method used to gain justice in South Africa, which “brings justice and equality to to all peoples.”

The method involves creating pressure from foreign actors on the Israeli government, Nassar said. The intent of the strategy is to end the Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank and what Palestinian activists call human rights abuses of their people.

She said that boycotting Israeli products is one of the ways the Students for Justice in Palestine plan to effect change in a non-violent manner. There are three types of boycotting that can promote the cause: cultural, consumer and academic.

This past February, Students for Justice in Palestine, along with other pro-Palestinian groups, used a cultural boycott method when the exclusively Israeli Batsheva Dance Company preformed in Pittsburgh.

The conference stresses consumer boycotting. Jaffa, a popular variety of Israeli orange and frequent export to the United States, is one product which Students for Justice in Palestine and its supporters are targeting. The conference’s graphic features a blood-smeared orange slice with the slogan, “Don’t squeeze a Jaffa. Crush the Occupation.” Specifically, Nassar said, it represents the “blood of the Palestinians. If you buy a Jaffa Orange, you are buying into the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” She said that in 2003, Palestinians called on the United States to implement the boycott and divestment strategy nationwide.

Nassar said the occupation affects Palestinian human rights. Palestinians are losing their homes and jobs, and 11,000 prisoners and refugees are being held in Palestine or Israel, she said.

Nassar said a wall was built in 1967 to divide the Palestinians from the Israelis, which created checkpoints where Palestinians and their supporters are searched before entering into Israeli territory, where their land and jobs exist. Nassar experienced these “human rights violations” firsthand when she traveled to Israel for a month and visited the West Bank as a Palestinian supporter.

The BDS movement also calls for the American people to divest and know how their tax money is distributed.

“Roughly $7 million everyday leaves the tax payers and is given to aid the Israeli military,” she said. “We are funding the occupation and need to invest our money elsewhere.”

The groups organizing this weekend’s conference want the event to be about awareness. Students and community members will learn what products should be boycotted and the amount of effort — “very little,” Nassar said — needed to help the cause.

Pitt students and Pittsburgh community members “just need to show up and educate themselves,” Nassar said.

Nassar said she wants students and community members to know that the groups involved with the conference have problems with the Israeli government, not with the Israeli people.

Zimmerman said she’s concerned about the point of view that the conference will express.

“My issue with this conference is that the only [country] it’s pointing fingers at is Israel,” Zimmerman said. “If it were a conference calling on all countries who haven’t done their part, that would be one thing, but the fact that they are targeting Israel is what I have a problem with.”

Zimmerman said that the average Israeli person wants peace just as much as the average Palestinian person.

“No one is denying that there is a humanitarian crisis involving the Palestinian people in Israel,” Zimmerman said. “If this conference were to help the Palestinians in need, I would have no problem with that, but it’s not.”

Further, she said she’s concerned that she hasn’t heard Students for Justice in Palestine mention anything about Hamas, a known Palestinian terrorist group against the Israeli occupation, or the suicide bombings Palestinians have committed against Israel.

Zimmerman said that the divestment and boycotting plan is “lofty” and that an ideal starting point would be to look at the Palestinian leadership and its deprivation of their people.

“Money donated by the U.N. [to Palestinians leaders] is put towards corrupt ideals by corrupt leadership, which fosters hatred,” Zimmerman said.
The Panthers for Israel are worried that this conference will give students and community members the wrong idea.

The protests which Students for Justice in Palestine hosted make some Panthers for Israel members uncomfortable.

“Yes, they’re just standing there and not doing anything illegal, but they’re meant to elicit emotion. Posters of dead Palestinians draw attention and are inflammatory propaganda. I feel helpless,” Zimmerman said....