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‘What Side Of History Will You Be On?’: A Closer Look at the Dialogue Surrounding Divestment

“Nobody is saying that life for Palestinians is easy, but…” or, “Yes, there is an occupation, but…”

On Wednesday, April 23, 2014, Students for Justice in Palestine put up “A Resolution to Divest From Companies that Profit from Apartheid,” which called upon the UC system to divest funds from Northrop Grumman, Caterpillar, Raytheon, Hewlett Packard and General Electric for their compliance in apartheid in Palestine and Israel. As students opposing divestment confined the voice of Palestinians to Hamas and terrorists, they illustrated their preference to reject history, facts and reality in order to rationalize their privilege rather than to resist the status quo or to question existing power structures. Instead of disputing the occupation or the fact that companies are profiting off the occupation, students stood up one after another sharing the discomfort that they personally felt with the “Resolution to Divest from Companies that Profit from Apartheid.” Senators and student speakers alike advocated for a more “peaceful” and “less divisive” means of achieving understanding and peace.

Dialogue assumes that both parties need to take responsibility for the occupation and that both parties are on an equal playing field; however, the 27,000 home demolitions since 1967, 5,224 Palestinian prisoners, 98 checkpoints, 340 temporary checkpoints and 50 unmanned physical barriers to Palestinians, the Apartheid Wall, the 3,000 military orders that govern Palestinians and a justice system that does not comply with international law all paint a very different picture. Dialogue itself is a privilege that is not afforded to Palestinians, so students have the responsibility to utilize whatever power they choose to put an end to the subjugation of Palestinians. Most importantly, dialogue assumes that it is racial, ethnic or religious tensions that have fueled this “conflict” for 65-plus years rather than economic and political power structures that have oppressed people across the globe. While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees rights to all people, regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality, ethnicity or race, the process of dehumanization makes it unbearably easy to exclude Palestinians.

Students uncritically vilified Hamas as a terrorist organization with no consideration of the severity of the situation in Gaza, which has been under a blockade since 2007, and with complete disregard for the conditions upon which Hamas was elected in Gaza. Hamas was democratically elected by the Palestinians in Gaza in 2006 in light of extreme levels of poverty, unemployment and resource exploitation by Israel, but this government was declared a terrorist organization and sanctioned by some of the worst worldwide offenders of “terrorism,” such as the United States and Israel. This is not a justification of rocket attacks, nor do I believe any Israeli deserves their life to be taken in the name of resistance, but this is an honest, critical discussion on militancy amongst peoples that have been colonized and occupied for too many years. While students could and should debate Hamas as a legitimate governing entity, it comes down to economic involvement in the occupation, and we as students are not invested in Hamas, Iran or Syria.

Other students completely refused to address the human rights violations and instead disputed the legitimacy of the numerous organizations that have investigated Israel’s human rights violations. Organizations worldwide have actively investigated the current occupation — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International, Addameer, Adalah, Badil and the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions, but anti-divestment speakers went through the list and de-legitimized the work of each organization, claiming that these organizations, along with Students for Justice in Palestine, exceptionalize Israel. It was not SJP that exceptionalized Israel with this resolution; rather, it was students that continued to overlook Israel’s human rights violations in the face of deeply ingrained nationalism. As students came up time after time stating that they were true advocates for peace, but anti-divestment, I couldn’t help but wonder when peace became synonymous with submissiveness.

Regardless, we made a plea to the Associated Students government to divest our holdings from five companies that profit off the military occupation of Palestine. Senator and President-elect Ali Guthy belittled the resolution, saying that it was nothing more than a statement and that the regents would never divest from these companies. What Guthy fails to realize is that this is reminiscent of arguments made against organizers working to divest from South African Apartheid. Senator Andre Theus argued that this resolution alienated too many students on this campus. Other senators came prepared with speeches and scripts, leading us to believe that they had made up their mind prior to hearing the testimonies of students.

As senators cite representation and alienation as the reasoning behind voting down this resolution, they fail to recognize that this resolution is the product of a coalition of organizations including the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance, el Congreso, the South Asian Student Association, IDEAS, Queer Student Union, La Familia de Colores, Queer Commission, the Black Student Union Executive Board, Kapatirang Pilipino, the Society for Accessible and Safe Spaces, the Humyn Rights Board, the Arab Student Group and the Student Committee on Racial Equality. Not only are the voices of Palestinians silenced time and time again, but so are the voices of these students advocating for the rights of Palestinians in their fight against forced complicity in an occupation that has lasted 46-plus years.

For the past two years, these divestment hearings have demonstrated how students of this university are preparing to enter the political arena, performing the roles of politicians and consolidating connections and allies rather than educating students or working to end injustices. To take advantage of an entire people’s struggle and co-opt a movement in order to create a non-existent ideological split, solely for the purpose of boosting one party’s platform, demonstrates the failure of U.S. students to utilize their education to “advance the wellbeing of our state, nation, and world,” as so eloquently put by our mission statement. Student leaders on this campus ignored their roles within this institution and pleaded with their peers to leave this conflict to world leaders; the very next morning Israel’s Prime Minister, “Bibi” Netanyahu, backed out of the peace talks. World leaders and institutions have been compliant in the occupation; the responsibility now falls on us as students, organizers and humans who all have the capability to empathize.

Nonviolence has been heralded as the only true way to peace; however, as SJP put up this divestment resolution — which is part of the larger nonviolent “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement — the consensus amongst anti-divestment organizers was that this was still an attack on Israel. “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” was a call made by Palestinian civil society in 2005 and the movement has gained traction on a global scale with four UC’s passing divestment resolutions.

Stokely Carmichael once said of Dr. Martin Luther King, “His major assumption was that if you are nonviolent, if you suffer, your opponent will see your suffering and will be moved to change his heart. That’s very good. He only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.” In reality, Israel, the United States, the corporations profiting off this occupation and this Associated Students Senate have no conscience.

We cannot ignore the fact that the United States sends Israel eight million dollars a day in military aid, regardless of countless resolutions condemning Israel’s human rights violations. We cannot forget that Palestine has been colonized and that Palestinians are indigenous to Israel and Palestine, including Jewish, Muslim and Christian Palestinians. We are profiting off of companies that demolish homes to make room for settlements. There are over four million registered Palestinian refugees. This movement is bigger than UCSB, and it is reaching a pivotal moment.

We can no longer be invested in violence, and just as truth and justice has prevailed in the past, so will it at the University of California. This wall will fall and the occupied will rise, with or without this Senate’s validation. The question becomes: What side of history will you be on? My name is Katlen Abu Ata, I am a UCSB student, I am Palestinian and I am a true advocate for peace and justice.

Katlen Abu Ata is a fourth-year Middle Eastern studies and political science major, as well as a co-author of “A Resolution to Divest From Companies that Profit from Apartheid.”

Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 28, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
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11 Responses to ‘What Side Of History Will You Be On?’: A Closer Look at the Dialogue Surrounding Divestment

  1. Muslim Reply

    July 1, 2014 at 7:41 am

    Katlen Abu Ata: You claim to be a Palestinian, Muslim student of Color but you wear no Hijab. Please do not associate yourself with my religion, as you are the very essence of what is bringing down the image of Islam in the west.

    If you want to be radical, if you are looking for trouble, do it on your own. Dont bring the rest of us into it. We don’t want anything to do with you.


    A real Muslim.

  2. Arafat Reply

    April 28, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Google “gays” and “Palestinians” to see how gay people are treated by the people who are calling for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. The first search result is titled, “Palestinian gays flee to Israel”

    Google “Palestinian” and “honor killings” to see how women are treated by the people who are calling for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.

    If you are a femalel student (or alumna) who is thinking about going to “Palestine” to help protest against the Evil Zionists, I suggest that you first read “Female Palestinian Peace Activists Suffer Sexual Harassment, Rape From Palestinians” (just Google on the title). You might want to reconsider.

    As a final note, look up Israel’s and the Palestinians’ relative political and civil rights ratings at Freedomhouse.org. Israel’s are close to the best possible while those under both Hamas and Fatah are almost the worst possible.

    Now, please explain to me again who is guilty of crimes, apartheid policies (e.g. dhimmis or second-class citizens in countries under militant Islamic rule), and so on. I have not even touched on the Palestinians’ long litany of mindless terroristic violence including the Munich Massacre, the massacre of the Fogel family including young children in their beds, and so on.

  3. Arafat Reply

    April 28, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    At the core of SJP’s argument is the notion that Israel is an apartheid state. This is absolutely false: In South Africa, the black population was segregated, banned from voting, and deprived of their citizenship; in Israel, Palestinian citizens of Israel (or Israeli-Arabs) share the same exact facilities as non-Arab citizens, have the right to vote, and hold Israeli citizenship. Though Israel is unfortunately not free of discrimination, there is not a single democracy in the world that is. Whatever forms of discrimination that exist in Israel are essentially no different than those in any other Western democracy.
    A living example of Israel’s freedoms is a Bedouin named Khaldi who was born in a Bedouin tent, voluntarily served in the Israel Defense Forces, and eventually rose to become Israel’s Deputy Consul General in San Francisco. He is the first Muslim diplomat, let alone Bedouin, in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Khaldi considers himself living proof that Israel is not an apartheid state and said, “Israel may be the only country in the Middle East, if not the world, where a Bedouin shepherd can become a high-tech engineer, a scientist, or a diplomat. The sky’s the limit.”
    Arabs hold many other prominent positions in Israel. A few years ago an Israeli Arab Supreme Court Justice, Salim Joubran, sentenced Israel’s former president to prison. In 1999, Rana Raslan became the first Arab Miss Israel. This past year it was an Ethiopian-Israeli. There are many Arabs who hold high ranks in the Israeli military, and the recently appointed director of emergency medicine at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem is also an Israeli-Arab. Furthermore, Arabic is taught in Israeli schools, is on Israeli signs and, as an official language, is provided via subtitles on the state television channel.
    Another major facet of SJP’s argument is that BDS is the solution to fighting Israeli apartheid. Well, we’ve already established that Israel is not an apartheid state—but let’s look at what BDS ultimately does. It would force individuals to boycott Israeli products, musicians, sports teams, companies, and even academics. The BDS movement is nothing but a hypocritical movement aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel. The hypocrisy of BDS begins with its founder Omar Barghouti, who is a graduate student from Tel Aviv University. Since he argues for a full boycott against Israel, including academics, BDS supporters should boycott him as well.
    Boycotting Israeli products is also a challenge when one considers that Israel has made major contributions to many areas of technology, including the cell phone, text messaging, and the Intel chip in the laptop I am using to type this. Even Stephen Hawking’s refusal to fill the role of honored speaker at an event hosted by the Israeli president is hypocritical, as his boycott does not extend to the computer system that gives him the ability to talk. The computer, which is built around an Intel Core i7 Processor, was designed by Israel’s Intel team.
    BDS ultimately hurts Palestinians from an economic standpoint as well. Many of the Palestinians in the region controlled by the Palestinian National Authority commute to Israel for work. The BDS movement attacks Israel’s economy, which could ultimately force Israeli companies to lay off employees—many of whom would be Palestinian. Thus, many Palestinians could suffer severe economic consequences from a boycott aimed at advocating for their well-being.
    Those that support BDS are not “pro-Palestinian.” The movement does not help Palestinians in any significant way; it only hurts them. In all, the BDS movement is nothing but a hypocritical movement that aims to destroy the State of Israel via economic warfare. BDS will not solve the conflict—it will only prevent peace.

  4. Wallace Reply

    April 28, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Never mind boycotting the settlements. With all the pent-up anger justifiably inspired by decades of insults, constant, unrelenting attempts to push the US into ME wars that solely serve Israeli interests, bald-faced lies from quislings like Krauthammer, and the outrageous, ungrateful, sense of Israeli entitlement to massive US military ($3.1 billion per year!) and diplomatic support, Israel will be lucky if this stops at a boycott of all of Israel.

    It’s a given people who join the BDS movement will face all the usual shrill, disingenuous, allegations of anti-Semitism regardless of the boycott’s scope. Thus, there is a very real possibility this will turn into a boycott of all Jewish-connected businesses the world over. In short, if you’re going to serve the time no matter what you do, there’s nothing to lose for those who choose to do the ‘crime’. The attendant shrieks of victimhood and complaints of discrimination will fall on deaf ears, and increasingly so, as the world learns the facts of Israel’s creation and perpetuation.

    As for ‘de-legitimizing’ Israel, the fact of the matter is Israel is NOT legitimate. A legitimate, unassailable Israel exists ONLY inside the borders defined by the original Partition Plan (UN Resolution 181) which Begin dismissed thusly, the day AFTER the UN vote (talk about ungrateful):

    “The partition of the Homeland is illegal. It will never be recognized. The signature of institutions and individuals of the partition agreement is invalid. It will not bind the Jewish people. Jerusalem was and will forever be our capital. Eretz Israel (the land of Israel) will be restored to the people of Israel, All of it. And forever.”( Noam Chomsky, “The Fateful Triangle.”)

  5. Vremmy Kahn Reply

    April 28, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Katlen, before I start let me just say that I respect you as someone who is passionately fighting for what they believe in – but you are also clearly illustrating your “preference to reject history, facts and reality in order to rationalize” a certain view that you hold of Israel as the ultimate evil oppressor in this world – without stopping to listen and comprehend the narrative of the Jewish people and Jewish students, which is being presented to you during these divestment meetings.

    You say “Dialogue assumes that both parties need to take responsibility for the occupation” – you have just clearly stated that you think the Palestinian people share no responsibility for the current situation – and that is the type of blind rejection of history and intransigence that is keeping the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah from confronting reality and making the necessary compromises needed to facilitate a lasting peace.

    In South Africa there was always one clearly wrong side, and one clearly oppressed side, based on a vile belief in racial supremacy alone. To compare the situation in Israel-Palestine is naive at best – and purposely deceitful at worst. Can you really imagine 30 hours of UCSB senate meetings arguing over South African apartheid?! What would the pro-apartheid side be saying? Certainly the issue in Israel is more complex that you pretend to believe.

    I’m also not 100% sure here, (please correct me if I’m wrong) but your paragraph which quotes Stokely Carmichael sounds like a veiled call to violence, due to your frustration at failing to pass this toxic legislation two years in a row. You state “”in order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.” In reality, Israel, the United States, the corporations profiting off this occupation and this Associated Students Senate have no conscience”.

    The facts remains that either everyone else “has no concience” and is on “the wrong side of history” – or YOU are the one who needs to re-evaluate the situation and start really hearing the other side. Now is the time to show that YOU have a conscience.

    With respect. Your fellow Gaucho,

    • Hans Castorp Reply

      April 28, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      “In South Africa there was ALWAYS one clearly wrong side, and one clearly oppressed side, based on a vile belief in racial supremacy alone.” [emphasis added]

      This is what is referred to as 20/20 hindsight.

      See “Ronald Reagan regretted vetoing sanctions against pro-apartheid South Africa”, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ronald-reagan-regretted-vetoing-sanctions-pro-apartheid-south-africa-article-1.1541558

      Perhaps one day we will all have the same hindsight regarding Israel/Palestine?

      • Vremmy Kahn Reply

        April 28, 2014 at 1:55 pm

        20/20 hindsight doesn’t change the dynamics and history of the conflict, only people’s perception of it. The fact is both sides share a responsibility in this specific conflict, whereas in South Africa they did not. That was my point. Pro BDS proponents seem to never acknowledge ANY Palestinian responsibility, which weakens their argument and makes them appear delusional, and unable to accept the most basic realities of the conflict.

        • Hans Castorp Reply

          April 28, 2014 at 3:11 pm

          “0/20 hindsight doesn’t change the dynamics and history of the conflict, only people’s perception of it.”

          Is there any possibility that YOUR perception might be skewed?

          Just something to think about.

  6. SAS Reply

    April 28, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is so disgusting that a complete boycott of that country is fully justified.

    • Arafat Reply

      April 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      I think we should boycott and divest from the Islamic world.
      This holiday season witnessed a large increase in Christians being killed, raped and forced into refugee status throughout the Islamic world.
      This past year witnessed ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Pakistan and Buddhists from southern Thailand.
      This past year witnessed Palestinians further destroying their own people’s freedoms with Palestinians being tortured for speaking out against their leaders, be it Hamas or Fatah.
      This past year witnessed Syrians starving Palestinian children to death in Syrian refugee camps, in addition to the creation of two million refugees and the death toll skyrocketing towards 200.000.
      This year witnessed another several hundred thousand refugees being created in Mali thanks to Islamic aggression.
      This year witnessed increased attacks against Southern Sudan by Muslim jihadists.
      This year witnessed endless attacks against Christians and their property in Nigeria.
      This year witnessed relentless persecution of homosexuals throughout the Islamic world.
      Shall I continue?

      • Nicole F Reply

        May 8, 2014 at 11:39 am

        re: Arafat

        Feel free to continue, but you’re completely misled and missing the point. This resolution is specifically addressing DIVESTING from THE CORPORATIONS—Northrop Grumman, Caterpillar, Raytheon, Hewlett Packard and General Electric (all of which the UC is INVESTED in)—that profit off of military occupation, off of apartheid.

        If the UC were also *financially* invested in these various injustices you’ve listed above, then we would demand that our UC divest in these corporations that profit off of institutionalized oppression as well. . . But we’re not invested in them.

        The University of California would not be able to function without the funds we supply this institution. We, as students who pay way too much into the University of California, have a right to shaping how the University of California will act—these are OUR investments. Holding the UC accountable to its mission statement to “advance the wellbeing of our state, nation, and world” by divesting from these corporations that profit off of military occupation in Palestine is our rights as students and is the only way we can truly advance the wellbeing of our state, nation, and world.

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