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“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.”