On Thursday night, Stanford students and faculty will renew their campaign to encourage the University to divest from particular companies whose activities violate international law and abuse human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories. This divestment campaign is part of a growing global, grassroots and nonviolent movement that originated from a call for divestment by Palestinian society in 2005 (represented by approximately 170 Palestinian NGOs) and is supported by a diverse coalition of groups such as U.S.-based Jewish Voice for Peace, Israel Boycott from Within, the Presbyterian Church and the Academic Union of Teachers in the United Kingdom. Many will argue that this campaign prohibits dialogue and presents only one side of a complex issue. I strongly believe, however, that selective divestment campaigns such as this one can and should promote productive dialogue around the issue.
Simply calling for dialogue in the absence of concrete action to end the ongoing conflict can, and often does, contribute to the preservation of the status quo and the false idea that the Israeli government and the Palestinian people (and their representative bodies) are two equal parties. In calling for dialogue, we must also recognize that, institutionally, we are not neutral. Selective divestment encourages students and other members of the Stanford community to consider the reality that institutions like our University that invest in companies that profit from the occupation have already chosen, through their investments, to take a side in this conflict. The United States government, which gives around three billion dollars in aid (much of which is military aid) to Israel annually, is yet another example of how we as Americans are already complicit in the injustices that are occurring.
I am for dialogue, but only if that dialogue begins to acknowledge the fact that Palestinians and Israelis do not stand on equal ground. Consider the following facts as examples: 400,000 Israel settlers currently live in over 120 illegal settlements in the West Bank (and 12 within East Jerusalem), even though Article 49 of the Geneva Convention clearly says, “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” 74 percent of the main routes in the West Bank are controlled by approximately 700 checkpoints, roadblocks and other barriers, where Palestinians often have to wait for hours and must show their identity cards to pass while Israeli settlers are let through almost immediately. In a report given in 2009, Amnesty International accused the Israeli government of denying Palestinians access to adequate water by maintaining complete control over the “shared” water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies. Israelis consume approximately 300 liters of water per day (this includes the water for pools and lush lawns in the settlements), compared to Palestinian consumption, which averages around 70 liters (the World Health Organization recommends at least 100 liters per day). Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, who have lived under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007, lack necessary medical equipment and building supplies to repair schools and homes after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, not to mention the high rates of poverty, unemployment and malnourishment that exist in Gaza. These statistics, of course, only begin to tell the story and I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
The concept of “dialogue as a solution” presupposes that the primary problem in the Israeli Palestinian conflict is misunderstanding and/or inability to compromise. Unfortunately, the images we receive in the United States of the situation in Israel/Palestine often portray the conflict as stemming from some “ancient hatred” between Arabs and Jews or a natural Palestinian proclivity for terrorism. Too often, well-intentioned groups insist that if we could just sit down and talk about it, we could come up with productive solutions to the conflict together. Unfortunately, if this approach ignores the imbalances of power that currently exist in Israel/Palestine, it is destined to fail. The movement for selective divestment here at Stanford calls on the University to not only remove its complicity in human rights abuses (as its code on investment responsibility states the it has an obligation to do), but also asks Stanford students to critically consider why dialogue around this issue is not enough.
Jenna Queenan ’11
President of Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel