By Ida Audeh
In September, the University of Colorado Board of Regents will be presented with a petition urging it to remove from the university’s stock portfolio all companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Launched by CU-Divest and signed by nearly 2,000 students and human rights activists, the petition states that the university’s $1.7 billion investments “may violate the University’s commitment to human rights and social justice.”
Similar divestment campaigns are underway in dozens of campuses across the country, following the successful efforts of Hampshire College students in 2009. (The retirement plan giant TIAA-CREF is the focus of a separate national divestment campaign.)
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call to the international community to apply boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it upholds international law and Palestinian rights. The appeal resonated with human rights activists who have been frustrated by their government’s failure to pressure Israel to stop its human rights violations of Palestinians.
The U.S. divestment campaign has been modeled very deliberately on campaigns that targeted investment in South Africa apartheid during the 1980s. The two countries, Israel and the former South Africa, are remarkably similar in their treatment of populations they define as undesirable (Palestinians and black South Africans, respectively).
The similarity has been observed by South Africans who visit the occupied Palestinian territories. In 2010 Archbishop Desmond Tutu published an open letter to the University of Berkeley student government: “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”
So which companies profit from the occupation? A Web site (whoprofits.org) helps identify companies with Israeli military and illegal settlement connections. Motorola has a contract with the Israeli military to provide communications technology, including voice and data services to military commanders. (Israel’s indiscriminate shelling of the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009 prompted UN officials to accuse Israel of war crimes.)
Another collaborator in Israel’s crimes is Caterpillar, the largest producer of earth-moving construction vehicles. The Israeli military has used Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy more than 12,000 Palestinian homes since 1967. This company contributes to the homelessness of an occupied people and should not be part of any university’s (or individual’s) stock portfolio.
Will divestment end the occupation? It may not even end Israel’s illegal siege and blockade of the Gaza Strip (in place since 2006) or ongoing lethal aggression against the 1.5 million Palestinians who call it home. Divestment from occupation-supporting companies and interests will not compel Israel to implement the 2004 recommendations of the International Court of Justice to immediately stop building the separation wall, dismantle the parts that have already been built, and restore the land to its owners. Protest of the wall that has destroyed farming communities has as of January 1, 2011 claimed the lives of 21 unarmed Palestinians, who were either shot or gassed by the Israeli army.
Because U.S. support for Israel exacerbates the conflict, we have a moral obligation toward those who are targeted by U.S. and Israeli policies. One (by no means the only) meaningful action we can take is to identify companies that are complicit in Israeli control of the occupied Palestinian territories and to refrain from boosting their profits.
(The CU Divest petition is available here: https://sites.google.com/site/cudivest/home/petition)
– Ida Audeh, an editor who lives in Boulder, is a Palestinian who grew up in the occupied West Bank. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in the Daily Camera: www.dailycamera.com.)