March 02, 2008

Viewpoint: Divest from complicity

From March, 2007 on Michigan Daily

By Paul Abowd

In America, we are often told of a place called Israel, where our western-like ally is steeped in a cycle of violence, a micro-war on terror that no one can stop. Framed this way, the discussion avoids mention of the power dynamic at work between a colonial state and a shrinking nation called Palestine. This is an occupation, not merely a war fought between two equal sides. And though geographically distant, Americans are closely tied to the violence. The Israeli government would not be able to execute its decades-long campaign of oppression without American support.

Some months ago, the Daily's then editorial page editor Christopher Zbrozek complained that the discussion of this issue had begun to bother him: "As an American without a horse in this race, I at least have the luxury, if I choose … to ignore the whole mess as I go about my life" (The worst debate on campus, 11/28/07). Smug indifference ignores the impact that we have on a situation we all wish would be resolved.

America gives about $3 billion in combined military and economic aid to Israel ever year, more than it gives to any other nation in the world. So what's the problem with this support? Israel uses this money to purchase American weapons and impose an overt colonial project.

For decades, Israel has purchased fighter jets, attack helicopters and high-tech weapons from American companies. It now constitutes the largest air force in the Middle East; and uses it not just for self-defense. The Israeli Defense Force uses this military superiority to expand control over Palestinian land and livelihood. Our elected officials sign the checks, even though Israeli occupation defies International Court of Justice rulings and international law.

Dollars keep flowing, even though the occupation is condemned by the United Nations as well as many major American and Israeli human rights organizations. America's blind support even violates its own laws, which prohibit aid "… to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."

America's attempt to mediate peace is corrupted by this long history of subsidization. The latest "Road Map" proposal is equally meaningless as long as our government enables the occupying army. Peace is attainable only if it ensures justice and security for both communities.

In 1993, Israel promised to freeze its settlements as part of the peace agreement forged at Oslo. But 14 years later, Israel's settler population has only increased, and Palestinians are surrounded by the Israeli military regime that isolates their communities. The IDF justifies every offensive in the name of security. The military has sealed the borders of Gaza, enforcing economic strangulation to punish Palestinians for voting the "wrong" party into power.

All Palestinians are treated as suspects, and anyone could be the target of fly-by assassinations in civilian areas or home demolitions that punish entire families for the alleged crimes of individuals.

Palestinians are confined by a matrix of military surveillance, walled in by a separation barrier, curfews, checkpoints and a network of Israeli-only roads connecting settlements to each other while bypassing and further isolating Palestinian communities. The occupied are terrorized by raids, arrests, indefinite prison sentences and well-documented methods of torture used in Israeli prisons.

The first Palestinian suicide bomber attacked in 1994 - almost 30 years after the occupation began. Even so, Palestinian protests during the first intifada in 1987 were answered with gunfire and terror. Words cannot fully illustrate the desperation created by occupation, realities which our taxes help pay for. The money we need to revitalize America's ghettoes and overhaul our dysfunctional prison complex is underwriting the creation of ghettoes in Palestine and the maintenance of a veritable prison for Palestinians living within the confines of Israeli apartheid.

American colleges hold investments in companies - like Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Boeing and General Electric - that produce and sell the tools of occupation. In solidarity with students at the University of Michigan at Dearborn and Wayne State, Howard and Stanford universities, we must demand that administrators at our university investigate and sever our complicit ties with militarism.

The University Board of Regents and University President Mary Sue Coleman owe the campus community an explanation as to these troubling investment policies. U.S. military support must cease in order to create conditions for a just peace. As students, we can do our part by demanding divestment from American companies who fuel and profit from Israeli state terrorism.

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