We are a group of scholars and academics who teach at universities in the United States who were part of a January 2012 delegation sponsored by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which was a weeklong, fact-finding trip within ’48 Israel and the Occupied West Bank. This is our statement.
Today in the land controlled by the state of Israel, the systematic dispossession of the Palestinian people continues unabated and largely unchallenged by the international community. Barriers to Palestinian mobility, social and political development are visible everywhere. While Jewish-Israeli citizens pass freely, more than five hundred police and military checkpoints regulate every aspect of Palestinian movement between the Occupied West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and the official borders of the state Israel created and constituted in 1948-1949. Passing through these checkpoints, we witnessed a daily ritual of subordination, humiliation and suspicion experienced by masses of Palestinian workers. “These guards see us all the time,” one remarked, “but they never even say hello and barely look at us except to check our papers.”
Abutting the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem, a section of the massive Israeli separation wall annexes Palestinian land for the expanding settlement of Gilo. For Palestinian families who find themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of the wall, what had once been a short walk to school now takes several hours, with no guarantee that Israeli security will allow the schoolchildren past the checkpoints. Between 2000 and 2004 sixty-one Palestinian women gave birth at Israeli army checkpoints: thirty-six died shortly after birth.
Since 1992, Jewish-Israeli settlement within the Occupied Territories has increased by more than 50%; more than 500,000 Jewish settlers now live among 2.5 million Palestinians. Settlements are walled, gated and connected by a sophisticated road, bridge and tunnel network that bypasses the dilapidated Palestinian infrastructure surrounding them. Literally imprinted on the territory that Israel annexed in 1967 (and that is supposedly part of the land of a future Palestinian state), settlements maintain privileged access to the most fertile lands, water and energy resources. In Hebron, the second most populated West Bank city after Jerusalem, a few hundred Jewish settlers backed by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) personnel control the ancient, eastern part of the city inhabited by some 35,000 Palestinians. On our walking tour of Hebron, we saw how settlers have literally colonized the houses above the souq, the main market street. From here, they rain down garbage, excrement and acid on the Arab merchants below, an everyday cruelty designed to strangle the commercial life of the city and render it prone to future settlement expansion. The expansion and vociferous defense of Jewish settlement means that even those parts of Palestinian territory that are nominally self-governing subsist as colonial appendages or sustainable ghettos within what is de facto a single, Israeli state. Veteran settler leader Benny Katzover bluntly stated the guiding ethos of the settlers in a recent interview with the Associated Press, “We didn’t come here to establish democracy, we came here to return the Jewish people to their land.”
Settlers are often depicted within the US and Israeli media as an extreme fringe of Israeli society. Yet, the reality is that settler communities within Israel (comprised of many former US residents) are growing nearly three times faster than the Israeli population as a whole. Israel and the US laud as evidence of Israel’s status as the one true “democracy” in the region, the 1.5 million Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, who presumably have the same civil and political rights as Jewish-Israeli citizens. In our discussions with Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel, however, it became clear that their lives are governed by a host of exceptional legal proscriptions and are subject to special scrutiny by the security services. Palestinian-Arabs who owned the vast majority of the land in pre-1948 Israel have seen that reduced to just 2.5% even though they still comprise 20% of the Israeli population. The Israeli high court recently upheld a law denying Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel the right to live with their spouses from the West Bank, Gaza, or overseas inside the post-1948 borders of Israel. Meanwhile, any person from any place, from Brooklyn to the Ukraine, who is recognized by the state as Jewish, can settle inside Israel, West Bank, or eastern Jerusalem and receive instant citizenship, residency rights, as well as housing and education subsidies. (Encouraged by the state in this manner, more than 1 million Jewish immigrants have settled in Israel since 1990.) The number of additional draft laws to deprive Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel of their rights, including those that would empower Israel’s Interior Ministry to strip them of citizenship altogether (particularly if they show an inclination toward political dissent) is at an all time high in Israel’s Knesset. In short, this is not only about settlers, or the army and police; it is about an Israeli legal regime and political culture that explicitly discriminates against Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel on the basis of their ethnicity and nationality. This discrimination, moreover, has one single aim: to purify the Jewish state by substantially reducing or transferring Palestinian life beyond its walls and borders.
The most disturbing sign that Israel maintains a settler-colonial policy of population transfer, in violation of every article of international law, is the city of Jerusalem itself. We witnessed first hand the human scale of this violation as we listened to testimony from four Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, refugees from 1948, who in November 2008 and August 2009, were forcibly evicted from their homes in the dead of night by the Israeli military. Their houses were subsequently pillaged, taken over by settlers, and their belongings thrown out into the street. (In a final indignity, the families were sent a bill for their forced removal). Israel routinely refuses building permits to Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem. We met a Palestinian family of four living in cramped, one-room conditions in the Old City, who attempted to modestly expand the size of their house only to be forced into a self-demolition by Israeli building inspectors, lest they risk losing their home altogether. Some 10,000 Palestinian children who live in eastern Jerusalem are denied residency permits by Israel because their parents live in the West Bank or Gaza, severely impacting their access to education, health and social services. Meanwhile, Jewish settlements in eastern Jerusalem have been knitted together, and linked to the western half of the city by a state of the art, light rail system built by the French transportation giant Veolia, in direct violation of the Hague Convention which renders illegal changes to infrastructure in occupied territory that do not benefit the occupied population, or that serve a military purpose.
The explicit goal of the evictions, demolitions, population and zoning restrictions, extensive new infrastructure and walling projects in eastern Jerusalem is to produce a Jewish demographic majority throughout what the Israelis now call “greater Jerusalem.” Since 1992, more than 110,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have been effectively expelled from the city by the separation wall, which the International Court of Justice (IJC) advisory opinion has termed “contrary to international law.” A new report by European Union delegates based in Jerusalem and Ramallah confirms that since 2001 Israel has been working steadily and consciously to “Judaize” and annex the eastern part of the city that is holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews. The EU report highlights the urgency of the situation, calling Israeli policy an immediate danger to prospects of “sustainable peace” that should trigger international sanctions. From the West Bank, to Jerusalem, to ’48 Israel to Gaza (where we were unable to visit due to the Israeli blockade), a single picture comes into focus: Israel is making every effort to secure as much Palestinian land, property and resources with as few Palestinian people as possible. From the manic settlement expansion and walling frenzy, to intensified surveillance and population control at the checkpoints, to the legalization of discrimination in marriage, residency and travel, the Israeli social and political model represents the most explicit, elaborate and sadly durable form of colonialism and apartheid in the world today. What makes the situation more urgent than ever before is that the explicit and implicit policies of Jewish settlement and Palestinian population transfer and incapacitation are now accelerating at a rate that makes the prospects of a just peace increasingly remote.
The all-purpose justification for these appalling violations of Palestinian human rights and human dignity is defense of Israeli security in the face of terrorism, a claim frequently underpinned by thinly veiled anti-Arab racism, as when Israeli politicians like Ehud Barak describe the surrounding Arab region as a “jungle,” (presumably populated by less-than human Arab peoples). We do not accept security as a rationale for the dispossession of an entire people, for the racist devaluation of their lives, or for the blatant disregard of their claims to social and political rights and economic opportunity. For this reason, we fundamentally question why our own government continues to subsidize the Israeli occupation to the tune of $8.6 million per day, with plans to do so for the foreseeable future. The allocation of such enormous resources to regional policing seems to us to primarily safeguard the interests of the global 1%. Indeed, we believe that the militarization of security that Israel and the US increasingly share has become part of the problem of escalating violence in the region for which it pretends to be a solution.
As members of an international community of scholars, cultural workers and activists we remain specially attuned to the role that knowledge production, dissemination and exchange plays in both upholding and challenging relations of unequal power. Palestinian scholars and students are routinely denied academic freedom by the state of Israel. Israel has consistently closed Palestinian universities under security pretexts; international and Palestinian scholars living abroad are denied visas for faculty appointments in the occupied territories. Israel thwarts Palestinian research capacities by restricting imports of equipment necessary for teaching basic science and engineering. It is all but impossible for Gaza students to attend West Bank universities, or for scholars from Ramallah, Gaza City, and eastern Jerusalem to meet in the same room. Even Israeli scholars who dissent from state policy face marginalization and harassment. Most Israeli (as well as US) academic institutions have been either silent or complicit in the face of Palestinian scientific, educational, medical, social, and political suffocation. Many Israeli academic institutions are directly involved in violations of Palestinian human rights and international law – from expropriating Palestinian lands to providing demographic, sociological, medical, legal and scientific research in the service of Israel’s apartheid policies.
With both tacit and explicit backing of the US, Israel’s colonization and occupation of Palestinian land and its strangulation of Palestinian life advances unchecked. It is often said that Israel is unfairly singled-out and held to a special standard, implying discriminatory motives on the part its critics. But Israel is the most egregious example in the world today of an occupation that has persisted (and intensified) for almost half a century in flagrant violation of international law, and in contempt of the consistent judgment of the United Nations. Neither periodic pressure from diplomats and NGOs, nor international legal judgments and tribunals condemning, for example, the Wall, the settlements, or the siege of Gaza, nor the on-going, and now visibly fraudulent “peace process” itself, have pierced the veil of Israeli impunity. In response to a call from within Palestinian civil society, we therefore declare our support for the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). The academic and cultural boycott emerges in the context of a broader call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fully abides by its obligations under international law. In a venerable tradition of non-violent, civil disobedience and protest against intolerable social conditions, the call for boycott has been endorsed by a majority of Palestinian unions, political parties, NGO networks and civic organizations. We believe that it is one of the more hopeful signs in on-going Palestinian collective resistance to occupation and systemic inequality within Israel, and a powerful means of generating international solidarity with the struggles of the Palestinian people.
We refuse to be silent or passive in the face of gross violations of principles of universal human rights that both Israel and the United States publicly purport to uphold. As was the case with the US removal of tribal nations, the US South under anti-Black “Jim Crow” laws or South Africa under apartheid, Palestine today is the measure of the meaning and value of human rights in our time. By challenging injustice there we challenge the ways in which both US and Israeli security policies have normalized military colonialism, mass incarceration and permanent war both domestically and around the world, from the Pacific Islands to the Indian Ocean. There can be no self-determination and no human rights under conditions of occupation, colonialism, segregation, or discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion. We urge our academic colleagues to join us in endorsing the USACBI and upholding the principles of BDS in solidarity with our Palestinian counterparts. We believe that the perpetuation of the international travesty of colonial occupation in a post-colonial world must be brought to an end, for it ultimately threatens the rights, dignity and security of everyone who believes in self-determination, equal justice and human rights.
J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Associate Professor of American Studies and Anthropology, Wesleyan University*
Robin D.G. Kelley, Gary Nash Professor of History, University of California Los Angeles*
Bill Mullen, Professor of English, Purdue University*
Nikhil Pal Singh, Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and History, New York University*
Neferti Tadiar, Professor and Chair of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Barnard College*
*For identification purposes only.
All of the authors are currently members of USACBI.
For press inquiries, please contact USACBI at firstname.lastname@example.org.