Last month, the Palestinian Authority submitted a proposal to the United Nations calling for recognition of a Palestinian state. Though the proposed state consists of only 22 percent of the land historically contested by Israelis and Palestinians, Israel and the United States vehemently objected to the statehood bid, with President Obama threatening to veto the proposal. While developments at the U.N. are still ongoing, several things already are clear.
First, the mask is definitively off when it comes to America’s Israel-Palestine policy. When given a chance to make good on long-declared support for a two-state solution (hint: the missing half of the equation is a state for the side with the stateless people), America balked. The land the statehood proposal seeks to make into a Palestinian state is already recognized under international law to be illegally occupied under a 44 year-and-counting Israeli military occupation. Furthermore, as mentioned, the area comprises just over one-fifth of historic Palestine, and, yet, in our government’s eyes, Palestinians are not even entitled to this. Such one-sided statesmanship should lead even the most naive among us to realize the absurdity of the United States’ self-appointed role as honest peace broker. The unfortunate reality is that the United States is a partner to Israel’s illegal occupation, as evidenced by the billions in military aid the US sends to the Israel annually (enough to cover tuition for all UC Berkeley students many times over).
Second, the U.S. and Israel stand virtually alone in their unprincipled obstruction of Palestinian aspirations for self determination. Well over a hundred countries (by the U.K. press’ count, 126) support the statehood bid, while only a handful are expected to join the U.S. and Israel in opposition. Moreover, the entire international human rights community is united in condemnation of Israel’s occupation of the land in question in the Palestinian statehood initiative (the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza).
Third, the outsized role of right-wing Israeli policy in American politics should, by now, be obvious and alarming. Americans risk regional enmity from decades of supporting Israel, and still our government resoundingly supports the status quo of occupation. Even on our own campus, the reach of Israel’s lobby is felt, with the Israeli consul general arranging private meetings with our student government leaders and our Chancellor to fight student initiatives and reinforce the hegemonic rah-rah Israel position (something documented in correspondences recently made public).
Fourth, outside of the U.S., the world is increasingly immune to Israel apology. No one any longer accepts that the continual expansion of ethnically segregated settlements is a defensive act or undertaken by a party committed to peace, in spite of such self-serving characterizations. Increasingly, the world is questioning the nature of Israeli “democracy” when that democracy is defined as explicitly Jewish and just under one quarter of Israeli citizens are non-Jews who are routinely discriminated against compared to Jewish citizens. To quote philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, “recognition of Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ implies that Israel is, or should be, either a theocracy (if we take the word ‘Jewish’ to apply to the religion of Judaism) or an apartheid state (if we take the word ‘Jewish’ to apply to the ethnicity of Jews), or both, and in all of these cases, Israel is then no longer a democracy.”
Non-Jewish citizens of Israel are denied the right to own land in large swathes of the country; in the occupied territories there exist 4 million Palestinians living under de facto Israeli governance for generations, but who receive none of the protections of Israeli citizenship; in the West Bank there exists one set of roads for Jews and one for Palestinians, complementing an ethnically segregated housing system enforced by military force. In South Africa, the word for such a racist system of governance was apartheid. In the US we had our own word for a similar beast: Jim Crow.
In the absence of leadership from our government, it is incumbent on grassroots movements to force an end to Israel’s racist policies. The template for such bottom-up pressure exists in the form of concerted consumer boycott campaigns and institutional disinvestment efforts that target companies that profit from or enable Israel’s occupation. On our campus and in the Bay Area, there are several companies being targeted for their links to the occupation, including Hewlett Packard, which in addition to computer parts sold in student stores makes hardware for the Israeli military, and Ahava, a beauty product company that steals precious resources from illegally occupied land. Additionally, our university has historically held investments in several companies known to supply the Israeli military with weapons and technologies used in numerous documented killings of civilians.
Already, governments in Europe have canceled contracts with firms enabling the occupation, following pressure from below from unions, churches and students. Such results are only a matter of time in the United States, with the amount of time in question dependent on how quickly we organize.
Maria Lewis is a junior at UC Berkeley and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.