In 2003, a recent college graduate went abroad to stand up to an injustice she saw in the world. Like many of us, she found a cause worth fighting for and used her privilege to dedicate her time and energy toward it. That cause was Palestinian solidarity.
For some, May 14, 1948 is known as Israeli Independence Day. For others, it is known as “Nakba,” or “the catastrophe.” It marked the start of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, whose descendants now number in the millions and comprise the largest refugee population in the world. Since 1967, Israel has occupied territories in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights and has shown no plans to end the occupation. In fact, Israel has continued to displace Palestinians and establish illegal settlements to expand their territory. Those living in the occupied territories have no freedom of movement; they must wait hours and hours at any of the hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints to travel from city to city, only to be turned back by Israeli authorities. They live as a stateless people with virtually no political rights. Contrary to recent comments by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, it is not culture but occupation and political suppression that prevent the occupied territories from developing economically. Those living within Israel live as second-class citizens in the Jewish state.
Rachel Corrie saw these injustices and decided to do something about it. Since 1967, Israel has demolished 25,000 Palestinian homes and internally displaced over 160,000 souls. As Rachel Corrie was non-violently protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home of a family that she had come to know, she was brutally crushed by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli Defense Forces. Last week, an Israeli court ruled that her death was no one’s fault but her own.
Criticism of the court’s decision isn’t limited to Palestinian peace activists—top U.S. officials have also weighed in. The American ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro denounced the investigation as lacking in thoroughness, transparency and credibility. Former President Jimmy Carter commented, “The killing of an American peace activist is unacceptable. The court’s decision confirms a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory.”
Since her untimely death, Rachel Corrie has become the poster child for the extent of Israeli aggression even in the face of non-violent protest. The sad fact I must cope with, however, is that she probably only has this place—that I am writing this column about her—because she is a white American. To most of the American public and our political representatives, Palestinian lives are not human enough to value. Instead of individuals with their own hopes and dreams, they are terrorists. It is what makes home demolitions, an indefinite military occupation, a blockade on an entire population and continued displacement possible.
Though both Israel and those resisting the occupation admittedly commit human rights abuses, one main difference, aside from the difference in power, is the fact that our own government supports the abuses of Israel. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Congress in 2011 he received a standing ovation from members across the aisle. When Israel is brought up in a presidential debate, competition begins, as each candidate tries to bend over backwards farther in support of her. A defense that there are other parties also committing human rights abuses all around the world holds no water. It doesn’t undo the injustices committed by Israel, nor does it acknowledge that no other country receives more U.S. military aid (over $3 billion annually).
We allow the continued oppression of the Palestinians not just from a failure to pressure our political representatives but also from our economic choices. The Coalition for a Conflict Free Duke taught us how something as simple as the cellphone in our hands can contribute to suffering half a world away. It also taught us that, more than our individual consumer choices, responsible investment by institutions can have the potential to effect real change through economic pressures. If a company that Duke invests in through its endowment takes part in an illegal occupation (for instance Caterpillar, which provides the bulldozers that have demolished Palestinian families’ homes), then we have a moral obligation to divest from such companies. Students at other universities, such as Arizona State, have already divested, targeting corporations that are directly involved in Israeli occupation. There’s no reason Duke can’t do the same.
Today I also make a stand in solidarity with Palestinians: those living under occupation, as second-class citizens or in exile with a dream of one day returning home. Solidarity with Palestine does not mean denying the Jewish people a right to safety, security and happiness wherever they are, but it also doesn’t mean supporting a state that deprives those rights to others. No one, regardless of religious or ethnic identity, should live in fear that their home will be demolished, that they’ll never be able to visit their families, that they’ll be born and die in a refugee camp.
Ahmad Jitan is a Trinity senior. His column runs every other Thursday. You can follow Ahmad on Twitter @AhmadJitan