In the coming weeks, the UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council will be voting on a resolution calling on the UC Board of Regents to withdraw its investments from five companies directly complicit in and profiting from, violations of human rights and international law in the Palestinian territories, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Since I am from Israel, where it is common to express apprehension about Israeli occupation and where many of my friends publicly refrain from buying goods produced in Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land, I was surprised to discover that some critics of the divestment bill at UCLA are much less tolerant.
They see the bill as being “anti-Israel” and they claim that any divestment resolution, regardless of its actual wording, is directly offensive to Jews on campus of any nationality. In my opinion, these critics miss the point, or deflect it. The bill is not about Israel. It is about all of us at UCLA and our rights and responsibilities as students.
At the moment, every UCLA student is invested in, and therefore complicit in, without being consulted or even informed of, systematic violations of human rights and of international law.
Israeli policy in the Palestinian-occupied territories is widely regarded by governments, legal institutions and human rights organizations internationally as being in clear violation of the Hague Convention and the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as being in violation of key United Nations covenants which form the basis for international humanitarian law.
By investing in these companies, the UC has created an unacceptable situation, made even more intolerable by the fact that many students are Palestinians, their fees partially supporting the oppression of their own families.
This cannot go on. As students of UCLA, we have common interests, rights and obligations toward each other. I have heard talk about the feelings of Jewish students being hurt. Yet, I have many Jewish and Israeli friends on campus who – despite many political disagreements – wholly support the divestment bill.
Personally, I find the assumption that every Jew is bound to feel the same about this issue to be very offensive. This bill is about us as a community of students coming together collectively and demanding changes in UC investments.
I am an international student, a Jewish citizen of Israel. As such I was obligated by law to serve for three years in the Israeli army, and was stationed in the occupied Palestinian territories.
These years spent as an administrator dealing with different aspects of the daily running of the occupation made me directly involved in systematic human rights violations against hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Palestinians. I remember names, specific cases, long nights during which houses were demolished and olive groves uprooted, appearing before my eyes as summaries of the night’s events.
I remember feeling tired and stressed most of the time and I also remember how I gradually became aware of the concrete ways in which I was participating in what I had already known to be a brutal system of oppression.
This direct involvement is not an abstract matter. It is humanly embodied in the pain and suffering of so many Palestinians. This knowledge of my responsibility, complicity and guilt will remain for me to grapple with until I die.
But it is not only direct, formal involvement of individuals that sustains the occupation. Economic investments, although hidden, are no less significant. The difference between my personal case and our collective case as students is that neither the UC Regents nor UCLA students are obligated by law to invest in these companies. We have a choice about the matter.
Little did I imagine that coming to study here, I would discover my university to be invested in companies involved with the everyday maintenance of the occupation.
The complicity of the UC and our UCLA in violations of human rights and international law is not a personal matter, nor is it an arcane feud between pro-Palestinians and pro-Israelis. It is relevant to each and every one of us.
We have a collective right as students not to be implicated in human rights abuses, in violations of international law and in brutal oppression. It is time to demand our right.
Ball is a graduate student of history at UCLA.