Submission: UCLA’s failure to divest harms its Palestinian students
Today marks the beginning of UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine’s annual Palestine Awareness Week, a series of events centered on educating students about the Palestinian struggle for justice and equality. While Students for Justice in Palestine has been hosting this event for the past eight years, this week promises to be different, and more crucial than ever.
I say this because there is an issue our campus has been dancing around for quite some time that we are more than ready to finally talk about: divestment.
Divestment is a simple concept. It means that our university will stop investing funds in companies engaged in inappropriate or unethical behavior. It is part of a larger non-violent tactic called boycotts, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, that has been used successfully in numerous struggles, most notably in contributing to the end of South African apartheid. In 2005, it was adopted by Palestinian civil society as a way to put pressure on Israel to stop denying Palestinians freedom and equal rights.
The purpose and effect of divestment is not to destroy the state of Israel, nor to impose harm upon its citizens. It is a peaceful strategy which places economic pressure on companies to stop engaging in harmful and immoral practices. Some of these companies include Caterpillar, Cemex and Raytheon, which enable and profit from home demolitions in the West Bank, sell cement used to build a massive wall throughout Palestinian territory or sell weapons used to injure and kill Palestinian civilians, respectively.
While Students for Justice in Palestine calls on our campus to remove funds from corporations that aid in the violation of Palestinian rights, some students oppose this idea. They claim that divestment is divisive, creating a harmful campus climate, or that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is justified. But if anyone on campus is being harmed by this issue, it is due to the appalling fact that, simply by paying their tuition, Palestinian students at UCLA are funding the destruction of their own family’s homes or aiding in the construction of the 8-meter-high, 430-mile-long wall that separates their families in Palestine. Divesting from these companies can do no real harm to UCLA’s pro-Israel students, whereas our current investments are already harming Palestinians and UCLA students with families and loved ones in Palestine.
In November 2012, Students for Justice in Palestine issued a call in the Daily Bruin for a debate on divestment. Although we have repeated the call several times, no one has taken up our offer. Instead, we’ve seen responses range from trying to ban our campaign to attempting to portray us as unreasonable and extreme.
Two weeks ago, an Undergraduate Students Association Council member proposed a resolution that would have skipped this debate altogether by prohibiting divestment in favor of the vague notion of positive investments. Since the resolution failed, Students for Justice in Palestine has been labeled angry, extreme, unwilling to talk, unwilling to talk about talk and, most laughably, in a comment on a Daily Bruin article, UCLA’s version of the Tea Party. We view this as an attempt to avoid an honest debate about divestment, and we are confident that UCLA students who are interested in the honest pursuit of knowledge will not avoid our perspective just because we are being stigmatized by those who disagree with us.
Palestine Awareness Week is an opportunity to have our viewpoint heard and judged fairly, not cut off through bills that prohibit our campaign or through discourse that imposes negative stereotypes on us. We invite you to meet us at Bruin Plaza, to read our material, ask us questions, join us for evening panels and make up your own minds about whether or not we should continue to invest in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.
Palma is a graduate student in anthropology and a board member for the Students for Justice in Palestine.