The grassroots national divestment movement is gaining momentum around the country as people of conscience are learning the awful truth about the ethnic cleansing going on in the Occupied Palestinian territories. At its core it is an attempt to use nonviolent civil means to end a horribly violent situation. In their attempt to defend Israeli war crimes, Daniel Fichter ’06 and James Kirchick ’06 (“The truly extremist side of divestment,” 11/18) do their best to smear the divestment movement in general, Students for Justice in Palestine at Yale, and, by association, our campaign and petition (the Yale Divest from Israel Campaign). War crimes, and crimes against humanity are by definition indefensible, so the kinds of disinformation and erroneous category conflations they resort to is, unfortunately, the only place to go if one wants to hold their position. Their defamatory attempts at guilt by association, particularly with respect to SJP Yale are McCarthyistic and repulsive.
As to other mislabelings, the SJP meeting in Michigan this fall was not the national meeting of the divestment movement as the authors claim, it was the national meeting of SJP. SJP is an active, vocal, and historically important part of the national movement but SJP is not the national movement. Of the major campaigns such as those at Princeton, Harvard/MIT, Cornell, and Columbia, which the authors mention in their opening line, none are SJP campaigns, nor is ours at Yale. Some Yale SJP members have signed our petition and some not. Because SJP Yale has a very different statement of purpose than we have, it has not, as an organization, endorsed our petition. In crudest terms their goal is a single democratic state and ours is to end the occupation. Towards the latter we hope to bring together the broadest coalition we can.
One of the central demands of our petition is the implementation of an international peacekeeping force, and one of the talking points of the pro-Israeli lobbyists’ campaign is that Israel is being “singled out.” We agree. It’s singled out by our government not only as the hugely disproportionate per capita recipient of foreign aid and weapons (in violation of the Arms Export Act) but with special veto power that gives it cart blanche to continue with the ongoing perpetration of atrocities in the cleansing of the Palestinian territories. Each time a major escalating cleansing operation has been launched with massive home demolitions, civilian killings, mass roundups, the use of human shields, and torture, the Palestinians have gone to the international community for intervention and the United States has stood in the way. On Dec. 15 of last year U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte cast the sole veto in the U.N. Security Council, defeating a resolution that would have put an international force in place and preemptively stopped the massive assault on Jenin and Nablus two months later. The war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during this period are the subject of the recent Amnesty International report which can be easily found on our website yaledivestnow.org.
The authors say “the Yale divestment campaign has ranked the Jewish state with Nazi Germany by daringly alleging that Israel is ‘very possibly’ guilty of ‘crimes of genocide.'” But this is neither a daring comparison, nor is it ours. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights, for example, found the massacre of refugees in Sabra and Shatila for which it held Israel responsible to be an “act of genocide” (U.N. report E/CN.4/RES/1985/2). That the war crimes are going on as you are reading this, that there are thousands being detained and tortured, and millions locked up, in effect, as British Ambassador to Israel Sherard Cowper-Cowles said a few weeks ago, in “the largest detention camp in the world” is not subject to question. Whether this is full-blown genocide or not is beside the point here. It is in any case a hideous example of apartheid (under the U.N. Convention). While Palestinians under their effective imprisonment suffer chronic malnutrition with permanent developmental consequences for their children, and are getting nowhere near the amount of water the World Health Organization says is minimal for a human per day, minority “settlers” sit on illegally seized land on fortified hills in defiance of the Geneva Conventions (making them war criminals) subsidized by the Israeli government and indirectly the United States and any company supporting the Israeli economy, swimming pools filled and lawn sprinklers running. These settlements, or more accurately the outposts for expansionistic cleansing, are being built in direct defiance of international law every day.
Palestinians go thirsty and crops go dry; water is not simply diverted to the settlements but into Israel proper. According to the United Nations, more than 71 percent of the water from the West Bank is illegally stolen against international law and diverted directly into Israel. When Israelis lose their lives at the hands of Palestinians we hear it and see it 24/7. But what we don’t get is the ongoing day to day and now escalating cleansing. What we’re not told, for example, is that during the six-week period when a study by the U.N. Commission for Human Rights could be conducted and when there was no major incursion going on at all, there was an average of 68 Palestinian children killed, blinded, permanently maimed or injured every day. And what we’re not told is that a high percentage of the injuries are to the upper body with the result often being the loss of an eye or severe brain damage.
International law makes the funding of such crimes a crime in itself, and Yale’s investment policy certainly forbids it. Our divestment campaign is about ending this complicity. We cannot continue to be a part of it, and maybe if we’re not, it will stop.
Rod Swenson MFA ’69 is spokesperson for the Yale Divest from Israel Campaign.