As citizens of the United States, we have a unique responsibility to live in awareness of the actions of our country, both at home and abroad. Our government, which is founded on principles of democracy, relies on the active participation of all its citizens to function as intended. It is in this same spirit that Yale students should exhibit critical concern for the behavior of this University concerning both its members and those with whom it interacts. The characteristics of both this country and this institution not only represent us in the world, but also inform us of the degree of concern with which we uphold our values.
This being said, it is important that advocacy of divestment from Israel, particularly student initiatives to convince Yale to divest, be contextualized. The United States provides a considerable amount of funding in the forms of grants and loans to Israel, $5 billion each year in total aid. This is more per capita and in blunt capacity than is provided to any other nation. This financial assistance carries with it a tacit endorsement of the Israeli government. It also stands alongside the United States’ continual characterization of Israel as the shining democracy of the Middle East amidst a region of repressive governments. The United States lends a great degree of its political capital to Israel by aligning the young country with the world’s largest superpower. The sum effect of this information is to show that the United States is very closely tied with Israel and has a history of supporting it. This would seem sufficient reason for the United States and its citizens to very carefully examine the policies and actions of the Israeli government.
This begs the question: Why not advocate divestment from Egypt or Saudi Arabia? The United States provides aid to both of these countries as well, and thus a similar endorsement — except that the United States does not provide nearly as much funding to these countries. Egypt receives $2 billion in aid from the United States each year, $3 billion less than Israel, despite the fact that its population (70.7 million) outweighs that of Israel (6 million) by approximately 64.7 million people. The United States provides no specific financial aid to Saudi Arabia, instead selling them military equipment and providing training to their armed forces in exchange for the right to maintain military bases on their soil. The key difference between these countries and Israel is that the United States does not espouse their place as role models for the rest of the Middle East, or align itself with them politically. We simply do business with them.
A primary focus on Israel when examining U.S. government interactions on the international scale is not the product of skewed reasoning. It makes sense to begin the examination with the country to which we give the clearest and strongest endorsement. A careful inquiry yields a set of disturbing facts concerning Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people. It amounts to a system of both de jure and de facto apartheid similar to that seen in South Africa. This is not a loose analogy or academic recklessness. The United Nation’s International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid clearly outlays the standard for an apartheid regime.
As defined by the conference, apartheid consists of a set of state policies that meet the following criteria: (a) “Denial to a member or members of a racial group or groups the right to liberty of person.” (b) “Deliberate imposition on a racial group or groups of living conditions calculated to cause its or their physical destruction in whole or part.” (c) “Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country — in particular denying of members of a racial group basic human rights and freedoms.” (d) “Any measures — designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos — [including] the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group.”
Israel’s polices in the occupied territories meet these standards amply, as judged by several human rights organizations (Amnesty International, B’Tselem, etc.). In 1999, 1,500 Palestinians underwent military trails that did not meet international standards of fairness, and 18 Palestinians were killed in a manner suggesting extrajudicial executions. Eight houses were demolished as a form of collective punishment. In fact, 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry is denied living rights on 92 percent of its land; 7,120 Jewish-only housing units were constructed for approximately 30,000 new settlers, accompanied by the confiscation of land and production of Jewish-only bypass roads to connect them. All this was conducted amidst constant restrictions of movement: access to work, schooling and medical care. Since the second intifada began, the level of destruction and segregation of Palestinian life has accelerated.
There is no reason that the United States, the world’s most powerful democracy, or our University, self-proclaimed bastion of intellectual progress, should turn a blind eye to these policies. It is imperative that we strictly hold both to the principles upon which they are built by demanding they divest from Israel. Should we allow ourselves to become lax, our own liberty may be the next that is circumscribed.
Leveille McClain is a junior in Pierson College and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.