For almost a year now, Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip have been rallying for their liberation in the ongoing Great March of Return. Since March 30, 2018, tens of thousands of Palestinians have participated in the independently-initiated protests, marching along the fence that incarcerates them within a 160 square mile strip of land, demanding their U.N.-sanctioned right to return to their communities. Of the 1.9 million people living in the Gaza Strip, 1.4 million are refugees, families forced from their homes as part of the establishment and expansion of Israel.
In marching for their right of return, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip march for many things. They march in protest of disastrous living conditions: insufficient access to clean water, food and medical supplies; the highest labor-force unemployment rate globally; and only four hours of electricity per day. They march in pursuit of basic security and mental health, to live free of an anxiety-inducing hum of Israeli drones hovering in the sky and fall asleep each night knowing there will be a tomorrow. They march in pursuit of basic freedom of movement, to not live suffocated and entrapped behind the fence of the world’s largest prison, but rather freely experience our beloved Earth in all of its glory. They march in pursuit of the dreams and destinies of the 930,000 children who were born behind the fence, for those children to have access to basic opportunities and the ability to realize their golden, God-given potentials. Most fundamentally, they march in pursuit of their humanity, to demand that the international community treats them as human beings worthy of inalienable rights once and for all.
Participating in these protests has come at a major cost for many. Over the course of 2018, the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF, killed over 250 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded over 25,000 more — all from the other side of the fence. This includes the killing and wounding of over 100 journalists, 100 paramedics and 1,800 children. Just last month, an IDF soldier killed 13-year-old Abdel-Raouf Ismail Mohammad Salha, striking him in the head with a tear gas canister as the IDF attempted to suppress protests. Even so, U.S. politicians, who are recently responsible for legislating $38 billion in aid to Israel and its military, remain deafeningly silent. In fact, the Senate just passed S.1, a bill that allows state and local governments to demand from their contractors statements of opposition against boycotts of Israeli companies.
How are we, concerned citizens of the international community, supposed to respond to these atrocities when our leaders refuse to act? Not with indifference, not with resignation, but with solidarity. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is a global, nonviolent movement to pressure Israel into complying with its obligations under international law: ending its occupation of Arab lands, enshrining equality of Palestinian citizens of Israel into Israeli law and allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. Founded in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, paralleling the global anti-Apartheid movement, the BDS Movement calls on institutions to withdraw investments from companies that profit from the violation of Palestinian human rights.
The BDS Movement is gaining traction. Ireland just passed a bill that would ban the sale of goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In 2018, the city of Dublin dropped its contracts with Hewlett Packard Enterprise due to its provision of technology to the IDF’s system of regulating Palestinian movement, and the Spanish cities of Barcelona and Valencia passed BDS resolutions. Last year in the U.S., the city of Durham banned police exchanges with Israel, and the student governments of New York University, Barnard College and George Washington University passed BDS resolutions.
It is time that the Yale community starts debating the BDS Movement. Our siblings in Gaza are dying, and it is the duty of those of us with the privilege of access to an institution like Yale to speak up and act. Whether or not you support the movement off the bat, we should all agree that universities need to be spaces of open, respectful and rigorous discourse on pressing matters of our time. The question of Palestine should be no exception.
Some may claim that the BDS Movement is anti-Semitic, because it exerts pressure on the world’s only Jewish-majority state. U.S. imperialism does, after all, extend beyond Israel-Palestine: The U.S. military is violently involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Perhaps a Yale College Council BDS resolution should target companies involved in the broader military-industrial complex.
As Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” noted in the New York Times over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, a key barrier to the Israel-Palestine conversation is fear. Fear that we would be published on a site like Canary Mission, fear that we do not know enough about the situation, fear that we would cross the boundary into hateful thought. While the latter two fears are important and should regulate our speech, none of these fears should stop us from speaking. In her New York Times article titled, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander noted that, “King argued, when speaking of Vietnam, that even ‘when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict,’ we must not be mesmerized by uncertainty. ‘We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.’”
Daniel Hamidi graduated from Yale College in 2018. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.