When will the University of California stop funding war crimes against Palestinian civilians? How much longer will grieving mothers have to wait for justice?
Zinad Samouni is still waiting. She is a 35-year-old Palestinian mother of eight who lost 48 of her family members in Israel’s assault on Gaza in January 2009, including her four-year-old son Ahmed.
“The soldiers came early on the morning of Sunday January 4th. [My husband] Atiyeh went to the door with his hands raised holding his ID but they shot him in the doorway,” said Zinad. “I shouted ‘children, children’ in Hebrew but they started shooting,” said Zinad’s nephew Faraj.
After the massacre, Israeli soldiers left messages for the dead Samouni family members on the walls of a neighbor’s house. The graffiti read: “Arabs need 2 die,” “Arabs are pieces of shit,” and “1 is DOWN 999,999 TO GO.”
Israel’s attack on civilians was a “deliberate policy” designed to inflict “humiliation and dehumanization of the Palestinian population,” according to a United Nations report.
The minority of UC Berkeley student senators who did not vote in favor of Senate Bill 118, “A Bill in support of UC Divestment from War Crimes,” expressed uncertainty about whether Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. Why is it that every independent organization that has investigated has asserted that Israel committed war crimes? Is it credible to believe that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the U.N. are all lying? Why did numerous Rabbis endorse the Goldstone Report's findings?
What is the ASUC’s responsibility: to protect the human lives that are stolen by UC-funded war crimes, or to insulate Israel’s defenders from the uncomfortable feelings that arise when the truth is told?
Why did the Israeli Prime Minister’s sister-in-law, Ofra Ben-Artzi, join numerous prominent Jews and Israelis in endorsing the divestment bill? Is it credible to believe she would have done so if the bill somehow undermined Israeli identity or criticized Israel unfairly?
Some of the student senators who didn’t vote yes have expressed that if today were 1960, they would support a divestment bill related to Jim Crow segregation, because it was clearly a situation of oppression. How many more Palestinian civilians must die at the hands of UC bombs before student senators see this oppression? Or will senators forever sit on their hands because of the tears and emotional outbursts of the defenders of Israel, who cry about their supposed feelings of marginalization even as the UC-backed Israeli military deals out death and destruction to four-year-olds?
The divestment bill only targets corporations with clear ties to Israel’s war crimes and illegal occupation. It does not call for divestment from Israel, as Israel’s defenders have falsely claimed. It sensibly does not take any stance on the final status issues in the Israel/Palestine conflict, such as negotiations over borders. The only thing it does is to send a message to UC to stop funding illegal activities that harm Palestinian civilians, and establish a committee to investigate other possible examples of UC-funded war crimes.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas also committed war crimes, albeit on a smaller scale than Israel’s. Fortunately, U.S. law prohibits investments that support Hamas. Thus it is unnecessary to include Hamas in the divestment call.
Israel’s defenders point out that the divestment bill does not mention any other human rights violations. But no one said that Berkeley’s South Africa Apartheid divestment bill must include Columbia’s human rights violations, for example. Each human rights violation is unique, and those who want to target other violations should write and promote such a bill. They will need to establish how UC funding contributes to those violations, which requires months of careful research.
Senators, how do you think it feels for us students to know that our tuition dollars are paying to kill our friends, family members, and colleagues in Gaza? Israel should not be entitled to special treament and a free pass to commit war crimes just because it promotes itself as a Jewish state and certain defenders of Israel can’t bring themselves to see the reality of war crimes.
A vote in favor of the divestment bill is a small cry for common sense and ethics in UC investments, and removes the current UC bias toward funding Israel’s military. Any other vote will continue the status quo of this University funding yet more war crimes against Palestinian civilians.
The UC Berkeley student senate will cast a final vote on the divestment bill on April 28th, with 14 votes needed to override the student president’s veto of the bill. Last time, 13 voted yes. One more yes vote will finally begin the process of justice for Zinad Samouni’s 48 dead family members.
Matthew A. Taylor is a UC Berkeley Peace and Conflict Studies student on leave. He is a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, and author of a published paper entitled “The Road to Nonviolent Coexistence in Israel/Palestine.”