For the Skeptics: Why Divest?

The other day, I grabbed dinner with a friend. “I heard you were working on the Israeli divestment campaign,” he mentioned. “Tell me about that.”

His words reinforced a prevalent misconception concerning the Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine initiative: that we are asking our peers to indict a nation, to divest from the state of Israel. That misrepresentation incites worries that neither Stanford students, nor our Senate, know enough to take such a condemnatory stance. It invites concerns that by divesting, Stanford will delegitimize Israel, marginalize Jewish students, and fragment our community.

However, the label “Israeli divestment” is false**. **Our divestment campaign proposes something entirely different: divestment not from a state, but from *multinational companies *that profit from human rights violations against Palestinians, regardless of which entity or nation contracted them. This campaign does not take a stance on the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Instead, it calls for specific, targeted divestment against the occupation that harms both Israelis and Palestinians, stemming from our coalition’s belief in the dignity of human life.

By supporting us, you join us in advocating a simple, unifying stance: we affirm that every human deserves certain human rights, and we do not want to be complicit in the denial of those rights. Consequently, we stand against state-sponsored repression, as manifested by unjust incarceration, disproportionate force against protesters, and torture. We condemn collective punishment, or people being punished for crimes they did not commit. Furthermore, we believe that Stanford actively *investing *in such human rights violations is far more divisive, harmful, and contrary to peace than Stanford divesting.

Allow me to trust that you, too, believe in our moral duty to honor the dignity of a human life. Allow me to trust that you, too, realize that by profiting from human rights violations, we defy that moral duty. Then, your misgivings could only be: are these companies really profiting from human rights violations? Who are they, anyway?

Here are some examples, starting with three corporations complicit in state-sponsored repression: Combined Tactical Systems, Defense Technology Corporation, and G4S. Combined Tactical Systems and Defense Technology Corporation produce, among other weapons, tear gas canisters used by Israeli military and Palestinian police to injure and kill unarmed Palestinian protesters. The same canisters were used against protesters in Ferguson.

G4S maintains the Israeli prison system that incarcerates Palestinian prisoners outside of the Occupied Territories, violating Article 76 of the Geneva Convention. Furthermore, these prisons have been repeatedly lambasted by the UN for a troubling overuse of administrative detention without charge or trial, as well as systematic “torture and ill-treatment”. Prisoners have included 7,000 Palestinian children within the past decade, usually incarcerated for alleged stone-throwing. As punishment, many are hauled in leg shackles before military courts, kept in solitary confinement, and occasionally even used as human shields–forced to enter potentially dangerous buildings first, and stand before military vehicles to prevent attacks.

Cement Roadstone Holdings, Motorola Solutions, and Elbit Systems contribute to the illegal separation barrier, an amalgam of electronic fence, barbed wire, and concrete intended to regulate entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel. Although the barrier was erected citing security concerns from the Second Intifada, 85% of this wall protrudes within the West Bank. As it annexes Palestinian property, it simultaneously deprives Palestinians of water resources, health services, education, and employment opportunities.

Caterpillar and Lockheed Martin facilitate collective punishment by providing bulldozers and arms used to destroy Palestinian homes, villages, roads, electricity and water lines, and agricultural lands–as well as United Nations shelters and schools.  A number of arbitrary reasons are provided to justify demolitions, including not having nearly impossible-to-obtain building permits,  punishing alleged criminals, creating space for the separation wall, and deterring potential attacks. This summer’s military strikes culminated in even more suffering of Palestinian civilians–resulting in over 1500 civilian casualties, and 18,000 homes rendered uninhabitable. Complicit in their pain is Raytheon, which is one of two companies in the world to produce the Paveway II bombs that decimated Palestinian residences; and in its May 2014 SEC filings, Stanford disclosed holdings of over 4 million in Raytheon common stock.

Nobody on the campaign denies that innocents have suffered on both sides of the conflict, nor that Israelis possess the right to self-determination and security. But “security concerns” cannot legitimize punishing the innocent–no more than they can justify torture, mistreatment of children, use of disproportionate force against unarmed protesters, or illegal land expropriation. Such counter-arguments do nothing to contradict the tenets of this campaign: the structure of occupation, as it unfolds in Palestine, unequivocally denies human rights; certain corporations profit from that denial; and Stanford, pursuant to its promise to give weight to factors of “substantial social injury,” ought not invest in these actions.

Deciding what you feel about this campaign boils down to answering a set of simple questions. If you had a choice to provide input about where Stanford invests its money, would you ask it to invest in Palestinian suffering? Or would you instead choose the inherently pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace stance, by calling for selective divestment from the injustices of the occupation? Would you choose the stance that honors human rights, promoting a more safe and just future for all?

Today, we all have that choice. I hope that we, as well as our fifteen elected Senators, practice the integrity to make the moral one.

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