With the hope of building a campus-wide movement, Brown Students for Justice in Palestine held their spring kick-off event, Education without Occupation, on Wednesday, presenting their campaign for divestment from companies profiting from what the group called the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The presentation, an hourlong slideshow, focused on the terms and the reasons used to frame their position. As a part of a weeklong series, this event is in coordination with the 6th annual International Israeli Apartheid Week.
The members began by introducing themselves and their reasons for responding to Palestine's call. Six of the members present — Dia Barghouti '12, Janine Khraishah '12, Francesca Contreras '11, Rosi Greenberg '10, Gavriel Cutipa-Zorn '12 and Ghada Abdelqader GS — have all either lived or spent time in Israel or Palestine. They shared a common story of their personal experience viewing and in some cases living through the injustice as driving their support for the campaign.
"I witnessed the occupation firsthand and its progress," said Khraishah, who said she supports the campaign because it addresses "the root of the problem: occupation of Palestine by the state of Israel."
Though faith is sometimes perceived as dividing individuals on the issue, some members said their Jewish faith was the reason they took action.
"I realized that Israeli actions were not in line with my Jewish values," Cutipa-Zorn said.
Identity, however, is not the only reason for the members' solidarity with the movement against Israeli occupation of Palestine. Ruhan Nagra '10, stated that "this isn't about identity, its about fundamental human rights."
The other group members present — Alysha Aziz '12, Lindsay Goss GS, Michael Dawkins '12, Osman Chaudhry '11 and Herald Opinions Columnist Simon Liebling '12 — referred to their support as a responsibility, stating their complicity in the issue as taxpayers through U.S. investment in companies profiting from the occupation.
The group's campaign on divestment from Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is in solidarity with the 2005 call by "Palestinian civil society" as stated on the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Web site.
"We are basically focusing on initiatives that are specific and relevant to our complicity in Israeli's human rights violations as Brown students," Nagra said.
The group called for Brown to divest from "companies that provide products or services that: contribute to the maintenance of the Israeli military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem; that contribute to the maintenance, expansion and operations of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; that contribute to the maintenance and construction of the Separation Wall; and that contribute to violent acts against Palestinian and Israeli civilians."
The group compared the Separation Wall, which is often justified as necessary for security purposes, to South Africa's Group Areas Act which reserved 87 percent of the land for the minority white population.
When questioned about the possibility of opposition to the demands, Nagra said the group's "entire campaign is centered around basic human rights and international law." She said she believes that "Brown students would want to uphold those values."
Among the many American companies listed as facilitating Israeli occupation, according to the group, are General Electric, Caterpillar, Motorola and Raytheon, a major arms contractor for Israel which has also recruited on campus.
Emphasizing Brown's divestment campaign from South Africa in 1985, the group noted the parallels between the two movements.
"There is no greater testament to the basic dignity of ordinary people everywhere than the divestment movement of the 1980s," the students said, quoting South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "These tactics are not the only parallels to the struggle against apartheid. Yesterday's South African township dwellers can tell you about life in the Occupied Territories."
Special attention was also paid to the use of the term "apartheid" to describe the situation in occupied Palestinian territories.
The group uses the 1973 United Nations definition of apartheid as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them," according to their presentation.
Apartheid's ultimate significance, Nagra said, is "a practice, not an experience. It's a crime against humanity whose scope goes beyond South Africa."
The group said divestment from companies profiting off Israel's occupation of Palestinianterritories is their action of choice toward peace between Palestine and Israel.
"It is nonviolent, grassroots and effective," Chaudry said.
The question-and-answer period prompted questions about the group's evidence of Brown's investment in the companies mentioned.
"We don't know what Brown is invested in, but we can establish a criterion for investment," Nagra said.
A question was also raised concerning Israel's "right to exist" in light of the injustices presented during the event.
"That is not a productive question," Greenberg said. "This is not an idea of how Israel (and) Palestine should be. It is not for us to decide. We are focusing on how we are complicit."
The group said they plan to focus on "mobilizing the student body to approach the administration full force" and on creating a sustainable movement committed to the campaign, which according to them could take two to five years to succeed. This week's events, so far, have given them hope.
"We have been tabling on the Main Green and already we've collected hundreds of signatures," said Nagra. "The support has been incredible."
The rest of the week's events include Activestills, a photo exhibit, and a talk by Susanne Hoder on "Multinational Corporations and Israeli Apartheid."