We are excited to urge Wesleyan students and Wesleyan Student Assembly members to support, and vote yes on, Resolution X.35: Wesleyan Divestment from Companies Profiting from or Contributing to Illegal Occupation of Palestine. At a pivotal moment when many people and institutions are promoting divestment, the WSA will be voting on Sunday whether to stop investing in companies that profit from the illegal military occupation of Palestine.
Why divest? Divestment is one of the tactics of the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement. BDS is a peaceful campaign of “non-violent punitive measures” meant to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international law and “to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination.” This movement is directly inspired by the international movement against South African apartheid . “Not only is Israel harming Palestinians, but it is harming itself,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African leader against apartheid in his own county, wrote two years ago. “Israel becoming an apartheid state or like South Africa in its denial of equal rights is not a future danger, as three former Israeli prime ministers — Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and David Ben Gurion — have warned, but a present-day reality. This harsh reality endured by millions of Palestinians requires people and organizations of conscience to divest from thos e companies…profiting from the occupation and subjugation of Palestinians” . As students at a university in the United States, divestment is a tool we have to make ourselves neutral in this situation: we will no longer be financially supporting the military occupation.
BDS is a nonviolent means for ordinary people, beyond the national representatives in negotiations, to address the ongoing human rights abuses in the occupied territories. The ongoing blockade against Gaza by the Israeli government has prevented people from having access to food, fuel, building materials, medical care, and the basic economic, physical, and psychological wellbeing that all people deserve. The small strip of land is becoming “uninhabitable” for the almost two million people that live there . In the West Bank, “the Israeli military has issued directives prohibiting any Palestinian presence on land within Gaza abutting the territory’s perimeter fence, currently up to 300 meters from the fence, but Israeli forces have frequently shot at Palestinians beyond that distance. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that Israeli forces’ use of live ammunition has placed up to 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land off-limits to farmers” . Construction of Israeli settlements—which necessitates the violent eviction of Palestinians who had been living there—is happening at an increasing rate, with almost 2,000 settlement housing units built in the first half of 2013 alone. Israel continues to limit the freedom of movement of Palestinians with checkpoints and a border wall. Israel also holds hundreds of Palestinian prisoners without charge, many of them children, and many of them arrested at gunpoint for nothing more than throwing stones . It is a situation described as “apartheid, colonization, and occupation”  and there is a clear path to addressing it.
At Wesleyan, we are working for divestment. This resolution is asking for a stance of neutrality from the WSA. As it stands now, the investments of the University and the WSA materially support ongoing human rights abuses. Whether we like it or not, that is taking a stand. This resolution is an opportunity to retract our support of those human rights abuses and be neutral as to the ultimate outcome.
The WSA will be deciding on whether to ask the administration to divest the endowment from these companies. If that does not occur in a transparent manner, the WSA has the agency to remove the money in its own endowment from investments in the occupation. The WSA will also move its money that is held within Wesleyan’s endowment so that none of the Student Assembly’s money is invested in companies profiting from human rights abuses in Palestine.
The resolution is narrowly focused on companies profiting from the military occupation, modelled off of a similar resolution that passed recently at University of California Irvine. The criteria, as written in the resolution, are:
a) provide weaponry, security systems, prisons, or other military support for the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories; or
b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal Separation Wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes; or
c) facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements, outposts, and segregated roads and transportation systems on the occupied Palestinian territory (Gaza Strip, West Bank, and annexed East Jerusalem);
for the purpose of removing the financial incentive to participate in the illegal occupation and exploitation of indigenous Palestinians and their land.
We urge a yes vote on these criteria. In the words of Judith Butler, “The withdrawal of investments from companies that actively support the military or that build on occupied lands… a message that a growing number of people in the international community will not be complicit with the occupation…BDS focuses on state agencies and corporations that build machinery designed to destroy homes, that build military materiel that targets populations, that profit from the occupation, that are situated illegally on Palestinian lands, to name a few” .
This resolution has the capacity to effect concrete change–the transparent divestment of money controlled by our student representatives. It is inspiring that 600 students have signed the petition asking the WSA to divest. The number of students that recognize how important it is for the WSA to pass a resolution like this is unprecedented. We encourage as many of these 600 students as are able to attend the meeting on Sunday to come and advocate for socially responsible investment.
Levin, White, and Mitchell are members of the class of 2015; Eversley is a member of the class of 2014; Russell is a member of the class of 2016.