Dear Berkeley students and the ASUC Senate:
I commend the effort of the wide coalition at Berkeley to pass the Bill in Support of UC Divestment from War Crimes. American students can play a powerful role in Palestinian liberation by supporting divestment from companies that enable the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory.
I urge you to seize this moment as an opportunity to help secure Palestinian freedom and a just peace, but most particularly as an opportunity to help Palestinian students you may never meet. These students struggle to achieve their educational aspirations under an occupation that blocks opportunities and destroys dreams. Embrace your freedom and your incredible opportunities at one of America’s finest schools by doing your utmost to protect the many Palestinian students working by candlelight in Gaza to reach where you are today. The war crimes they were subjected to by the Israeli military in 2008-2009 were appalling. Their perseverance will be aided by your vote tonight against war crimes.
Palestinian voices are too rarely heard in the United States. We have too few opportunities to present our narrative of loss and dispossession. Hear us tonight along with our Jewish friends and colleagues who are speaking up and saying that there is nothing anti-Semitic in backing Palestinian freedom and an end to complicity with a military occupation that strips us of our rights and dignity and many Israelis of their humanity. Both peoples need a just peace and this bill helps speed that day.
Look at the student coalition before you tonight. From my time at Stanford, I firmly believe that such coalitions are one of the most beautiful aspects of American life. It is not uniquely American, but it is to be treasured. And for all those students who are not part of the coalition, but fearful of it, I say we mean you no harm. We seek only to live in freedom and as equals. Israel’s military repression of us must end eventually. Do not stand in the way like those angry Alabama students 50 years ago blocking integration. You have, I trust, nothing in common with those students, but misplaced fear.
And to student supporters of the divestment resolution remember your fellow students’ fear. It is misplaced, but real. Whatever the outcome tonight, I urge you not to be angry or over-joyous. There is a long road ahead of us still, and we do not know which among those who oppose us tonight may, five years from now, stand with us. I have seen it happen time and time again and at an increasingly rapid pace as Israel’s excesses and human rights violations become more and more evident to the entire world.
I have lived my entire adult life under this occupation. I have worked this entire time — over 40 years — to bring about an end to this system of Israeli rule and Palestinian subjugation. Despite the remarkable allies and courageous individuals who have worked on our behalf, often at great risk to themselves, we have not yet prevailed in securing Palestinian freedom. With your help, tonight, I believe we can bring this day of freedom closer.
However you vote, and whatever you think you know about this conflict, I urge you to come and see for yourself. But do not just go to Israel. Visit us in the occupied West Bank and witness for yourself the dual system of law applied by Israeli occupation forces here — one for Jewish settlers and one for Palestinians. I believe you will find young people here anxious to tell you their stories and hopeful that when you return to the United States you will work to convince Americans that Palestinians, like people everywhere, should live in freedom.
Finally, to the students who have worked so hard for so many weeks to bring about this vote, thank you, and may you have the energy to continue your vital work for peace and justice. We, on the far side of Israel’s apartheid wall, are inspired by your actions and your solidarity.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi
The author is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and nominee for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.