Letter to the Editor: #NUDivest from the occupation of Palestine

Noah Whinston and Moira Geary

In the coming weeks, you will see fliers, events and actions supporting something called Northwestern Divest. NU Divest is a grassroots student campaign demanding that the University divest its holdings in corporations that profit from human rights abuses against Palestinians. Our first goal is to pass a resolution through the Associated Student Government in support of divestment, similar to resolutions that have passed at other U.S. universities.

For the last 20 years, the world has pinned its hopes for a resolution to this conflict on a so-called peace process through which Israelis and Palestinians are expected to negotiate a solution. In recent years, it has become painfully clear that this peace process is not working. Not only does it fail to provide Palestinians in the occupied territories with adequate representation, but it ignores refugees, the diaspora, Palestinian citizens of Israel and Syrians living within the occupied Golan Heights.

Furthermore, throughout the duration of this peace process, the state of Israel has expanded its illegal settlements in the West Bank, and assaulted the Gaza Strip. According to an August report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 1,700 Palestinians have been killed, more than 9,000 have been injured, and about 485,000 persons have been internally displaced.

While the U.S.-brokered peace process has been ineffective, divestment provides an alternative path for Palestinians to achieve human, civil and political rights equal to their Israeli counterparts.

Divestment is one part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. In 2005, Palestinian civil society called for BDS as a way to pressure Israel to end its oppression. Palestinians are asking the international community to boycott and divest from companies that profit from human rights abuses and to place sanctions on Israel until it ends the occupation, until Palestinian citizens of Israel are granted full and equal rights and until the right of return is respected for all Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN Resolution 194.

How is this relevant to us at NU? Universities like NU are ideal places for a divestment movement because of their large investments in companies directly involved in stripping Palestinians of their human rights and violating international law. Divestment is a strategically legitimate tactic that has been employed many times in history, including when it played a major role in dismantling South African apartheid and when NU and other universities divested from companies supporting the Sudanese government over human rights abuses in Darfur. 

The NU Investment Office manages $7.9 billion of assets, partially composed of the hundreds of millions of dollars NU collects in tuition and fees every year. This money is invested in a wide range of corporations, but the Investment Office does not release specific information on which. However, based on the investments of comparable institutions and NU’s lack of a socially responsible investment policy, it is likely that the University is invested in these major corporations targeted by NU Divest: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, G4s, Elbit Systems and Hewlett-Packard. Each one of these corporations is complicit in military occupation.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin provide Israel with F-15A fighter jets, F-16 fighter jets, F-35 fighter jets, Apache AH-64 helicopters and Longbow Hellfire Missiles, the main weapons that were used in the assault on Gaza last summer and that kill countless Palestinian civilians.

Caterpillar provides engineering tools and bulldozers routinely used in the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza, facilitating the expansion of illegal settlements.

G4S provides security systems for interrogation and detention centers, where Palestinian prisoners are regularly subjected to abuse.

Elbit Systems provides surveillance tools for the West Bank barrier, which has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice.

Hewlett-Packard provides biometric identification systems used at Israeli military checkpoints, reinforcing an unjust discrepancy in the rights afforded to Israelis and Palestinians.

Divestment from corporations like these six is a necessary step in moving toward equal human rights for Palestinians, but does not constitute a complete political solution to the current Israeli-Palestinian problem. The history and complexities of war and occupation in Israel-Palestine can be overwhelming, but the human rights abuses that these corporations profit from are clear. Supporters of NU Divest do not need to have a historical background on the conflict, nor do they need to be in support of any particular nation or political solution. Rather, those who support human rights for all, including Palestinians, should support NU Divest.

Our school should invest in education, not in oppression. NU Divest aims to hold the University to a strict standard of transparent and socially responsible investment that reflects the values it seeks to instill in its students. As members of the NU community, we have a moral obligation to make sure our institution is not complicit in human rights violations. By holding NU to this higher standard, students can help to correct injustice, wherever it occurs. If you support equal rights for all, if you believe NU needs to prioritize social responsibility in its investments and if you stand in solidarity with Palestine, we invite you to join us in NU Divest. We will be holding informational events leading up to our eventual introduction of our resolution to ASG. If you want to learn more, come and speak with us or visit our website.