Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Too complex? I'll make it simple for you.

 Yasmin Ahmed
(LSE SU Palestine Society)

Last Monday (20th February) marked the start of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual international series of events held in cities and campuses across the globe with the aim of highlighting the apartheid nature of the state of Israel and to raise awareness about the daily struggles that are faced by Palestinians as a result. 

As such, the Palestine Society marked this week by reenacting an Israeli checkpoint on Houghton Street, with the aim of highlighting one of the many obstacles that are systematically designed and implemented by Israel to degrade and restrict the lives of Palestinians. The response to our stunt was overwhelmingly positive, with numerous individuals including staff and non-LSE passersby expressing their appreciation and solidarity with our efforts and the message we were manifesting.

However, this was all completely ignored as attention was immediately diverted away from the very distressing and brutal reality in Palestine to “Violence on Houghton Street”, following the bombardment of the stunt by four students who decided to throw water bombs towards us, with one missile hitting a member of the society directly in the face. In the aftermath of the shameful yet very telling attack on the checkpoint reenactment and on members of the Palestine Society, and as an attempt to rationalize and thus excuse the deplorable behaviour of the attackers, we were accused by the Israel Society of trivializing a very “complex situation for both sides” and that we shouldn’t have been surprised about the attack because we had “intimidated Jewish students” by holding “oversized guns”. Too complex? I’ll make it simple for you.

According to a September 2011 report compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHAOPT), there are currently 522 roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank. This is in addition to an average of 495 ad-hoc ‘flying’ checkpoints that were put in place in every month of 2011 which further obstructed movement across the West Bank. As a result of this, 200,000 people from 70 villages are consequently “forced to use detours between two to five times longer than the direct route to their closest city”. And it doesn’t stop there. According to MIFTAH, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, between September 2000 and April 2011, 401 Palestinians died at checkpoints as a result of preventing medical personnel at Israeli checkpoints, and there were 32 stillbirths at checkpoints.

Furthermore, the 62%-completed “security fence” that Israel is currently building ‘along’ the West Bank has 80% of its route built inside the West Bank, on Palestinian territory. Why do we call this “fence” an Apartheid Wall? Because in actual fact, it is a 26 foot concrete wall which serves to isolate Palestinian communities and families in the West Bank and entrenches the annexation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlements, which were deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 and are considered by the international community as a flagrant violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which stipulates that “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”. 

This is not a distortion. This is not disputed. And it is certainly not complex. These are quite simply the facts. Our stunt, described as a “disgusting simplification” by the Israel Society, doesn’t even begin to come close to fully highlighting the pain, suffering and humiliation that Palestinians are put through every single day as result of checkpoints, the wall and the continued occupation of their land. If staging a mock checkpoint and holding oversized guns was offensive and intimidating for some, then how should they be feeling about the fact that there are hundreds of actual checkpoints guarded by IDF soldiers armed with real guns that Palestinians are greeted with on their way to university, work or to the hospital? 

What happened this week on our campus does not indicate a need nor a desire for dialogue. The attack on the stunt was a clear-cut case of inexcusable bullying, physical intimidation and a shameful interference with the right to free speech and freedom of assembly. Moreover, the assault was particularly offensive to the Palestinian students who were involved in the stunt, some of whom are from Gaza, who have lived through and witnessed the utter criminality, terror and injustice imposed upon their families by Israel. To come to study in the UK and suffer this degree of intimidation and bullying from supporters of Israel on our campus is appalling.

If this incident has taught us anything, it is that when confronted with the reality of an unjust, illegal and inhumane set of state policies that systematically discriminates against Palestinians and seeks to strip away every shred of their dignity, those on the side of the oppressor are left with no ammunition. Except for water bombs. 

Right 2 Education Project gets underway at the LSE!

Yasmin Ahmed
LSE SU Palestine Society

On Tuesday 21st February, Dr Marco Pinfari from the International Relations Department at the London School of Economics delivered the first in a series of five lectures being broadcast to students in Gaza as part of the LSE SU Palestine Society's 'Right 2 Education' Campaign.

Dr Pinfari delivering his lecture live via Skype to Gaza
Tuesday's lecture, "An Introduction into International Relations Theory" was broadcast live via Skype to the students from the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), a university that the LSE Students' Union is currently twinned with. Students from the IUG were gathered in one of their lecture theatres as Dr Pinfari gave an overview of the different schools of thought within International Relations and how they translate into state policies. The 40-minute lecture was followed by an interactive Q&A session, during which students came up to the stage to ask Dr Pinfari about further readings and how certain points he raised can be linked to the Palestinian struggle.

Isra Migdad, one of the students in Gaza who attended the lecture said that "Dr Pinfari simplified the three concepts of realism, liberalism and marxism and the handout he provided was very useful. I'm looking forward to the next lecture, where Dr Pinfari will link the three concepts to the Palestinian issue".

The next in this series of lectures will again be delivered by Dr Pinfari next week, followed by three further lectures from professors in the Law and International History departments.

For more information about this student-led project and to get involved, please email su.soc.palestine@lse.ac.uk

Palestine Society calls on LSE to protect our right to peacefully protest


LSE SU Palestine Society

Students attacking the peaceful stunt staged by the LSE SU Palestine Society

On Monday the 20th of February, students from LSESU Palestine Society re-enacted an Israeli checkpoint on Houghton Street, as the start of Israeli Apartheid Week. The re-enactment was to show the suffering Palestinians face on a daily basis, trying to live their lives. All students which took part, had pre-agreed to take part in the re-enactment and students who did not wish to be involved were not forced to take part. The re-enactment passed peacefully for two hours, with students responding incredibly positively to the action.

An hour and forty minutes into the stall, four students threw numerous water bombs at the wall which was being held up by several students who were members of the LSESU Palestine Society members. The balloons hit our members, with several of these missiles hitting these students directly in the face, who were as a result incredibly upset by the incident. The missiles  which were thrown knocked down one of the walls being held up by members of the society falling on these students. This could have potentially seriously injured society members and passers by, as they were heavy wooden panels which required holding up by students.

The LSESU Palestine Society fully condemns the actions of the four students who threw the missiles. The re-enactment and stall by the Palestine Society was completely peaceful, and the reaction of these students is unjustifiable. The actions of the four students presents a threat to the wellbeing of our societies members who were peacefully re-enacting the daily struggles of Palestinian people. As soon as the incident was over Palestine Society members returned to re-enacting the checkpoint.  This incident shows the victimization of peaceful protesters who were simply trying to draw attention to the cause of the Palestinian people. For students taking part in a peaceful protest to have missiles thrown at them for no reason is completely unacceptable. Many members of our society who were taking part in the re-enactment felt incredibly threatened as a result of the incident. We as a society call on management to continue to protect our right to peaceful protest on LSE’s campus.

 Long Live Palestine!

Why Israel?

Zachariah Sammour
(LSE SU Palestine Society)

I recently attended a meeting called by the LSE Environment and Ethics Officer, Lois Clifton, to discuss concerns that some students had aired over the LSE’s academic collaboration with an Israeli university, Technion Institute of Technology. I arrived late, but still in time to hear the predictable chorus of ‘Why Israel?’ emanating as though in unison from a group of irate students.

These students informed the rest of the audience in no uncertain terms that the very premise of the meeting (that LSE’s collaboration with Technion is troubling) was pernicious, irrational and xenophobic. Why, the room was asked, should the involvement of Israeli universities with their State’s military operations be of any concern to the student body? Why is an Israeli university being targeted?

I write in response to these questions, which I will refer to within the context of the meta-question, ‘Why Israel?’I will attempt to highlight for the reader the intended implications inherent in the ‘Why Israel?’ question before outlining two general species of response that can be given to rebut these dangerous implications.

The ‘Why Israel?’ question is based on a number of presuppositions, and identifying them is a prerequisite for understanding the question’s intended implications. These presuppositions are; firstly, that there are a number of political regimes engaged in conduct analogous to that of Israel with regard to its treatment of the Palestinians. Secondly, that these analogous regimes are subject to divergent degrees of public criticism and finally that Israel is subject to greater, more intense criticism than the analogous regimes by Palestinian Rights activists.

In light of these presuppositions the implications of the question become clear. If Israel is engaged in equally deplorable activity as that of a number of other political regimes, it cannot rationally or legitimately be subject to a greater degree of criticism for that conduct than are the analogous regimes. In the absence of any rational or legitimate basis for distinction, the heightened criticism of the Jewish State must be based on some irrational, presumably sinister, ground.

There are two broad types of response to the ‘Why Israel?’ question which would rebut the implied claims of irrational and arbitrary targeting of Israel. Each response seeks to undermine the implied accusation by challenging one or more of the presuppositions upon which it rests.

The first response accepts the first presupposition but rejects the second and third; essentially rejecting the argument that Israel is subject to greater criticism than regimes engaged in analogous activities. This response accepts that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is qualitatively similar to the conduct of other regimes towards identifiable groups under their direct control.

This response would first establish a baseline comparator, seeking to compare the intensity of criticism directed against Israel with criticism directed toward analogous regimes. These regimes must be engaged in activity that is similar or identical to the Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, and would therefore exhibit such behaviour as; the arbitrary detention of minors, forced and uncompensated acquisition of property, restriction of minority groups’ access to religious and cultural sites, political intimidation and violence (including violent repression of civil disobedience, assassination of dissidents, politically motivated arrests etc), restricted access to education, food, employment or any number of other violations of humanitarian and human rights law.

Fortunately, establishing a base-line comparison at LSE is quite easy, as we have had a number of fairly recent student campaigns directed at regimes other than Israel which have displayed such disregard for human dignity. A number of students involved with the Amnesty International Society, for example, have organised campaigns condemning the political violence and repression in Burma.  More famously, of course, the SU and a large number of independent student groups held public rallies, meetings and an occupation to condemn the links between LSE and the Gaddafi regime. It therefore appears quite clear that, at the LSE at least, criticism of a high intensity has been directed at regimes engaged in conduct analogous to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

Whilst one may point out that criticism of Israel has been far more frequent and sustained on our campus than criticism of states like Libya or Burma, this difference in volume(as opposed to intensity) can be attributed to the inevitably amplificatory effect of opposition. To my knowledge, no student group has publicly attempted to attack or undermine students engaged in criticism of the Gaddafi regime or the Burmese Junta. Criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has, contrastingly, been subject to highly organised, consistent and vocal opposition at LSE, resulting in an escalation of both the debate and the ensuing criticism of the State of Israel.

Put simply, the frequency or volume with which one must express their opinions if they wish them to be vindicated will be determined, in large part, by the extent to which those opinions are actively opposed. Whilst the same individual may hold similarly intense views with regard to the conduct of a number of States, it is reasonable and rational for that individual to devote greater energy to criticism of a State where there is an active dispute as to the propriety of its actions, as opposed to a situation where the State’s conduct is widely condemned. To put it in the colloquial, there is little point preaching to the converted.

Thus, if we accept that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not qualitatively unique, we do not necessarily need to accept the cries of Israeli victimisation. Other regimes are criticised, as too are links between the LSE and those regimes when they are discovered, and so criticism of Israel for similar activities cannot be seen as arbitrary or pernicious.

The second response that can put forth to deal with the ‘Why Israel?’ implications denies the validity of all three of the presuppositions. Crucially, it denies that there is a contemporary political regime engaged in analogous conduct to Israel with regard to its treatment of the Palestinians. This approach posits, resolutely and unapologetically, that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians stands alone in the modern world for its deplorability.

This response does not argue the uniquely reprehensible nature of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is evinced in Israel’s appalling human rights record.  It does not even base the assertion on the actions of Israel that are without contemporary precedent, such as its illegal mass settlements in the West Bank or the likewise illegal wall snaking through the territory and separating entire communities and families into a closed world of dust, concrete and ever-watching soldiers.

Instead, this response points to the systematic, generational oppression and disenfranchisement caused by both the illegal Occupation and the refusal to admit Palestinian refugees back to their homes as evidence of the unique nature of Israel’s conduct. Together, the Occupation and the refugee crisis constitute a complete vitiation of Palestinian political freedom,  rendering successive generations of Palestinians incapable of determining, in freedom and dignity, their own destiny and future.

The long-term occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel involves more than the mere transitory presence of foreign soldiers on Palestinian soil. It means more than the threat of death, torture and imprisonment. It means more than the promise of perpetual hardship and poverty, or a life of UN handouts, devoid of dignity and worth. It means complete, abject and unrestrained subjection of one people to the will of another.

The occupation renders the Palestinians hostage to the political process of Israel; it leaves decisions pertinent to the most intimate aspects of their lives subject to the desires and interests of others. Whether a Palestinian can go to school, whether she can visit her Grandmother in the next village, whether she will ever feel the warm waves of the sea against her skin, all of these questions have been decided for Palestinians by a foreign people for generations. If we accept Kant’s argument that freedom is self-mastery, then Occupied Palestine is a land of slaves, directed and constricted according to the desires of others.

Israel’s conduct toward the Palestinian refugees, those forced from their homes in Israel at the birth of the State by Israeli military groups, also singles it out for special criticism. Israel has forcibly excluded entire generations of Palestinians from not only the political process which determines their lives, but also from their land, people and heritage. The refusal of Israel to permit the refugees to return to their homes is morally deplorable. It has created a Stateless people, unable and unwilling to settle in the States they were forced to enter, and yet unable to return to the homes of their ancestors and birth. Whilst the treatment of Palestinians within many Arab States is worthy of intense criticism in its own right, the undeniable fact remains that these refugees exist in conditions of poverty and perpetual political limbo as a direct consequence of Israel’s refusal to permit them to return to their own homes.

This second type of response therefore provides a rational basis for distinguishing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians from the conduct of other regimes. If Israel is subject to a higher degree of criticism, then this criticism is entirely justifiable.

Accordingly, the dangerous implications of the ‘Why Israel?’ question must be rejected. Israel is not subject to unjustifiable or arbitrary levels of criticism. So long as one is willing to critically and honestly assess the nature of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, some variant of the above responses seems an inevitable answer to the question. On the basis of its treatment of the Palestinian people, Israel is an entirely reasonable and justified target for serious criticism, and the conduct of its educational institutions which make its egregious conduct possible should not be shielded from our attention on the basis of academic freedom. Honest, reasonable debate, in full view of the relevant facts, is needed; not cries of victimisation which frankly belittles the debate and its participants.