The Gaza Strip is a Palestinian territory located south of Israel. It is home to 1.7 million people, over half of whom are under the age of 18. The region has been under military siege by Israel since 2006, a policy which has denied Gazans freedom of movement and restricted their access to food, water, electricity and basic resources.
In 2006 senior Israeli official Dov Weisglass described Israeli policy toward Gaza saying that “the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” In 2010, the BBC revealed that Israel maintained a list of only 81 items that would be allowed into Gaza; at the time prohibited items included light bulbs, books, chocolate and pasta.
Israel’s siege of Gaza has been maintained with almost constant violence. Prior to the recent attacks, Israel had killed 71 and injured 291 Palestinians in Gaza this year. In the past, people trying to bring aid to Gaza have been arrested, attacked and killed, as was the case for American citizen Furkan Dogan.
In the past two weeks, Israel has begun a sustained bombardment of Gaza. Since November 7, Israel has killed 48 Palestinians and injured 450 more, with roughly half of all casualties and injuries being women, children, and the elderly.
Israeli leaders have also issued calls to completely shut off Gaza’s electricity, water and fuel supplies and Interior Minister Eli Yishai openly expressed the intention of sending “Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”
These attacks are sadly reminiscent of the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead, which resulted in 1,400 Palestinian casualties, the majority of whom were civilians.
Although the killing and bombing of civilians is appalling and morally indefensible, Israel claims to be doing it in response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The evidence, however, shows that Israel began (and pre-planned) this latest round of violence.
Even if it had not, rocket fire does not justify its collective punishment of the Gaza Strip.
Those rockets are not isolated events but a response to Israel’s effective control and military oppression in Gaza and while they are wrong, they should be stopped through the international legal system, not used as excuses for large scale bombing campaigns.
Last Thursday, in response to these attacks, Students for Justice in Palestine held an emergency rally at Meyerhoff Park along with several student groups and campus allies, including the Afrikan Student Union, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, the Muslim Student Association, and Samahang Pilipino. The rally voiced student opposition to the recent attacks on Gaza by holding posters and banners, passing out fliers, and protesting in solidarity.
That same night, Students for Justice in Palestine hosted “Art Against Apartheid!” a night of spoken word and discussion that focused on how we at UCLA can put pressure on Israel to stop its human rights violations. One of the main campaigns discussed was the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which uses citizen pressure to force Israel to change its policies. One example of this is Amnesty International’s call for an arms embargo of Israel, made in 2009 after the organization’s investigation of Israel’s attacks on civilians during Operation Cast Lead.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is a way for students and all people of conscience to be active in ensuring Palestinian equal rights. Although our university currently has financial ties to companies that support Israel’s violations of international law, we believe this can change. On November 14, UC Irvine’s student government passed a historic resolution recommending divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s international law violations (through the sale of military hardware, checkpoint equipment and other machinery used to carry out illegal policies).
UC Irvine’s resolution is an example for all campuses, including UCLA. In the past, our university has divested from South Africa during apartheid and has improved worker conditions by implementing anti-sweatshop policies and by purchasing fair trade products.
Students should continue this tradition by supporting measures that hold Israel accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law. On behalf of Students for Justice in Palestine, we welcome a debate, moderated by a neutral third party, on the merits of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Click here to read this article in the Daily Bruin.