It was my understanding upon entry into the University of California, Los Angeles that Bruins upheld the “highest standards of excellence and integrity” while making “ethical choices” that “respect the dignity of others” as asserted by Gene D. Block, the UCLA chancellor. These values are hypothetical and they ignore the reality at our university: our integrity is conditional and the dignity of others is subjective.
The University of California is not upholding any standard of integrity in its blatant disregard for the dignity and human rights of Palestinians. Our university invests in companies that contribute to systemic discrimination and violence against Palestinians. These companies include Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH), Cemex, General Electric, and Hewlett-Packard. UCLA has not made a stance against the dehumanizing behavior of these companies and has, therefore, become implicit in their actions.
Caterpillar, for one, has ignored reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International about its violation of Palestinian dignity in providing the equipment, including heavy-duty tractors and bulldozers, used to demolish homes, water storage units, agricultural lands, and refugee camps in the West Bank and in Gaza. Destroying homes and residential property, as well as upholding segregation, are commonplace activities for Caterpillar.
Cement Roadstone Holdings and Cemex have both contributed to the construction of the separation barrier, a wall that reaches twenty-five feet high in some places. CRH and Cemex provide concrete and aggregate materials that the Israeli government has used in its construction of this wall, which separates family members from one another, farmers from their land, and children from their schools. These two companies have also upheld the construction of illegal settlements and military checkpoints dividing residential areas.
Hewlett-Packard has been an integral part of the checkpoint system in the West Bank. HP provides the technology for the Basel System, a complex network used in checkpoints, 85% of which are in the Palestinian West Bank not on the Israeli border, to collect and store information about Palestinians. This system prevents people from moving freely between their places of work, schools, orchards, and homes. One of my acquaintances in Ramallah, for example, is separated from his family in Jerusalem by these checkpoints and is unable to legally spend evenings with his wife and children.
General Electric is a company that provides parts for A64 Apache helicopters, which the Israeli Defense Forces have used to indiscriminately attack citizens in Gaza. The United Methodist Church, along with human rights groups such as Amnesty International, have condemned GE for its contribution to violence in the Occupied Territories.
Each of these companies contributes directly to violations of Palestinian rights and benefits economically from violence against Palestinians. These companies are not neutral; they are invested in the oppression of people. To be clear, they make money off of this situation. When we students allow the university to invest in companies that behave this way we allow laissez faire economics to subjugate our ethical will.
Divestment is not a term for any student on campus to fear. It is a tactic by which we reclaim our political agency, as shown most recently by the “Resolution to Divest Undergraduate Students Association Council and UC Los Angeles Finances from Corporations Profiting from the Prison Industrial Complex”, which passed unanimously on February 4. It is us as students taking responsibility for what we are invested in and benefit from. It is us saying that these companies don’t live up to our standards as a university, and should not be in our endowment and retirement funds until they do live up to those standards.
Right now, UCLA is invested in these companies and thereby we are taking a stance against Palestinians’ freedom to move and live safely. The ethical choice that would respect the dignity of others is to not invest in these companies. To stand on the right side of history we should condemn the oppression of Palestinians. We need to divest.