As proud alumni of the University of California, the importance of academic freedom has been engrained in our identity and in our responsibility to advocate for the protection and rights of our families and communities.
We are lucky to have been a part of the UC system - to be a part of an education system that allows for freedom of expression, for ability to study subjects freely, to learn from renowned professors and enrich our academic, social and professional careers. Each of you are in this room because you believe in getting involved in student activities because your work, your choices and your activities will make a difference on our campus and in the world.
Your colleagues in universities in Palestine have been stripped of these rights that we take for granted in the UC system. Your colleagues at Birzeit University near Ramallah live under Israeli military law.
These laws mean that thousands of books are deemed illegal - and possession of them will mean a prison sentence. Imposed curfews mean that the university is closed - sometimes indefinitely - hindering students ability to complete their studies.
And maybe most importantly to you - student activists - the Palestinian students, who, like you, join student organizations - are put in prison, sometimes under administrative detention meaning they are held without charge or trial, indefinitely, for being involved in student life and student government. In the last five years alone - five hundred Palestinian students from Birzeit University have been arrested and detained in Israel’s military prisons - including subjected to harsh interrogations, denied visits from families and in many cases tortured and abused.
We believe in the right to be a part of student life.
In a right to obtain an education.
In a right to be part of student movements that have an impact on the world we live in.
In the right to live freely.
We are alumni of the UC system that taught us that we must set the precedent for change - that change in society begins with the change from one person, or from a student body - who stands up to the status quo and fights for justice, rights and dignity not only for ourselves but for students and people everywhere.
As you know, our daily lives in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are marked by forms of oppression that are currently being financially supported by the University of California through its investment choices. These forms of everyday violence range from the Caterpillar bulldozers that tear down homes and olive groves to make way for the wall and settlements to the Hewlett Packard electronics that are used in checkpoints throughout the West Bank and the GE and Northrop Grumman technologies that go into the Apache AH-64 Helicopters used to bomb the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.
By investing student tuition into these companies, the University of California is directly contributing to forms of violence against our communities and against us as its former students. The choice you are faced with now is whether to knowingly continue investing in the violence and discrimination that we and our families experience on a daily basis, or to end that financial complicity and support our right to equality.
We sat in the same lecture halls as you, learned from the same professors as you and attended events in the same student centers as you. We believe in you to use our shared education, values and respect for dignity and human rights to vote for a bill divesting student tuition from companies that profit off of occupation policies that are illegal, immoral and unjust.
Today, you have an opportunity to be part of the right for freedom of a population that has suffered occupation for more than 60 years.
Palestinian graduates of the University of California at Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego now living in the West Bank.