USC Students for Justice in Palestine

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Archive for April, 2011

“Neoliberal Consensus on Palestine”

Posted by uscsjp on April 29, 2011

First, some recent headlines from Democracy Now!:

Palestinian Civilians Wounded in Israeli Attack on Gaza

Several Palestinian civilians have been wounded in an Israeli military attack on the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks shelled an area near a refugee camp in Gaza earlier today. The victims included two children. The attack comes just two days after the Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas announced an agreement to form a unity government and hold general elections.

Egypt to Unseal Rafah Border Crossing

Egypt has announced it plans to open up the Rafah border crossing with Gaza after years of closure under former president Hosni Mubarak. Speaking to Al Jazeera, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said Egypt will unveil further steps to address the “blockade and suffering of the Palestinian nation.”

Interview: Raja Khalidi on the neoliberal consensus in Palestine

Earlier this month, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) each published reports backing the Palestinian Authority statehood program. They claim that from an institutional point of view, the PA is ready for the establishment of a state in the near future.

In August 2009, the PA published a strategy paper called “Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State.” The Palestinian statehood program states that the establishment of a Palestinian state within two years “is not only possible, it is essential.” The PA stresses the building of “strong state institutions capable of providing for the needs of our citizens, despite the occupation.” As concerns the economic system, “Palestine shall be based on the principles of a free market economy,” the program states.

Recently, Palestinian economists Raja Khalidi and Sobhi Samour published a highly critical article on the PA’s neoliberal policies in the Journal of Palestine Studies entitled “Neoliberalism as Liberation: The Statehood Program and the Remaking of the Palestinian National Movement.” Khalidi and Samour argue that the statehood program “cannot succeed either as a midwife of independence or as a strategy for Palestinian economic development.” They claim that the PA is offering the Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank “a program predicated upon delivering growth and prosperity without any strategy for resistance or challenge to the parameters of occupation.”

The Electronic Intifada contributor Ray Smith interviewed Raja Khalidi, a senior economist with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), about the PA’s economic policies and its implications for statehood. The views expressed in this interview do not represent those of the UN secretariat…

–Ray Smith, The Electronic Intifada, 25 April 2011


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The Electronic Intifada: USC SJP Activists Harassed

Posted by uscsjp on April 18, 2011

US campus activists facing increased repression

13 April 2011

Last November, four friends and I — all of us activists with Students for Justice in Palestine — were protesting near a Tommy Trojan statue at the University of Southern California (USC) when campus authorities tried to break up our peaceful demonstration. Unfortunately, it is only one of many examples of the discrimination faced by Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students at my campus and at campuses around the United States.

We were protesting the outdoor event “SCSI Fights on for Darfur” as we viewed it to be complicit in whitewashing Israel’s criminal occupation. USC Students for Israel and the USC College Democrats were partnering in an effort to raise awareness and money for victims of the genocide in Darfur; USC Students for Israel is a political organization that defines itself solely on the basis of unconditional support for the State of Israel. Its members routinely defend Israel’s oppressive policies, which are in clear violation of international law. During this event, USC Students for Israel boasted that Israel is the only country in the Middle East to provide sanctuary to refugees from Darfur, never once mentioning that Israel continues to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return.

I was told earlier in the day by a university official that it was within our right to protest near Tommy Trojan, and next to USC Students for Israel’s table, so long as we were peaceful and silent. The five of us stood next to each another, in a row, holding up signs. According to university policy, “dissent (defined as disagreement, a difference of opinion, or thinking differently from others) is an integral aspect of expression in higher education,” and is a protected form of “free speech” (University of Southern California Policy on Free Expression and Dissent).

But about 15 minutes into our protest, approximately six Department of Public Safety officers clustered around our group and immediately began yelling “Move! Move! You have to move! We’re only gonna tell you this three times, you have to leave!” Threatening to arrest us, the officers harassed and yelled at us for approximately ten minutes while my friends and I tried to remain in place, reiterating that we were standing in a free speech zone, were not going to move, and that they were violating our rights by insisting that we do so. No matter what we said in our own defense, the officers still told us to move. I could hardly speak up without getting cut off by their shouting and it was clear from the beginning that they were going to try their hardest to make us leave.

When that effort alone wasn’t enough, a man in a suit approached me and my friends to tell us, once again, that we either had to leave or move over to the other side of the street. I didn’t recognize the man, Michael L. Jackson, Vice-President of Student Affairs, at first. He asked my friend Alix Robinson and I for our first and last names and our student IDs. All the while, members of USC Students for Israel were holding up their phone cameras, trying to get footage of the confrontation, or sitting silently on the sidelines next to members of the USC College Democrats. Dr. Jackson then identified himself and said “When somebody like me tells you to move, you move.” Hurt and angry by his decision to suppress my free speech rights, I replied: “Your position doesn’t matter to me.” The two officers standing directly behind him began to laugh while Dr. Jackson looked back at me, stunned, as though he didn’t expect me to stand up for myself.

Shortly after that, Dr. Jackson and the officers left the scene and we continued on with our protest. I’m not sure why they left, but I’m assuming that they realized we weren’t going to move, and knew that resorting to physical force would result in serious legal consequences. As the last officer was walking away he awkwardly looked over at me, said goodbye, good luck and have a nice rest of the day.

I recently sent an email out to USC students, student organizations and faculty regarding this incident which is exemplary of the discrimination that Arab, Muslim and pro-Palestinian students face at our university. The USC administration has come up with no response, possibly in hopes that a few students, faculty and members of our community will feel upset about the issue for a short period of time, but that the matter will eventually fade from memory. Our campus newspaper refuses to report on the story, claiming that it’s old news that was made public months after it happened. Recently, I was contacted by president of the USC College Democrats who insisted “that they support the irrevocable right to freedom of speech and condemn any form of harassment against those exercising their legal right.” While his clarification is appreciated, an intervention by their members while the incident was occurring would have been of much greater value.

USC is not the only campus where solidarity activists have experienced disturbing attempts deny their First Amendment rights. Eleven Muslim students at the University of California Irvine are currently facing criminal charges for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. The FBI has issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury to several Palestine solidarity activists in the Midwest, some of them students, threatening their right to free speech and engaging in what some are calling a witch hunt.

The context of this repression is the growing success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which is challenging Israeli apartheid and its supporters in the US.

On 15 December 2010, C. L. Max Nikias, president of USC, issued a statement dismissing proposed boycott, divestment and sanctions measures against the State of Israel, characterizing this initiative as a “betrayal of our values as a pluralistic university whose students, faculty, and alumni … represent a diversity of political, cultural and religious beliefs” (“Statement by C. L. Max Nikias”). Our SJP understands this to mean that the University of Southern California respects the diversity of all moral, political and religious beliefs, except for ours.

While Nikias claims to promote open discourse and even-handedness, his statement accomplishes the opposite. It marginalizes the views of students supportive of Palestinian rights by minimizing the nature and scope of domination which characterizes Israeli state aggression against a vulnerable, stateless Palestinian population. Despite repeated UN resolutions condemning Israel’s discriminatory policies as illegal, the painful reality is that all forms of negotiation over a twenty-year-long disintegrating peace process have failed, and the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest and sanction the institutions and individuals involved in maintaining their oppression has proven necessary.

Boycotts, among other tools of ethical resistance, have historically challenged racist systems throughout the world. Renowned leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela have advocated these measures. The international community successfully used similar tactics to end the racist policies of apartheid South Africa in the ’80s. And a sincere devotion to pluralistic values will often require us to assemble enough courage to participate in nonviolent methods of civil disobedience so long as they are in accordance with international law. In the words of Dr. King, our purpose is to “create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

The Israeli government will not end its entrenched system of racial discrimination and segregation against the Palestinian people without concerted pressure from the international community. BDS — the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — is a reflection of the urgency of the matter and a reassurance that Palestinian lives are valuable. A blanket condemnation of boycotts mistakenly judges the oppression they face as unworthy of greater action. As USC students, we expect our campus to remain open to all morally responsible civic and political views. Given the influence of Nikias’ word, we believe his statement is inappropriate and, therefore, encourage him to repeal it in an effort to ensure that the University of Southern California, among other US academic institutions, does not contribute to the maintenance of oppressive systems elsewhere and acts in line with its own central mission: “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit” by nurturing a “pluralistic,” “supportive community” that welcomes “men and women of every race, creed, and background.”

Marwa Katbi is a Syrian American student at the University of Southern California majoring in creative writing.

The Electronic Intifada, 13 April, 2011

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“The West Sneaks Back on Set”

Posted by uscsjp on April 2, 2011

“Arab dictators were not the only ones to have been taken aback by the scale and speed of events in the region. Their allies were also caught off guard. The changes were simply ‘too much, too fast’, as a stunned US official put it. From being the sole actors and directors on the stage, Europe and the US, along with the various despots, found themselves suddenly reduced to mere spectators, and fearful of the future.


Perhaps it is not surprising that those who had long been used to dictating the course of events there would not simply accept a new script written by millions of ordinary people. After the revolution’s resounding successes in Tunisia and Egypt, the old players soon found new ways of sneaking back on to the set.


Muammar Gaddafi’s model of the iron-fisted ruler who fights to the last drop emboldened some dictators. While Tunisia and Egypt presented Arabs with an inspiring model of change at minimal cost, Libya stirred hopes among their rulers that they might cling on to power through naked violence and the threat of civil war. So in Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh has unleashed his thugs to massacre protesters in Taghyeer Square. In Syria Bashar al-Assad has opened fire on demonstrators in Deraa and Latakia, while in Jordan, next door, security services have brutally dispersed a peaceful picket demanding reform. Gaddafi has inspired fellow despots to shift fear to the people through the use of terror.


The Libyan quagmire was an opportunity for their Euro-American allies, too. It enabled them to breathe life into the corpse of “humanitarian interventionism”, using it as a way of riding the wave of change and redirecting its course to their benefit. As the possibility of salvaging a Gaddafi confined to Tripoli and western Libya receded – and with it the chance of protecting their huge business contracts – the international powers shifted positions, joining the rebels’ camp instead. The supporters of despotism and corruption recast themselves as makers of change and democratisation.


Backstage, however, the French, British, Italians, and Americans are working to promote their own men among the rebels in preparation for the post-Gaddafi era. The real contest is over who calls the shots in the new Libya and who dominates its economy.


With the loss of Ben Ali and Mubarak, western powers suffered a loss of the stability implemented after the second world war, which depended on propped-up dictators, political stagnation and arms deals. It was only when this stability was threatened by street protests that the west began to advocate democracy. But while shouting “Revolution!” in Libya and Syria, the west is quietly backing old allies in Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, the Emirates, Morocco and Yemen, lest the uprising should expand to Saudi Arabia, its chief ally in the region. The logic seems to be “a friend is only a friend while salvageable”.


But the west is not only deploying hard military power in its attempt to control the process of change. It is directing its economic arm to that end too, through the World Bank and the IMF. David Cameron, Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy are not the only ones busy remarketing themselves as reformers. Recently the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, addressed a group of Arab activists praising change in the region as a “striking moment engendering its own momentum”. Hearing him speak of the problems facing “people in north Africa and the Middle East”, one could have mistaken him for an innocent, independent analyst with no relation whatsoever to the economic crises with which these regions are struggling.


This is part of a campaign to conceal a fundamental fact about what is happening: that people are not only rebelling against an internationally backed political authoritarianism but against the economic model imposed by the IMF, World Bank and, in the case of Tunisia and Egypt, the EU’s structural reform programmes. Millions have been left to fend for themselves as state-owned firms have been sold to foreign investors and a cabal of local partners: corruption flourished as a result.


In Tunisia, the first Arab country to sign the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement in 1995, more than 67% of publicly owned firms have been privatised, while in Egypt the number stands at 164 out of 314. This went with the drowning of these countries’ economies in debt, thus holding them hostage to handouts from the US and the EU.


In Egypt, public borrowing rose to 89% of the country’s GDP ($183.7bn in June 2010), much of which was spent on food exports as the economy was forced to shift from agriculture and manufacturing to tourism and services. And as national wealth was looted by the nouveau riche, many have found themselves unable to meet their basic needs, living in overcrowded cities and shanty towns and crushed by shrinking salaries, rocketing prices and plummeting living conditions. Their despair is such that many board death boats to cross the Mediterranean, and some go as far as setting themselves aflame in protest against the daily violation of their souls and bodies.


When the Tunisian people took the world by surprise, those who felt threatened by that uprising were quick to talk of “exceptions”. First we were initially warned that Egypt was not Tunisia, then that Libya was not Tunisia or Egypt, and now that Yemen and Syria are not Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya. But in reality the region is fundamentally interconnected. Arabs not only share a geography and language but common crises and aspirations. Though divided into 22 states, statelets, republics and monarchies, Arabs share the misfortune of living under the harshest forms of government, and are united by their yearning for democratisation. With the exception of some Gulf sheikhdoms that enjoy large oil resources and a tiny demography, most of their countries are plagued by a bleak record of economic failure and corresponding social crises.


The story of the Arab revolution is not only to be found in prisons, torture chambers and political trials, but in this painful trail of economic and social misery. Ben Ali, Mubarak and their political backers in Washington, London and Paris are culpable – and so are the World Bank, IMF and WTO. In a way, they are the real makers of the Great Arab Revolution.”


–The Guardian, 31 March, 2011



Also, from The Electronic Intifada:

“Since 24 March, Israeli forces have sealed the southern occupied West Bank village of Beit Ommar for an indefinite amount of time as soldiers continue to arrest young Palestinian residents and hold them in Israeli detention centers.

In a move akin to the four-year-long economic blockade against the occupied Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers have closed the six entrances to the village of 17,000 inhabitants and have imposed a widespread prohibition policy against all major imports and exports from the village — including gasoline, produce, raw industrial materials and basic supplies. Ambulances have also been prevented from entering or exiting the village.


The closures and arrests followed a brazen attack by an Israeli settler on a funeral procession on 21 March…”


–The Electronic Intifada, 31 March, 2011

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