The Missing Word

It is not surprising that the word “occupation,” was not mentioned in Dennis Ross’s lecture at Middlebury College on Tuesday night. It doesn’t exist in the discourse of the Israeli government, it wasn’t mentioned during the farcical elections for the Israeli Parliament recently, nor does it exist in the language of American policy makers.

As Noam Sheizaf showed with his article on 972mag.com, Ross’s agenda for the peace process accepts the Israeli leadership’s conditions “before negotiations even began.” There can be no peace process without an acknowledgement of the reality of occupation and apartheid. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”

Ross operates under a false assumption that Israel and Palestine are equal sides of a symmetrical conflict. In the same way that there has been no symmetry between white people and African-Americans during Jim Crow, between white Afrikaners and natives during South African Apartheid, between colonialists and indigenous Americans during the past 500 years of European Colonialism, thus there is no symmetry between Israeli occupiers and occupied Palestinians.

The everyday reality of racism, systemic inequality, and brutal apartheid, is purposefully ignored, clouded by statements about policies and the region being already too complicated. Perhaps after years of yielding so much power and influence, Dennis Ross is incapable of understanding life within a Palestinian refugee camp. What was particularly astonishing, however, was his misinformation about the reasons for which these refugee camps exist.

In an astonishing feat of deception, Ross blamed the Palestinians for maintaining refugee camps. He suggested that the Palestinians should end the refugee situation and build houses in the “vast” spaces south of Bethlehem to house the refugees. He did not acknowledge that it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian to get a building permit from the Israeli Occupation Administration. He did not acknowledge that almost 1,100 Palestinians, most of them children, were displaced by house demolitions in 2011 alone.

Significantly, he ignores or is not aware of Israel’s responsibility for Palestinian refugees. In the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine at 1948 (the Nakba), over a million Palestinians were forced out of what Ross considers as Israel. This continues today to be one of the most neglected acts of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century, and its aftermath of human devastation still bears effect on the lives of millions in the Middle East and across the world.

In his version of the two-state option, Ross envisions a Palestinian State that is butchered and divided by gigantic, oppressive walls, with no control over resources (the separation barrier annexes the water aquifer to Israel) and no freedom of movement, very similar to the South African Bantustans during the apartheid regime. He ignored the fact that the occupation of Gaza has never ended, despite the disengagement in 2005, and that IDF control over sea, land and air turns Gaza into the largest open-air prison in the world, still recovering from the deaths and injuries of thousands, and without a non-violent avenue to protest its pains. Having Ross share his agenda on campus is like having a speaker endorse South African Apartheid during the 80’s.

But now, as Middlebury’s environmental leanings lead it in Gulliver steps to divestment from fossil fuels and arms manufacturing, we recall that we have divested from Apartheid, and that no pro-apartheid speaker would receive a microphone in our halls in the same way that no white supremacist or eugenicist would. As we embrace the values of environmental justice, it is imperative we recognize that divestment from fossil fuels and arms manufacturing is the first step towards divestment from Israeli Apartheid.

The 15th article of the Principles of Environmental Justice asserts that “Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, peoples and cultures, and other life forms.” By claiming the principles of Environmental Justice as we move forward on divestment, we therefore take a step towards Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israeli occupation. BDS is a nonviolent tactic and a global call, drawing from the struggle against South African Apartheid, to end the occupation. To engage in these efforts join Justice for Palestine, the new student club, by sending an email to jfp@middlebury.edu. Continue the discussion at 4:30 PM in Dana Auditorium today (Thursday, 03/21) with the screening of the Academy Award Nominee “5 Broken Cameras” and the following discussion with Palestinian Professor Ahmad Almallah.

Some define education as the ability of making connections between concepts. Middlebury Students have made the connection between war on people and war on the climate. The same economic forces benefit from both. It is time to head the call, listen to the voices of those oppressed by our endowment and by the figures of authority we somehow continue to welcome, and take a step for justice. Coming back to Martin Luther King, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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