[Correction (Thursday, Apr. 11): The statement that President Elizabeth Bradley introduced Israeli official Israel Nitzan to Poughkeepsie in order to help establish greater economic collaborations between Dutchess County and Israel was found to be inaccurate and based on a misinterpretation of the original source, cited here: (Mid-Hudson News, “Dutchess officials further trade relationships with Israel,” 03.23.2019).]
In the past year, over 250 non-violent Palestinian protesters in Gaza have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers, and at least another 6,500 have been maimed and wounded. These protestors were a part of “The Great March of Return,” a monumental mobilization of the Palestinian people to demand their right to return to the lands that they have been violently denied from since 1948 (Al Jazeera, “Gaza to Mark Anniversary of Great March of Return Protests,” 3.29.2019). While Israel’s acts in this case are horrific and have been labeled by the United Nations (UN) as possible war crimes, they are but expressions of Israel’s systemic denial of Palestinian human rights. Home demolitions, humiliating and dangerous checkpoints, lack of access to education and basic medical care, limited economic prospects and virtually no paths to a better life are facts of daily life for millions of Palestinians (Human Rights Watch, “Israel and Palestine,” 01.17.2019).
Altogether, the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians amounts to apartheid: a legalized racial hierarchy that elevates white Jewish citizens and renders Palestinians second-class and sub-human. Zionism, the ideology of Jewish nationalism that has resulted in the Israeli state, is a form of Western settler colonialism and has always relied on the violent oppression of the indigenous Palestinian population.
It is no secret that the United States allows and encourages the oppression of the Palestinian people through its unconditional diplomatic support of Israel, the $134 billion dollars it has given Israel in military aid and its embrace of Israel in the world capitalist economy (Congressional Research Service,”U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” 4.10.2018). In conjunction with its support for Israel, the United States launches its own despicable attacks on Palestinian civilians. In the past year, the Trump Administration has cut hundreds of millions of dollars of life-sustaining aid for the Palestinians, forcing schools and hospitals to close down and leaving many more dead (BBC, “U.S. stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza,” 01.02.2019).
Without U.S. support, Israel could not continue as an apartheid state. And without apartheid Israel, the United States would have a much harder time fracturing and exploiting the Arab world. While it is depressing that our taxpayer dollars are funding the murder of innocent Palestinians, it is also an opportunity—an opportunity to bring the system down.
Israeli Apartheid Week, the yearly, weeklong campaign to call out Israel as an apartheid state, asks us to focus this year on the United States’ role in arming Israel, and in turn, Israel’s role in arming the world.
For the many of us not familiar with Israel’s status as a global arms-dealer, let’s talk about Elbit Systems.
Elbit Systems is an Israeli weapons manufacturer that has cut its teeth building drones and weapons systems for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands serves as a field laboratory for experimentation in technologies of weaponry and control. Elbit Systems then turns around and sells these technologies around the world. In 2014, Elbit Systems was awarded a $145 million contract to militarize the Mexico-United States border, where migrant families are currently being held in concentration camps (Reuters, “Elbit Systems wins homeland security contract,” 03.02.2014). In 2018, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) granted Elbit Systems a $68 million contract for maritime drones in order to identify “suspicious activities and suspected hazards” off Europe’s shores (The Times of Israel, “Elbit wins drone contract for up to $68m to help monitor Europe coast,” 11.01.2018). The drone selected for use by the EMSA was sold based on its “combat tested” record of employment in Gaza, where it was armed with ballistics in wars that killed over 500 children and injured over 11,000 people overall (Human Rights Council, “Report of the detailed findings of the independent commission of inquiry established pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-21/1,” 4.24.2015). The occupations in Gaza and the West Bank have served as the primary testing grounds for advances in biometric security and large-scale surveillance technologies. Last year, Elbit Systems reported nearly $4 billion in revenues and $9.4 in backlogged orders (Elbit Systems, “Investor Relations,” 03.19.2019).
The violence committed against the Palestinians is a part of a global system that goes far beyond any single weapons manufacturer. The same weapons the United States gives to Israel, the United States sells to Saudi Arabia, a country that continues to starve and bomb innocent civilians in Yemen (The New York Times, “Saudi Strikes, American Bombs, Yemeni Suffering,” 12.27.2018). The oppression of the Palestinians and the Yemenis exists together with the oppression of indigenous people, Muslims, people of color and other groups around the world. As Vassar students, it is crucial to understand that the intertwined systems of capitalism, white supremacy and colonialism that dominate and destroy Palestinian lives are at work all around us, in our personal lives and in the college we all attend.
Even though Israel is thousands of miles away, institutions like Vassar provide significant support to the Israeli state. Through its refusal to let even the VSA divest from Israeli corporations and its ongoing willingness to falsely conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (a tactic designed to avoid the unconscionable crimes of Zionism)
Vassar—an institution that already upholds whiteness and colonial power dynamics in many ways—has taken a stand in support of apartheid (Times of Israel, “Vassar College student government passes BDS resolution,” 3.8.2016). We do not need to rely on abstractions to make this point.
In 2018, President Elizabeth Bradley traveled to Israel where she met with high-ranking Israeli official Israel Nitzan, a man who spends much of his time on Twitter denouncing The Great March of Return as a “violent riot” (Twitter, @IsraelNitzan, 03.30.2019). She made introductions that are now resulting in efforts to establish greater economic collaborations between Dutchess County and Israel, including an “Innovation Quad” between Dutchess Community College, Marist College, Vassar College and IBM for the purposes of fostering startup ecosystems (Mid-Hudson News, “Dutchess officials further trade relationships with Israel,” 03.23.2019). While it is disappointing that the outwardly progressive President Bradley is perfectly happy doing business with an apartheid state, it is not surprising. As students, we must make the Vassar Administration understand that we will not tolerate this level of support. Join Students for Justice in Palestine in demanding, at a bare minimum, the Vassar Administration ceases all business travel to Israel and that Vassar plays no role in whatever economic partnership emerges between Israel and Dutchess County.
At Vassar and in the United States, we have a profound responsibility to defeat Israeli apartheid. It will not be an easy path, as the forces of Zionism are deeply entrenched. However, change is possible, and it begins with all of us standing up and declaring that we will be complicit no longer. The silence is breaking, and now is the time to add your voice. None of us will be free until Palestine is free.