Liberate Knowledge

…to democratize power in all its forms.

Category Archives: Student Activism

Reflections on Hampshire’s Successful Campaign to Divest from the Illegal Israeli Occupation, Two Years Later

An SJPer after divestment and during our struggle with the college administration.

These were my prepared remarks for the opening panel at the AFSC’s “Organize a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine” conference this past March. I was asked to speak about my experience organizing with Students for Justice in Palestine at Hampshire College and explore our successful divestment campaign.

Two years ago, in 2009, Students for Justice in Palestine succeeded in forcing Hampshire College to become the first institution of higher education in the United States to divest from the Israeli Occupation. Now, I don’t know if any of you have heard of Hampshire College before. It’s this tiny little college, in a tiny little town, in the backwoods of the tiny little state of Massachusetts; it has a tiny little population, and a tiny little endowment. Yet, when we succeeded in becoming the first college to divest from the illegal occupation, we were endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the late Dr. Howard Zinn; Noam Chomsky; musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd; Naomi Klein, Phyllis Bennis; the Palestinian BDS National Committee; Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney; a Nobel Peace Laureate; poets; writers; activists; international policy makers, and more. At the same time, unconditional supporters of Israel’s atrocities and injustices also attacked us. For example, I personally received a phone call from Alan Dershowitz, which was just the first step in a very public intimidation campaign he launched against us.

So – let me back up, how did we get there?

Historic Economic Boycotts and the Current BDS Movement

First, I think it’s important to put why we launched a divestment campaign at our school into perspective.

There is a growing movement within this nation and worldwide called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions – or BDS for short – which is a new, vital movement aimed at impacting the situation in Gaza, the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Israel itself. And I stress that this is vital in the Palestine/Israel struggle because all other attempts, such as the so-called “peace process,” have proven ineffectual and even harmful as they have drawn out the colonization and occupation of Palestine.

At its core, BDS is a dual tool that is being used to put economic pressure on Israel and to educate the wider public about Palestine. So, what does BDS look like?

In July of 2005, to quote the official Global BDS website, “a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel.”

Students viewing a mock apartheid wall Hampshire SJP erected on the library lawn, across the college's main walk-way. Four different versions of this wall were put up - each with protest art as well as information about the wall, Gaza, the occupation, and Palestine in general.

In short, people all around the world are boycotting products from illegal Israeli colonies in the West Bank (like Ahava beauty products), students are pressuring their colleges to divest from companies producing military equipment and weapons for the Israeli army, and government officials are feeling the heat to put economic sanctions on Israel until it complies with international law and lifts the blockade on Gaza.

There are a few things that are extremely important to understand about the BDS initiative that makes it a critical strategy. The first is that it is completely non-violent. BDS is an effort to employ economic means to utilize global, grassroots efforts rather than simply waiting on ineffective governments to act. The second important thing to keep in mind is that BDS is an indigenous call from Palestine. It is what Palestinians are telling us we can do to be their allies in their struggle.

What’s more, this movement is rooted in a history of successful struggles for justice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela utilized a BDS movement to end the apartheid regime in South Africa, which finally collapsed in the 1980’s. Now, they have also endorsed BDS as a means to end the occupation and colonization of Palestine. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks employed boycotts and other economic strategies in the Civil Rights movement. Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass also attempted to abolish slavery through economic means.

Today, globally and in the United States, BDS efforts have been making gains in the face of tremendous odds. I can share my personal experience as one example of these successes.

Read more of this post