Israel’s immense violence against Palestinians across the Occupied Territories – from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah to Gaza City to the West Bank – has never been more apparent. Many of us have been glued to the television or social media as we watch Israel warplanes once again bomb civilian residencies, roads, cars, and an international press building in the Gaza Strip; as Israeli settlers target and attack Palestinians in Ramallah (West Bank); and as roving mobs of Israelis (protected by the state of Israel) terrorize Palestinian citizens of Israel living within Jerusalem, Lydd, Haifa, and other so-called “mixed” cities within the formal borders of the Israeli state. These are not new activities for Israel or Israeli settlers. However, what is new is the enormous wave of support the people of many US cities, from Atlanta to Los Angeles to our own state capital of Raleigh, are showing for Palestinian liberation. Tens of thousands of people rose up on May 15 in remembrance of the 1948 Nakba (meaning “catastrophe”), a term that refers to the initial displacement of about 750,000 Palestinians as a result of Israel’s initial founding war. Each city and person who rallied showed solidarity for Palestinians who are bodily resisting Israel’s ongoing perpetuation Israeli state violence against Palestinians today.
It is more urgent than ever that students, graduate student workers, faculty, and staff examine the institution in which we are all working and contributing. Multiple UNC systems are intertwined with investment in Israel—including the food products UNC sells, its educational programs, and, potentially, its policing. According to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, “Since 2005, Israeli companies have invested more than $590 million [in North Carolina].” In turn, North Carolina’s taxpayers give an average of $83,806,074 to Israel every year (contributing to the $3.8 billion in Congressional yearly allocation to Israel), according to USPCR. This breaks down to an average of $727,377 paid by the town of Chapel Hill to Israel per year.
The extent of UNC’s particular investments is difficult to ascertain. Nonetheless, both direct and circumstantial forms of evidence suggest that UNC has a strong relationship with Israel. For one, UNC sells a number of Israeli products in its campus stores, such as Sabra Hummus. For another, UNC also offers a summer-term study abroad program to Israel. Moreover, by analyzing circumstantial evidence, it is possible to conclude that UNC police train in Israel – as this Amnesty International report outlines, North Carolina police (as well as many other US states) regularly train with Israeli security forces (both the IDF and Israeli police). Finally, UNC-Duke has already come under attack by the federal government in the past for a conference on Gaza – a conference that merely reaffirmed the reality that Gazans are under constant attack by Israel and live under systematic apartheid. In response to UNC-Duke hosting the conference, the Department of Education issued a Title VI notice against the university, ordering that UNC and Duke remake its Middle East curricula and programming. Public universities are punished for even speaking to the truth of Palestinian suffering – that it is generated by deliberate Israeli policy, in part funded and supported by the US government.
In general, the state of North Carolina, from which UNC draws part of its funding, engages in pro-Zionist and anti-Palestinian consumer and legal behaviors. In fact, it punishes institutional support of Palestinians. Most pressingly, the state of North Carolina passed an anti-BDS bill in August 2017, which “requires State divestment from, and prohibits State agencies from contracting with, companies that boycott Israel.” It is a law that explicitly advocates for punishing companies which are using their capital to ethically boycott the colonial violence and apartheid that Israel has ceaselessly perpetuated since 1948. As a state institution, I recognize that UNC is bound by state laws. Nevertheless, the law is not always just and justice is not always advanced through preexisting legal measures. In fact, the law frequently follows after justice has already advanced because of popular-level agitation. If UNC is not willing to divest, then students, staff, and faculty must be willing to take matters into their own hands and personally boycott our consumption of Israeli goods.
People are capable of moving institutions if we act collectively. For example, in 2018, Durham became the first US city to ban their police from training with Israeli forces. This came about from grassroots agitation in Durham, primarily through the organization Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine and its coalition, which resulted in Durham City Council voting unanimously in favor of ending police exchanges. If Durham police can take steps to divest from investments or exchanges with Israel, so can UNC and the town of Chapel Hill.
If UNC is more than a hedge fund for the Board of Trustees and Governors and is truly an institution intended to cultivate ethically-minded citizens, then we must do the right thing now and take steps to divest from Israeli investments as an institution and boycott Israeli goods as individuals. Even small actions matter – like refusing to buy Sabra Hummus. Palestinian and Palestinian-American students have contributed immensely to UNC. They deserve more than a university, student body, and teachers that contribute to their families’ or ancestral home’s ethnic cleansing due to Israeli settler colonial violence. We must stand with them and not be silent.
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