Student Workers at the University of California Support Palestine: UAW 2865 Joint Council Prepares for Membership Vote on BDS
July 29, 2014
We are teaching assistants, tutors, and other student-workers at the University of California represented by UAW 2865. We have a responsibility as educators to both learn about and teach the social issues of our time, including pressing global struggles such as the struggle of the Palestinian people for liberation from settler-colonialism and apartheid.
All major Palestinian trade unions have issued the following statement: “We call for a final end to the crimes and oppression against us. We call for: Arms embargoes on Israel, sanctions that would cut off the supply of weapons and military aid from Europe and the United States on which Israel depends to commit such war crimes…[and] Boycott, divestment and sanctions, as called for by the overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society in 2005 ” . We believe it is our duty as a labor union to support our Palestinian counterparts.
As we write this letter, over 1,100 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed as a result of the most recent Israeli bombardment through both airstrikes and ground invasions targeting Palestinian land and life . Major international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights have expressed that Israel has likely committed war crimes , and the U.N. Human Rights Council has voted by a majority to investigate Israel for such crimes . What is certain is that the Israeli government’s atrocities have yet again resulted in a devastating loss of Palestinian life and destruction to all infrastructure in Gaza such as hospitals, schools, sewage systems, and water sanitation systems. The targeting of these sites makes access to food, water, and medicine nearly impossible for Gaza’s nearly 1.8 million inhabitants.
This aggression is part of the seven-year long Israeli siege on Gaza which has sealed all its borders, turning the Gaza strip—one of the most densely populated places on earth—into what has been widely acknowledged as the world’s “largest open air prison” . Israeli attacks on Gaza occur regularly: “Operation Pillar of Defense” (November 2012) resulted in the killing of 158 Palestinians ; “Operation Hot Winter” (February-March 2008) resulted in the killing of 112 Palestinians ; “Operation Cast Lead” (December 2008-January2009) resulted in the killing of 1417 Palestinians ; “Operation Summer Rains/Autumn Clouds” (June-November 2006) resulted in the estimated killing of some 650 Palestinians ; and “Operation Days of Penitence” (October 2004) resulted in the killing of 133 Palestinians .
Because of the urgency of the situation, the Joint Council of the UAW 2865, a body made up of 83 elected officers who oversee the affairs of the 13,000 member-strong student-worker union at the University of California, is publishing this open letter that outlines our intent to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement  against public institutions and corporations that profit from occupation and apartheid. This means that we will seek a full membership vote within the upcoming academic year in support of BDS, and we will update our membership in the coming months regarding educational forums about divesting our union pension investments and the University of California in general from companies that profit off of the Israeli occupation. Since we are also academics, we call upon our members to honor the academic and cultural boycott of Israel and will offer information about the specifics of the campaign soon.
Across the University of California, the conversation continues to grow around BDS today. Previously, the University of California system used BDS efforts as a non-violent means to address urgent matters of social injustice. Students, faculty and workers organized together to demand the UC to divest three billion dollars of investments to support the end of South African apartheid. In coming together, we made this happen . We as the UAW 2865 Joint Council are adding our voices to the statewide University of California Student Association and the student governments at UC San Diego, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside, all of whom have passed resolutions in favor of divestment.
We intend to throw our weight behind the BDS movement to add to the international pressure against Israel to respect the human rights of the Palestinian people. As workers, students, and as a labor union, we stand in solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle for self-determination from a settler-colonial power for the following reasons:
1. The current situation in Palestine is one of settler-colonialism. In 1948, over 750,000 indigenous Palestinians were made refugees as a result of the aggression of Zionist militias who wished to create a Jewish-only state. With the formation of Israel, those refugees and exiles, whose descendants now number nearly 8.6 million, have been barred from returning to their lands and homes for over 66 years . Of the exiled Palestinian population, 5.3 million live as stateless people entitled to United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency (UNRWA) services in refugee camps inside Palestine and in surrounding Arab countries . These camps were originally built to house only a few thousand people, yet their inhabitants live under the most dire conditions and are the longest-running refugee status group in modern history. Under UN Resolutions 194 , 237 , and 484 , they have a right to return to Palestine. Today Israel continues to confiscate land from indigenous Palestinians and break international laws that enshrine the refugees’ right to return.
2. The Israeli state enforces an apartheid system, illegally privileging one ethnic group over another . Over 50 Israeli laws impose second-class citizenship on Palestinian citizens of Israel (20% of the Israeli population). Among them are laws “restricting political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures” . These laws institutionalize the unequal treatment of Palestinians within Israel .
3. Israel’s system of apartheid geographically segregates Palestinians and Israeli Jews. This system is most visible by examining the 47-year long Israeli military occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. The occupation enables the transfer of Palestinian land in the 1967 territories to Israeli-Jewish ownership through continued illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank. Settlement expansion encroaches on even the sliver of land nominally left to the Palestinians (a total of twenty-two percent of historic Palestine)  in the West Bank, forcibly displacing more Palestinians. Settlements rely on the construction of Israeli-Jewish-only roads and are often built in areas rich with vital resources such as water to which the Palestinians are prohibited access. Additionally, the security apparatus that the Israeli state has imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank includes military patrol via a concrete wall, which was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 . Checkpoints, roadblocks, and control of all borders solidify the occupation of Palestine, making it impossible for Palestinians to control their own economy. These actions have turned the West Bank into an archipelago of islands that are geographically disconnected from one another. Gaza’s borders, like those of the West Bank, have been sealed off by Israel making the two territories isolated from each other.
4. Since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, approximately 20% of the total Palestinian population in the occupied territories has been sentenced to prison time. Israeli use of torture tactics for interrogation is in direct violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) . In particular, detention, imprisonment and torture in interrogations of Palestinian children are heavily documented and in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee .
5. Israeli arms, military and police training tactics, tested on Arab people in the region, have both historically and today been used to suppress peoples’ movements, displace indigenous peoples, and criminalize people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America . The U.S. has joint agreements with Israeli defense training on many levels including both public and private, and has turned to Israeli “technologies and techniques in the arena of homeland security and counterterrorism” as a source of informing its own security apparatus . Here in California, local police and sheriff’s departments are consistently under federal investigation for corruption, racial discrimination, and police violence all while having a longstanding history of exchanging militarized programming and surveillance technologies with Israel and their IDF . The UC Police Department has also participated alongside the IDF in the annual, Bay Area-based “Urban Shield” police-training program . On the nation-wide level, the “Law Enforcement Exchange Program” (LEEP) has enabled similar exchanges between Israeli and U.S. law enforcement . In addition, the militarized U.S.-Mexico Border wall, which has resulted in numerous killings of migrants, was built by the same Israeli company (Elbit Systems) responsible for the apartheid wall in Palestine .
We believe that as student and labor organizers, we have a duty to stand by principles of anti-oppression organizing. As we stand in solidarity with Palestinian self-determination, we also recognize that here in the United States we have our own systems of structural racism and settler colonialism to resist and dismantle. In the university system in which we both learn and labor, the disparity in access to people of color and working-class people as well as the existence of our universities on stolen indigenous land alerts us to the importance of making these connections in our movements.
We conclude with the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who had the following to say after a visit to Occupied Palestine:
“I witnessed the daily humiliations of Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints, the inhumanity that won’t let ambulances reach the injured, farmers attend their land, or children attend school. This treatment is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and harassed by the security forces of the apartheid government. It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli government but with hope, hope that a better future can remain for both Israelis and Palestinians. Hope for a future where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation. Hope for a time when there are universal rights for all humans regardless of ethnicity, gender, or national origin…True peace comes only with justice” .
We agree with these words and are compelled by the ongoing displays of resilience by the Palestinian people and the global movement for justice in Palestine, which includes multiplying voices from Jewish communities condemning the ongoing Israeli occupation. We want to make it clear that this resolution targets a colonial-apartheid state, not Jewish people. Many Jewish individuals and organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace have expressed support for divesting from the Israeli state in order to bring about peace with justice for Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike. By joining the BDS movement, we throw our voices behind the broader movement for peace with justice in Palestine.
To our members, the Joint Council of UAW 2865 thanks you for your consideration and asks that you vote “yes” in the coming membership vote for joining the BDS movement.
UAW 2865 Joint Council
17. http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/FF192961FEBCBCA5852560DF006576C1. Israel is also in violation of UN Resolutions 252, 267, 271, 298, 446, 476, 478, 452, and 1860, as seen in footnote 11 of UC San Diego’s divestment bill: http://www.sjpucsd.com/divestment-campaign-2013.html
27. http://www.jewishjournal.com/los_angeles/article/lapd_scopes_out_israeli_drones_big_data_solutions; http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/rania-khalek/lapd-goes-israel-falls-love-drones-and-mass-surveillance
28. https://www.urbanshield.org/index.php/2012-urban-shield-exercise/special-wepons-and-tactics; https://www.urbanshield.org/index.php/2012-urban-shield-exercise/supporting-agencies; http://police-statistics.universityofcalifornia.edu/2011/ucb.html