Draw the connections: UT, the US and Israel

Jonathan Orta and Christina Noriega

On Nov. 19, UT students and Austin community members marched through campus chanting, “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes.” (A separate protest with many of the same protesters took place on Nov. 17 in downtown Austin.) Speakers, including UT journalism professor Robert Jensen and Saif Kazim, the president of UT’s Society for Islamic Awareness, explained the current crisis in Gaza and the necessity for a domestic campaign to end U.S. funding of the Israeli occupation, bombardment and economic suffocation of the Palestinian people. The Nov. 19 march intended to show UT students that the campaign could begin here on campus.   

Public action is necessary because of the United States government’s complicity in the occupation. Both the protest on campus and downtown saw a broad base of supporters come out in opposition to Israeli occupation, which was deemed illegal by United Nations Resolution 242 and the International Court of Justice ruling in 2004. These two protests are following a global outcry against the newest act of Israeli aggression.

UT students must understand that not only their federal government, but also their University is complicit in Israeli war crimes. UT’s investment company, University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), invests in the industry built around the Israeli occupation of Palestine. UTIMCO profits from investments in companies like United Technologies, which produces UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for the Israel Defense Force. These UTIMCO investments follow the U.S. government’s lead, which, according to Amnesty International, sells attack aircraft and missiles to Israel.

Social movements have traditionally flourished on college campuses. In April 1986, 42 UT students protesting apartheid refused to surrender a shanty they had constructed on the West Mall and were arrested by UT police. The following Friday, 182 students were arrested during a successive, much larger West Mall rally in protest of apartheid in South Africa at that time. The protesting students had a specific demand: They wanted the University to divest, or strip itself of its financial interests, in South Africa. Today, UT students again have the power to shape the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Within hours of Israel’s launching Operation Pillar of Defense two weeks ago, President Obama voiced his support for Israel’s right to self-defense — a claim that ignores Israel’s disproportionate use of resources and force. Obama’s position represents only a fraction of the U.S. government’s pro-Israeli foreign policy, which provides Israel with $3 billion a year in foreign aid. Arguably, the U.S. policy violates the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which declared it illegal for the U.S. government to fund foreign governments that are consistent human rights violators.

Israel has faced a long history of criticism by various human rights organizations and official bodies of the United Nations.

In 2000, the United Nations Human Rights Committee reported “demolition of houses and closure of the Palestinian territories” and the “death of 127 civilians, including many children,” which constitute “war crimes.” In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the wall built in the Occupied Territories breaches international humanitarian law by “imposing restrictions on the freedom of the inhabitants” and limiting “access to health services, educational establishments and primary sources of water.” An Amnesty International report titled “Operation Cast Lead: 22 Days of Death and Destruction” reports that Israeli F-16 combat aircraft “targeted and destroyed civilian homes … often while they slept” and that Israeli Hellfire missiles killed “children playing on the roofs of their homes or in the street and other civilians going about their daily business … in broad daylight.” Though Israel’s countless war crimes have been well-documented, the U.S. government maintains its generous $3 billion a year in foreign aid to Israel.

The U.S. government’s recent acts of unwavering, bipartisan support of Israel demonstrate the normalization of endorsing Israel’s actions in our political system. We cannot depend on our political system to change current U.S. foreign policy towards Israel. Change must come first from social movements.

Challenging U.S. policy must begin on this campus with a call for the University to divest its interests in Israel. The Nov. 19 protest on the West Mall, like the one decades before, reminded University decision-makers that UT students can hold the University accountable for its actions. What unified the speakers and marchers was an understanding that UT students can effect changes. Join the movement to end U.S. support of Israel. Rather than being spectators to U.S.-endorsed occupation, we can start the path to peace here.

Noriega is a journalism sophomore from Irving and Orta is a Latin American Studies and international relations senior from Dallas.