Palestine solidarity protest can help channel grief into action

Jauzey Imam

Editor's Note: Imam is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Committee.

On Wednesday at 5 p.m., more than 300 UT students and Austin residents gathered before the Texas Capitol building. On the front line stood a woman holding two pictures, one captioned "My sister," the other "Her kids." All had been recently killed by Israeli forces.

This was a gathering of grievers.

It was the fourth such protest in Austin — a joint effort between Interfaith Community for Palestinian Rights, Muslim American Society and the University of Texas at Austin’s Palestine Solidarity Committee — since the start of Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza. Gaza is composed of generations of refugees, produced by what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls “an ethnic cleansing” of more than 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. Now, its borders sealed, destroyed by years of economic blockades and repeated Israeli assaults, Gaza crumbles under the latest installment of Israeli collective punishment. More than 800 Palestinians are dead, 75 percent of whom, according to the UN, are civilians. One hundred and ninety children have been murdered, all in the name of "defense." By the time you read this, that number will be dated.

Grief at the loss of these children, often killed with their entire families, spurred the protests. Zainab Haider-Zaidi, a community and regional planning graduate student, explained that "it is really frustrating for most of us to sit here in our relatively privileged lives and watch helplessly as the massacres in Gaza continue." And the knowledge that we, as American taxpayers, are complicit in the slaughter, only adds to the frustration. As the signs displayed by the protesters explained, the United States gives Israel more than $8 million in defense spending daily, totaling $3 billion annually. And American politicians’ unconditional support for Israeli policies allows the slaughter to continue.

But the frustration and grief gave way to hope at the protest. The protesters did not stand alone. Palestine solidarity movements around the world, from Chile to London to South Korea to Kashmir, now demand an end to the occupation, the killing, the siege, the embargo and the apartheid state that treats Palestinians as targets, not humans. As journalism student Jake Webber said, "We have to continue pushing from our end. Solidarity is our most important tool."

Three words were repeated throughout the evening: "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions." Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, or BDS, is a global nonviolent movement initiated by the Palestinian Civil Society and modeled after the South African anti-Apartheid movement. With support from many leaders, such as Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, and academics from around the world, such as Stephen Hawking, the BDS movement focuses on establishing a just peace in Palestine-Israel. According to assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi, the BDS campaign "hopes to draw attention to the apartheid-like conditions in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — conditions which include checkpoints, separate roads, housing and employment discrimination, collective punishment and a system of separate laws for Jews and non-Jews" while also organizing resistance to such policies through academic and cultural boycotts, institutional divestments and governmental and diplomatic sanctions.

Shingavi also pointed out that our University "has substantial ties to Israel — through investments it makes through its endowment, controlled by [the University of Texas Investment Management Company], through weapons research it conducts, through exchange programs it organizes and through partnerships it has with specific Israeli academic institutions." These investments and partnerships allow Israel to “normalize its apartheid-like practices" by focusing public attention on its corporate and academic relationships and away from its human rights violations. Shingavi suggested that UT students and faculty force Israel to abandon its apartheid-like practices by pressuring UT and UTIMCO to divest from such institutions, thereby joining other universities such as the University of California, Berkeley and religious organizations such as the U.S. Presbyterian Church.

The protests will continue. As Haithem El-Zabri, an organizer with ICPR, said, "Our hearts grieve for the people of Gaza, but we know we need to keep standing up for their rights." And on Aug. 2, in front of the Capitol building, thousands of people from across Texas will gather for Palestinian rights, voice their sorrow at the deaths of the children of Gaza and demand an end to US complicity in Israeli war crimes. The rally is aptly named "Texas Stands with Gaza."

Imam is a Plan II and computer engineering senior from Austin.