Pro-Palestine students call for boycott of Israeli goods

By Emily Sokolik

Editor’s Note: This article incorrectly identified Students for Justice in Palestine as Students against Justice in Palestine four paragraphs before the end of the story. The Daily Illini regrets the error.

Students for Justice in Palestine, a University registered student organization, will soon ask the University to stop using Israeli products as one part of a campaign to end Israel’s occupation of disputed territory.

In addition to the organization’s divestment campaign, the group plans to launch a petition calling for the right for Palestinians to re-enter Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The announcements for the two petitions came last Wednesday at the group’s sponsored open mic event, Cafe Intifada.

Khalid Mashal, senior in Engineering and president of the group, said the divestment campaign is a way of putting economic pressure on Israel.

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“We feel that our University should divest from Israel because of the recent activities of the state in not doing as they should to stop the suffering on both sides,” he said.

“It’s a non-violent solution to force the Israeli government to look into pursuing peace,” Mashal added.

The University boycotted goods that were manufactured by South Africa when the country was under apartheid rule from 1948 to 1994, said Rami Abuhabsah, sophomore in LAS and a group member.

He added that Israel also currently governs under the same form of apartheid by systematically segregating Palestinians from Israelis.

“Right now, it’s really bad,” he said.

“The Palestinians are literally starving to death and Israel will not allow humanitarian aid to come in. This is a direct result of U.S. financial support,” he added.

Abuhabsah added that the University should discontinue using Israeli products in an effort to stop Israel from profiting from the Palestinian occupation.

He pointed to the University’s investment in Caterpillar tractors, which he said Israel has used to bulldoze Palestinian homes since 1967.

The second petition advocates for the right of Palestinians to re-enter disputed territory.

Mashal, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, said that these demands were created after the Israeli government began deporting people, including Americans, who were visiting their family members in Israeli-controlled territories.

“This problem is getting bigger and bigger,” Mashal said. “A lot of people have complained to the (U.S.) State Department about this.”

He added that many people are given no explanation for their deportment even after attempting to visit family members in areas like Gaza, which are no longer under Israeli control.

The United States should take a strong stance against this kind of activity, he said.

“These people are told, ‘You’re not allowed to come here, go back,'” he said.

Jonathan Witten, senior in LAS and a member of Hillel, a campus Jewish organization, strongly disagrees with both of the petitions.

“The proponents of divestment must own up to the failures and faults that persist in the Arab world instead of blaming Israel for all of their problems,” he said.

“Those behind this coalition of deception are afraid to look inward because they know that if they do, they will need to address issues of imprisonment and murder of homosexuals, political activists and feminists, religious discrimination, lack of basic freedoms, honor killings and other atrocities within Palestinian society and other Arab countries,” Witten added.

Steve Slivnick, junior in LAS and incoming president of Illini-Pac, a campus pro-Israel group, added that the divestment campaign ignores both sides of the conflict.

“One of the problems with divestment is that it singles out Israel,” he said.

“It’s really a two-way street and this plan basically ignores Palestinian responsibility and the complexities of the conflict,” he added.

Despite doubts about the validity of the campaigns, Mashal said Students for Justice in Palestine plan to begin circulating the two petitions at the beginning of next semester.

He said the organization will launch a letter-writing campaign and will work with the Illinois Student Senate and the University.

“We want to educate them about why the divestment campaign is good for both sides,” he said.

“It’s going to force Israel into some kind of peace process,” he added.