Resistance in the West Bank, Solidarity in the U.S.

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott!: The Academy and Justice for Palestine


On December 19, 2017, sixteen-year old Ahed Tamimi slapped Israeli soldiers who had invaded her home in the West Bank. The slap by this Palestinian teenage girl resounded around the world. Tamimi was confronting the soldiers hours after they had shot her teenage cousin, Mohamed, with rubber bullets that broke his jaw and entered his skull. Tamimi has been fending off Israeli soldiers all of her young life. In 2015, she became famous when a video, that went viral, showed her wrestling a masked Israeli soldier with her bare arms while he throttled her little brother who had a broken arm. Mohamed Tamimi was violently attacked while protesting against Trump’s decision to move the capital of Israel to Jerusalem, a city under illegal Israeli military occupation since 1967. Trump’s unilateral move, in defiance of the international consensus that recognizes that the status of Jerusalem is still contested due to the occupation, sparked widespread protests by Palestinians that included general strikes. Colleges and schools also closed as part of acts of collective rejection of this blow to Palestinian sovereignty.

The Tamimi family’s village, Nabi Saleh, is renowned for the ongoing, regular, nonviolent resistance of its Palestinian residents to Israel’s confiscation of its land and its water and the illegal construction of Jewish-only settlements that encroach on the village. Palestinian resistance to five decades of occupation has included countless such acts of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest, including general strikes, hunger strikes by Palestinian prisoners, and peaceful actions against land confiscation, home demolitions, and enclosure by militarized borders and the Israeli Wall. Nabi Saleh is not the only village where unarmed men, women, and children, like Tamimi and her family members, routinely confront Israeli soldiers with lethal weapons and are routinely maimed, killed, and arrested without trial. Israeli military laws criminalize peaceful political protests, including even waving Palestinian flags, and Ahed’s father, Bassem Tamimi, has been in prison and tortured for many years.

Other West Bank villages such as Ni’lin and Bil’in also have a history of civil disobedience challenging the occupation and colonization of their land, based on the Palestinian concept of sumud, or steadfastness, a notion that evokes the indigenous attachment to staying on and defending the land. This notion of resilience is also at the core of international solidarity with the Palestinian refusal to accept the rule of the occupier and challenge the denial of their right to be human. International volunteers regularly attend the Friday protests against the Wall and settlements in West Bank villages and have also been tear gassed and attacked by Israeli soldiers.

The arrest of Tamimi sparked an international solidarity campaign, #FreeAhedTamimi, to bring attention to her conviction as a “terrorist” by an Israeli military court and the arrests and physical assaults of her family members. The feminist peace organization, Code Pink, organized a campaign to send letters to Tamimi on her 17th birthday, which she celebrated while in Israeli prison; the campaign aims to challenge the systematic detention and torture of Palestinian children in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is finally being opposed by legislation introduced in Congress in winter 2017. While it is highly unlikely that this law will ever be passed by a consistently pro-Israel U.S. legislature, it is important to note that Israel is the only country in the world that systematically detains and prosecutes children-as well as adults–in a military court system that lacks due process (the system of “administrative detention”). Hundreds of children are locked up every year simply for throwing stones—against the tanks of an occupying army and soldiers with lethal weapons. Addameer, a prisoner rights organization, reports that the number of child prisoners has actually doubled over the past 3 years, also noting that approximately 20% of the Palestinian population in the occupied territoriees has been in Israeli prisons (and 40% of all men) since the occupation began in 1967; this is why Israel is called a carceral state. Palestinian children are regularly tortured in prison; Defence of Children-International found that 75% of Palestinian children are physically abused after arrest.

Furthermore, Israeli soldiers regularly use rubber bullets, as they did against Mohammed Tamimi, as a “crowd control” weapon targeting Palestinian protesters and disabling and killing children, as documented by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. In places such as Nabi Saleh and other sites of organized collective resistance, documented by harrowing documentary films such as Five Broken Cameras, Bil’in Habibti, and Budrus, the use of such lethal weapons against children is a form of collective punishment against family members of those involved in political activism. It should be noted that just in January 2018, four Palestinian children—who were all 16 years old—were killed by Israeli soldiers in West Bank protests or “ambushes” by Israeli soldiers, who regularly shoot Palestinian youth in the head with live ammunition.

Ahed Tamimi, interestingly, is blond and light-skinned—as are some Palestinians—and one of the troubling tactics that Israeli officials have used to discredit her after she garnered global media attention is to allege that, because of her fair complexion and blond hair, she is not really a Tamimi family member. This reveals the racist and colonialist logics underlying the Zionist regime, that is, Palestinians, especially women, are not capable of courageous acts of resistance and if they are, are not authentic Palestinians – while crushing even the tiniest acts of resistance with brutal force. Some Israeli Zionists went even further in attacking Tamimi, suggesting that she should be subjected to rape and murder for daring to defy an Israeli soldier.

So what can those concerned about the horrific abuse of children and authoritarian repression of civil disobedience do in protest, here in the U.S.? Palestinians have told us, consistently, what we can do: they have called on international civil society to engage in engage in boycott, divestment, and sanctions till Israel complies with human rights law. The BDS movement calls on Israel to 1) end its occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and dismantle the Wall; 2) respect the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) protect and promotes the right of Palestinian refugees to return as upheld by UN Resolution 194.

As I discuss in my new book, Boycott! The Academy and Justice in Palestine, the academic boycott movement draws attention to this systemic degradation of academic (and human) freedom in Palestine and has been an incredibly effective and growing campaign in the U.S. academy in recent years, with boycott resolutions adopted by several national academic associations. It is also a movement that engages in joint struggles against xenophobia, militarization, border violence, police brutality, and carcerality and for justice, here and there.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

“In deftly demonstrating that Palestinian solidarity belongs at the center of all of our justice concerns, Boycott! both exemplifies the challenge of this moment and urges us to fearlessly rise up to it.”—Angela Y. Davis

 


The Academy and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott!: The Academy and Justice for Palestine


On December 6, 2017, Donald Trump shocked the international community by unilaterally declaring that the U.S. had anointed Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a city illegally occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. The status of Jerusalem has been pending in negotiations between Israel and Palestine, which are already compromised by the unequal power relations between the two entities, and the extremely partisan role of the U.S. as Israel’s unconditional ally and largest funder. The decree on Jerusalem ruptured the international consensus that Jerusalem’s fate must be resolved through peace talks, given its occupation is illegal and has been condemned by the UN, even if this consensus is quite limited given its inability to condemn the usurpation of Palestinian territories that began in 1948. But demonstrating the outrage of the majority of countries around the world, the UN General Assembly voted 128 to 9 to condemn Trump’s declaration which provoked protest even from U.S. allies such as the UK, France, and Germany.

Using the bully logic of gangster extortionism, Trump threatened to punish countries that opposed his decision and decided to withhold tens of millions of dollars to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency) that provides aid to Palestinian refugees, including in the blockaded Gaza Strip which has been enduring an acute humanitarian crisis for years as well as in refugee communities and camps in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The U.S. is the largest donor to UNRWA, appropriately so as the wealthiest country in the world, and so this massive cut would mean cutting off healthcare, education, and social services to Palestinian refugees that constitute significant segments of the population in Jordan and Lebanon. Some commentators argued that the strangling of UNRWA was an even bigger crisis for Palestine-Israel than the selling out of Jerusalem, given the heightened instability it would cause for the poorest and most insecure Palestinians in the region, and undercutting U.S.-Israeli security arrangements to police the Palestinians, including via cooperation with the barely sovereign Palestinian Authority (PA).

But the issue really is: how can Trump decide that Jerusalem should, or should not, be the capital of another nation-state? After the news broke, people who are not activists or leftists asked me how this was even possible, questioning the fundamental logic behind such a move. The logic, clearly, is a colonialist one and builds on a long history of imperial states intervening in and violating the national sovereignty of other peoples, going back to Lord Balfour’s role 100 years ago in the UK’s selling out of Palestine to Zionists and facilitating the establishment of a Jewish state on Palestinian land and the displacement and dispossession of indigenous Palestinians. The PA acknowledged and challenged this logic by a symbolic declaration that recognized Texas as part of Mexico, given its annexation by the U.S., announcing that it would move the Palestinian consulate from Mexico City to Houston. Intense protests erupted on Palestinian streets and Israeli soldiers continued their brutalization of Palestinian civilians, including children, with lethal weapons.

But really, what can the international community do to oppose this colonialist policy of giving away other people’s lands, and rights? How can we end the silence over Israel’s ongoing fragmentation and occupation of Palestinian territories and its creation of bantustans that would mean even an eventual Palestinian state would effectively not be viable? Illegal Jewish settlements inside Palestinian territory and the expanding Wall have led to the canonization of the West Bank and the encirclement and isolation of Jerusalem. In fact, right after the New Year, Israel announced it had approved the construction of over 1,000 new illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, a flagrant finger pointed at any future peace talks and an expansionism green-lighted, of course, by Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s stance on Palestine-Israel.

Palestinians have asked the international community, over and over again and especially in light of this latest blow for Palestine, to enact Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This call comes from Palestinian civil society, not a particular political party, in order to apply international pressure to challenge Israel’s impunity and ongoing and systematic violations of international human rights. As U.S.-based scholars, we must respond to the call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel until it complies with international law and 1) ends its occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and dismantles the Wall; 2) respects the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) protects and promotes the right of Palestinian refugees to return as upheld by UN Resolution 194. So a boycott of Israeli academic institutions (not individuals) would remain in effect until Israel complies with these three principles. In fact, Palestinian activists have noted that now is also the time to call for sanctions against Israel and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, given the threat it poses to regional and global peace. But what is immediately in our power as scholars and students is the decision to refuse complicity with Israeli institutions which have upheld Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, directly or indirectly. We can refuse to participate in a conference at an Israeli university built on stolen Palestinian land or at an institute that develops lethal technologies for the Israeli military; we can stop participating in study abroad programs that whitewash the occupation and create false symmetries between colonizer and colonized; and we can reject awards or grants funded by the Israeli government. These are small, not radical, acts that require minimal sacrifice on the part of privileged U.S.-based scholars and students relative to our encaged Palestinian colleagues who cannot regularly get to campus, travel for research, freely engage in political activism, and in the West Bank, are tear-gassed more than any other population on earth. As I discuss in my new book, Boycott! The Academy and Justice in Palestine, the academic boycott movement draws attention to this systemic degradation of academic (and human) freedom in Palestine and has been an incredibly effective and growing campaign in the U.S. academy in recent years. It is also a movement that engages in joint struggles against xenophobia, militarization, border violence, police brutality, and carcerality and for justice, here and there.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

“In deftly demonstrating that Palestinian solidarity belongs at the center of all of our justice concerns, Boycott! both exemplifies the challenge of this moment and urges us to fearlessly rise up to it.”—Angela Y. Davis

 


Academic Freedom in the Era of Trump

By Sunaina Maira, author of Boycott! The Academy and Justice for Palestine

This guest post is part of the ASA blog series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Chicago, IL Nov. 9-12—and as part of blog series of contributions by authors in the new series American Studies Now.


Something unthinkable happened in the United States in the last few years: hundreds of academics, senior scholars, graduate students, and untenured faculty came forth in support of an academic boycott of Israel. Beginning in 2013, the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions expanded rapidly with one major academic association after another endorsing the boycott and adopting resolutions in solidarity with the Palestinian call for an academic boycott.

But this movement emerged several years after Palestinian academics, intellectuals, and activists called for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel in 2004—and after years of military occupation, failed peace negotiations, ever-expanding and illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, ongoing home demolitions, the building of the Israeli Wall, repression, and military assaults. All of these events and the military occupation of Palestine itself have been endorsed, defended, and funded by Israel’s major global ally, the United States. The academic boycott and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement are thus embedded in a significant aspect of the U.S. political and historical relationship to the Middle East, and in a particular, cultural imaginary of Palestine, Palestinians, and Arabs in general, that has become an increasingly central concern of American studies.

I consider this progressive-left academic solidarity to be a potential expression of academic abolitionism. The notion of academic abolitionism is not focused on redeeming the U.S. academy—just as it is ultimately not focused on redemption for the U.S. imperial state—as much as it is ongoing beyond the liberal discourse of academic freedom to highlight other kinds of freedoms, and un-freedoms. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit with occupation and apartheid is only one component of a larger politics of refusal grounded in academic abolitionism. An abolitionist view challenges the complicity of the U.S. academy with global militarism, carceral regimes, and settler colonial circuits of power, in which Israel is a key player.

Indeed, the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Trump’s victory spurred more vigorous and vocal progressive mobilization on campuses and in communities, with solidarity campaigns binding together movements against police violence and militarization, and for racial justice, immigrant rights and sanctuary, gender and sexual rights, indigenous sovereignty, environmental justice, and freedom in Palestine. The historic Women’s March in January 2017, which mobilized masses of people to come out in the streets against Trump after his inauguration, was called for by prominent feminist activists such as Angela Davis and Palestinian American Linda Sarsour, who have advocated for BDS as part of a feminist politics. The International Women’s Strike on March 8, 2017, explicitly included a call for “the decolonization of Palestine” in its platform, and for the dismantling of “all walls, from prison walls to border walls, from Mexico to Palestine.” These campaigns build on the solidarities that were created in previous years as the BDS movement made linkages with Black Lives Matter, the antiwar and prison abolition movement, labor unions, faith-based activists, and feminist and queer groups.

As “White supremacy” became a term permissible in discussions on major cable news networks about Trump and his alt-right followers, there were also growing conversations about Zionism, the ways it can become imbricated with anti-Semitism on the right, and the need to challenge racial supremacy and White privilege. Palestine has become central to all of these major contemporary debates and resistance movements. Omar Barghouti writes about the struggle for liberation, equality, and dignity waged through BDS:

The global BDS movement for Palestinian rights presents a progressive, antiracist, sophisticated, sustainable, moral, and effective form of nonviolent civil resistance. It has become one of the key political catalysts and moral anchors for a strengthened, reinvigorated international social movement capable of ending the law of the jungle and upholding in its stead the rule of law, reaffirming the rights of all humans to freedom, equality, and dignified living.

Our South Africa moment has finally arrived!

There really is no turning back.


Sunaina Maira is Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Boycott! is available now as an e-book, and forthcoming in print.


Debuting at ASA 2017: American Studies Now, a New Series

Taking the 2017 American Studies Association conference by storm the new series edited by past presidents of the ASA American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present offers short, timely books on the issues that matter today.

“We need new ways to publish and distribute the work of American Studies scholars. The monograph and the journal article have a crucial role in our field, but they aren’t serving us well in the undergraduate classroom. And they aren’t putting our work into circulation in the pressing, scary political present. This new series is one new way to address those needs — short, accessible books on Black Lives Matter, climate change, neoliberalism, BDS, the continuing urban crisis, indigenous politics, queer and trans issues, the crises in higher education and more. They are designed to provide timely, provocative analysis for teaching, for activism, and for engagement now.”—Lisa Duggan, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Much of the most exciting contemporary work in American Studies refuses the distinction between politics and culture—focusing on historical cultures of power and protest on the one hand, or the political importance of cultural practices on the other. With a short production schedule, the titles in American Studies Now are able to cover these political and cultural intersections while such teachable moments are at the center of public conversation.

“Given the constant rush and hum of information in our social media saturated worlds, it’s easy to get stuck in the here and now in ways that make it difficult to take a critical perspective on where we are and how we got there. So American Studies Now reflects not only the urgency of the questions raised by each volume in the series but also suggests what we mean by critical histories of the present — scholarship that helps readers think about contemporary problems in terms of their larger historical, social, and cultural significance.”—Curtis Marez, past president of the American Studies Association & co-editor of American Studies Now

Learn more about this exciting, new series in this Q&A with series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and visit UC Press at booth 405 to browse the books. Heading to the conference? Be sure to check out the following session:

  • American Studies Now: Critical Histories of the Present
    Fri, November 10, 4:00 to 5:45pm
    With UC Press Executive Editor Niels Hooper, series editors Lisa Duggan and Curtis Marez, and series authors Scott Kurashige, Sunaina Maira, Barbara Ransby, Shelley Streeby, and Macarena Gomez-Barris
    View session details here

For more author sessions at ASA, and to see what else we’ll have on view, head here.