Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Georgetown Hosts Divestment Conference

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Georgetown Hosts Divestment Conference

Article excerpt

Waging Peace

The Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM) held its annual conference regarding divestment from Israel at Georgetown University in Washington, DC on Feb. 17-19, 2006. The opening plenary featured Noura Erakat of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation who reviewed the history of the current divestment movement in the context of the successful divestment movement from South Africa, a recurrent theme throughout the conference.

Philip Parah, a former instructor at the Lutheran School in Ramallah, then discussed church divestment efforts. While Presbyterians had voted to divest, he noted, other churches had chosen to "positively invest" in peace. Referring to intense efforts by pro-Zionist groups to pressure the Presbyterian church into dropping divestment, Farah opined that when movements such as divestment reach the mainstream churches, they were well on their way to success.

Sue Blackwell of the (UK) Association of University Teachers (AUT) and the University of Birmingham in England concluded the discussion with an overview of AUT's passage and subsequent repeal of an academic boycott on Israel as part of a coordinated strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). When there was some disruption by Zionist activists during the question-and-answer session, Georgetown University staff took an active role in removing the agitators from the campus.

About 400 registered attendees then broke off to attend workshops focusing on such subjects as becoming a "media watchdog," supporting nonviolent resistance, organizing on campus, using the arts and technology in messaging, and outreach to religious groups. While the workshops were for participants only, one important panel was open to the media: "Why Divestment? Why Now?" featured AIi Abunimah of Electronic Intifada and Mohammed Abed of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Activists had a "moral obligation to use whatever nonviolent means possible to ensure the individual and communal rights of the Palestinian people," Abed explained, without infringing on the rights of the Jewish people. Moreover, he added, the time for such action was now, as members of the Israeli government had bluntly outlined plans to "disengage" from occupied territory while annexing major settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. This plan has gained legitimacy in the international community, despite the fact that it not only would leave an apartheid state in existence, but would deny the Palestinian people any viable selfdetermination. Any apartheid system deserved some sort of sanction, Abed argued. He went on to cite Israel's abuse of Palestinian human rights-including such issues as the wall-as another reason for turning to divestment. Abed identified as a third reason the international community's failed "peace process" which, instead of achieving a two-state solution, has only led to Palestinians living in Bantustans without any real cultural self-determination. Abed used the example of apartheid South Africa as a model for the successful employment of divestment as a grass-roots tactic, and as a unifying vision of hope for the future.

Abunimah drew titters but made a point when he likened the situation of finding a solution in Palestine and Israel to that of two people divvying up a pizza. While one was talking about a fair division, the other was busy stuffing his mouth with all the pizza he could fit-then, with cheese and tomato dripping from his mouth, pointing at the other and accusing him of spoiling the fair division. …

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