<< Front page News March 19, 2004

Lectures advocate divestment

Current relations between Israel and Palestine were compared to South African apartheid by divestment advocate Kate Raphael (OC ’80) in two lectures this week.

Raphael, who currently works with Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism and the International Women’s Peace Service talked on Monday about the time she spent in Iraq with a U.S. women’s peace organization called Code Pink. The focus of the delegation was the status of women and children under occupation.

“It was a really good opportunity to compare the two kinds of occupation…because it’s very easy to just think occupation is occupation,” Raphael said.

Raphael asserted that the occupations are two very different projects. Raphael believes that the Israeli government is working to drive the Palestinians away so that they can take over the land.

“They are trying to make the occupation as oppressive as possible for the average Palestinian,” Raphael said. “I saw really clearly how the occupation was multiplying and replicating. More checkpoints, more roadblocks, more detentions, more night raids, more humiliation on the street, more racist graffiti, and of course the wall being the ultimate form of pressure to convince the Palestinians that the land is going to be unlivable to them.”

By comparison, Raphael says the U.S. isn’t interested in the Iraqis’ land.

“Their goal is a reliable client state in the Muslim-Arab world, control of the people and the resources, and another stable ally in the region to counterbalance Israel,” Raphael said. “Israel is not a good tool for galvanizing or coalescing the Middle East because it is hated and ostracized by all the other countries in the Middle East.”

Raphael said that both Palestinian and Iraqi women deal with economic devastation and trauma when their husbands are taken away to undisclosed locations for indefinite periods. Raphael said these pressures increase the power of Islamic forces, which may ultimately subject women to harsh personal status laws.

However, there are also stark differences between the occupations, according to Raphael. Iraq has a shortage of men, she says, because so many have been killed, leaving many women alone. In Palestine she says it is unusual to see a woman older than 22 who is not married. Many Palestinian women, even in the cities, have land they can rely on, whereas most Iraqi women are urban without land, making the economic situation more difficult for them.

At the conclusion of her lecture one student questioned the one-sided nature of Raphael’s speech.

“On the Israel conflict, you talked about telling the truth, and I was wondering why in your video or your speech you choose to not talk at all about the terrorism against Israel, the suicide bombings, etc?”

“It’s not what I do, I think a lot of that information is out there,” responded Raphael.

Her talk on Tuesday centered on her experience as a divestment activist at Oberlin, during which time she encouraged the College to divest from South Africa in an effort to end apartheid and how this experience relates to her current work on the Palestinian conflict.

Apartheid has been defined by the United Nations as a “crime against humanity,” and Raphael went through the various aspects of the definition as to Israel and Palestine. She cited 2,372 Palestinians killed by Israel in the last three years, with 452 of these people under the age of 18. Raphael pointed out that most of these 452 were under the age of 14. Raphael said she only uses Israeli statistics, for the purpose of strengthening her argument.

Argument, in fact, was the purpose of Raphael’s visit to Oberlin. With her talk, photographs, and experience, she hoped to give Oberlin students the tools to argue for divestment. When addressing the question, “Are we signaling out Israel?” she answers “Of course. We signaled out South Africa, El Salvador, Nicaragua, China…and it worked.” Raphael conceded that the purposes of some divestments were not necessarily ones she agreed with.

Raphael points to the new Israeli policy of disengagement, with the building of the separation wall as another example of apartheid. Her argument against disengagement centers on the small amount of land given to the Palestinians, as well as the economic hardship caused by forcing Palestinians away from their jobs and educations. Raphael also pointed to the fact that in 1947 the Palestinian-Israeli land split was roughly 46 pecent to 54 percent while currently Israelis occupy ninety percent of the formerly shared land.

“This is unquestionably apartheid,” Raphael said.

Responding to the most controversial issues involved in divestment, Raphael claimed a desire for peace and justice.

Is it anti-Semitic to divest from Israel? No. As a Jewish person, I feel it is anti-Semitic to say that Jewish people should not be held to the same conventions of human rights,” Raphael said. “Jewish people don’t violate human rights because they happen to be Jewish.”

When Raphael campaigned for an end to South African apartheid, she heard repeatedly that she didn’t understand the situation. This was hard to stomach when looking at a photograph of a fence separating a “Whites only” South African beach from an “All races” section. In the same way, Raphael finds rationalizing Israeli-Palestinian human rights violations confusing.

“Some of us are in groups called ‘Students for a Free Palestine’ or something similar, and that is fine,” she said, but reminded activists to keep their minds on the larger goals. “Yes, I am for a free Palestine. But Palestine is not a goal in itself. I want a just world.”


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