Dear SJP and members of the UC community

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I write to express my strong support for the University of California’s divestment from five companies (HP, Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, General Electric, and Cemex) that directly facilitate practices of extreme violence against Palestinian women, men, and children, and which contribute meaningfully to their permanent state of precariousness. Independent monitors, journalists, and human rights organizations have found that Palestinians as well as African migrants are subject to racial, religious, and ethnic discrimination in housing, education, employment and virtually all aspects of economic and social life. Institutionalized racial violence pervades even in the provision of medical care—just this year Israeli officials have admitted to encouraging East African migrants to accept Depo-Provera birth control injections; women who received these injections have described being deceived and coerced into receiving them after telling medical administrators that they did not want them. They report being told that they would have to get these “inoculations” in order to gain entry into Israel/Palestine. Such everyday infringements on the right to the very enjoyment of life add insult to the (often deadly) injury of occupation. Policies of segregation and exclusion amount to widespread and appalling racial, ethnic, and religious criminalization and castigation that should be anathema to the values of the American university system and the University of California mission to make diversity a core aspect of its definition of excellence. This mission, and the university’s goal of promoting the production and innovative use of knowledge, requires openness to student-led calls for just and reasonable practices in the face of substantial evidence of social harm and human rights violations. Each day we encourage University of California students to seek new knowledge, to question previously held assumptions, and to energetically embrace the task of promoting the good of California and the broader world. We should be proud of them when they take up such worthy and difficult challenges. In this instance they conclude that their university, dedicated to the public good, must address existing evidence of human rights violations and should use this available knowledge to avoid promoting and/or profiting from the systematic and often deadly repression of Palestinian civil society. This conclusion is not only correct, but exemplifies the University’s core values of inclusion, openness, and academic excellence.

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Anti-Palestinian rituals of humiliation and exclusion may be exemplified in the experience of Yara Karmalawy, a Palestinian American University of California student who was denied entry into Israel/Palestine. She was separated from her student peers and interrogated by an Israeli soldier who pointed his gun in her face. Although she is an American citizen, she spent ten hours under interrogation, was told “there is no such thing as Palestine anyway,” and had her passport stamped with a Palestinian ID number that would flag her at every checkpoint. She describes feeling stripped of her identity, erased of her history, and labeled as “less than.” Academic freedom thwarted and life threatened, her experience represents only a sliver of the immobilization, surveillance, and extreme vulnerability that Palestinians face; the near-daily reports of Palestinian civilian deaths by Israeli military forces serve as testament to the unyielding threat of violence that marks the lives of people,

young and old, living in Gaza and the West Bank. The United Nations reports that approximately 11,000 Palestinians living in 32 communities located between the wall and the Green Line depend on the granting of Israeli permits or special arrangements to live in their own homes. Between 2012 and 2013, 165 Palestinians were killed in Israeli military actions, more than half of them civilians, and some 1,400 were injured, including many children.

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The United Nations has found that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are “not only illegal under international law but are an obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights by the whole population.” In 2012 the UN’s committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also professed profound concern over the blockade of materials for the construction of Palestinian houses “and civilian infrastructures, such as schools, hospitals and water plants,” into the Gaza Strip. Alongside the settlements, physical barriers, and economic blockade is Israel’s practice of military urbanism, which according to Newcastle University (UK) professor Stephen Graham, consists of the widespread criminalization of Palestinian people, the representation of Palestinian cities and spaces of social life as threatening, and the demolition of social infrastructure. After a recent visit to Palestine, filmmaker-journalist-activist Dream Hampton has described this as the shocking militarization of land and culture. These entrenched and illegal assaults on human rights are, quite evidently, worthy of condemnation and rebuke.

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University of California students are trained to ask critical questions and they have done so with this divestment call. Moreover, the University of California has historically demonstrated leadership in considering global suffering generally and refusing to support apartheid specifically. Cruelty and dehumanization need not be funded. Light is a precious commodity in Gaza, where a recent policy prohibits the use of electricity in Palestinian homes for more than six hours per day; and yet it is precisely light that students in the UCs are attempting to shed on the darkness of occupation.

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I am dubious about the pervasive discourse of neutrality and its inevitable association with academic freedom. However, in this regard it is important to emphasize that should the University of California decide to take a “neutral” stand on this issue, such a stance requires choosing not to invest in companies that facilitate specific practices of militarism on the ground. --Sarah Haley Assistant Professor of Gender Studies/Afro-American Studies IDP UCLA

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