November 30, 2016
Dear NYU Law Community,
This letter is addressed to all those who are considering attending the iTrek Spring Break trip to Israel. Between the election season and the usual stresses of law school, we get it, we all need a break. But we believe this Mediterranean get-away comes at a grave cost.
Whether the trip is framed as a technology or peace-seeking initiative, the trip is in fact part of a disingenuous Israeli-government-linked advocacy program that aims to foster an “appreciation for Israel” and misinforms participants about the reality of day-to-day life in Palestine/Israel. The intent of this letter is to elaborate on these realities to highlight how the iTrek trip, by ignoring these realities, contributes to diminishing the human rights of the Palestinian people. We hope that you will take this into earnest consideration before committing to iTrek or other similar programs.
The trip is targeted to the “next generation of global influentials” so that they may obtain a “better understanding and appreciation of Israel”. While the trip is advertised as an opportunity for students to plan their own journey, it is not an independent endeavor. The mission of the organizers of the trip, Israel & Co., and other similar groups is part of the Brand Israel campaign, developed by the Israeli government as an attempt to make Israel look more attractive and deflect attention away from Israeli human rights abuses. Millions of dollars have been spent on such initiatives, part of Israel’s wider outreach program with the world, which also includes training American police forces on methods of brutality.
As law students and future leaders, we have a responsibility to critically evaluate our choices, not accept options at face value, and treat situations of grave injustice and inequality with seriousness. This trip aims to present a progressive looking Israel but hides the ugly realities of Israel’s policies and history as a settler-colonial state built on ethnic cleansing. An accurate understanding of Israel cannot be divorced from its policies in Palestine and the consequences felt by the Palestinian people which this trip fails to adequately address, including the destruction of homes, building of illegal settlement-colonies, use of arbitrary detentions, discriminatory immigration and refugee policies, periodic large-scale killings and military incursions, and ongoing confiscation of resources (see appendix) . Trips such as iTrek seek to obscure that reality in an effort to lull participants into complicity with Israel’s illegal actions. We as law students stand against this whitewashing of oppression and believe it is inappropriate to go on the iTrek trip offered to students.
These types of misleading trips are not only being offered to NYU Law students. For example, students at Berkeley Law issued a similar pledge to not participate in the upcoming iTrek trip offered there. These letters are part of a worldwide effort to halt and reverse Israel’s destructive and discriminatory policies by raising awareness on the reality of the situation in Palestine/Israel and holding institutions and actors accountable for their complicity with Israel’s oppression. We echo the calls of solidarity with Ferguson, Standing Rock and Palestine, and find these efforts more important than ever as we brace ourselves for the struggle against Trump’s plans to emulate Israel, including erecting a Wall and discriminating against minority groups.
Although this trip seems free, it comes at the cost of misunderstanding the situation dismissing the experiences of Palestinians who live under systematic exclusion and institutional racism perpetuated by the Israeli state. If you would like to visit Israel and Palestine without ignoring this reality, there are various programs we would recommend you consider, including: Interfaith Peace-Builders delegations and other tours put forward by Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
Finally, please consider signing the letter here to affirm that our law school community is conscientious about both domestic and international issues; your support is greatly appreciated!
Coalition on Law and Representation (CoLR)
Law Students for Economic Justice (LSEJ)
Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP)
Middle Eastern Law Students Association (MELSA)
Muslim Law Students Association (MLSA)
NYU National Lawyers Guild (NLG)
South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA)
Salmah Y Rizvi, JD, 2016
Nathan Yaffe, JD, 2017
Petros Egziabher, JD 2017
Farah Alhaddad, JD 2017
Brandon Davis, JD 2018
Blythe, J.D., 2018
Hira Ahmed J.D. '19
Christine Sifferman, JD, 2017
Astha Sharma Pokharel, JD 2017
Gerardo Romo, J.D. Candidate, 2019
Meghna Philip, JD, 2016
Breanna Small, JD, 2019
Heather Stoloff, JD, 2018
Amandeep Singh, JD, 2016
Colinford King Mattis, J.D., 2016
Humzah Soofi, JD, 2016
Asma Peracha, JD, 2017
Samar Khan, JD, 3L
Dara Sahab, LLM, '16
Saif Ansari, JD, 2016
Bakir, LLM, 2015
Neesha Chhina, JD, 2018
Naadia Chowdhury, JD, 2017
Samah McGona, JD, 2018
Antonia House, JD, 2015
Amith Gupta, JD, 2017
Frances Davila, JD, 2016
Oliver Persey, LLM, 2015
Ranit Patel, JD, 2017
Bryan Furst, JD, 2017
George Kadifa, Law Student, 2018
Jahnavi Bhaskar, JD 2017
Antoinette Pick-Jones, JD, 2018
Mohan Warusha, JD, 2018
Pichaya Winichakul, JD, 2018
Kayla Vinson, JD/MPA, 2018
Marshall Thomas, J.D., 2018
Mastewal Taddese Terefe
Christine Chen, JD, 2017
Tony Joe, J.D., 2018
Zawadi Baharanyi, J.D., 2017
Nia Holston, JD 2019
Marcela Schaefer, JD, 2019
Maryam Adamu, JD, 2019
Rachel Levenson, JD, 2018
Parth Baxi, JD, 2018
Najmu Laila Sopian, LLM 2016
Eliza Vasconcellos, JD 2017
Sarah Taitz, JD, 2019
Lance Bowman, JD, 2018
Eugenie Montaigne, JD, 2018
The iTrek trip fails to critically examine the extent to which Israel maintains institutionalized segregation and discrimination, including segregating Jewish and Palestinian children in public education, blocking Palestinians from leasing or owning property and even prohibiting mixed marriage. This harkens back to the legacy of Jim Crow laws in this country and are just a few of the examples of the many laws that explicitly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, which continue to be introduced by Israeli legislation to this day. But instead, the iTrek trip brands Israel as a uniquely placed democracy in the Middle East, without examining the structural and legal inequalities enforced against Palestinians. As many of us are actively working to dismantle the racist underpinnings of many American institutions, we aspire to look towards a more egalitarian system rather than discriminatory ones and hope our peers will look beyond iTrek’s marketing materials to consider the reality of Israeli governance.
Second, this trip does not present students with the true reality of daily life in Israel/Palestine. A celebration with a Bedouin theme should not be complete without engaging with the many Bedouin villages that Israel routinely destroys and to whom Israel denies resources like electricity or running water. For example, Al-Araqib, a village whose inhabitants are indigenous Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, has been razed over 80 times and its inhabitants ordered to pay half a million dollars to cover the cost of these demolitions. While wine tasting and ATV riding are fun activities, these excursions have taken place in the Golan Heights, illegally annexed from Syria and the UN continues to reject Israel’s claim. The indigenous Druze who inhabit the area as well as all Jewish teens in Israel need to complete two years mandatory military service at the age of 18, which youth are increasingly objecting due to their “opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories,” where “human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis.” If they refuse, though, like Omar Saad (Druze) or Tair Kaminer (Jewish), they are subjected to multiple prison sentences.
This concern also extends to the extent to which the iTrek trip will give students exposure to the day-to-day realities of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the Palestinian territories. For example, mere miles from the glittering lights of Jerusalem’s Old City (illegally annexed by Israel), Palestinian families continue to be uprooted to make way for Jewish only settlements, illegal under international law. Since 2004, more than 641 homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem alone, a routine practice throughout Occupied Palestine; nearly 50,000 homes and structures have been demolished since 1967, under the guise of not having appropriate permits or as a form of collective punishment. This is just one of the many impacts of Israel’s occupation, which severely limits Palestinians’ movement and access to natural resources.
Previous iTrek trips have not exposed participants to these harsh realities; instead, their engagement with Occupied Palestine has been at an illegal settlement, which Israel’s government continues to construct as “facts on the ground” despite the condemnation of the US and the international community. We, however, refuse to accept this trip’s portrayal of the conflict and see the parallels of the experiences of Palestinians and the separate and unequal treatment of Black Americans here in the United States; like many Black activists, scholars and artists, we stand against oppressive systems here and abroad.
Penultimately, we should not forget how this trip is blind to the experience of the people in Gaza who have been subjected to a severe siege since 2007 and what has been referred to as the “world’s largest open air prison.” The population of nearly 2 million people are locked in the Gaza Strip by land and cannot even benefit from the sea that it borders, as its fisherman are routinely shot at the shore and prohibited from fishing further than 3 miles from the shore. Moreover, in 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2014 the Israeli military conducted major airstrike and land offenses indiscriminately against the people in Gaza as a form of collective punishment; in 2014, more than 2,100 Palestinians (including 495 children) were killed and the UN has stated that 7 of every 10 killed were civilians. We recognize that the experiences of Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank, and in Israel, mirror the experiences of ethnic cleansing and discrimination that indigenous and native populations in the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand have faced from settler-colonial projects. We support the struggle for indigenous rights from Standing Rock to Palestine/Israel, which we do not believe is a value that this trip enshrines.
Finally, the simple reality is that the vast majority of the Palestinian people live in exile as a result of the mass expulsions of Palestinians during the creation of Israel (“Nakba”) and the 1967 invasion (“Naksa”). These communities and the hardships they continue to face decades into exile, living in refugee camps in neighboring countries or in the West Bank and Gaza, cannot be presented on the trip. While the movement of most Palestinians is restricted based on the military policies described throughout this appendix, Palestinian refugees are barred from returning to their homeland outright. While trips like iTrek offer vacations in Israel/Palestine to foreign students, these refugees are barred from returning to their homes within the same area.
November 11, 2015
Dear NYU Law Community,
The Law Students for Justice in Palestine writes this open letter to express concern and provide context regarding the upcoming iTrek Israel spring break trip advertised for NYU Law students.
We commend the efforts of students interested in a knowledgeable, "balanced" viewpoint on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but we would like to share some context that we hope students interested in applying to the upcoming iTrek Israel spring break trip will take into consideration to make a more informed decision about their participation before embarking on such a trip.
Firstly, we find it difficult to regard the trip as a critical examination of Israel’s institutionalized segregation of its indigenous Palestinian population, including those with full Israeli citizenship. Although the State of Israel claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East, it maintains ethnic segregation and Jewish supremacy in many areas; the situation has been widely compared to the apartheid system in South Africa. The state segregates Jewish and Palestinian citizens in public education. With the exception of a handful of “mixed cities” and Arab villages, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are generally blocked from leasing or owning property and are subjected to severe inequality and discrimination in planning rights. Additionally, a significant amount of land is reserved by the government-affiliated Jewish National Fund - “much of it the land of Palestinian refugees...that the state confiscated” - exclusively for Jewish communities. Even mixed marriage is prohibited. Such segregation is a sample of the many laws that explicitly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, which continue to be introduced by Israeli legislation.
The explicit segregation is most vividly illustrated in the Occupied West Bank. Israel, as an occupying power, applies two different legal systems to civilians on the same land, discriminating based on religion and ethnicity. One is military law applied to Palestinians, the other is Israeli civil law applied to the 350,000 Jewish settlers spread throughout the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) in settlements deemed illegal under international law. One jarring example of the discrepancy in treatment is treatment of stone throwers. Israeli settlers who throw stones at Palestinians might be punished under weak criminal laws, but more than 90% of those arrested are released without charge, whereas a Palestinian youth who throws back a stone on the same street is punished under Israeli military law with a mandatory minimum of four years. The Israeli government maintains a lot of control over the lives of Palestinians outside of the Green Line, including, but not limited to, denying residency status, routinely conducting housing demolitions illegal under international law, as well as arbitrarily detaining minors as young as 11 years old.
Second, the trip affords students access that is denied to the indigenous Palestinian population. The majority of the native population who originate from the lands to be visited on the trip were forcibly removed in 1948 and 1967. Most were ejected to surrounding countries and denied the right to return despite their right under international law. Some of those refugees are Internally Displaced Persons in the West Bank, often in densely populated camps, or Gaza, where they comprise a majority of the strip’s population. Those refugees, along with the remainder of the residents in the two aforementioned territories, cannot access the beaches or vineyards you will freely stroll as you experience Israel in its “normalcy”, without a military-issued permit. The permit system is an arbitrary process that controls the movement of Palestinians between the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Israel proper, as well as areas cut off by the illegal Separation Wall. Most young Palestinians have never seen the ocean you will walk along, despite living only ten to twenty miles away. We find it difficult to imagine how the trip could deliver a meaningful balance of perspectives without reasonably and extensively engaging with Palestinians who are living under military occupation or who have been expelled from their native homeland.
The exclusionary nature of the trip extends to fellow students of Palestinian descent, even those with American citizenship, who are regularly denied entry into Israel and the occupied territories purely on the basis of their ethnicity. As the US State Department recently admitted, "[t]he US government seeks equal treatment and freedom to travel for all US citizens regardless of national origin or ethnicity[.] Specifically, the US government remains concerned at the unequal treatment that Palestinian-Americans and other Arab-Americans receive at Israel's borders and checkpoints." Moreover, other students and compatriots have been denied entry solely because of their political opinions or human rights advocacy.
We hope you take this information into consideration before deciding to participate in this trip. Although this trip seems free, it comes at the cost of misunderstanding the situation and at the expense of further dismissing the experiences of Palestinians who live under this systematic exclusion and institutional racism.
If you would like to visit Israel and Palestine without ignoring this reality, there are various programs we would recommend you consider, including:
**Especially for those still looking for a summer internship** Palestine Works
Furthermore If you would like to learn more about the experiences of your classmates who have traveled to Palestine/Israel through these organizations, please join us tonight at 7pm in VH 214, when your fellow students will discuss how it felt living under occupation while witnessing the everyday indignities suffered by Palestinians and using the law to cope with these experiences.
Law Students for Justice in Palestine, 2015-2016 Board
LAW STUDENTS FOR JUSTICE IN PALESTINE MARKS ISRAELI APARTHEID WEEK
Yesterday marked the end of NYU’s observation of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) 2015, an annual effort by people across the globe to raise awareness of Israel’s apartheid policies toward Palestinians and to garner support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. NYU's participation in IAW was coordinated by the university-wide Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). We congratulate SJP for ensuring that our community is at the forefront of this rapidly growing, and much needed, international movement for justice and collective liberation in Israel and Palestine, and we hope you will consider joining us in this movement.
Over the past month and a half, Israeli Apartheid Weeks have been observed in over 100 cities in 27 countries across the world, spanning all six inhabited continents. Of particular note is the observation in South Africa, where 24 cities—more than in any other country—hosted IAW events and where endorsers spanned more than 75 organizations, including religious institutions (such as the South African Council of Churches), labor organizations (among them, Congress of South African Trade Unions), and political parties (including the governing African National Congress).
On South Africa’s IAW website it states: “For South Africans and our liberation, people of the world mobilized in their hundreds of thousands - if not millions - during the 1980s . . . to raise awareness of Apartheid South Africa's racist policies and to build support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Apartheid SA. Today we have the opportunity to ‘give-back’ by joining the international movement in solidarity with the indigenous Palestinian people (and their progressive Israeli allies) who are struggling against Israeli Apartheid - participating in Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is one such form of solidarity.”
To use the word “apartheid” to describe the oppressive systems in Israel/Palestine is not to say that they are identical to those of Apartheid South Africa. Rather, it is to recognize that Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories conform to the legal definition of “apartheid,” as articulated in Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, and that Israel has enacted over 50 laws that explicitly or implicitly discriminate against its Palestinian-Arab citizens.
IAW focuses on BDS campaigns because of their effectiveness in changing the status quo, which we experienced in the United States during our own civil rights movement. Negotiations, by contrast, have provided a cover for further entrenchment of Israeli occupation and for the absence of accountability for Israel’s violations of international law. Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS is thus not only principled, it is hopeful. And, as we have seen in the law school this year, BDS opens up, rather than shuts down, debate. Its focus on institutions, not individuals, makes it inclusive, and the call for BDS is supported not only by many American Jews, but also by a number of Israeli Jews themselves. BDS campaigns, time and again, have fostered diverse coalitions and communities dedicated to justice and liberation.
Last year, more Palestinians were killed and displaced than in any year since 1967, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Never has it been more important to take action, which we as NYU law students can do by supporting IAW and BDS campaigns here on campus.
The Law Students for Justice in Palestine at NYU Law