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