It’s Beyond Time

A Letter to the McGill Administration and to our Fellow McGill Students

On this day, July 1 2020, the Israeli coalition government led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to begin the process of formally annexing up to 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan River Valley, based on the blueprint of US President Trump’s so-called “Deal of the Century.” Illegal under international law, annexation poses a grave threat to Palestinian life; it would deprive thousands of Palestinians of life-sustaining resources they depend on, by formalizing and intensifying Israel’s decades-old theft of their homes, their lands, and their water. 

The Jordan River Valley has historically been a site of arable land and fertile soil, and the River Jordan is a significant source of water for Palestinians. According to a report by the United Nations, Israel has already set up an extensive system to divert Palestinian water to Israeli settlements, while Israeli drilling and pollution contaminates the waters still accessible to Palestinians. Given Israel’s current behaviour, the annexation of the Jordan River Valley can only be understood as an extension of its policy of environmental racism against Palestinians, and only further serves to deny them their human rights. It would also facilitate and accelerate the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the Jordan Valley and other regions targeted for annexation. In the words of nearly 50 independent UN human rights experts: “the morning after annexation would be the crystallization of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.

 

How did we get here?

Ever since its establishment in 1948, the settler-colonial state of Israel has subjected Palestinians to a wide range of racist policies, designed to physically eliminate them from their ancestral lands, while erasing or appropriating their history and culture. From 1947 to 1950, Zionist paramilitaries and the Israeli army carried out the first major phase of this violent process, through a terror campaign of ethnic cleansing, including over 70 massacres, in which 15,000 Palestinians were killed, at least 530 villages and towns were destroyed, and around 750,000 Palestinians (half of the Palestinian population) fled their homes, and were barred from returning. To this day, Israel denies these refugees and their descendants their internationally-recognized Right of Return. The Palestinians who remained within the borders of the Israeli state have since been subjected to military rule, displacement and land expropriation, ghettoization and other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination, despite being Israeli citizens. In 1967, Israeli forces occupied the remaining Palestinian regions of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the Syrian Golan Heights. Once again, Israeli forces expelled 300,000 Palestinians from the West Bank, as well as 80 per cent of the Golan’s Syrian population. 

In 1980, Israel formally annexed occupied East Jerusalem, in violation of international law. The next year, it annexed the occupied Golan Heights. Today, the Israeli government has pledged to begin annexing large parts of the West Bank, without granting citizenship rights to its Palestinian residents. As it did in occupied East Jerusalem, annexation would essentially formalize and entrench an Israeli policy of apartheid which has existed since 1967 in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli settlers enjoy full access to natural resources, infrastructure, and the protections of civil law, while Palestinians endure a brutal military regime of checkpoints, house demolitions, land theft, environmental destruction, deportation, and murder at the hands of Israeli soldiers, police, and settlers. Meanwhile, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue to live in ever-worsening conditions under a destructive blockade, where attempts to protest or resist the siege are met with the bullets of Israeli snipers.

Just like previous international reactions to Israeli atrocities, the response of the “international community” to the looming annexation has been predictably toothless. In particular, Canada’s government has not issued a single statement condemning the annexation, while Israel’s military continues to receive millions of dollars worth of hardware from Canadian contractors. Like the United States, the settler colonial state of Canada has long been a staunch defender of Israel’s behaviour, providing it with significant diplomatic, economic, and military aid, at the same time as it pursues the destruction of Indigenous land and life here on Turtle Island. 

 

McGill University: Accomplice in Occupation, Enabler of Annexation

McGill University’s complicity in Palestinian dispossession and suffering is every bit as egregious and unapologetic as that of the Canadian government. As the apartheid reality in Palestine becomes increasingly impossible to deny, it’s beyond time for McGill to drop its investments in Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank, which operates branches in illegal Israeli settlements and finances the construction of new settlements on more and more stolen Palestinian land. It’s beyond time for McGill to ditch its investments in Re/Max, which sells real estate in these same settlements, thereby facilitating and profiting from the transfer of Israeli settlers into occupied Palestinian territory, in violation of article 49 of the Fourth Geneva convention. It’s beyond time for McGill to divest from L-3 Communications, a company that supplied equipment to Israeli checkpoints, provided engines for Israeli tanks, and helped assemble the Hermes 900 Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) used in the 2014 attack on Gaza, in which Israeli forces were instructed to deliberately target Palestinian civilians.

McGill’s complicity in apartheid is not limited to its investments. It also extends to its network of exchanges and memoranda of understanding with Israeli educational institutions which are deeply implicated in the atrocities committed by the Israeli state. For instance, McGill has established partnerships with Tel Aviv University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, both of which are heavily and openly involved in military research and development (R&D). According to one Tel Aviv University professor, “Military R&D in Israel would not exist without the universities. They carry out all the basic scientific investigation, which is then developed either by defense industries or the army.” What’s more, Tel Aviv University’s Greenberg National Institute of Forensic Medicine has for a long time directly assisted in the state’s policy of detaining the dead bodies of killed Palestinians, as well as dissecting them without the family’s permission. Another formal partner of McGill, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, hosts a military intelligence training program, while its very rooftops have been used by Israeli snipers to shoot protesters in the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

It is beyond time for McGill to end its formal relationships with companies, universities and other institutions directly involved in the the subjugation and destruction of Palestinian lives, just as it cut its ties with the institutions complicit in South African apartheid in the 1980s, after concerted student activism

 

To our fellow McGill students

Do not shy away from the conversation because it is deemed “taboo.” Conversations about human rights should never be taboo or controversial. Refusing to have a conversation about Palestinian human rights under the pretext that the situation is “too complex” for firm moral stances is essentially suggesting that the existence of Palestinians and their fundamental human rights are controversial, or just inconvenient.

Start listening to what Palestinians have been telling you all along, rather than shutting them down and treating them like they are “biased” or “too emotional” just because they are speaking from lived experiences. Palestinian students are routinely excluded and ignored in conversations about Palestine-Israel on campus. Too many fellow students will only take anti-Zionist narratives seriously on the condition that they come from the mouth of a white non-Palestinian. Despite the fact that these issues affect us in profound, often upsetting ways, Palestinian students rarely get asked “what do you think?” It is important to understand not only that negating, ignoring, or gaslighting Palestinians is a harmful micro-aggression, but that consistently doing so creates an unsafe, systemically violent environment for Palestinian students to exist on campus. We ask that you, our fellow students, start to actively notice when our voices are not present or when our lived experiences are dismissed, and to actively make strides to include us and listen to us.

Stop treating the colonization of Palestine as an “unsolvable two-sided conflict” between equally matched rivals. The details might be complicated, but the overarching truth is the reality of settler-colonial domination and subjugation of an indigenous people. Since the late 19th century, the Zionist colonial movement and subsequently the Israeli state, backed by other colonial powers, has been expanding by forcibly removing Palestinians from their ancestral lands, restricting them to exile or to ever-shrinking enclaves resembling Bantustans, and distributing their lands and resources to Israeli settlers. Today, the Israeli state alone controls the borders, the economy, the population registry, the infrastructure, the lands, and the waters between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, sustaining the unjust and violent domination of one ethno-national group over another. 

The impending annexation merely marks a formalization, an escalation and a deterioration of this regime. It’s beyond time for our fellow students, as well as McGill University, to finally opt out of complicity in the violent erasure of Palestinians from their homeland, and decide which side of history they should stand on: that of Apartheid, or that of Justice.