#BDS: Open Letter from Gaza Students to the European Students’ Union: Oppose Apartheid and War Crimes
aWe are writing to you as students from the besieged Gaza Strip whose entire educational system has been crippled as a result of Israel’s four-year long and ongoing blockade. We are deeply distressed that you held your annual conference this year in Jerusalem, a conference organized by the National Union of Israeli Students and the Israeli Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, in addition to the Prime Minister’s Office. We are saddened that you failed to empathize with us and break through the silence imposed on our voices by the state you visited, to stand against what the United Nations Special Rapporteur John Dugard described as the only remaining case after South Africa, “of a Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing people and that has done so for so long.” 
Amidst the ongoing siege and occupation, while we were massacred over the new year of 2009, the world’s governing bodies and judiciaries watched on. For 22 horror stricken days, we were left alone to face the fourth largest army in the world, a state with more than 400 nuclear heads which has frequently used all of its destructive powers on our civilian population. We faced F16s, F15s, F35s, Merkava tanks, Apache helicopters, naval gunboats and illegal, flesh burning white phosphorous which resulted in more than 1400 casualties, including 413 children. On the first day of the massacre, over 500 Israeli warplanes set about bombing the entire Gaza Strip. It was 11:23 am, the time that students left their schools and universities, after the winter term examination period. According to main-stream Human Rights Organizations, including B’tselem, the majority of casualties were children below the age of 18.
In the course of the assault 37 primary and secondary schools were hit, including 18 that were operating as shelters for those fleeing their homes. The American International School was destroyed, and four buildings of the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) demolished.The United Nations Goldstone investigation reported that, “the Gaza military operations were directed by Israel at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population.”Yet no action has been taken by the international community.
Since it was founded on the ruins of Palestinian refugees, Israel has violated more United Nations resolutions than any other, including article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights pertaining to education and the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Our right to education is continually denied, in breach of article 50 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the protection of civilians in times of war which demands that all institutions, “devoted to the care and education of children” have their work facilitated by the occupying power.
In Gaza, Israel’s four year long blockade has prevented even the most basic student necessities such as stationary, paper, books, school bags—students frequently don’t have the candles to study under in light of the enforced shortage of electricity. The resulting poverty has required many aspiring students to drop out early to work for their family and except for a tiny few, pursuing scholarships abroad is next to impossible.
This is not to mention Israel’s ruthless occupation of the West Bank, its expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements, the construction of the illegal Apartheid Separation Wall, the restriction of Palestinian movement and humiliations at the over 600 West Bank checkpoints and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem, the location of your annual conference.
The 1948 Palestinians, who had Israeli citizenship imposed on them, suffer greatly from discriminatory laws and policies that Jewish citizens of Israel enjoy. Our only fault is that of belonging to the ‘wrong religion’. The words of many Israeli policy makers suggest even more of our people could soon be violently expelled to accompany the ‘slow motion ethnic cleansing’ that has been taking place since 1948.
We call on you not to yield to this merciless Israeli propaganda machine that aims to whitewash Israeli crimes, and join the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, to isolate Israel until it complies with International Law, ends its illegal siege on Gaza, its 53 year military occupation of the West Bank, its racially motivated discriminatory policies against the 1.4 million indigenous arab population in Israel and the denial of the right of return to the millions of victims of Israel’s ethnic cleansing.
The Palestinian call for the academic boycott of Israel has been supported by academics and students around the world. Universities and colleges such as UC, Berkeley, University of Michigan (Dearborne), Hampshire College and Sussex University and others have all launched efforts to boycott and divest from companies that support Israeli apartheid and occupation. After visiting the Holy Land, Archbishop and BDS activist Desmund Tutu said:
I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like we did when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, "Why are our memories so short?”
When the European Students’ Union began life in 1982 as the ‘Western European Students Information Bureau’ Students and their Unions were leading the way in opposition to the racist Apartheid South African regime. There was no negotiating with such oppression based on race – there was only one word: BOYCOTT. People no longer believed the Afrikaner rhetoric just like many around the world are now not falling for the ‘Rebrand Israel’ campaign. Like now, the support of Western Governments for the decades-long oppression resulted in the failure to apply justice through the traditional means of holding human rights violators and war criminals to account.
Just as students throughout the 80s were banning Barclays bank from campuses for their investment in Apartheid, we had hopes of similar solidarity given the unique savagery and imprisonment we Palestinians are subjected to. You failed to remember such times when it wasn’t easy to stand on the right side of history, and take a stand as only student movements can. Instead, you decided to normalize with an Apartheid regime by attending the European Students’ Union meeting in Jerusalem. Moreover, you failed to stand up for those the tour did not show you, those whose voices are strangled, whose hopes are permanently shot down and whose loved ones are still grieving.
The Palestinian Students' Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)