Standing with Palestine: The University of Minnesota Faculty Statement in Solidarity with the People of Palestine

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
—Archbishop Desmond Tutu 

As we write this statement on October 14, 2023, Gaza has been continuously bombed for over 150 hours. After Hamas’ attacks in Southern Israel that killed around 1,300 Israelis on October 7, Israel has dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza, cut off electricity, water, fuel, and food from the besieged Gaza Strip, turning the worlds’ largest open prison into an extermination camp. In less than a week, 1900 Palestinians, 583 of whom were children, have been killed by the Israeli military. Israel has ordered 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza (half of Gaza’s population) to “evacuate” within 24 hours and has proceeded to bomb Palestinians as they flee their homes. More than 423,000 Palestinians have been displaced in the past few days. Gazans are being  bombed with white phosphorus, a chemical that causes severe burns, injuries, and fatal birth defects. Israeli airstrikes have targeted hospitals and aid workers who attempt to treat the injured, and journalists who have attempted to show the world the brutal collective punishment and  genocide of Palestinians. Israel ordered Palestinians to leave northern Gaza and settle in southern Gaza while it bombed Gaza relentlessly. Palestinians have nowhere to go in a 140 square mile land that cannot accommodate 2.5 million people. Meanwhile there have been explosions in  Southern Gaza, the Rafah border with Egypt is closed, and Israel does not allow Palestinians to enter Israeli land. This is clearly not just retaliation against Hamas, whose killings of civilians we condemn, but an active genocide where an entire population is trapped and killed deliberately.

While we are witnessing a sheer violation of human rights in the name of “anti-terrorism,” the Israeli state’s violence against the Palestinian people is not new. Over the past 75 years, the Palestinian people have experienced immense suffering, displacement, and a 16-year-long  inhumane siege and blockade in Gaza, which has been described as “the largest open-air prison” by human rights organizations. The blockade, which has been ruthlessly imposed by Israel by land, sea, and air has effectively deprived Palestinian residents of freedom of movement and crippled Gaza’s economy. It has severely restricted access to basic human needs, like food, clean water, electricity, and medicine. Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians of all faiths have been well documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and others who have unequivocally declared Israel an apartheid state (CAIR).

Despite the Israeli state’s inhumane policies towards Palestinians, this week the Biden  administration sent more military aid to the state of Israel, supplementing its $3.8 billion annual foreign aid to the Israeli apartheid regime. Furthermore, the language of “sheer evil” used by US President Biden is a chilling reminder of the havoc wrought on Afghanistan and Iraq in the name  of fighting the “axis of evil” in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. We know very well that the Zionist co-optation of human rights language, morality, and feminist vocabulary continues to naturalize the ongoing colonial violence. However, as our colleagues at Birzeit University have aptly stated “Zionism, the settler state, and the entire colonial system that is a product of this fascist ideology can no longer falsely hide beneath the cloak of humanism.” As scholars who have the ethical responsibility to teach critical thinking beyond the state-sponsored propaganda, we must speak up against the violence of settler colonialism in Palestine. We object to the  curtailment of academic freedom when it comes to critiquing the apartheid state of Israel and  demand the right to teach about Palestine without the fear of censorship, bullying, or harassment. The criminalization of speaking the truth about the state of Israel, and false accusations of antisemitism effectively erase settler colonial violence and ignore the realities of dispossession. In fact, the conflation of objections to the Israeli state’s settler colonial violence with antisemitism is itself a violent oppressive form of censorship and an insult to our academic and  moral integrity. Accusing Jewish colleagues, who stand in solidarity with Palestine and condemn the Israeli state’s violence, of self-hatred is itself antisemitic. We insist on our ethical and political responsibility to raise our voices against settler colonialism, and the U.S. government’s enabling military and monetary support of the apartheid state of Israel.

Our university’s Interim President Jeff Ettinger has issued biased statements condemning Hamas, but not holding the Israeli state responsible for its violent crimes against Palestinians. In a  systemwide email sent on October 11, 2023 to students, faculty, and staff at the University of  Minnesota, Jeff Ettinger wrote, “We join many others in condemning the abhorrent acts committed by Hamas. We lament for the countless innocent civilians who have lost their lives, been injured, or are being held captive.” By naming Hamas as the sole cause for the loss and suffering of civilians, not recognizing Israel’s indiscriminate violence against civilians in Gaza, and not once mentioning Palestinians who have lost their lives or been injured since last week, Ettinger implies that Palestinians are not innocent civilians. Ettinger’s statements, while intended to address the recent situation, have presented a one-sided perspective showing solidarity and concern only for Israel with no acknowledgment of the ongoing and historical suffering and death of Palestinians. The Interim President’s unbalanced and biased stance can perpetuate the increasing Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Jewish violence against numerous students, faculty, and staff.

Like many U.S.-based universities, the University of Minnesota has investments in companies that do business in illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. Our university must be committed to the values of life, respect, human rights, and dignity of peoples. These investments run contrary to the ethical leadership we would expect from the University of Minnesota.

We recognize that every life is precious, and we mourn civilian deaths both in Israel and  Palestine. At the same time, we know very well that Palestinian lives are not given the same value as Israeli lives in a world that remains silent about the atrocities in Gaza and the pogroms in the West Bank. We see this double standard in the statements that highlight Israeli civilians’ deaths but fail to mention Palestinian lives taken by the Israeli Offense Forces. We see this biased representation of events in such statements when Hamas is condemned as a terrorist  organization, but the Israeli state’s terrorism against Palestinians is never mentioned. This  intentional erasure of the Israeli apartheid regime’s violent crimes is closely related to an  erroneous assumption of two equal sides of the “conflict.” As scholars who are invested in the  critical analyses of race, colonialism, and social justice, we strongly reject the logic of “both sides” when it comes to a violent colonial power that subjugates 2.5 million people and  constructs them as “terrorists.” To quote our Palestinian colleagues at Birzeit university again, “An occupying colonial power cannot claim the right to self-defense against the people under its  brutal occupation. There is no moral equivalence between the colonizer and the colonized – however much the media attempts to claim otherwise.”

The fact that every time one critiques the state of Israel’s apartheid regime, decades of sheer violence against Palestinians, deadly siege in Gaza, and the active settler colonial occupation of Palestinian land, one has to show remorse for “the other side” to prove one’s moral aptitude, is itself very telling of how the discourse of morality has been deployed to naturalize the Zionist  violence against 2.5 million lives in Palestine and the forced displacement of 7 million Palestinian refugees around the world. This qualifying disclaimer is especially demanded of Palestinians who are assumed to be incapable of sympathy for Israeli civilians; a people who in the Israeli Defense Minister Yaov Gallant’s words are “human animals” and deserve to die. Yet, Palestinian deaths never deserve a remorse acknowledgment by those who claim to be “unbiased” in their statements about “both sides.”

We stand with the Palestinian people and their right to exist, their right to freedom, their right to dignity, and their right to return. We condemn the state of Israel’s violent crimes against Palestinians (that even violate the rules of war). As scholars who have an ethical commitment to teach about injustice, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for those who benefit directly or  indirectly from settler colonial and colonial violence, we have the following demands:

  • We demand the right to teach about Israel/Palestine without skewed accusations of bias or claims about the violation of “safe space”, when such accusations are tactics of silencing the oppressed. We ask the University of Minnesota to uphold its tenure policy regarding academic freedom and make a clear statement that teaching about Palestine does not constitute bias.
  • We demand a public apology from President Ettinger for his biased statement. Unless he acknowledges the loss and suffering of Palestinians under Israeli attacks in Gaza, his statement constitutes bias and ignores the safety of our Muslim students, faculty, and staff. We believe that a public apology is fundamental to the University of Minnesota’s commitment to its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policy, as well as the university’s academic integrity and its legal obligation to countering bias. Otherwise, we request that the Interim President’s statement be treated as an incident that merits bias reporting and investigation.
  • We demand the end of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, end of apartheid, and an end to the Israeli settler colonial violence. To this end, we ask our university to divest from Israel and support the call by Palestinian civil society for BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions).

 

If you would like to support this statement, you can do so here.


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