This past week, Georgetown University’s Students for Justice in Palestine, launched its 15th annual Apartheid Week, hosting a series of events to highlight the apartheid conditions Palestinians live under in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Apartheid — defined in international law as the institutionalized, systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another — is legally codified and practiced by the state of Israel. As future leaders, Georgetown students should recognize the harm in Israel’s apartheid practices.
Internal and external observers have concluded that Israel does legislate and enforce a system of apartheid, even restricting the marriage rights of Palestinians living in east Jerusalem. Well-known anti-apartheid leaders including Nobel Peace laureates Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have explicitly aligned themselves and their struggle with that of the Palestinian people.
Currently, a single government operating a robust system of ethnic and religious hierarchy, controls the land and its inhabitants between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Within Israel’s internationally recognized borders, dozens of laws discriminate between Jews and non-Jews, including Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Most notably, Israel’s 2018 nation-state law constitutionally enshrines a Jewish state and the supremacy of Jewish people at the expense of the non-Jewish minority of about 20 percent of the population. The law, according to Adalah, an Arab rights legal center in Israel, legitimizes exclusion, racism and systemic inequality. In the Gaza Strip, a total land, sea and air blockade in what is described as the world’s largest open-air prison has been in effect for over a decade.
In the West Bank, Palestinians live under occupation by the Israeli army and a legal system, enforced by military rather than civilian courts. Under this legal code, Israel has issued hundreds of land seizure orders and forces children as young as 12 to stand in front of military judges and sign away their rights on Hebrew documents they cannot read, often without legal representation.
In the 25 years since the Oslo Accords were signed by Palestine and Israel, instead of negotiating for peace and a two-state settlement, Israeli governments have built more and more illegal Jewish-only settlements by dispossessing Palestinian land and have increased repression of Palestinian civil and human rights.
The United States is Israel’s closest ally, and while Israel is a high-income country, it consistently receives billions in military and foreign aid each year, surpassed only by Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite this support for Israel, the state’s apartheid policies are anthithecal to U.S. values. Recently, the progressive wing of the Democratic party has become more vocal in calling out gross abuses of power and violations of democratic norms and international law. U.S. taxpayers are right to hold their government accountable for each dollar spent at home and abroad, and that includes calling foul when military aid is provided in violation of our own laws to governments, including Israel’s, that violate human rights. Otherwise, we are complicit in human rights violations and potential war crimes.
And it is not just Israel. Led by Congressmen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), both chambers of Congress passed a resolution checking U.S. participation in potential war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their war on Yemen. Though President Trump vetoed the bill, its message was clear: Americans will no longer accept a foreign policy that does not advance our values. When we hold our friends and allies to account, the same message is clear to other habitual human rights abusers.
The American government and public, especially future thought leaders at Georgetown, must acknowledge the apartheid regime implemented by Israel. The United States should use its leverage in the United Nations and U.S. taxpayer-funded aid to be a neutral arbiter. Georgetown students should advocate and vote for representatives that seek to do so. Georgetown student groups that advocate for strong U.S.-Israel ties should not do so at the expense of peace and human rights.
The Georgetown University community, which includes many past and future political leaders, must practice the values upon which our university was established: truth, conviction, character, service, and most importantly, a commitment to building a more just world.
As Georgetown University students, we must reject the intellectual gymnastics used to justify Israel’s indefensible treatment of Palestinians. We must recognize the apartheid regime and encourage engagement with Israel that seeks to bring an end to the protracted situation that our government is complicit in maintaining.
Linda Fawaz is a master’s candidate in applied economics.