Georgetown University prides itself on being an institution of “transcendent values” that uphold the Jesuit spirit of cura personalis, faith as justice, and acting as women and men for others. A commitment to these founding values has shaped our university’s actions, as demonstrated by the current dialogue on Georgetown’s complicity in slavery through the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved Black people. As a beneficiary of slavery, our institution has a unique obligation to squarely face its own history of perpetuating and profiting from systemic violence and think critically about what that further demands of us.
The term “state violence” or, deployment of violence by the state, refers to a nation-state’s appropriation of its monopoly on coercive power to inflict physical, psychological, economic, and political violence upon civilians both domestic and abroad, often directed most fervently towards already marginalized communities. Though these actions may be politically authorized and normalized, they are unimaginatively cruel and demand further interrogation and resistance.
State violence in the United States includes but is not limited to mass incarceration of people of color, the militarization of police, the criminalization of poverty, an institutional failure to mitigate the effects of climate change and counter a destructive fossil fuel industry, the mass deportation of undocumented people under President Obama and the shameless promise of even more under President-Elect Trump, the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through indigenous land, and the denial of safe water to Black communities in Flint, Michigan. Contemporary manifestations of state violence globally include Bashar Al-Assad’s calculated extermination of the Syrian people, the U.S. funded Saudi Arabian air strikes in Yemen upon civilians, the stratification of rights based on ethnonational categories in the ostensibly democratic state of Israel, the Indian military occupation of Kashmir, North Korea’s suppression of free speech and information, Duterte’s criminalization of drugs in the Philippines, and the egregious police violence upon Afro-Brazilians. Georgetown must actively work against all forms of state violence to live up to our Jesuit values.
Georgetown has acted on its Jesuit values in the past when it divested in 1986 from companies operating in apartheid South Africa that failed to adhere to the Sullivan Principle, and again from coal industries in 2015. These actions were all in response to bold student leadership. Though at the time Georgetown grappled with the demand for change, our institution now proudly reflects upon those shifts as moments of triumph for the Jesuit spirit. Despite such advances in the social awareness of this institution, there remains a glaring contradiction between a claimed commitment to Jesuit values and a lack of ethical oversight in the investment of our $1.5 billion endowment. We, GU F.R.E.E. (Georgetown University Forming a Radically Ethical Endowment), stand unequivocally against state violence and expect Georgetown, a Jesuit institution, to do the same.
As stakeholders and beneficiaries of the Georgetown name, we are concerned about our University’s complicity in state violence. As students, these investments are made in our name, therefore we are responsible for the impact of these companies on the world. As such, we, GU Forming A Radically Ethical Endowment, (GU F.R.E.E.) demand that Georgetown University cease its collaboration with state violence by:
- Transparency. We demand Georgetown University release its investment portfolio to the Georgetown community on an annual basis. This entails a list of Georgetown’s current direct and external investments and holdings of endowment securities, Georgetown’s fund managers, and all data compiled by/on behalf of Georgetown University with respect to companies in which investments have already been made or considered. A lack of transparency, however the university may frame it, ultimately amounts to a lack of accountability and disingenuous manipulation of the Jesuit identity for financial gain, effectively profiting off of performative moral rectitude. The University has responded to other students’ calls for transparency and divestment by affirming that a substantive portion of Georgetown’s endowment lies in hedge funds, thus insinuating that there is no institutional ethical oversight of investments made by fund managers. As a University whose endowment was founded through the enslavement and sale of human beings, it is unacceptable that we refuse to properly ensure that our dollars are not subsidizing systems of oppression. Our Jesuit identity necessitates that financial considerations should not take precedence over moral consequences. We should not invest in the destruction of human life and dignity, regardless of the financial return.
- Divestment from Private Prisons. We demand that Georgetown permanently divest any holdings it may have in the private prison industry that profit from the mass incarceration of Black, Latinx, Native American, poor and working class communities. Mass incarceration is among the most glaring reflection of America’s anti-blackness, xenophobia, nativism, and vilification of the poor and working class. Laws targeting working class and low-income black and brown communities intentionally fill American prisons beyond capacity to garner profit for privatized institutions. This cycle of criminalization, incarceration, disenfranchisement, and recidivism is intentionally fueled by private prison lobbyists, who advocate for policies such as Operation Streamline, Secure Communities, mandatory minimum sentencing, and others which target marginalized communities. The strength and viability of the prison industrial complex rely on these lobbyists’ ability to manufacture a perceived need for state and federal government contracts with private prison companies under the guise of “safety” and “security.” With this institutional validation, they are able to exploit the underpaid labor of incarcerated people. The commodification of Black and Brown people is supported by both the State and private companies who invest money into CCA and GEO. A number of financial investment companies, including those on our list of proposed targets for divestment, spend over $467,000 lobbying the state, $45 million lobbying the federal government and making campaign contributions to sustain the lobbying efforts of CoreCivic and GEO. By withdrawing its implicit endorsement of state violence, defined by its investments in companies which uphold it, Georgetown will affirm its commitment to reconciling its history of slavery. It will also affirm its commitment to the realization of Black, and thus collective, liberation.
- Divestment from companies consistently and knowingly involved in ongoing international law and human rights violations in the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. We demand that Georgetown divest any holdings it may have in companies that (1) facilitate the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians, (2) contribute to forcible displacement of Palestinians; (3) contribute to or maintain the settler colonies within the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem; or, (4) contribute to the construction or maintenance of the Annexation Wall in the West Bank. With 100 years since the Balfour Declaration and 50 years since the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, it is clear that the condemnations from various international bodies including the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations General Assembly, and the International Court of Justice, and evasive calls for a “peace process” and “dialogue” between a colonized people and their colonizer have failed as the displacement and destruction of Palestinian communities characteristics of the occupation persists. In the meantime, United States’ diplomatic immunity and $38 billion in military aid to the state of Israel enables the dispossession, arbitrary imprisonment and captivity, humiliation, and extra-judicial assassination of Palestinians. We refuse to allow our university’s continued support and collaboration in the violent Israeli military occupation and recognize divestment as a means to dismantle the violence enacted on Palestinians living in their homeland. We proudly bring forth this campaign and join a growing international movement in support of the call for divestment and the full liberation of the Palestinian people.
We unequivocally condemn all forms of state violence. Our campaign is focused specifically on the private prison industry and the Israeli occupation of Palestine for a number of reasons. By highlighting the United States’ private prison industry and Israel’s occupation of Palestine, we hope to prompt the University to consider its potential complicity in the perpetuation of other forms of state violence as it assesses the moral validity of both existing and future investments.
These two manifestations of state violence are among the United States’ most substantial sponsorships of state violence. We are particularly concerned about the state of exception that Israel enjoys. The normalization of the state’s glaring structural and physical violence against Palestinians has obstructed any semblance of peace or reconciliation. The United States provides diplomatic immunity and subsidizes Israel’s brutal occupation to the tune of $38 billion taxpayer dollars over the next ten years. As such, we must work to unsettle such systems of violence and complacency in a way that other actors and avenues – including shallow, normalizing calls for “dialogue”- have failed to.
Our decision to target the private prison industry and Israel’s occupation of Palestine is deliberate and should not be overlooked. The movements for Black and Palestinian liberation have long enjoyed a history of solidarity, dating as far back as 1967. We are inspired first and foremost by the two communities’ resistance and resilience to systems of racial domination. We note their unapologetic choice to stand in solidarity, affirmed by their mantra of “When I see them, I see us.” We are particularly inspired by black activists’ endorsement of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement in the Movement for Black Lives’ platform, even amidst intense backlash. Though it is important to recognize that these are not homologous experiences, there is a common legacy of state violence, economic disenfranchisement, suppression of political and civil liberties, social denigration and systematic marginalization that rely on the ascription of Black and Palestinian people as subhuman and disposable.
The mechanisms sustaining the oppression of Black and Palestinian communities are conspicuously congruent. From Israel’s and the United States’ propagation of founding mythologies that absolve themselves of crimes against Palestinians, Native Americans, and Black people, to the documented collaboration of American police officers who extrajudicially kill a black person every 28 hours with Israeli law enforcement agents who murder, harass, control, and arbitrarily incarcerate Palestinians; to the analogous forms of environmental, economic, and institutional racism endured by both communities at the hands of the respective state; it is abundantly clear that both systems of oppression operate in not only congruent, but oftentimes collaborative, ways. Bearing this congruence in mind, we are of the firm conviction that targeting state violence as it exists in both the United States or Occupied Palestine is best accomplished through a spirit of solidarity. It is with this spirit of solidarity that we maintain a critical awareness of the contextual nuances defining each manifestation of state violence and the experiences and histories of Black communities and Palestinians.
We recognize the importance of heeding the voices of marginalized communities and the importance of solidarity among oppressed populations. As such, we proudly endorse and answer the calls for selective divestment put forth by the Movement for Black Lives’ platform and the 2005 Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) call from Palestinian civil society. GU F.R.E.E. aspires to work in solidarity towards a future that explicitly recognizes Black and Palestinian political will and right to life, freedom, and dignity.
We reaffirm our demands of the Georgetown University administration: that they 1) release their investment portfolio in its entirety on an annual basis beginning this year, 2) divest any holdings they may have in the United States’ private prison industry, and 3) divest any holdings they may have in corporations that sustain Israel’s state violence against Palestinians as defined above. Our university’s subsidization of both systems of violence sustain the widespread, and largely unquestioned, violation of Black and Palestinian life and dignity. Georgetown’s contribution to these systems stands in stark contradiction to its Jesuit ideals. That our demands are both urgent and immutable should then come as no surprise.
At their core, our demands are grounded in the desire to see Georgetown live up to the ethics and values upon which it was founded. Should they not be treated with the urgency and decisiveness that they necessitate, we are prepared to pursue further measures to encourage the decisionmakers at our university to treat them as such. It is out of a profound love for this institution, and an aspiration to see it thrive in as honorable a manner as possible that we urge the University to promptly respond to our demands.
Georgetown Forming a Radically Ethical Endowment (F.R.E.E.) Coalition
Georgetown Solidarity Committee
Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine
GU Queer People of Color
Georgetown Student-Farmworker Alliance
US Campaign for Palestinian Rights
American Muslims for Palestine
Intersectional Feminism House
Georgetown University Black Student Alliance
GU Student of Color Alliance
Latinx Leadership Forum
Intersectional Labor Justice House
Georgetown University Women of Color
La Casa Latina
The Black House
Caribbean Culture Circle
The Washington Peace Center
Jewish Voices for Peace
GU Students for a Democratic Society
The Case for Transparency
Georgetown University’s endowment is valued at approximately 1.5 billion dollars. The Investment Office’s stated objective is “to produce the highest investment return possible while maintaining an appropriate level of risk and liquidity in order to provide perpetual, sustainable support for the university.” How can a university guided by Jesuit values refuse to reveal where its money lies? Does “cura personalis” only apply when it doesn’t impact our investment returns? Is faith and justice limited by supply and demand? Should we act as women and men for all others or only our Board of Directors?
Divestment seeks to impart economic pressure on companies who engage in destructive practices to problematize the prioritization of profit over the degradation of human life and dignity. Both the prison industrial complex and the prolonged Israeli occupation of Palestine constitute egregious state violence enabled by corporations, universities, banks, and other institutions. The relationship between corporate investors, private industry lobbyists, and state actors is troublingly intimate and demonstrates a concerted effort to bypass community engagement in the process of financial decision-making, which in turn results in the perpetuation of violent and destructive corporate activities at the expense of human life and dignity, whether here in the U.S. or in occupied Palestine.
As students who give money to an institution that refuses to tell us where our 1.5 billion dollar endowment go, we object to the undemocratic nature of the University’s investment structure, evidenced by the prioritization of the members of the Board of Directors’ input, many of whom have corporate connections with companies on our proposed list for divestment, and thus have a vested interest in the allocation of our endowment. This is particularly important because it is the public, including our own communities, and not the investment office nor the Board of Directors, who feel the impact of our investments. By withholding its investment portfolio, Georgetown compromises our ability to demand changes in investments made in their names and allows Georgetown to deflect accountability for the destructive impacts of its investments.
The Committee on Investment and Social Responsibility (CISR) was established in 1970 in response to mounting student concern about the university’s 6 million dollar investments in companies operating within apartheid South Africa. Upon the university’s decision to divest from eleven companies that failed to live up to the Sullivan Principles in 1986, the Committee affirmed a commitment to our founding Jesuit values and set the criteria for problematic investments as “(a) an investment of the university is inconsistent with the basic values of the university as a Catholic and Jesuit institution or (b) the corporate practices of an investment cause substantial social unjust or involve a significant violation of human rights.”
As it currently exists, the CISR is an evasion tactic that allows for nominal adherence to Jesuit values of justice but provides no venue for accountability or redress of financial–and moral–irresponsibility. The CISR concedes that it has little control over the Board of Directors, noting on its website that it “does not have authority to review, veto, or recommend specific endowment investments, or to address the day-to-day operations of the university… it will send a written report and recommendation of its findings to the Board, which has final decision-making authority.” A committee dedicated to socially responsible investments is commendable and necessary, but for it to not be empowered with the authority to make any institutional change in regards to investment indicates that its main effect is to stifle genuine social change beneath bureaucracy. A responsible strategy is that both the CISR and the Georgetown community are able to access and analyze investment holdings.
In 2008, after years of tireless work by Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), the University publicly committed to divest any holdings that companies involved in Sudan. In a 2008 interview with The Hoya, University spokesperson Julie Bataille stated that that the University had no direct investments in Sudan and the University had spoken to its fund managers to ensure them that the University will completely divest from Sudan. However, in a 2009 meeting with Students for Justice in Palestine, former Chief Investment Officer Larry Pochard stated that the University had not divested as they had publicly stated. In a meeting with four members of G.U. F.R.E.E., Christopher Augostini and Christina Roberts on November 28, 2016, Chief Investment Officer Michael Barry admitted that he did not know if the University had actually divested from Sudan as they had stated in 2008. Essentially, no one at this University seems to know if we have actually divested our endowment from companies involved in human rights violations in Sudan, nor is there any way for us, as students and community members, to confirm and hold them accountable.
A more comprehensive socially responsible investment (SRI) policy is urgently needed. A commitment to justice demands that the University recognize the impact of its investments on not only on our Georgetown community, but beyond our front gates and for generations to come. The contemplation of environmental, social, and governmental (ESG) factors is essential. However, to guarantee morally sound investments, Georgetown must commit to an SRI policy that looks not only at the ethics of specific industries but also critically interrogates each company’s business practices. Though the stewards of our endowment may question the impact of a comprehensive SRI policy on our financial returns and, subsequently, the ability of the University to fulfill its goals and responsibilities to its students, the many resources on and experiences of our peer institutions that have adopted SRI policies attest to the policy’s viability. It is the explicit job of the Investment Office, and not students, to commit to executing the reallocation and reinvestment of our endowment. The legitimacy of such a policy relies on the full disclosure of our investments.
Georgetown, shielded by their lack of transparency within the investment process, is free to sustain its collaboration with systems of state violence. The tireless work of students and previous and ongoing divestment campaigns have yielded little more than dialogue on the need to build an elusive trust between students and the administration for the sake of respectability and complacency with our subsidization of violent structures. We are tired of talking—we demand action. We are tired of long, fruitless meetings with Georgetown administrators and stagnant working groups while people continue to be violently targeted by the state with our money and implicit endorsement. It is unconscionable for an institution that prides itself on a responsibility to human life and dignity to consistently and shamelessly deflect a conversation about our complicity in state violence. Georgetown boasts of its commitment to interrogating its legacy of slavery, and yet our endowment — built by the sale of 272 Black women, children and men, — is unscathed by this interrogation. As students, we are stakeholders in the Georgetown name and we refuse to continue to allow the university to remain ambiguous about their collaboration with companies that enact state violence. As such, we, the undersigned, demand that Georgetown release its investment portfolio to date, as well as publicize annual summaries of its investments on a specified date hereafter.
The Case for Divestment from The Private Prison Industry
In 1838, Reverend Thomas Mulledy, S.J., President of Georgetown University, sanctioned the sale of 272 Black women, men, and children to finance the viability and growth of the university. In 2016, Georgetown attempted to make amends for this dark history by changing the names of Mulledy and McSherry Hall, formalizing an African-American Studies major, issuing an official apology, and granting admissions advantages to descendants of the 272. It is antithetical to Georgetown’s alleged guiding principles for the university to remain complicit and implicit in this violence. In light of Georgetown’s recent commitment to reconcile its participation in slavery, it is particularly duplicitous to claim racial reconciliation and self-awareness while funding the prison industrial complex through an endowment built, in part, from the sale and enslavement of human beings.
In December of 2015, President DeGioia offered remarks at the renaming of Freedom and Remembrance Hall, saying, “today, we mark a milestone in our efforts to make visible, and to reconcile, the role of slavery and the forced enslavement of Africans and African-Americans by our community. Let us not take comfort in this step. Instead, let us see this as a challenge to each of us. What injustices do we fail to see? When do we fail to act? Where is our own moral imagination lacking, today?”
Nowhere is the legacy of slavery more present in American life than prisons, and nothing more disgraceful to the concept of justice than private prisons. The university fails to see how the violence of a carceral state mimics that of a slave nation. Through its systematic criminalization of Black and working-class peoples, the American prison system leaves them with felonies for minor offenses, stripping them of any political and economic rights in the process. While citizens in name, these people become dehumanized through their interaction with the American prison system, regularly extorted by the police, and consequently viewed exclusively as means of sustaining and profiting off of this destructive system. By funding violence upon Black people, the University fails to end its collaboration with practices that are inherently antithetical to our foundational Jesuit principles. Our moral imagination fails to bridge the gap between “saying” and “doing,” and, while our President may assert our University’s commitment to justice, there have been only half-hearted efforts to follow through on promises of reconciliation. If we view education as not just a means of acquiring employment and basic economic survival upon graduation, but also as a means of achieving social change, then there is no greater cost than the loss of our values. If Georgetown trains students to abandon their values at the first downturn in revenues, then this university has unfortunately lost its raison d’être as a Jesuit educational institution. Whatever Georgetown may gain financially from investments with private prisons, it loses tenfold in integrity.
In an effort to explore Georgetown’s legacy of slaveholding, The Working Group on Slavery, Reconciliation, and Memory published a comprehensive report in 2016 detailing a number of recommendations to advance our community towards achieving justice and reconciliation. The Working Group specifically recommended that Georgetown divest from the private prison industry as many of our peer institutions have. It would be contradictory to this concept of reparative justice if Georgetown did not consider divestment from private prisons part of its mission.
The prison industrial complex refers to a cyclical pattern of abuse perpetrated by the government, corporations, and prisons. Companies such as CoreCivic (formerly known as CCA), GEO, and G4S (CoreCivic, GEO, G4S) profit from and fuel the fire of mass incarceration—a racialized phenomenon tearing at the fabric of Black and Latinx communities. Motivated by profit rather than social welfare, Core Civic, GEO, and G4S pursue policies with no regard for the violence that this inflicts upon communities of color, and in particular black, immigrant, and low-income communities. These companies spend tens of millions of dollars lobbying Congress to increase laws like mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes, Operation Streamline, and funding political campaigns to elect representatives in favor of policies which target people of color. While there are many modern vestiges of slavery, both in how we imagine and treat people of color, the prison system is one of the most overused and abused in the United States.
Private prison companies aggressively lobby for harsh immigration laws that lead to the incarceration of undocumented men, women, and children. GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as CCA) have both expanded their influence in immigration detention by building family detention centers specifically designated for women and children who come to the United States seeking political asylum. Conditions in these detention centers are consistently deplorable. Medical staff at CCA’s South Texas Family Detention Center in Dilley, TX, refused to give any medical treatment to the people held there, prescribing only that they drink more water for complaints ranging from broken fingers to post-surgical care. Officers at GEO Group’s Karnes County Residential Center sexually abused and harassed incarcerated women, sometimes in front of their children.
This expansion has been hugely profitable for these companies and was made possible by their political influence. Through close connections with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), private prison companies are able to write model legislation that ALEC and conservative lawmakers push for in state, local, and national legislatures. Private prison companies also exert financial influence over lawmakers as a way to promote favorable legislation. By the time Arizona’s racist and illegal S.B. 1070 bill reached the state senate floor, 30 out of its 36 co-sponsors had received campaign contributions from private prison companies and lobbyists, and Governor Jan Brewer, who signed it into law, had former CCA lobbyists as her top aides.
Those in poverty are also disproportionately targeted within the punishment system. The criminalization of poverty entails targeting people with outstanding legal debts and imprisoning those who are unable to pay their debts; the mass incarceration of poor people of color for nonviolent offenses; and criminalizing life sustaining practices, including sleeping in public and asking for money in public. Rather than investing in education and social programs to alleviate poverty, our government, with the encouragement and financial incentivisation of many private prison companies, pursue policies that imprison and commodify the most disenfranchised instead.
The U.S. prison system has always been tied to exploitative anti-Blackness. The prison system in America began in 1817, and the nominal abolition of slavery in 1865 began the mass criminalization of Black people. To maintain the racial hierarchy that protected white people’s wealth, the thirteenth amendment declared slavery abolished for all but those who were convicted of a crime. Jaron Browne, an organizer with People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), cites the infamous Angola Prison in Louisiana as a prime example. “In 1880, this 8000-acre family plantation was purchased by the state of Louisiana and converted into a prison. Slave quarters became cell units. Now expanded to 18,000 acres, the Angola plantation is tilled by prisoners working the land—a chilling picture of modern day chattel slavery.” If the abolition of slavery was born out of the conviction that bondage is an unethical, inhumane, and unconscionable practice; the contemporary American prison system (especially its private sector affiliates) provides a starkly similar cause for concern in its recreation of these violent and destructive systems of bondage and racially-ordained subordination.
Today, though Black Americans only make up 13% of our nation’s population, they occupy 40% of the prison beds. The racialized violence of the state is not limited just to incarceration but extends into profit. It is exploitative for a nation to historically and consistently criminalize a community and then collude with private companies to profit off of their labor. Today, prisons are venues of expanded access to the bodies of black people for profit. Corporations rely on the legitimization and validation of this system of bondage and its subsequent coerced and uncompensated labor of incarcerated folk to line their pockets. The leasing of people to the state and any corporation purely for their economic value demonstrates a glaring parallel to systems of slavery.
GU F.R.E.E. envisions Georgetown’s current facade of reconciliation being reborn as a commitment to severing ties with vestiges of slavery. To us, this necessary reparative justice assumes the form of divestment. We, the undersigned, love Georgetown, but we are deeply disappointed with our university. Our disappointment runs as deep as the ties between slavery and incarceration, as strong as the bond between racism and capitalism, and is as powerful as only a true ethic of love can be. With such love, we demand that Georgetown put its money where its mouth is, and ensure being men and women for others becomes a principle reflected in our investment practices, not just in rhetoric. As a vestige of slavery, the prison industrial complex must be condemned by any institution that claims justice as a central element of its identity. Georgetown, as a Jesuit institution vowing to confront its historical antiblackness, cannot continue to do business with corporations which actively seek to perpetuate and profit from this system of state violence. We demand that Georgetown divest from the named companies, and issue a statement condemning private prisons and the exploitation of incarcerated people by corporations, by our government, and by our peer institutions. Only then will Georgetown’s claimed commitment to reconciling its role in slavery bear any semblance of legitimacy.
The Case for Divestment from Companies
that Facilitate and Profit From Israeli State Violence in Occupied Palestine
Today, the discourse surrounding the Israeli occupation of Palestine is marred with calls for dialogue and the importance of maintaining a neutral voice of reason surrounding a “complicated” issue. Such dialogue relies on the normalization of a false sense of symmetry between the occupied and their occupier. Any so-called solution that does not confront the unequal distribution of power is entirely inadequate in addressing the ongoing conflict and will continue to yield no solution at all. Instead of pursuing a framework designed to fail, we are calling upon our university to cease investments in companies that enable violations of Palestinian life and dignity and to stand in solidarity with Palestinians actively struggling for their liberation.
Our commitment to the Jesuit values of contemplation in action and faith as justice demands that we not turn a blind eye to flagrant violations of human life and dignity, wherever and to whomever they may occur. Rather, we must engage in a discourse that explicitly recognizes the agency of marginalized people and commit to concerning ourselves with egregious human rights violations, even if the institutions and structures that enact them are dear to us, and even if such discussions make us uncomfortable.
We seek to create the space for constructive dialogue and accountability in a way that other mediums have failed to. As such, we call upon the University to divest any holdings it may have in companies that facilitate Israel’s collective punishment and forcible displacement of Palestinian civilians, and the construction of the illegal settlements and Annexation Wall in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Our demands respond to and GU F.R.E.E. fully endorses the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS), which calls for resisting Israeli state violence through non-violent punitive methods that already exist within Israel’s legal system until “Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law.” We embrace this campaign committed to the goal of full equal rights for all, which is contingent upon the realization of necessary conditions: (1) ending the occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank including East Jerusalem and dismantling the Wall; (2) recognizing the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and abolishing over 50 discriminatory laws that prevent it; and (3) affording forcibly displaced Palestinian their right to return to their homeland. While we as Georgetown students do not have the influence to enact all components of the BDS call, we demand that our university divest from the companies listed below in order to resist Israel’s historical and ongoing displacement of Palestinians and imposition of apartheid.
Displacement lies at the heart of Israel’s legacy of state violence against the Palestinian people. Al-Nakba, the Catastrophe, refers to the 1948 expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians, then approximately 75% of the Palestinian population, from their homes and the destruction of more than 500 villages to pave the way for a state operating on a logic of ethnic exclusivity. This deliberate, calculated campaign of what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe refers to as “the ethnic cleansing of Palestine” marks the beginning of an enduring pattern of displacement of Palestinians. The violent occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 War produced another round of mass refugeehood, among them people who were first displaced in the 1948 Nakba. The ongoing Nakba continues today in the form of targeted forced population transfer of Palestinians by the Israeli state through a variety of policies and practices.
Neither random nor sporadic, nearly 70 years of the Israeli state’s displacement of Palestinians has continued with the goal of controlling the maximum amount of land with the minimum amount of indigenous Palestinians inhabiting it. Forcible displacement, an international crime against humanity, continues to be carried out by a number of Israeli state practices and policies such as the revocation of citizenship, ethnic segregation, state-promoted settler outposts, theft of natural resources like water as well as house demolitions, land confiscations and repeated military attacks such as serial wars on Gaza.
In violation of international law, there are over 500,000 Israelis living in exclusively Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits an “Occupying Power” from transferring any part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. Though internationally recognized as illegal, the Israeli government offers settlers military protection, access to resources, and financial incentives. The military occupation is sustained by companies who provide the infrastructure to build and maintain the settlements. Motorola, among our targets for divestment, provides cameras and radars to monitor and restrict Palestinian movement near the Jewish-only settlements. The German Heidelberg Company provides the cement to build and maintain these settlements, thus facilitating and profiting from these settlements at the expense of Palestinian territorial and individual freedoms.
Palestinian villages, towns, cities and locales are frequently targeted by Israeli settler violence, including but not limited to the theft and destruction of personal property, blocked land access, the burning and destruction of crops, livestock killings, and attacks and demolitions of homes, mosques and churches.
In 2014, Israeli settlers firebombed the house of the Dawabsheh family in the occupied West Bank. 18-month-old baby Ali was burned alive, while his parents and brother suffered extreme burns on 75% of their body. While the Israeli military claimed outrage and Netanyahu offered a mild verbal condemnation, no charges have been brought against the settlers responsible and further comments by the state have been limited. The Israeli police and the Israeli Defense Forces also regularly enact violence against Palestinians with impunity. For example, the extra-judicial murder of Fadi Alloun in the West Bank by Israeli police was caught on video yet there was no consequence for the perpetrators. Israel’s trend of ignoring and enacting settler and state terrorism, despite their legal obligation to do so as an occupier, perpetuates a dangerous cycle of violence.
Home demolition is another method by which Israel continues to displace Palestinians. Caterpillar, among our list of proposed targets of divestment, knowingly and consistently continues to provide the machinery that is used to target Palestinians with home demolitions. Caterpillar Armored Cat D9s are an Israeli military bulldozer specifically modified as military weapons and designed for the systematic destruction of civilian property: homes, entire neighborhoods, farms, and have killed peaceful activists, including American citizen Rachel Corrie in 2003, and Palestinians whose only crime was refusing to leave their homes.
Palestinians are the most protracted global refugee population and one of the largest populations of forcibly displaced persons. As of 2014, more than 7 million of 12.1 Palestinians worldwide were refugees themselves or descendants of refugees and 720,000 were internally displaced. Though the legal rights of Palestinian refugees and their descendants are enshrined in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and affirmed by UN Resolution 194, Israel denies the right of return to those whose lands were the sites of expulsion and massacres in both 1948 and 1967. By doing so, Israel denies a refugees’ fundamental right to a durable solution.
Though the demands of our campaign explicitly name complicity in the Israeli occupation as a criteria for companies from which to divest, we recognize the right to return as central to Palestinian liberation.We cannot have an honest conversation about the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank without acknowledging it as indicative of a broader pattern of Israeli violence and displacement beginning in 1948 and continuing to affect all Palestinians today. As such, we recognize, uphold, and defend Palestinians’ inalienable rights to their homeland.
In addition to violently displacing Palestinians, Israel has also set up a society in which Israelis and Palestinians have vastly different rights and protections. Segregation is not only legal, but spatial and infrastructural. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are at least 542 obstacles restricting the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank including roadblocks, gates, checkpoints, segregated roads, etc. with the aim of restricting Palestinian access to roads used by settlers or to areas controlled by settlements. A system of Jewish-Israeli settler-only roads was built and is maintained for Israelis throughout the West Bank. These roads bypass Palestinian communities and were constructed to grant settlers unbridled movement through the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel. Hewlett-Packard (HP), one of our targets for divestment, owns Electronic Data Systems, which has provided the Israeli military system with the Basel System, a biometric access system that regulates residency requirements for Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints within the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). HP also provides services and technology to both Israeli and U.S. prisons.
Furthermore, Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory are subject to military rule and military courts while Israeli settlers living in the West Bank (or soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip) are governed by Israeli civil law and civil courts. Settlers enjoy the rights and protections of Israeli civil and criminal law while Palestinians are subjected to Israel’s military law. Israel’s dual legal system amounts to segregation and facilitates Israel’s oppression, discrimination, land expropriation, and denial of basic human rights to Palestinians.
The sum of the segregation inherent to Jewish-only settlements on land expropriated from Palestinians, the disproportionate allocation of resources, legally validated systems of surveillance and military control of Palestinians, and the stratification of rights and responsibilities based on ethnonational categories, not only fulfill but exceed the legal definition of apartheid.
In 2002 began the construction of a Separation Barrier that is expected to reach over 403 miles upon completion. Though the Israeli government claimed that the wall would be built along the 1967 Green Line, over 80 percent of it is in the West Bank – legally-recognized Palestinian land. Constructed in this way, the wall annexes over 9% of the West Bank and encompasses 85% of the Israeli settler population. Between building settlements in this area and declaring that it is the “Israeli side” of the wall, Israel has forcefully laid claim to large segments of Palestinian land. Furthermore, the wall and associated system of checkpoints are a blatant example of Israel’s attempts to physically and psychologically control and repress Palestinians, removing their agency to freely access their jobs, lands, and families, and denying their right to free movement. The government claims that that the wall was constructed for security purposes, citing the prevalence of suicide bombings, but its true purpose is to annex Palestinian land and restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement.
Israel’s trend of collective punishment of Palestinians violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “no protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.” Israel employs various modes of collective punishment of Palestinian civilians following episodes of violence by Palestinians, thus implicating all Palestinians (regardless of degrees of affiliation to the offense or the offender) as terrorists and security threats. These punishments take the form of punitive home demolitions, land expropriation, and recurring and disproportionate military attacks against civilians. This aggression is perhaps exemplified in summer of 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, in which over 2,000 Palestinians civilians were killed by Israel’s asymmetrical and disproportionate use of violence. It is important to recognize the military attacks as part of a larger trend of collective punishment. The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, the world’s largest “open-air prison,” has obliterated the Gazan economy, withholds crucial resources, suffocates its inhabitants, and has devastated the land through atrocious military campaigns without subsequent reconstruction. The United Nations has warned that if this continues, Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020.
The Israeli state’s repression of nonviolent Palestinian resistance is widespread. Palestinians are arbitrarily arrested and detained for and resisting life under occupation. Israel soldiers and police meet protesting Palestinians are met with live ammunition, tear gas, and rubber bullets.
Approximately 800,000 Palestinians, over 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the occupied territory, have been detained under Israeli military law. In violation of international law, detained Palestinians, including children, are held without charge, legally refused attorneys for up to 90 days, denied their right to know the charges against them, and are indefinitely detained. The Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli police forces regularly torture incarcerated Palestinians, including children, through sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, beatings, and threatening their families. The British “security” company G4S pulled most of its services out of Israel amidst mounting pressure of the BDS movement but remains involved with maintaining checkpoints and collaborating with the Israeli police that attack on Palestinian life and freedom. G4S also enables U.S. systems of surveillance and control against imprisoned people and workers’ rights abuses through its involvement in United States’ racist and classist private prison industry.
Though the scope of our campaign specifically cites Israeli state violence against Palestinians, a discourse on injustice within Israel would be incomplete without addressing the state’s anti-blackness that explicitly targets Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews, African asylum seekers and Afro-Palestinians. Referred to as “infiltrators”,“concrete threats to the Jewish and democratic character of the country,” and “cancers” by prominent figures in the Israeli government, these characterizations manifest in the forcible sterilization of African asylum seekers, anti-black police violence, a refusal to accept refugees seeking asylum, restricting immigration from African countries to Israel, and severely and intentionally denying access to basic resources, employment, and education.
In light of these egregious and ongoing abuses and the role Georgetown’s investments play in upholding it, we proudly bring forth this campaign and join a growing international movement in support of full liberation by the Palestinian people.