The Violation of Human Rights is Not Complicated

At roughly 2 a.m. on May 21, a truce between Israel and Hamas came into effect after 11 days of fighting. The death toll was striking — at least 242 people were killed in Gaza and 13 people in Israel. This most recent bout of violence erupted as a result of recent events and long-term trends, which were compounded by incompetent leadership. 

If you are an Oberlin student wondering how to affect any semblance of change on this issue, I feel you. The first part of the process depends on education. It is difficult to know what books to read, what news to follow, and more generally what to believe when sources espouse completely different narratives. For example, last March, the news picked up a story about how Israel was the world leader in vaccinations. Countless news articles were praising the state for their public health achievements while few acknowledged that Palestinians in the West Bank had poor access to vaccines and COVID-19 care. When it’s difficult to identify trustworthy news sources, it’s important to reach out to professors, religious leaders on campus, and fellow students who know about the issue. The worst thing we can do is nothing at all. 

Oberlin student activism on Israel-Palestine has sometimes felt misguided. It is frustrating to see the low attendance at events run by Students for a Free Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Oberlin branch of J Street U when there are countless infographics shared within Oberlin circles on social media. Instagram posts tend to be reductionist, sensational, and encourage slacktivism. A post defining terms like Zionism and the occupation can be informative, but a post on the 1967 war will not encompass the nuance of the historical event. 

It’s also important that we position our own activism within the context of the national conversation. The Biden administration’s underwhelming response to this recent crisis is a clear sign that we should not expect the U.S. government to play a constructive role in the peace process at this point in time. No one expected the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be a high priority for the Biden administration, but few expected him to turn his back on his campaign promise to promote foreign policy centered around human rights. Instead of condemning humanitarian violations happening in East Jerusalem and across the occupied territories, President Biden reinforced his support for Israel’s right to defend itself and called for a ceasefire only after receiving pushback from members of his own party.

If the Biden administration was serious about protecting human rights in Israel-Palestine, it would be honest about the fact that time is running out for a two-state solution — if there’s any time at all. In order to salvage the possibility of a two-state solution, the annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank needs to stop. The U.S. government has a $3.8 billion stake in this issue, as American tax money goes towards the demolition of Palestinian homes, which makes room for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements.

One way the U.S. can exert pressure on Israel is through the use of restrictive or conditional aid. The U.S. should refuse to fund specific actions that violate human rights; such as the detention of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes as a form of collective punishment, and blockades of Gaza for anything unrelated to terrorism. The U.S. can also threaten to reduce offshore procurements, which is a part of U.S. military aid that Israel can use to stimulate its own economy and buy its own weaponry. By threatening to reduce or completely cut these procurements, the U.S. can send a strong signal that expanding the occupation is no longer a viable option for Israel if it wants to continue receiving assistance from the U.S. 

Unfortunately, while campaigning for the presidency Biden said publicly that restricting U.S. aid to Israel would be “absolutely outrageous.” Many Democrats in Congress agree with the president, despite the fact that a majority of Democratic voters do not agree —  a recent Gallup poll showed that 53 percent of Democrats support placing more pressure on Israel to advance the peace process. I believe this disconnect exists because of a lack of well-funded, left-wing advocacy, in addition to a widespread apathy toward the issue. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be complicated, but the violation of human rights is not. Every tax-paying person in this country has a stake in this issue, and they should be heard by Congress. 

As students, the best thing we can do on this issue is make noise, legitimize conversations of political consequences like aid use restrictions, and continue learning. If you are interested, Oberlin’s J Street U chapter will be holding a meeting next week to debrief what’s happened in the past month and what we can do about it. Check Facebook for details or email [email protected].