In Defense of Divestment

— Shamai K. Leibowitz

AS AN ISRAELI citizen and former tank gunner in the Israeli army, I feel the need to explain why I, along with many other Jews, support divestment from Israel. We are asking the city of Somerville, as well as other cities and civic institutions, to divest from companies involved in selling arms, bulldozers and military technologies that are used by the Israeli army to commit war crimes against Palestinians.

As people committed to human rights for all, we call upon Americans to demand that their tax dollars are not invested in companies that sell equipment and ammunition that fuel Israel’s consistent and appalling violations of international law and human rights.

As a young soldier serving in the Israeli army, I was ordered to commit war crimes in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. My platoon meted out collective punishment on whole Palestinian communities, shot live ammunition at unarmed civilians, killed women and children, enforced prolonged curfews, creating humanitarian disasters, arrested and detained Palestinians without charge, demolished their homes, and arbitrarily destroyed crops and property.

Being an eyewitness to these war crimes led me eventually to announce my refusal to serve in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 1994. But the Israeli government, unaffected by the growing refusenik movement, has continued the dehumanizing Occupation.

More than 3.5 million Palestinians continued to live under a military regime and were subject to bombings of neighborhoods, extra-judicial killings, torture, home demolitions, unlawful detentions, deportations and a myriad of human rights violations.

Somerville Divestment Campaign

Dozens of Jews were among the many supporters of the divestment resolution who gathered in the Somerville City Hall on Monday, November 8. I, and several others, spoke in favor of this resolution, saying that it is precisely because we are Jews and because we truly care about Israel that we are asking the City of Somerville to pass this resolution.

All of us present in Somerville were profoundly hurt when accused of being “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Israeli.” People abusing the concept of “anti-Semitism” in order to support the Israeli government’s racist policy towards the Palestinians do nothing less than desecrate the memory of those Jewish victims of real anti-Semitism.

I have heard too many times the argument that “now is not the time to divest because Israel is involved in a peace process.” The “peace process” argument was used for dozens of years as an excuse to continue inflicting suffering, humiliation and destruction upon the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

It is high time to do away with this myth. It has become clear that even during the Oslo process, Israeli governments pulled the wool over the world’s eyes. Israel continued to resettle its own citizens on confiscated Palestinian land in the Occupied Territories, in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, while at the same time entrenching a cruel military regime in the same areas and punishing 3.5 million Palestinians.

It became the primary objective of Israeli propaganda to hide the brutal reality of Occupation. To this end, Israeli governments constantly came up with “peace plans” and built a sophisticated “we only want peace” propaganda machine.

Over time, many of us who lived in Israel and visited or served in the Occupied Territories saw the reality: Israel was intensifying an oppressive military regime over millions of Palestinians who were denied all human, civil and political rights, while building more Jewish-only settlements for Jews who enjoyed full civil and political rights.

As an Israeli thoroughly familiar with Israeli politics, I believe that selective economic pressure is the most effective way to end the brutal Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians.

I realize how hard it is, conceptually, for American Jews to support divestment, but they should understand that these painful measures will eventually lead to the path of peace and security. The call for divestment reflects true loyalty both to Israel’s peaceful existence and to the highest Jewish values.

I call upon the Jewish community, as well as other communities, in the United States — if you really want to see in your lifetime Israelis living in peace with Palestinians — unite with us behind divestment resolutions.

ATC 114, January-February 2005