Dear Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren,
In your open letter published in the New University, you propose a return to UC Irvine in order to “dialogue” with those whose views juxtapose yours. We willingly take you up on that offer. But to clarify, our willingness does not stem from any delusional notion that your words can right the decades of wrong and injustice. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Your military past with the Israeli “Defense” Force and your current position as the official representative of a state before the UN General Assembly on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity speak louder than any “remarks” you can make.
Mr. Oren, you allude to democracy and peace. Perhaps in your Orwellian doublespeak, “peace” equates apartheid. South African Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu compared “the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks” to that of Black South Africans “when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.” Like the White Afrikaners, you speak of civilization but represent the only modern-day colonialist state. Your state has built a wall – 403 miles long by 25 feet high – deemed illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice. This wall (not fence) annexes 80 percent of the most fertile Palestinian land to Israel and separates tens of thousands of indigenous Palestinians from their lands, workplaces and social services. The world celebrated the falling of the Berlin Wall as a symbolism of peace. How then, does Israel’s construction of a wall more than four times its length and twice its height create the underpinnings for peace?
Further, you write of “democratic principles,” undoubtedly as you represent the only “democracy” in the Middle East. That is if you are Jewish, of course. Otherwise, as a Christian or Muslim Palestinian, you live under military occupational rule in shantytowns and Bantustans and are subject to daily evictions, home demolitions and even massive military attacks. Only a few days ago, Israel announced the construction of more than 50,000 settlement units in East Jerusalem. Mr. Oren, during your teaching stints at Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown, did you ever come across the term “international law”? As a representative of a nation that has perpetually acted above the law and has been condemned by more UN resolutions than any other nation in the world, you are surely an expert in the “undermin[ing] [of] democratic principles.”
Yet your Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is now drawing up proposals to rewrite international law following Chief Justice Richard Goldstone’s damning 574-page report, which methodically and meticulously outlines Israel’s crimes committed in Gaza last year. The report also concludes that Israel’s three-year-long hermetic closure of Gazan borders, airspace and territorial waters amounts to nothing less than collective punishment, another war crime. Currently, the UN General Assembly has recommended that Israel stand trial before the International Criminal Court. Have you ever considered taking the General Assembly up on that offer? The ICC would be a perfect forum Mr. Oren for you to “exchange ideas with those who disagree” with your Israeli perspective.
Speaking of Justice Goldstone, was your “diplomatic trip” to California merely another propagandizing effort to repaint Israel’s image from a brutal apartheid state to a victimized democracy? After Israel killed over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza and injured an additional 5,300 others during its 22-day assault, the “New York Times” reported on Israel’s multi-million dollar marketing efforts and PR campaign to whitewash its crimes through cultural and academic channels. As a media spin-doctor during Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006 and its assault on Gaza in 2008-09, you perfectly suit Israel’s rebranding efforts.
That said, Mr. Oren, you stand corrected; we have been introduced to “different perspectives” as you desire, but in the form of the horrendous brutality presented by the Israeli government. Two of the student protestors had multiple relatives murdered in Gaza. Other protestors witnessed first-hand the desolation of schools, UN buildings, factories, homes, farms and every other facet of Palestinian civil society while on a delegation to Gaza. As a champion of dialogue, you should perhaps attempt “to listen and learn” from Palestinian students who formally attended the American International School in Gaza until it was leveled by Israeli missiles and tanks.
In support of the Palestinians living under occupation and apartheid and those who are denied the right of return, we stand with the eleven students who asserted their constitutional rights to protest. We also stand with those across the U.S. and Europe who are boycotting, divesting and sanctioning your state until it complies with international law and affords the Palestinians their human rights and dignities. Mr. Oren, we accept your offer to return to UCI to expose the “Israeli perspective” for what it is. In consideration of your position as an academic and historian, it is only befitting that a scholar represent the perspective of the indigenous Palestinians which your state continues to humiliate, expunge and brutalize.
The event will be a free public event at UCI and students should be given priority to attend in what would then be a true “marketplace of ideas.” We hope that you will not shy away from such an opportunity to not propagandize, but rather foster an atmosphere of “true civility and respect for freedom of speech.”
We share your optimism that today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. And it will be at our universities and on our campuses that the Israeli apartheid, occupation and oppression will be exposed and rejected as was the South African apartheid. Let freedom of speech truly reign.
Stand with the Eleven