This week on The Electronic Intifada podcast:
An update on the humanitarian situation inside the besieged Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, as distribution of food and medical aid resumes; we’ll hear from Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestine refugees. Read transcript and listen to individual segment.
Students at San Diego State University present their case for divestment to the student government, we’ll speak with student activist Nadir Bouhmouch about the push for divestment from companies which profit from Israel’s occupation, and the backlash they’re receiving from the administration. Read transcript and listen to individual segment.
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Chris Gunness: I have to be able to tell you I’m pleased that we managed today to distribute 235 parcels. Now, it doesn’t sound very much, and indeed it isn’t very much, but the fact is that the Security Council has passed a resolution that has demanded of the parties on the ground that there should be humanitarian access. So let us hope, and let us pray, that this is a response to the unanimous voice of the international community as expressed by the people sitting around the people sitting around that horseshoe-shaped table in New York, the people of Yarmouk have suffered enough, the world I think has been horrified by the pictures that have been coming out about Yarmouk, and I think there is a general sense of muted relief that UNRWA, the agency charged by the international community to bring relief to the Palestinians living in Yarmouk, have been able to do that.
So, let’s hope and let’s pray that we are able to build on this and to have all the security council has asked for, and what we’ve been praying for, which is secure, substantial and permanent humanitarian access.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Chris, can you talk about what stalled the aid distribution from happening for the last two weeks, and why there was so much confusion just a few days ago about aid being able to be let in and then that ability to be restricted just hours later. What happened?
CG: Well, that’s a very interesting and very important question, I’m not sure I’ve got a very satisfactory answer. Our delivery of aid was to support an agreement by various groups inside Yarmouk. We were not party to that agreement, and indeed we were not part of the discussions that led to that agreement. It was essentially a political agreement and we’re a humanitarian organization.
So our job was to try and implement it. We were ready, we had food in our warehouse throughout, in Damascus, ready to take into Yarmouk, for whatever reason it didn’t happen, but humanitarian aid increased, the situation got more desperate, the security council acted, and I pray and I hope that the parties on the ground heard the unanimous voice of the international community and now we’ve got in 235 parcels today after a hiatus since the 8th of [February], and we pray that we’re going to continue to get food and other medicines in, and we hope that there will be humanitarian access which includes women, children, babies, infants, the sick, the dying, civilians of all stripes who need to get out should be allowed out. That’s what’s humanitarian access is all about, in addition to us getting food parcels in.
NBF: Chris, can you talk briefly about the humanitarian situation right now, you actually wrote an article about a week ago about a baby that was in Yarmouk, baby Khaled. Can you talk about his situation as an emblematic microcosm of what’s happened in Yarmouk so far?
CG: Well, interestingly, I think baby Khaled is emblematic of something very important which is that with a very tiny amount of assistance, we can do a lot. We just had a few days of assistance from an UNRWA doctor and he was quite literally brought back from the brink of death. And I think that the situation in Yarmouk is desperate, and I think that it has suffered hugely from a macro to a micro level. But that said, I think that we will be able, I pray, to get aid in, and I think that if we are able to get in substantial quantities, I think it will be possible to give a real boost to Yarmouk just as it was possible to give baby Khaled a real boost. So let’s pray that that one tiny child and that one tiny life is indeed emblematic of what can be done in Yarmouk. Because goodness knows, there are many baby Khaleds, there are many people inside Yarmouk that need assistance.
They have suffered enough. We have had reports of widespread malnutrition, we’ve had reports of women dying in childbirth because there is a lack of medical attention. Yarmouk was always going to be a test for the humanity of all of us, and we have to pass that test. And I think that the fact that our Commissioner General, Filippo Grandi, has gone to Yarmouk just a few hours literally after the security council passed this resolution, and the fact that we were able to deliver a symbolic amount of aid, means that we can and we pray we will be able to continue.
Symbolism is important, and we have to build on that symbolism.
Nadir Bouhmouch: So we introduced the [resolution] three weeks ago, and our student government is a little more complicated than the UCs, where you simply introduce it to the elected body. For us, you actually have to go through an unelected body to even get it to an elected body — so there’s a three-step, three-board or three-committee structure, so we introduced it to the first one and actually it was voted on last week, and we actually lost.
There were a lot of things surrounding this failure. We weren’t given a clear timeline on when the vote would be so we didn’t think it would be last week, we actually looked into the bylaws and realized we were given less than the 72-hour notice which is required by the bylaws. So we’re actually looking at potentially revoking this vote because of that, and because of other procedural issues. There was a staff member on the board that was taking a stance and telling students that abstentions were not a possibility, abstentions would have potentially brought us over the mark to a win.
And so right now, besides just trying to revoke that vote, there were other issues surrounding it that made it not a credible vote in general. I can’t really disclose all of them yet. But we’re also looking at a different route, through the student diversity commission. The student diversity commission has a lot of our allies like MEChA, like AChA, which is the feminist version of MEChA, like the Queer People of Color collective, and so on. So we have a very good chance of passing it through this commission, and from there it has to go through a different board and then a third board.
So we’re still going at it this week.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Nadir, I know that in the last year, as many University of California schools have gone through divestment campaigns, some were upheld and some were voted down, that actually in southern California, congressmembers were writing letters against divestment initiatives, ostensibly being pressured by outside Zionist political groups and Israel-aligned organizations to do so. What does the opposition look like right now for San Diego State, and have you gotten pressure from either elected political leaders or outside political organizations around this divestment?
NB: We haven’t gotten any pressure from outside organizations yet, besides the Hillel statement, which wasn’t really directed at us. We haven’t had any direct pressure. But what we have seen is pressure from the administration not on us, but on Associated Students — on the student government — and the rumor says “to shut it down.” We have also seen staff members — I was named by name at a staff meeting in which the discussion was that … the reason that we know this is because one of our allies from a queer student group was actually on this board meeting, and they didn’t know that this person was involved in divestment. They named me by name and they talked about basically suggesting to student groups not to let us come and give presentations about divestment, because I had started doing that. This was the staff meeting for the branch of the administration that looks over student organizations.
So a lot of the pressure that we’re getting is not from Zionists — our local Zionist group is actually quite weak. They’re definitely present, but I’m just going to be frank, they’re not very talented. There are only two of them who are not very active, and they happen to be paid Hasbara Fellows. They’re the ones who are coming to give public comment and so on — when we had the vote last week, we had maybe 20 supporters there but only maybe two people who were Zionists.
NBF: So what do you attribute to the pressure by the administration in order to attempt to stop this divestment move?
NB: I think it’s because SDSU, ever since our new president, who’s been here for now two years, ever since he’s held office, [the university] has been pushing for a fundraising campaign, I think it’s called the SDSU Campaign, some really simple name like that, where we’re trying to get as many donations as possible. And I think divestment scares the administration because they’re afraid of losing these donations.
Another thing that I’m questioning, and that actually … the Campanile Foundation, the targeted foundations, the investing auxiliary foundation to SDSU, it has actually not been up for an audit for ten years. And normally, auxiliary organizations to SDSU get audited — for example, Associated Students was audited in 2000, and a different auxiliary organization would be audited in 2001, and then they rotate. So you can’t audit one of the others before you audit all of them.
So because of that reason, none of the SDSU institutions have been audited for five years because they’re waiting on the Campanile Foundation. And we find that to be very questionable. Why is the Campanile Foundation not being audited, and the pressure that we’re putting on the administration right now with divestment is actually pushing them to audit the Campanile Foundation whether there’s going to be divestment or not, and they’re going to do it next year. And I think it’s primarily because of the pressure that we’re putting on them.
NBF: Can you talk about the kinds of companies that you’ve investigated, that you are trying to get the San Diego State University administration to divest from?
NB: Yes. HP [Hewlett-Packard], Motorola, Caterpillar, we’ve added some that traditionally aren’t put into divestment resolutions in the UC campuses: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing … and I feel like I’m missing one more. But they’re on our website, you can look at all of them.
NBF: What’s the next step for the divestment initiative right now, and how can people support SJP at San Diego State?
NB: Well, we’re doing two things. We’re going to the judiciary branch of the student government to take up all the issues that came out of last week’s vote, there’s at least one [rule] in the bylaws that was broken, for sure, but there are other things that weren’t included that are very questionable about the way it was done, once again I can’t really disclose all of them yet. And then the other thing we’re doing is that we’re taking it through the student diversity commission to get to the elected body — we can’t get to the elected body until it goes through a couple of these other, lesser bodies.
So that’s the next step. And if people want to help, we would appreciate endorsement letters from different organizations, we would also appreciate it if people actually called our student government and told them to support it, or even as individuals — you don’t need to be part of an organization in order to support it. So anything like that would be great.
NBF: And how can people get in touch, do you have a website, or Facebook?
Poem by Remi Kanazi / Video by Suhel Nafar / Audio by Andrew Felluss
this divestment bill
hurts my feelings
that Caterpillar bulldozer ended life
in the body of an American citizen
drove her bones into the ground
while a company cashed in
on the sale
the claws of D-9 bulldozers
unearth the livelihood
of occupied Palestinians
uprooting their graveyards
to make way
for illegal settlements
but we need a positive
while HP’s stock rises on division
to segregate Palestinians
biometric ids at checkpoints
enhancing the naval blockade
of an open air prison
Palestinians on campus
listen to words like climate
positive, hurt feelings
knowing their tuition
invests in companies
reigning terror on loved ones
that suffering, like their voices
to student board members
looking for cushy jobs
at top 5 law firms
but this divestment bill
the Montgomery bus boycott, divisive
the grape boycott, one sided
abolishing slavery, radical
Nelson Mandela, a terrorist
women’s suffrage, complicated
internment camps, a necessity
there is always an excuse
catch phrases, talking points
strip away names and faces
we are being militant, unreasonable
there is context to this oppression
the word apartheid makes
you feel uncomfortable?
it’s apartheid by definition
fits the ‘73 convention
by law, it is a crime
two sets of laws
for two people
labor, land ownership
access to education
50 laws of discrimination
46 years of occupation
27,000 homes demolished
nearly a million arrested
whoa, whoa, whoa!
No one said Israel
doesn’t have problems
but why the singling out
you mean like
Darfur, Tibet, South Africa
sweatshops, Coca Cola
the Keystone Pipeline
the prison industrial complex
fossil fuels, teacher’s unions
university cuts and bottled water?
the real question
why are you singling out
any injustice for protection?
let me get the next one for you
Israel is democratic
democratic like coal is clean
Miller Lite is the same
great taste, less filling
and McDonald’s salads
these are not imagined scenarios
our tuition dollars
are profiting off of death
divestment is the next step
this is not about a nation or a people
but what is being done to people
in our names, with our currency
this university will not liberate anyone
but it can choose to cease
making a buck off of misery
vote Yes for divestment
No to appeasement
for any climate