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A Compassionate Path to Upholding Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories at Stanford

02/26/2015 03:35 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Stanford students have mobilized in large numbers to urge the university to divest from multinational corporations that illegally profit from the occupation of Palestine. Some responses to this effort have been tense, as students who oppose divestment perceive it as divisive and counterproductive to a solution to the occupation that it is based on a single narrative in a two-sided story. This was the case presented by students against divestment this past Tuesday. In contrast, we perceived it as a compassionate path to preserving and upholding life everywhere -- especially Palestinian lives.

A majority of senators agreed with this path: 9 out of 14 voting senators, or 64 percent of our student representatives, voted yes last Tuesday evening.

Anger from students against divestment derailed the course of discussion. Instead of a robust discourse on the context of human rights violations in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank, the discourse for opposition was premised on divisiveness. Simultaneously, the message of opposition was coupled with accusations of anti-semitism, yelling, interrupting speakers, finger-pointing, and condescending tone and language. Many students now recognize this was the primary source of divisiveness. In an effort to make a claim, students against divestment abandoned kindness and embraced ridicule.

I argue that divestment has not divided campus, but rather unified it around a more intentional pursuit of love and social justice. The support and momentum we've gained has been incredible. We've received over 1,600 student petition signatures, which is more than one-fifth of the undergraduate student body. We have gained the support of 19 student organizations on campus that represent a broad array of political, religious, international, racial, and cultural organizations.

The key to preventing divisiveness is how we have this conversation. The linchpin of the message is this: this subject is more difficult for everyone when anger clouds judgement. To make this conversation less difficult, we can focus on supporting students' ideas, even if we disagree with them. We can smile and get to know one another, despite our political disagreements. Premised on kindness, conversation can finally become dialectical.

To engage in this dialectic, however, we must also note the role of race and its relation to class and privilege. Students against divestment failed to recognize the callousness of their accusations of anti-semitism against hundreds of students of color who understand and oppose all injustice. Brown and black students were vilified and policed at their every move. Black students were told to shut up, and Palestinians students -- students who were central to the divestment dialectic -- were also vehemently silenced. To students of color who face microaggressions and painful experiences in everyday life at the hands of society, the divestment vote was a testament to how privilege not only frames conversations, but also reifies oppression.

Students are using an intersectional framework to confront these dynamics of oppression on and off campus and change them. We have sought to holistically educate campus on the subject of Israel and Palestine and created the space for students to ask questions and make the choice of whether or not to join our divestment coalition on their own. This type of support is not won through coercion, but sincere, dedicated and compassionate education that is based in principles of justice that seeks an end to state repression everywhere. This is why we have gained such broad and intentional support that has changed the face of conversation on campus.

When we, as human beings, affirm each other's concerns and the emotions they create, we can then understand the individual differences in students' thoughts. We can begin to understand each other, and finally converse in a manner that can affirm human rights, and uplift all communities on campus and unify ourselves around a new way of speaking to one another and thinking about divestment. Instead of focusing solely on divisiveness or divestment, all students can engage with both conversations in an effort to end the former, and investigate the case for the latter. There is no doubt that this shift can happen on campus, and open up new conversations on our role in upholding human rights.

There are positive effects of this pursuit of justice on campus. By seeking an end to state repression for all people, an unrelenting love has grown within our campaign and among supportive students. There is a spirit unlike anything I've felt before here at Stanford. The other evening, many of us discussed Cornel West's powerful quote at our divestment townhall: "Justice is what loves looks like in public." We've found that we inspire one another through our work. For many of us, teaching fellow students about why this matters to us is not just empowering, but liberating. We've witnessed countless students shift their stances in support of divestment, and express how it provided them with a sense of pride. During the divestment vote, one senator declared that his yes vote was out of love for both Palestinians and Israelis. This manifestation of love has clearly made its presence known at Stanford, and at other campuses across the nation.

This love can be shared with students who have no stance on divestment, support divestment, or oppose divestment. We extend it as students of color who live with the legacy of horrific historical events. The key, however, is not to compare these traumas, but unite ourselves against their causal factor: different valuations of human life, and the ideologies they create: Islamophobia, Anti-Blackness, and Anti-Semitism for example.

We've used education to expose these different valuations and ideologies, and end them. We've signified this by hosting a series of events to educate campus, conducting teach-ins, sharing education packets and resources with curious students, having open discussions about what divestment means to students with differing perspectives, and soliciting feedback throughout our entire campaign. Thus, the goal of our divestment campaign is to not only teach, but learn as well.

With these frameworks and guidelines, true communal political discourse can finally begin. Equal and equitable value of life has never hurt anyone, and affirming Palestinian human rights is unifying. In pursuit of this, our mission embodies its goals through compassion, justice and love.

Stanford, let's divest.