The massive Palestinian civilian death toll of Operation Protective Edge last summer marked a watershed moment for the growth of sentiment in solidarity with Palestine in the United States. In an August Gallup poll, 51 percent of young adults in the U.S. said Israel's actions were unjustified, whereas just 25 percent said they approved of them. Jewish Voice for Peace experienced rapid growth across the country. The widely-shared images and videos of the horrors of the assault, which killed over 1,500 civilians and 500 children, gave a strong impetus to shifts in opinion that have been underway since Operation Cast Lead in 2008, the last time Israel attacked Gaza on this scale.
This turning tide has broken through at Stanford University. Out of Occupied Palestine -- a coalition of 19 student groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, the NAACP, and the Black Student Union -- is in the midst of an intense campaign to get the university to stop investing in companies that enable violations of international law and human rights abuses against Palestinians. As of Feb. 7, over 1,600 Stanford students had signed our petition, whereas the anti-divestment petition had received just a little over 300 student signatures.
As organizers of the divestment campaign, we have experienced firsthand a very positive reception as we canvass in dining areas and residences with our petition, as well as at our educational events. A decade ago, Palestine solidarity activists on campuses didn't get the benefit of the doubt when we talked about human rights for Palestinians. The most common responses were "it's too complicated," or "what about terrorism," or "I don't really know enough." That needle has moved. Progressive young people today identify the plight and recognize the struggle of the Palestinians. We see it in the context of empire, racism, and inequality.
Stanford students have organized a resurgence of political activism that highlights the intersections of exploitation and several forms of oppression in the world around us. The early "Black Lives Matter" demonstrations last year were the first time many students had engaged in civil disobedience demanding more from our government -- demanding justice. Since then, a number of young people across the country and at Stanford have become newly familiar with the camaraderie and adrenaline pulses of protests.
Their boldness grew over time. When the NYPD officer who killed Eric Garner was not indicted, more than one hundred Stanford students walked onto Highway 101 and shut it down in their red college sweaters. Then, on Martin Luther King Day, 68 students participated in an action on the San Mateo Bridge and chanted until they were all arrested, and then chanted some more. It was during this last protest that a massive Palestinian flag was unfurled onto the bridge for every local news helicopter to see.
"We proudly carry the Palestinian flag as we call on Stanford to divest from human rights violations in the occupation and related state violence in the US," stated the press release about the demonstration. "Combating the triplets of racism, militarism and materialism was one of the biggest legacies King left us."
Shared solidarity and struggle across communities at Stanford have mirrored what is currently happening across global communities. Students are piecing together that many of the same corporations facilitating human rights violations in Palestine also work within the US: providing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets used on protesters to police departments, constructing a concrete wall to enforce borders, and profiting off mass incarceration. A recent trip by Black Lives Matter leaders and Ferguson activists to Palestine further reveals how two communities threatened by state-sanctioned violence are acknowledging these connections between injustice abroad and injustice at home.
On Feb. 17, the Undergraduate Senate of the Associated Students of Stanford University passed Out of Occupied Palestine's resolution to divest from corporations facilitating the occupation of Palestine. The first senate vote a week prior had achieved a 9-5 majority, but at the re-vote, it achieved a 10-4 majority, passing the two-thirds threshold required. This victory comes on the heels of the passage of a similar resolution by the University of California Student Association, which represents the 233,000 students enrolled in the UC school system. Two months before that, United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents 13,000 student-workers across the entire UC system, became the first US labor union to vote to support the Palestinian call for divestment.
The passage of the divestment resolution at Stanford is an astounding leap forward for a campus at which, two years ago, a similar resolution only received one vote in favor from the student senate. Today, over 1,600 students at Stanford believe the university should act. Almost all of the key social justice oriented student groups on campus back this call, and their support will last well after this senate vote. And now, the elected body representing undergraduates at Stanford has added its voice to that call. A critical mass of Stanford students have decided that justice for all includes freedom for Palestine, and that we as students can and must take action to bring it into being. Solidarity with Palestine is here to stay, and in all likelihood to grow, at Stanford.