Student outrage over US behaviour

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
May 07, 2024

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeFrom New York to Los Angeles, from New Hampshire to Texas, thousands of students have risen up against how the Palestinian people in Gaza are being treated. US police have arrested over 2,300 student protesters, and many more will be arrested in the coming weeks. We should congratulate the moral courage of these students.

Edward Luce reminds Americans about their foolhardiness. He wrote: “America is in knots over the foolishness—or worse—of its campus protesters. But it is the adults who are making the biggest dunces of themselves. The role of the grown-ups facing student unrest is to keep the peace without sacrificing rights. These include free speech and physical safety. The task requires principled consistency.” (Financial Times, May 2.)

These students watched Hamas’s horrendous killing of over 1,200 Israelis and Israel’s savage revenge. Israel has killed over 34,500 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and injured over 73,000 Palestinians over the past six months. Israel has destroyed their hospitals, laid waste 70% of Palestinian land, and sent 1.5 million people looking for shelter in Rafah.

Israel is making preparations to storm Rafah to kill a few more thousand Palestinians and the remnants of Hamas fighters who remain there. Last Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared: “We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there—with or without a deal [on a ceasefire], in order to achieve total victory.”

These young people, particularly university students, have witnessed the inhumanity of Hamas and Israel. They know that Netanyahu and his right-wing government are responsible for the genocide of Palestinians. Yet, they realise they are the conscience of their adults and even their university leaders.

They watch these so-called champions of democracy (the US and Germany, particularly) talk about human rights out of one side of their mouths while they provide the arms and ammunitions to kill, maim and displace a people from their homeland.

The US government is the prime contributor of arms and ammunition to Israel. Each year it contributes about $3.8 billion to Israel’s military budget. Since November of last year it contributed about $45 billion to Israel ($14.5 billion in November 2023; $14 billion in February 2024; and $17 billion last week.) Germany contributed $350 million worth of weaponry to Israel this year, “a tenfold increase on 2022 exports, most of which was approved after the Hamas attack on Israel” (Al Jazeera, March 18, 2024). Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom also supplied Israel with weapons to annihilate the Palestinians.

All of these countries are in breach of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which stipulates that they work to prevent the occurrence of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” and prohibits a country from exporting weapons to any state it suspects might use them “for genocide, crimes, and against humanity”.

In January the South African government accused Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and asked the court to order Israel to halt its military campaign in Gaza. On January 26 the court ordered Israel to adopt “provisional measures” to prevent genocide against Palestinians and to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. Balkees Jarrah, associate international director at Human Rights Watch, remarked: “The World Court’s landmark decision puts Israel and its allies on notice that immediate action is needed to prevent genocide and further atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza.”

On Thursday, the BBC reported that “Israeli officials are increasingly concerned that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is planning to seek arrest warrants for their military and political leaders on suspicion of war crimes. Reports suggest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be among them.” Previously, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin (Russia), Moammar Gadaffi (Libya) and Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord.

The ICC has also weighed in against Hamas’s atrocities. Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan, KC, of the ICC who visited the area (he toured Israeli villages where Hamas-led gunmen attacked on October 7), declared: “All actors must comply with international humanitarian law.” (BBC) Hamas, he said, had conducted “some of the most serious international crimes that shook the conscience of humanity, crimes which the ICC was established to address”.

Institutions of higher learning in the US are concerned about the anti-Semitic statements of some of the students in the pro-Palestinian protests without even mentioning their condemnation of Israeli atrocities. The latter is never mentioned in any discussion about the students’ demands. How can anti-Semitic statements, as vile as they are, be compared with the genocide in Gaza and the threat of more killing in Rafah?

The US media should stop being the propaganda mouthpiece of Israel; the US government should cease being the major supplier of arms and ammunition to Israel. It is morally blind to penalise those who struggle for justice but reward those who promote genocidal behaviour. Such double standards undermine the integrity of the leaders of US higher education.

President Joseph Biden offered a pathetic response to this crisis: “We’re a civil society and order must prevail.” Frederick Douglass’s injunction seems more relevant: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Students understand this logic instinctively.

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