By Nesha Z. Haniff
[The following is a transcript of Professor Haniff’s address to the University of Michigan’s student governing body in regards to divestment from corporations profiting off of the Israeli occupation of Palestine]
I have felt the injustices suffered by the Palestinians so deeply and viscerally for so many years that now when I hear reports on anything Israeli/Palestine I turn away because I become engulfed in a wave of defeat and helplessness. It is never good news. It is never a fair and just rendering. At these times I feel like a victim, a construct against which I have devoted my entire life. I, so privileged and fortunate and empowered have no tools, no coping mechanism, no psychological ploy to extricate myself from this space and so I turn away, pretending that if I don’t hear it and see it that I can laugh and live. But it is real, deep in my conscience. I live this every time I get on a plane to go somewhere and my body has to be photographed, every time I have to think about the fluids I cannot pack, every time I must take off my shoes and feel the cold floor of the airport. No one can convince me that the palpable injustice suffered everyday by the Palestinians is not at the heart of this. Religion may be the tool but this injustice is the driver.
I am aware of the Palestinians own implosion, of the Hamas, Fatah discord, and the bickering of the many Palestinian factions; of the great hypocrisy and ineptness of the Arab league and the privileging of oil over brotherhood, bravery and justice. The current Arab uprisings are just a small expression of very long and deep wounds. It is ironic that the Nobel prize winner Tawakkul Karman, the Yemeni activist spoke at the University yesterday. That the prize was given to a woman is a signal that yes women are engaged in the struggle everyday in just making their families and societies survive, yet these same women bear the brunt of a brutal masculinity and the Palestinian struggle itself has been couched in a masculinity that can find no other way of resisting than violence. And the University of Michigan is proud to publicly wave her presence as a sign of their intellectual and Arab inclusiveness while at the same time investing in Israel colluding with policies of oppression and dehumanization. This act unmasks as a front the University’s great liberal agenda premised on dubious investments.
You cannot live in America and not know or understand Israel’s case or position- that they must defend themselves because they are living in the midst of those who do not want Israel to exist. On the one hand Some Palestinians do say this, but that Israel does exist, and has friends in high places that ensure their existence – that they have the weapons, and the funds that are necessary to do this exposes the emptiness of this mantra. On the other hand Israel does not have to say that they do not want Palestine to exist they can just simply build everywhere they wish and slowly erase it. Those Palestinians who continue to say that Israel should not exist are not in touch with reality.
When I received a letter from a student from the school of Public health to come here and support their campaign to publicly advance a University of Michigan financial disengagement, I was first taken aback by their bravery by their effrontery. It did cross my mind that I should not do this. But I decided to do this because it was the one time when I can actually stand up and throw my small pebble against the sea. I can for three minutes no longer be a victim of my conscience and turn away. I asked the student how many people that she asked to come and speak here responded. She told me no one. When I told a few of my friends that I was doing this they began to shift in their chairs and make funny comments about my going underground. Why is there such fear to speak against injustice when it involves Israel by privileged educated folk who know that there is grave injustice here. I know there are more Jews in Israel who oppose what is happening in Palestine than we see here in the US. I am reminded at this moment of Martin Luther King Junior’s statement in his letter from a Birmingham jail:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”
I am here to support the students campaign to financially disengage from Israel for several reasons:
1. As a teacher I try to politicize my students about their responsibility towards injustice and the courage they must have to at least speak and not collude with injustice by their silence. How can I be silent myself when offered this opportunity to speak a true word.
2. I often feel helpless, that I pay my taxes which are used to wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and yes fund Israel. I silently subscribe to policies because the hegemony of America is like a tsunami that engulfs us all. How can I fight the sea.
3. I am a product of the University of Michigan. I was a young girl when I went on strike during BAM 1. I have gone to school here and have taught here for years. I can throw a rock at this investment in Israel and stand with the three students who dare to say no to this. Perhaps if enough of us throw rocks we can act upon and change the shape of this investment so it can reflect what we want. We must not only be good at resisting but good at creating. Bring us to the table and let us reason with you. Exclusion is undemocratic.
I do this for myself, my university and those of us who want an America that conducts itself with an even hand.
I do this also for my students in whom I have tried to instill a passion for social justice. To them and to you, I leave you with these words of Ernesto Che Guevara in a letter he left for his children.
Your father has been a man that acted according to his beliefs and certainly been faithful to his convictions.
Grow up as good revolutionaries. Study hard to able to dominate techniques that permit the domination of nature. Remember that the Revolution is what is important and that each one of us, on our own, is worthless.
Above all, try always to be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against any person in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.
Nesha Z. Haniff
November 15, 2011