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Divesting From Peace

Guest Column Rami Sabet Mangoubi

The petition demanding that Harvard and MIT divest from Israel as well as companies involved with Israel until it fulfills four particular demands is unjust and hurts peace efforts.

The first demand requires Israel to be in compliance with United Nations Resolution 242 that notes the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war, and which calls for withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from occupied territories.

Resolution 242 is intentionally worded so as to allow for various interpretations as to the extent of required Israeli withdrawal. Israel agreed at Taba to extensive withdrawal. Regrettably, Yasser Arafat rejected the Taba proposals, without presenting any of his own. He opted instead for violence.

Further, not even total withdrawal satisfies Arab governments. Israel withdrew from Lebanon totally, as the United Nations certified. Following the withdrawal, Syria, much to the chagrin of many Lebanese, enabled Hizbullah to set up a large network of military bases along the border, and encouraged attacks on Israel from Lebanon. In one incident, terrorists crossed the U.N.-certified borders, targeted a passenger bus, and murdered six Israeli civilians. Hizbullah is publicly committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Yet the petition does not demand that MIT divest from Lebanon and Syria, or from companies doing business with them, until attacks from Lebanon stop, now that total withdrawal is complete.

The second demand requires that Israel be “in compliance with the United Nations Committee Against Torture 2001 Report.”

This item singles out Israel. The abhorrent practice of torture and mistreatment of detainees is pervasive. The U.S. has been accused of torturing one of its citizens, John Walker, before he was brought home from Afghanistan. Egypt uses torture on a routine basis against the regime’s opponents, before executing them. Cutting off the hands of alleged thieves and flogging prisoners are acts of torture that are legal in Saudi Arabia, and carried out in public squares. Yet the petition does not demand that MIT divest from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and from companies doing business with them, such as the oil giants.

The third demand states that “Israel ceases building new settlements, and vacates existing settlements, in the Occupied Territories.”

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wanted to sign a final agreement suggested by Clinton and supported by Mubarak at Taba. The proposal deals with the settlement issue, and Arafat’s advisors wanted their leader to sign as well. Arafat refused. Mubarak stated in a TV interview that had Clinton not left office, peace thanks to Taba would be here. This item on the petition encourages rejecters and hurts the chances of recovering that peace.

The fourth and final item on the petition requires Israel to “acknowledge in principle the applicability of United Nations Resolution 194 with respect to the rights of refugees, and accepts that refugees should either be allowed to return to their former lands or else be compensated for their losses.”

Israel is willing to offer compensation to the refugees, and former President Clinton offered tens of billions of dollars for Arab refugees. Arafat refused. He wanted enough refugees to settle in Israel so as to cause a demographic imbalance that would negate the U.N. resolution declaring Israel a Jewish state.

Regrettably, this petition item is inherently prejudiced; Resolution 194 refers only to Arab refugees from Israel without even acknowledging the existence of Jewish refugees from Arab countries, let alone their suffering and right to compensation for belongings. Throughout the ages Jews in Arab countries and Iran have suffered massacres (e.g., Granada, 1066, Demnat, 1875, Cairo, 1940s), expulsions (e.g., Kairawan, 1016), destruction of synagogues (e.g., Baghdad, 14th century, Tripolitania, 1897), and forced conversion (e.g., Mashad, 19th century). According to the Columbia History of the World, theologians and demagogues in the Arab world “produced an anti-Jewish literature that was informed by a hatred of Jews and Judaism that in no way falls short of its Christian counterpart.” In addition, Arab intellectuals embraced the anti-Semitism of 19th century Europe. During the 20th century, Nazi propaganda spread, and massacres took place. For instance, in June of 1941, during the pro-Nazi rule of Rashid Ali in Iraq, 175 Jews were killed and about 900 houses destroyed. After the U.N. allowed Jews to have a state, hostility intensified further. About 900,000 Jews living under Arab rule fled, mostly to Israel. Most lost their property. Those who stayed behind continued to suffer. The Egyptian government, the country’s main employer, stopped hiring Jews in the 1950s. Jewish students in Arab public schools had to recite anti-Jewish poems in front of their teachers and classmates, and were beaten on a regular basis. When Saddam Hussein came to power in the late 1960s, he celebrated by hanging about ten Jews, along with a few opponents, in Baghdad’s main square. In the late sixties, Egyptian authorities incarcerated adult Jewish males in the notorious Camps of Abu Zaabal, and later Tura. For several months, their families did not know where they were. They experienced torture, and some of the younger ones were sexually molested. For several years, the authorities demanded conversion from Judaism in exchange for release from Tura. Only one person chose that option. Later, Israel and the U.S. were able to free them by bribing Egypt’s former President Nasser. Today, Arab states are almost totally clean of Jews. The media, often falsely accused of being under heavy Jewish influence, almost never showed interest. The U.N. never investigated. The U.N. spends huge sums supporting Arab refugees incarcerated by Arab governments in refugee camps, and not one penny went to Jewish refugees.

Jews originating from Arab countries comprise almost half of Israel’s population. With such history, how can any prime minister accede to this morally selective demand in the petition while looking straight at the eyes of these citizens? Should the petition not ask Harvard and MIT to divest from Arab countries and companies doing business with them until their governments compensate Jews who fled their countries? Instead, the petitioners target the country that gave them refuge.

That four Israelis or so are supportive of the petition makes it no less unjust and one-sided. When a group is embattled and incessantly attacked, the image can feed back to some of its members. For example, during the 1980s some high-profile women worked hard to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Does that imply those opponents of the ERA support women’s rights? Other examples of the same phenomenon exist.

Divestment from Israel is unjust since Israel accepted an offer at Taba that Arafat’s advisors wanted him to sign too, but Arafat refused. The petition motivates Arab hardliners to become more unreasonably demanding. The petition does not even ask MIT to divest from companies doing business with Saudi Arabia until it stops rewarding with thousands of dollars mothers and fathers who send their children on suicide missions; nor does it call for divestment from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, countries whose intolerant educational system produces Sept. 11 terrorists.

Rami Mangoubi ’78 was an undergraduate in mechanical engineering and a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics.