On March 3, 2011 the group Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign (MN BBC) attended the Minnesota's State Board of Investments' (SBI) quarterly meeting and demanded that Minnesota divest from Israel bonds on legal and moral grounds. The four members of the SBI, Governor Mark Dayton, Attorney General Lori Swanson, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, listened respectfully to 11 members of MN BBC and moved to have a face-to-face meeting with members of the group to discuss the issue. These meetings will take place in March.
Following the SBI meeting Steve Hunegs, of the Jewish Community Relations Council wrote a piece in MinnPost entitled, "Divesting from Israeli bonds is morally wrong." His arguments repeat often propagated myths and omit some important facts. Israel is a violator of human rights and international law. Numerous reports detailing these violations can be found in studies by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Israel-based human rights organization B'Tselem, and many agencies in the United Nations.
Democracy for Jews only
Israel is often called "the only democracy in the Middle East." Within the borders of Israel (that is the territory internationally known as Israel, which does not include the West Bank, Gaza, or the Golan Heights) Israel's minority Palestinian population are subject to ethnic based discriminatory laws which prevent them from purchasing, leasing, or working on most of the land (land owned by the Jewish National Fund is by law only for Jews), marrying and living with a spouse who is not an Israeli citizen, and visiting holy sites. In the United States such discriminatory laws would be found unconstitutional and struck down, but since Israel has no constitution there is no restriction on passing racist laws.
In the occupied territories two systems of laws are in effect and which system applies depends solely on ethnicity. Jewish Israelis (illegal settlers according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49), are subject to Israeli civilian law. Palestinian Christians and Muslims, living only meters away from these illegal settlements, are subject to military orders, which are random and capricious. Palestinians can be and often are subject to "administrative detention," meaning detention without charges or trial, which can last 180 days and be extended indefinitely. Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights in Israel, keeps statistics regarding the number of administrative detainees (including many children).
According to the Hague Convention of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention, military occupation is considered a temporary condition during which the occupied population is to be protected. Israel routinely violates provisions, including Article 3 (persons taking no part in hostilities shall be treated humanely), Article 33 (no protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed), Article 34 (the taking of hostages is prohibited), Article 49 (the Occupying power shall not transfer civilians into occupied territory), and many others.
The Separation Wall
In July 2004 the International Court of Justice found that Israel's construction of a wall snaking deep inside the occupied Palestinian territory violates international law and ordered Israel to cease its construction and dismantle parts already built. The ICJ noted that the wall violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other covenants.
Rather than complying with the ICJ ruling, Israel has continued building the wall. It now runs more than 400 miles within the occupied territories and completely surrounds many villages, resulting in the confiscation of thousands of acres of Palestinian land and preventing Palestinians from accessing water sources, crops, workplaces, hospitals, schools, and even neighbors.
Minnesota 's involvement
These and many more Israeli human rights violations are what we, as Minnesotans, pay for with our investments in Israel bonds that total more than $18 million. The money from these investments goes into Israel's general treasury and is used in projects like the wall, infrastructure, including roads and water distribution networks in the occupied territories which benefit only illegal Israeli settlers, and result in severe hardship, loss of land and livelihood for Palestinians.
If Hunegs believes, as he claims, that he is "work[ing] toward the realization of a two-state solution -- a safe and secure Israel side by side a free and democratic Palestinian state," why does he support investing in projects which make this solution impossible? These are projects which illegally appropriate Palestinian land, confine Palestinians into non-contiguous areas, and devastate the Palestinian economy. No Palestinian state can arise with those impediments; therefore the only conclusion to be drawn is that those who want to continue investing in these projects do not want a Palestinian state or Palestinian self-determination at all, despite the mantric repetition of those words.
After the US veto of the settlement resolution in the UN two weeks ago, and nearly 20 years of "negotiations," it should be clear to all that we can no longer wait for governments to comply with human rights laws on their own.
Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign (MN BBC) was founded to follow the Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) until Israel complies with international law. BDS is a non-violent tactic, modeled after the international BDS movement instrumental in ending South African Apartheid, which allows all of us, citizens of the world, to put pressure on governments to change their policies.