In response to the ongoing Israeli colonization, occupation and bombardment of Palestinian Occupied Territories, on June 14, Seattle Education Association (SEA) representatives passed a recommendation in solidarity with the People of Palestine. Rooted in the principles of justice, human rights and equality, the recommendation calls for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel and endorses both the Palestinian call to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel and the End the Deadly Exchange Seattle campaign. The recommendation passed by a 90% yes vote of the Representative Assembly. As Palestinian and Jewish educators and members of SEA, we stand in strong support of this monumental recommendation.
The SEA recommendation is not an isolated action. Educators and institutions from around the world have come forward as part of a vibrant and growing international movement in opposition to Israeli colonization and apartheid. Weeks ago, the United Educators of San Francisco and chapter chairs of the United Teachers of Los Angeles passed similar resolutions in solidarity with Palestinians.
In 2005, 170 Palestinian civil society bodies issued a call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel, inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. As stated on the official website for the BDS movement, “the Palestinian BDS call urges nonviolent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law by meeting three demands: ending its occupation and colonization of Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel to full equality; respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” Seattle educators are answering that call and are looking to our union leadership to enact the recommendations outlined in this new business item. First steps would include educating our membership on the relevancy of this NBI to our teaching practice. We could partner with local organizations — such as Falastinyat, leaders in the most recent Block the Boat campaign and End the Deadly Exchange Seattle — as well as national organizations, like Jewish Voice for Peace. Finally, we encourage SEA to begin inventory on SEA and SPS products and investments targeted by the BDS campaign.
We understand that it is a common reflex to look at “both sides” of an issue that feels so complicated, but that sentiment mirrors the call for “All Lives Matter.” This is not complicated — this is settler-colonialism and apartheid. We cannot continue obscuring the power dynamics and systemic racism at play and equating state violence with the retaliation of the powerless. Calling for justice and holding Israel accountable for its behavior — a country that has been accused of systemic apartheid by international and Israeli human rights organizations — is the obligation of teachers across the globe. Similarly, we encourage allies to become comfortable with correcting folks when they refer to Palestinian Liberation as a “conflict” because it creates false equivalencies between oppressor and oppressed.
Palestinians are enduring a brutal Israeli occupation that has crushed the lives of millions of Palestinians and expelled hundreds of thousands from their homes. This issue may feel far away, but it is anything but. U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the Seattle Police Department, have participated in exchanges with the Israeli military and police, training with them on policies such as surveillance, restrictions of movement, repression of social movements, torture and violence. These trainings reinforce the worst practices of policing, both among Israeli police and here at home. We’ve seen these tactics carried out by the SPD in the horrific murders of Charleena Lyles, Terry Carver, Derek Hayden, Damarius Butts, Isaiah Obet, Tommy Le, Eugene Nelson, Robert J. Lightfeather and countless others who have lost their lives at the hands of the SPD. It is for this reason that we applaud the SEA endorsement of the End the Deadly Exchange Seattle Campaign, a coalition of local organizations working to end police exchanges between the Seattle Police Department and the Israeli military and police.
As an academic institution that claims educational justice for all, it is crucial that Seattle Public Schools stand with our students and families denied their right to education from Seattle to Palestine. As Palestinian and Jewish educators, we must practice international solidarity and speak out against Israel’s calculated attack on Palestinian education. Gazan students are unable to secure study permits to access educational opportunities in the West Bank, let alone internationally, forcing many students to drop out of school and repressing the academic output of Gaza. Roadblocks and curfews across the occupied territories lead to school closures for months at a time. The Israeli detention of Palestinian minors without charge or accountability disrupts Palestinian youth from accessing education and leads to deep trauma. In Seattle, we see trauma at the hands of SPD and the school-to-prison pipeline. We know BIPOC children and families are disproportionately targeted by police and incarcerated.
In the last year, SPS released two official statements in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM unequivocally stands for an end to incarceration, borders, racism, ethnic cleansing and police brutality. Israel is mobilized by incarceration, borders, racism, ethnic cleansing and police brutality. To stand with the BLM movement here is to stand with the principals of the BLM movement in a global context. The same way the United States systemically oppresses Black lives and people of color, Israel is systematically oppressing Palestinians, Afro-Palestinians and Jews of color. Israel is doing this with $4 billion dollars in aid per year from the U.S. Those who identify as Zionists cannot stand for Black Lives Matter. These two things cannot exist at the same time. Historically, some of the most iconic activists for Black liberation have irrefutably stood with Palestine and expressed the importance of Palestinian liberation.
As SEA members and educators, we are proud to stand with Palestinian families, faculty, employees and students of Seattle Public Schools. We will work to ensure that our recommendation is upheld and we call on brave individuals and institutions, like our own, to join us. With each step, our movement’s strength is growing.
Cameron Payne is a Seattle-based Palestinian-American artist and educator, raised in San Diego. Her family is from Ramallah, Palestine. Emma Klein is a SPS educator and performing artist. She is an active member of Seattle Education Association, Washington Education Association and Jewish Voice for Peace. (Rank-and-file members of the Seattle Education Association are responsible for this op-ed.)
This piece is an edited version of an op-ed originally published by Mondoweiss and the Palestine Chronicle.
Read more of the July 14-20, 2021 issue.