Olivia Katbi Smith hands a megaphone to Mohammed Nabil during the emergency protest for Gaza at Pioneer Square. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard

Activists call for U.S., Oregon to sever ties with Israel after continued attacks on Gaza

Activists gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square on Nov. 23 to protest the United State’s involvement with Israel after Israel’s continuing attacks on Gaza.

Members of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Portland State chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace, among others, spoke on cutting ties with Israeli companies, boycotting businesses and promoting legislature that ends the American military-industrial complex funding of Israel. 

The rally also called out the crimes perpetuated by Israel against Gaza—a self-governing Palestinian territory—in the last few weeks, including bombings and the deaths of over 32 Palestinians in air raids, according to Al Jazeera

Mohammed Nabil, a Gazan refugee, said that Israel controls every single aspect of life—including food, water, electricity and transportation— for the 2 million people living in Gaza and has been doing so for 15 years. 

“The year 2020 is coming…,” Nabil said. “In 2012, the UN issued a report saying in 2020, Gaza will be not livable. In 2012, Gaza was not livable because of the atrocities of the Israeli occupation. Right now, Gaza is a disaster zone.”

Nabil also said when events happen in Gaza, it’s considered a crisis, but the crisis actually starts when attention stops being focused on Gaza. 

“You hear about the killing, you hear about the injuries, you hear about the home demolition, but you’re not dealing with the aftermath,” Nabil said. “You’re not dealing with the…consequences that they are facing in their day to day life.” 

“Every single aspect of life of the Gazan people have been violated over and over and over, and we need to stop it.” 

The speakers also addressed and denounced local, state and national involvement in Israel. 

“If you pay taxes in America, you are complicit in this,” DSA member Olivia Katbi Smith said. “We give nearly $4 [billion] a year to the Israeli military…it is not aid, it is direct funding.” 

Smith criticized Portland’s ties to Israel, saying Police Chief Danielle Outlaw has participated in ADL police trainings, and the city has a contract with G4S, a private defense company with ties to Israel.

“It is our duty to stand up against this,” Smith said. 

Elana Rae Goldman, co-founder of JVPPSU, encouraged boycotting companies in Portland and holding PSU accountable for their ties with Israel.

“There are free trips to Israel that you can take if you’re a student at PSU which goes completely against the 2016 BDS resolution that was passed that people worked tirelessly to support and fight for,” Goldman said, referencing a resolution passed in the Associated Students of Portland State University senate supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

Activists also called out Oregon’s ties with Israel.

“The state of Oregon has a state investment fund that funds most of our public employee’s pensions,” said Paige Kreisman, a candidate for the Oregon State Legislature running against incumbent Rob Nosse.  

“The state investment fund is deeply, deeply invested in the military-industrial complex. To the tune of millions of dollars, our tax money is going to buy bombs that are dropped on children. There [are] not any state legislators talking about this. It’s silent.” 

DSA member Albert Lee, who is running for U.S. Congress to unseat Earl Blumenauer, said Israel is cumulatively the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the form of military assistance, making the U.S. complicit in the violation of Palestinian human rights. 

Lee also stressed supporting House Resolution 2407, which would end funding to Israel “assisting in the separation and detention of Palestinian children.” 

“The money that we give to Israel is tied to them spending on military training, on military equipment…so that a few may profit while others suffer,” Lee said. “We’ve got to end this.” 

Lee also said representatives in the U.S. on both sides are supported by political action committees like JStreetPac, a pro-Israel PAC established to promote American leadership in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Both sides take money from these lobbyists and then they turn their backs away from the atrocities that Palestinian people have been suffering,” Lee said. 

On Nov. 18, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the reversal of U.S. policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, going against international law to declare them legal.  

“We cannot rely on the U.S. administration anymore,” Nabil said. “We cannot rely on what’s called the international community. If we want to do some change, we have to take matters into our own hands.” 

Nabil said if a person can do something, they are inclined to do it, because their tax money is going toward Israel. 

“Any [effort] matters because the Palestinians’ lives matter and because what’s going on is going to be a disaster and it will not stop unless we stop it,” Nabil said.