2 April, 2011
Desmond M. Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa gestures during the session 'Believing in the Dignity of All' at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, February 1, 2009.
Dear University of Arizona Community,
I am writing today to express my wholehearted support of the students in No Más Muertes/No More Deaths humanitarian/migrant-rights group and their institutional statement advocating divestment or business severance from the Caterpillar and Motorola corporations. I appreciate their insistence for your school to terminate this relationship on the grounds of these companies providing military-style technology and assistance to U.S. forces committing systematic abuses in Arizona and nationwide. I also think it is important that the students are highlighting these same companies that provide similar technology and assistance for Israel to use in its illegal military occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands.
When an immigrant is criminalized in Arizona or elsewhere in the U.S. for not having the right papers as he tries to make a living, I stand with him. When a Palestinian man stands for hours at an Israeli military checkpoint in order to get to his job and make a living, I stand with him. And I ask you to stand with me, with them, as the students are at the threshold of a new movement that seeks justice by withdrawing support for injustice.
I am not speaking from an ivory tower. Degradation and humiliation of innocent people harassed over their “legal” status and documentation was prevalent throughout the reign of Apartheid. We lived it—police waking an individual up in the middle of the night and hauling him/her off to jail for not having his/her documents on hand while s/he slept. The fact that they were in his/her nightstand near the bed was not good enough.
In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom and just peace without the help of people around the world, who, through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. Students played a leading role in that struggle, and I write this letter with a special indebtedness to and earnest gratitude for your school, the University of Arizona, for its role in advocating equality in South Africa and promoting corporate ethical and social responsibility to end complicity in Apartheid.
The same issue of equality is what motivates the students’ divestment movement today, linking the issues of immigrant/indigenous rights in the U.S. and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The movement students are leading in Arizona to better the conditions there and in Palestine is politically refreshing and should be an inspiration to us all.
It was with immense joy that I learned of the massive mock apartheid wall the students erected through your campus to bring these issues to the forefront. The students cleverly label their mock border wall “Concrete Connections” to symbolize the intersection of interests that guide U.S. policy in militarized Arizona and in Israeli-occupied Palestine.
I was reminded of how similarly touched I was when I visited American campuses like yours in the 1980s and saw students creating mock shanty towns and demonstrating in the baking sun to protest the brutal conditions of Apartheid. Is my hope that the creative action by the students will inspire a new movement of mock walls dividing campuses across the U.S. to show how the militarized border not only runs along Arizona and the Southwestern region but everywhere in the United States where communities of immigrants, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities are raided, abused or exploited. Such demonstrations can also show that in every corner of the United States sits the potential to help end the Israeli occupation by withdrawing U.S. funding and support which makes it possible.
The abuses faced by people in Arizona and in Palestine are real, and no person should be offended by principled, morally consistent, non-violent acts to oppose them. It is no more wrong to call out the U.S. governments—at the federal and Arizona state levels—for their abuses in Arizona and throughout the country than it was to call out the Apartheid regime for its abuses. Nor is it wrong to single out Israel for its abuses in the occupied Palestinian territory as it was to single out the Apartheid regime for its abuses.
I am writing to tell you that, despite what detractors may allege, the students are on the right track and are doing the right thing. They are doing the moral thing. They are doing that which is incumbent on them as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings.
With these truths and principles in mind, I join with the students in No Más Muertes and implore your school to divest any form of business investment, whether stocks, bonds, or other business agreements, from companies such as Caterpillar and Motorola, as a symbolic gesture of non-participation in conditions and practices that are abominable. To those who wrongly accuse us of unfairness or harm done to them by this call for divestment, I suggest, with humility, that the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one’s own pales in comparison to the harm done by living a life under occupation and daily denial of basic rights and dignity.
It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli and U.S./AZ governments, but with hope, a hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians—for migrant, indigenous, and all peoples regardless of immigration status; a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the resulting violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, and where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation. True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute, including national citizenship. Students are helping to pave that path to a just peace and they deserve your support. I encourage you to stand firm on the side of what is right.
God bless you.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (Cape Town, South Africa)