City of Cambridge should stand up for Palestine and dump Hewlett Packard

The City of Cambridge, Massachusetts has the chance to take action against Israeli violence and oppression at its upcoming City Council meeting Monday May 24th. At issue is a policy order re-introduced by Councilor Quinton Zondervan. Policy Order #109 would direct the City Manager to “identify any companies that are in violation of Cambridge’s policy on discrimination, including (but not limited to) Hewlett Packard Enterprise (“HPE”) and Hewlett Packard Incorporated (“HP Inc.”), and “suggest alternatives.” During the Cambridge City Council meeting on May 17th, councilors heard three hours of impassioned public comment on the order, before Councilor Patty Nolan exercised her “charter right” to delay the vote one week.

Community members first called upon Cambridge to end its contracts with HPE and HP Inc in 2016, launching a grassroots campaign called Massachusetts Against Hewlett Packard (MAHP). MAHP demanded HP Inc and HPE end their complicity in the Israeli violence and oppression against Palestinians, as well as their complicity in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s systematic criminalization and deportation of migrants and insisted Cambridge stop contracting with HPE and HP Inc to help pressure them to do so.

HPE and HP Inc supply the Israeli government with Itanium servers, which Israel uses to issue distinct identifications based on identity. Each type of identity card confers a different set of rights.  While Israeli citizens conferred the status of Jewish nationality are granted full rights, Palestinian citizens lack this status and face legalized discrimination under Israeli law. Palestinians with identifications signifying they reside in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are barred from moving to present-day Israel – even if they have families there. Palestinians living within present-day Israel face barriers to freedom of movement, freedom to marry and a segregated education system. And Palestinians with identification signifying residence in the Gaza strip are almost never allowed to leave, in spite of being predominantly refugees displaced from present-day Israel, while enduring conditions of horrific and abject poverty.

For their role in providing the Israeli government with the technological infrastructure to maintain this system of stratified citizenship, HP has been described as “The Polaroid of our Times,” evoking a comparison to Polaroid’s role in providing the passbooks that South Africa used to maintain apartheid. Recently, mainstream human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem acknowledged what Palestinians have long understood: Israel’s system of discriminatory laws and practices, including the identification system HP manages, are “apartheid.” 

In 2018, after obtaining 2,500 petition signatures and earning support of 37 progressive organizations, an aggressive opposition campaign prevented MAHP from garnering necessary support in the Cambridge City Council to pass a resolution to end city business with HP Inc and HPE. Three years later, Cambridge will have another chance. In 2021, it is even more urgent that Cambridge take this action. The realities on the ground in Palestine have become dire. In the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalm, and across Palestine, Palestinian families are facing eviction to make way for Jewish settlers, while the Israeli state violently attacks crowds of protesters, as well as worshippers in the Al-Aqsa mosque. Protests against this government sponsored forced ethnic displacement were met by Israeli state violence reminiscent of that experienced by protestors in the U.S in recent years. The Israeli military has also unleashed a massive campaign of bombing on the Gaza strip, killing over 200 people to date, and destroying neighborhoods, hospitals and schools. 

As Cantabridgians and the world witness these atrocities, we must understand: the daily structural violence of Israeli colonialism and apartheid will continue unabated unless people of conscience in Cambridge and around the world act. The last time that Cambridge acted to divest from an apartheid regime, it was to divest from Polaroid in 1979.  That time, it took Cambridge nine years to heed calls from local organizers including Caroline Hunter who testified in support of the re-introduced policy order at the hearing last Monday. Almost fifty years later, Cambridge can do better. The evidence is clear and the time is now for Cambridge to take a stand in support of freedom, equality, and justice for all Palestinians. We urge the Cambridge City Council to vote yes on Policy Order #109.

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