You just have to be human: Resisting apartheid & occupation

By Dov Baum

Note: Dalit Baum, AFSC’s Director of Economic Activism and an Israeli Jew, was one of the founders of Who Profits, an organization that researches companies that profit from the occupation of Palestinian territory. In this post she writes about the passbook system in South Africa and the ID system in Israel, both established to control, segregate, and limit movement. Boycotts and divestment are one way to take a moral stand against and resist the practices of companies benefitting from the oppression of a targeted group.  - Lucy

When Caroline Hunter and Ken Williams first saw the mockup of a South African passbook in a Polaroid lab, they recognized it. It was almost a decade after the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in which South African police killed 69 black protestors in a peaceful rally against passbooks. At the time, all black South Africans were required to carry these ID permit books, which were used to restrict their employment and movement and to concentrate them into arid ‘homeland’ areas.

Polaroid & HP boycott flyer

After exposing the complicity of Polaroid, their employer, in producing these symbols of Apartheid, Caroline and Ken launched a national campaign asking the company to withdraw from all business in South Africa. Until the company withdrew, they asked people not to buy Polaroid products or invest in the company. “You don’t have to be black,” they said. “You just have to be human.” Seven year later, Polaroid became the first U.S. company to divest from South Africa.

When I asked Caroline Hunter about the acronym on their old pamphlets, P.A.N.I.C, in an interview last year, she laughed dryly. People against National ID Cards, she said, because IDs are never for the people. I know IDs. All citizens or residents of my country, Israeli or Palestinian, are required to carry an ID at all times. Mine is a blue Israeli ID, but the registry for all residents, in Israel or Palestine, Tel Aviv, or Gaza, is managed by the Israeli authorities. Polaroid cameras and paper passes are obsolete now; ID and database technologies are far more advanced, and far more privatized. The Israeli ID registry is managed and operated by Hewlett-Packard Company. Hewlett-Packard is the Polaroid of our times.

Qalandia checkpoint

Jewish Israelis and Palestinians live side by side all across the land of Israel/ Palestine, in more or less equal numbers. However, in most areas of that land, towns and villages are strictly segregated, the legal system relates differently to Jews and non-Jews, Palestinian movement and political organizing are severely restricted. The segregation and legal discrimination reach their violent extreme in the occupied Palestinian territory, where shrinking Palestinian enclaves are besieged by walls and checkpoints and terrorized by the Israeli military.

To distinguish between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, this racist system relies on IDs and a very elaborate system of permits, and movement restrictions. The HP registry records ethnicity and all IDs display it in various formats. Discrimination and segregation among Israeli citizens is also maintained that way: some kids are never allowed into the big city mall, most are not allowed to enter other occupied territories,some people can never buy land, or even get a loan in the bank.

Woman using HP hand scanner at a military checkpoint

When the Israeli military first installed bulky identification scanners in its military checkpoints across the occupied Palestinian territory, I never stopped to look at them. As an Israeli Jewish citizen of Israel, the long lines of Palestinians waiting to cross over to the next town, to school, and to work were almost invisible to me. I would drive past them in my Israeli-plated car, slowing only to wave to the soldiers.

More than a decade later, the checkpoints have become “terminals” – fortress mazes of cement and surveillance technologies. The biometric identification technologies once developed for the subjugation and control of the occupied Palestinians were expanded to monitor all residents and citizens of Israel/ Palestine. The original biometric ID system for checkpoints, the Basel system, was an HP system. The new biometric ID system, designed for the entire population, is another HP operation.

Picketing HP at a shareholder meeting

Like other high-tech companies, HP has been expanding into homeland security and control technologies, which now constitute more than half of its revenues. HP is the main IT supplier to the Israeli military, and worldwide it develops and sells IT systems specifically designed for the belligerent control of populations presumed to be uncooperative or hostile. These include the supply of Offender Management Systems to state and private prisons, including the California Department of Corrections and Corrections Corporation of America, and the development of IT tools for immigration status checks for the Department of Homeland Security. Such technologies make policing and governing all around us function more and more like the practices of a foreign military occupation.

As Caroline said, you don’t need to be black, or Palestinian, or Israeli. You just have to be human. We need to set clear red lines to dissuade companies such as HP from human rights abuses in Palestine as well as in other conflict zones, and this will curb the spread of the same technologies here at home.

The coalition to stop HP logo

The AFSC and Friends Fiduciary Corporation divested from Hewlett-Packard two years ago. Last year, we were joined by four regional conferences of the United Methodist Church, and just recently by the Presbyterian Church USA. This comes after at least seven years of recorded interfaith engagement efforts with the company. The AFSC has joined over a hundred nonprofits nation-wide, calling upon the company to withdraw from its business in the Israeli occupation, and pledging not to buy any more HP products until that time.

Hewlett-Packard boasts a strong human rights policy on its website, but this year it has declined to even meet with us and hear our concerns. Our only power is in noncooperation, we must stop supporting this corporation as consumers or as investors, in order to encourage HP to reassess its complicity in war, racist segregation, and occupation.