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Clarissa O’Conor
From Palestine to Penn

Credit: Clarissa O'Conor

The first signs of what was to come Sunday morning came when I saw a group of elementary-aged boys throwing rocks at an unseen target down towards the apartheid wall surrounding Abu Dis.

Minutes later, everyone cleared out, and two armored Israeli military jeeps pulled up, and Israeli occupation forces soldiers piled out, beginning what can only be called an assault on the campus of Al Quds University that lasted for two hours.

Some classmates and I were eating breakfast before our next classes at a cafe right across the street and therefore had front-row seats, unable to leave the cafe for the duration of the assault. The doors and windows of the cafe were quickly shut as tear gas from the canisters shot on campus began to seep in.

As we watched from the cafe, one Israeli soldier passed by close enough for us to see him taunting the students behind the university gates as he wielded a weapon that could fire multiple tear gas canisters at once, at high speed, at students wielding only rocks beyond the gates.

Israeli soldiers even went right up to the closed gates of the university to shoot directly inside. Walking back into campus after it was over, the shattered glass of the main doors showed where some of these canisters had hit.

At one point, it became clear from the thin ends of their weapons that some soldiers were not shooting tear gas canisters anymore — they were shooting live ammunition. I could see metal casings fall to the ground as they fired. I’m not an ammunition expert, so I don’t know if the bullet casing I picked up outside the cafe is from a rubber-coated steel bullet or not. What I do know is that rubber-coated steel bullets, what Israel typically uses, can kill.

I couldn’t help but wonder to myself as this horrific scene unfolded in front of us: Why are soldiers armed to the teeth with semi-automatic machine guns assaulting a college campus? The reason Israel gives is that students were throwing rocks in response to a raid on Abu Dis.

The violent response from soldiers armed with the most advanced weaponry seems insanely out of proportion. However, when thinking about Israel’s actions in the context of its larger project of control, displacement and violence, this response makes sense.

By disrupting Palestinians’ lives through these violent means, Israel can demonstrate its power and control to destabilize Palestinians’ sense of safety and security. Israel can do whatever it wants, wherever it wants, whenever it wants and to whomever it wants, with complete impunity.

Some claim that Israel is unfairly singled out on the world stage for its crimes. It seems to me, however, that in many respects, Israel is pretty exceptional. It is the only state in the world to systematically arrest, torture and detain children. It operates an apartheid state and militarily controls a civilian population. Out of all of the injustice happening in the world today perpetrated by states, Israel is the only one to do so with the full financial and rhetorical backing of the United States, whose support is in fact vital for these practices to continue.

As such, the most important detail from what I witnessed this past Sunday morning that I can impart to you is this: As my friend picked up one of the empty tear gas canisters littering the pavement, we could read in blue lettering, “Made in U.S.A.”

In fact, these tear gas canisters that the Israeli occupation forces soldiers fired onto the Al Quds campus were manufactured only a few hours away from Penn’s campus, by Combined Tactical Systems in Jamestown, Pa. Sometimes, the United States directly sells tear gas to Israel.

In other cases, Israel can buy it with the $3 billion in U.S. military aid it receives each year, 74 percent of which must be used to purchase American products. In either case, atrocities and injustices committed on college campuses halfway around the world are made possible by what goes on right near Penn and with U.S. tax dollars.

Clarissa O’Conor is a College junior from Lititz, Pa., who is studying abroad in Palestine this fall. Her email address is View her tumblr here. “From Palestine to Penn” appears every other Tuesday.

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