UCSC Astronomers Reject Researchers’ Complicity with the Genocide of Palestine

This letter is written 100 days and 75 years since the beginning of the Israeli state’s genocide and ethnic cleansing of occupied Palestine. After 57 years of colonization of Palestinian land in the West bank; after 16 years of siege on the Gaza strip; after Palestinians have been subjugated under a dehumanizing apartheid state on their own ancestral lands,[1] we now watch with horror as the Israeli government (hereafter referred to as “Israel”) accelerates its project of genocide under an international spotlight. Since renewed Israeli aggression on October 7 2023, at least 31,497 Palestinians have been killed – 92% of whom are civilians, and nearly half of whom are children.[2] This is a staggering number – compare this to the infamously deadly Syrian Civil War, with a 25-38% civilian casualty rate.[3] 

As internationally banned white phosphorus bombs rained down on Gaza,4 a call to action came from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions to end our complicity with the slaughter:

“Palestinian trade unions call on our counterparts internationally and all people of conscience to end all forms of complicity with Israel’s crimes – most urgently halting the arms trade with Israel, as well as all funding and military research. […] This urgent, genocidal situation can only be prevented by a mass increase of global solidarity with the people of Palestine and that can restrain the Israeli war machine.” [5]

As people of conscience who love life and wish to see it protected, as astrophysicists who keenly understand just how precious and lonely life is in the vast universe, and as researchers who are made complicit in Israel’s war crimes by our university’s investments and research products, we can no longer in good faith engage in academic research that enables the murder and subjugation of our siblings around the globe.

We, academic workers of the UC Santa Cruz Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, commit to demilitarizing our research by:

(1) withholding academic labor benefiting militarism; 

(2) refusing research collaboration with federal military institutions as well as private arms and defense companies;

(3) calling upon faculty and PIs within our department to disclose funding sources, resist suppression of political speech, and support their students in divesting their labor in the pursuit of ethical research.

The United States military is Israel’s greatest supporter. Without the U.S., Israel’s military infrastructure, which is actively being used for the mass slaughter of civilians in the West Bank, Gaza, and targets outside occupied Palestine, would crumble. To date, the U.S. has sent $158 billion (non-inflation adjusted) in bilateral aid, 86% of which flows into the Israeli military – the U.S. is single-handedly bankrolling one sixth of Israel’s military budget.[6] 

Our University of California holds an ugly place in this ecosystem of blood money. UC has received $295 million in research funding from the Department of Defense in FY 2022 alone.[7]** UC Santa Cruz alone received $10.5 million in FY 2022.[8] In return, the products of our research lubricate the churning gears of the war machine.

Technology that astronomers have developed for science is being misused to surveil and target people both within and outside the U.S. While astronomers prefer to look up, airborne and satellite military surveillance look down, using many of the same optics, image processing techniques, and controls used by astronomical satellites and developed by astronomers. Hyperspectral imagers (known as integral field spectrographs to us) were first developed by astronomers[9] and have been workhorses for our field since – but they are also used for identifying and surveilling targets[10] (and proposed for use in facial recognition[11]). Adaptive optics, independently invented by military and civilian astronomers, can de-blur images taken through the Earth’s atmosphere, allowing ever more precise surveillance[12] – which curtails the freedom of everyone, from civilian protesters[13] to occupied Palestinians.[14]

Beyond astronomy, the UCSC Applied Mathematics department received a 5-year $170,000 grant for “Mathematical Analysis Of Human Response To Millimeter Wave Heating.” The nightmarish weapon using this heating effect already exists and is in use by the U.S. Military – the Active Denial System (ADS) is a millimeter wave ranged weapon that causes heating and intolerable pain in its target, and has been proposed for use in both active combat and controlling protesters.[15] 

UC’s continuing unwillingness to divest from Israel[16] as it commits genocide under an international spotlight demonstrates that, unlike us, they are not bothered by the suffering that our research actively propagates. 

Demilitarizing education is an ethical priority: our research enables the surveillance and slaughter of our Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghani, and Syrian siblings with ever-greater efficiency. Further, demilitarizing education is a climate crisis priority: the U.S. military’s emissions are greater than those of entire industrialized countries,[17] and there is no teaching and learning on a dead planet. Universities must put their monetary and intellectual resources towards building a world where war is not necessary, not stoking the flames of rabid militarism. 

We call on the University of California to divest its money from apartheid, genocide, and militarism. Cut the flow of money and intellectual property from UC’s coffers into those of the US military, defense companies, and the apartheid state of Israel. 

We call on UC faculty to divest their research from apartheid, genocide, and militarism. 

  • At minimum, disclose all sources of funding that support your research and students. Support students who wish to divest their intellectual labor in pursuit of ethical science.
  • Fight to withhold your research and patents from military applications. Campaign your institutions to reclaim ownership of your intellectual property and its applications – it’s your research, you deserve to control its use.
  • Disclose and critically consider your collaborations with Israeli universities. Isolating individual researchers is unacceptable punishment that conflates an individual with their institution; however, universities are institutions that launder money, intellectual property, and prestige for the countries in which they are based. Academic collaboration is tacit approval of these institutions’ complicity, theft, and violence.

We call on all academic workers everywhere – graduate students, postdocs, lecturers, faculty – to divest their labor from apartheid, genocide, and militarism. 

  • Think critically about why the fruits of your labor are enticing to military funders, and work to prevent your beautiful science from being used for inhumane purposes.
  • Spread these actions beyond our own department and into yours. Here is our Action Packet to help you get started!

Solidarity forever. Within our lifetimes, Palestine will be free.

Isabel Kain, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Malik Bossett, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Douglas dos Santos Grion Filho, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Tenley Hutchinson-Smith, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Anonymous Graduate Student, UAW 2865
Anonymous Graduate Student, UAW 2865
Kyle Davis, Graduate Student Worker, UAW 2865
Nicholas Scarsdale, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Alexandra Mannings, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Deno Stelter, Assistant Project Scientist, UAW 5810
Tyler Gordon, Postdoctoral Fellow, UAW 5810
Madelyn Broome, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Anonymous Graduate Student Worker, UAW 2865
Sierra Dodd, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Anonymous Graduate Student Worker, UAW 2865
Mikayla Wilson, Graduate Student Worker
Kendall Sullivan, Postdoctoral Scholar, UAW 5810
Maissa Salama, Postdoctoral Scholar, UAW 5810
Anonymous Graduate Student, UAW 2865
Anonymous Postdoctoral Scholar, UAW 5810
Anonymous Graduate Student, UAW 2865
Diego Garza, Graduate Student Worker, UAW 2865
Sven Heydenreich, Postdoctoral Scholar, UAW 5810
Anne Dattilo, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Pedro Jesus Quiñonez, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Alejandra Rosselli-Calderon, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Prasiddha Arunachalam
Jules Fowler, graduate student worker, UAW 2865
Anonymous Graduate Student, UAW 2865
Anonymous Faculty Member
Anonymous Faculty Member
Anonymous Staff Member
Anonymous Postdoctoral Scholar, UAW 5810

**Corrigendum:

• In the original letter, we stated: “UC has received $25.86 billion in research funding from the Department of Defense in FY 2023 alone.[7]” This has now been corrected to “$295 million in research funding from the Department of Defense in FY 2022 alone” and the link to reference [7] updated.

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