Purdue University professor Bill Mullen traveled to Palestine with a delegation of academics organized by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to find out about the obstacles facing Palestinian students and educators. Published first at Socialist Worker.
AT 4:45 a.m. on the morning of August 2, 2009, the family of Miraym Al-Ghawi was awakened by pounding on the door of their home in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. A small bomb was detonated, throwing open the door. Through it walked masked and armed Israeli commandoes, who dragged the Al-Ghawis, including the six Al-Ghawi children, into the night.
They collected the family’s belongings in trucks and dumped them outside the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, where they were ransacked. The Al-Ghawi’s youngest child, age 4, stood and watched as commandoes set fire to her bed and her playthings. The daughter still cannot sleep without her mother. Medical experts have diagnosed her ailment as “settler trauma.”
Miraym Al-Ghawi told us this story as we visited Palestine as part of a delegation sponsored by the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI). Five U.S. professors from the delegation, myself included, talked with the Al-Ghawis in Sheikh Jarrah, once one of the liveliest Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Since 1967, however, nearly 9,000 Palestinians have lost their residency rights in East Jerusalem, 15 Israeli settlements have been built, and Palestinians now have access to less than 15 percent of the available land. The Al-Ghawi family is one of four families in East Jerusalem evicted since 2008 as part of Israel’s annexation, settlement and “de-Arabization” plan for Palestine.
The plan has been effective: unemployment among Palestinians in East Jerusalem is now nearly 35 percent, while the poverty rate is nearly 50 percent. Palestinians in East Jerusalem make up about 35 percent of the population and pay 33 percent of all municipal taxes, while the Israeli municipality spends less than 5 percent on services for East Jerusalem.
A 163-kilometer “separation wall” in Jerusalem denies more than 22,000 residents easy access to their work and markets. There are currently more than 270 Palestinian prisoners from East Jerusalem and 197 detainees. Eight of the prisoners are children.
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ISRAEL’S COLONIZATION of Palestine is a de facto totalitarianism meant to strangle decades of resistance by an entire people. But it has not succeeded.
After her eviction, for example, Miraym Al-Ghawi set up a tent near a fig tree outside their former residence and in defiance stayed there for six months. On 17 occasions, the municipality forced her to tear down the tent; 17 times, she rebuilt. She has repeatedly paid out fines levied against her private “occupation” of her own former home.
Today, she rents an apartment in a neighborhood near Sheikh Jarrah, but comes every day to sit near her old residence in order to demonstrate her refusal to be displaced. She remains engaged in a court battle for her house even as parking lots and playgrounds are built in Sheikh Jarrah for newly arrived settlers on confiscated Palestinian land.
And this is just one story of the terror and violence of the Israeli police state that saturates daily life under occupation.
On a Sunday morning in Hebron, for example, we walked through a Palestinian open market along Shuhada Street. The street sits beside the Ibrahim Mosque, where in 1994 American-born Zionist settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Arab worshippers and wounded 125 others. The massacre set off Palestinian riots and protests in which Israeli soldiers murdered 19 more Palestinians.
The street, known as Apartheid Street by locals, has now been closed off at numerous access points by Israeli security forces in order to stop or monitor Palestinian movement, protect newly arrived settlers and restrict commerce. Checkpoints, concrete blocks and impromptu walls appear at nearly every turn.
The market itself is under constant siege by settlers who live above street level and throw trash, feces and even acid onto merchants and shoppers below. Numerous storefronts along the street are closed. Israeli police sealed one of them shut because a demonstration was held at the site.
As we walked through the marketplace, Israeli soldiers perched overhead on street corners and at one point marched two abreast in three rows straight through the market center. No detail escapes the attention of Israeli authorities–even a 100-meter stretch of sidewalk is divided by a three-foot wall, Palestinians on one side, settlers on the other. Children as young as 2 peddled “Palestine” bracelets on the streets as they tried to help their families scratch out an existence in a strangulated economy.
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THE USACBI campaign began in 2009 in response to the call by Palestinian civil society to join the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel. It supports and models the mission statement created in 2004 by PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. The original PACBI statement read in part:
Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression, we, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.
These nonviolent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
USACBI supports each of the above principles and calls for a number of measures to demonstrate support for them. For example, the campaign asks signatories to:
1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by academic institutions, and place pressure on your own institution to suspend all ties with Israeli universities, including collaborative projects, study abroad, funding and exchanges.
The USACBI call has thus far been signed by nearly 600 U.S. professors, 200 cultural workers, 200 international supporters and 44 organizations. It seeks to point out that the Israeli occupation has damaged or destroyed academic or intellectual freedom, especially for Palestinians living under occupation.
For example, Israel routinely restricts the movement of Palestinian students, forcing them to attend apartheid schools, making them pass through walls and checkpoints on a daily basis, and severely limiting their ability to choose a university within Israel/Palestine or to study abroad.
Israel has severely restricted the number of students from Gaza who may attend Birzeit University, the most prestigious research university in the West Bank. Palestinian students who do travel abroad to study or seek re-entry to Palestine are often labeled “security risks” or denied entry.
Palestinian universities like Birzeit in Ramallah consistently face a “crisis of funding,” according to university president Khalil Hindi, with whom we met on our delegation visit. Though the universities operate under Israeli occupation, the Palestinian Authority is the sole source of funds for the university, and Israel provides nothing.
Israeli academics, meanwhile, often produce research that colludes with the occupation regime, while the state heavily monitors what Palestinian scholars can produce. We met with a group of scholars at the Mada al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa. The center’s advisory board chair Dr. Nadim Rouhana told us that the activities of the Mada Center are heavily monitored by Israel, while Palestinian scholars attached to Mada often work or study in Israeli universities that reproduce intellectual and social apartheid.
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IN ADDITION to attacking the absence of academic freedom in Palestine, USACBI seeks to illuminate the structural relationship between Israeli apartheid and higher education as it impacts Palestinians. As Palestinian scholar George Bisharat has written:
Many Israeli academic institutions either benefit from, or participate in, Israeli government actions that violate Palestinian rights. For example, Tel Aviv University sits in part on land belonging to Sheikh Muwannis, a Palestinian village whose residents were expelled by Jewish militias or fled in fear in March 1948. Hebrew University in Jerusalem uses over 800 acres of land illegally expropriated from Palestinian private owners in the West Bank after the 1967 war. Bar Ilan University has established a branch in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank…
Finally, discrimination against students who are Palestinian citizens of Israel in admission policies is widespread as revealed by the decision of the heads of Israeli universities in 2003 to reverse experimental admission policies that had increased the number of Arab students.
On our delegation visit, we met with Anan Quzmar from the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University in the West Bank. The campaign supports the BDS and USACBI campaigns as part of a larger international strategy to destroy apartheid/colonial education in Palestine. According to the campaign:
– Eight of the 11 universities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been shelled or broken into by the Israeli Army since September 2000.
– Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron were closed down by Israeli military order for much of 2003, and students had to physically break down the gates to their universities, in defiance of the Israeli Army, to reconvene classes and demand their right to an education.
– Birzeit University has been closed down by Israeli military order 15 times in its history and all Palestinian universities and the majority of Palestinian schools, including kindergartens, were closed down by military order between 1987-1992, denying a whole generation their right to education.
– More than 700 children, 200 university students and 39 teachers have been killed by the Israeli military since September 2000.
– More than 3,000 Palestinian children have been arrested by the Israeli military since September 2000, and some 300 children are currently held in Israeli prisons and detention centers.
– Two presidents of Birzeit University student council were imprisoned in 2004, and four of the 11 members of the student council were imprisoned in the same year. Currently, some 80 students from Birzeit University are held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, 10 of whom are being held without charge or trial, including human rights worker and sociology student, Ziyad Hmeidan.
The Right to Education mission statement calls for “trade unions, education institutions, social and political movements and concerned individuals around the world to support the right to education in Palestine.” The campaign is founded on principles established in UN resolutions that declare education a human right. It calls for scholars, students and activists to “establish connections with Palestinian universities, students and faculty, through solidarity or academic exchange.”
This strategy is meant to counteract the deadly and ongoing collaboration between American and Israeli universities, such as the new partnership between Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Technion is Israel’s leader in “applied science” research and the development of killing machines like the unmanned armored tanks used in Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead that massacred more than 1,400 Gazans.
In December, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans for a $2 billion research campus in New York in partnership with Cornell and Technion. USACBI’s mission seeks to shut down forever such deadly collaborations.
Perhaps the most fitting symbol of the need for educators to play a role in the liberation of Palestine was graffiti on the wall of a Palestinian school in Hebron: “To learn or not to learn–that is the question.” The words beckon not just to the education of future generations of Palestinians, but to the education of people everywhere about the urgency of ending Israel’s colonial regime.