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Palestinian Appeal to Legal Scholars: Boycott INjustice Conference at Hebrew University!
2 April 2012
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) urges international legal scholars and professionals to boycott the Minerva Jerusalem Conference on Transitional Justice, scheduled for 29-31 October 2012 at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an academic institution that is deeply complicit in Israel’s occupation and systematic racial oppression of the Palestinian people.
The Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University, the sponsor of the conference, is part and parcel of the academic establishment in Israel. As such, it is implicated in the institutional structures that maintain and uphold the system of colonial control and apartheid over Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory and over those who are citizens of Israel [i], and which denies Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands.
We ask international scholars to consider the symbolism of the venue of this conference. The Hebrew University is itself implicated in serious violations of international law. Specifically, the University illegally acquired a significant portion of the land on which its Mount Scopus campus and dormitories are built. On 1 September 1968, about one year after Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (which includes East Jerusalem, according to UN Security Council resolutions), the Israeli authorities confiscated 3345 dunums of Palestinian land [ii]. Part of this land was then used to build the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University.
The basis for the illegality of the Hebrew University land confiscation deal is that this land is part of East Jerusalem, which is an occupied territory according to international law. Israel’s unilateral annexation of occupied East Jerusalem into the State of Israel, and the application of Israeli domestic law to it, are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and have been repeatedly denounced as null and void by the international community, including by the UN Security Council in its Resolution 252 (21 May 1968). By moving Israelis (staff and students) to work and live on occupied Palestinian land, the Hebrew University is, therefore, in grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions.
At a time when the international movement to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions is gaining ground in response to Israel’s flagrant and persistent infringement of Palestinian human and political rights, we urge scholars and professionals to reflect upon the implications of taking part in a conference at a complicit institution, and to refrain from such participation.
As legal scholars, you are acutely aware that Israel has flouted international law for several decades. Since the hegemonic world powers are actively complicit in enabling and perpetuating Israel’s colonial and oppressive policies, we believe that the only avenue open to achieving justice and upholding international law is sustained work on the part of Palestinian and international civil society to put pressure on Israel and its complicit institutions to end this oppression.
In 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, PACBI issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of institutions involved in Israel’s system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid [iii].
The 2004 Palestinian call appealed to the international academic community to, among other things, “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions”[iv]. Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [v]. The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights and international law standards as other nations. It is asking the international academic community to heed the boycott call, as it did in the struggle against South African apartheid, until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid” [vi].
As was the case in the academic boycott against South Africa’s complicit universities during apartheid, we believe that participation in academic conferences or similar events in Israel, regardless of intentions, can only contribute to the prolongation of this injustice by normalizing and thereby legitimizing it. It will inadvertently contribute to Israel’s efforts to appear as a normal participant in the world of scholarship while at the same time practicing the most pernicious form of colonial control and legalized racial discrimination against Palestinians.
The Minerva Center’s call for papers for this conference is a classic case of the sanitized Israeli academic discourse on rights, justice, and democracy, deflecting attention away from the concrete reality of the regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid by framing Israel as a democracy, and at worst a “conflicted” democracy. On your part, your participation would appear to be cynical when we consider the content of the conference, related as it is to transitional justice, and how it is then being held in an Israeli institution complicit in the continuation of oppression and injustice. Would you have participated in a conference on justice in apartheid South Africa before there was any commitment from its government or its hegemonic institutions to end apartheid?
Israeli academic institutions, including Hebrew University, have always maintained very close links to the Israeli army, contributed to its development and taken for granted its actions as legitimate, regardless of the amount of death and destruction it wreaks upon the Palestinians. The Alternative Information Centre’s report on academic complicity and boycott notes in this regard:
Israeli universities have adopted this consensus [the legitimacy of the Israeli army actions] by accepting into their ranks former members of the Israeli security services, without regard for the problematic aspects of their possible actions in past positions….. Carmi Gilon’s past as Director of the General Security Services, an organization especially notorious for torture and human rights abuses of Palestinians, and who is accused by various organizations of committing war crimes, did not cause Hebrew University to reconsider appointing him to the post of Vice-President for External Affairs. These appointments of former high-ranking officers in the Israeli security services would seem very natural in the Israeli mainstream context, where they enjoy a great deal of prestige….[vii]
The Israeli academy is not only deeply implicated in providing the ideological rationale and “scientific” basis for Israel’s colonial policies, but is also a full partner in maintaining the military and security infrastructure of a state that is practicing forms of colonialism, occupation and apartheid.
Until Israel fully abides by international law, we sincerely hope that international academics will not participate in endorsing Israel’s violations of international law and the basic human rights of Palestinians – even if inadvertently – and that they shall treat Israel exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: as a pariah state. Only then can Palestinians have hope for a just peace based on international law and, more crucially, on the fundamental principle of equality for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations.
We particularly call upon the legal scholars Pablo de Greiff (International Center for Transitional Justice), Phil Clark (SOAS, University of London), Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (University of Minnesota and University of Ulster), and Ruti Teitel (New York Law School and London School of Economics) to withdraw their support for this conference through their membership on its academic committee. De Grieff’s position in the ICTJ, in particular, may be construed as ICTJ support for partnership with a complicit institution.
Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination that fits the UN definition of the Crime of Apartheid
This conference on Transitional Justice will function as a whitewash of Israeli colonialism, occupation and apartheid, and make it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual. Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights in some of the following ways:
- Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on occupied Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans. The International Court of Justice in its historic 2004 advisory opinion concluded that Israel’s wall and colonies built on occupied Palestinian land are illegal [viii].
- Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel’s borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people’s daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa. In February 2012, following a fact finding tour, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, accused Israel of applying a “strategy of Judaization” against Palestinians, adding: “From the Galilee and the Negev to east Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities promote a territorial development model that excludes, discriminates against and displaces minorities, particularly affecting Palestinian communities, side by side with the accelerated development of predominantly Jewish settlements.” [ix]
- Since 1948, when Zionist militias and later Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Israel also continues to expel Palestinian communities from their lands in Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.
- In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also books from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [x].
Could you possibly attend a conference in such a state with a clear conscience?
The Necessary and Important Consideration of Academic Freedom
The UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights defines academic freedom to include:
the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction. The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds. [xi], emphasis added]
Keeping in mind the validity of this definition, we are keenly aware of the importance of the academic freedom of the individual, but also recognize that such freedoms should not extend automatically to institutions. Judith Butler has called on us to question
the classically liberal conception of academic freedom with a view that grasps the political realities at stake, and see that our struggles for academic freedom must work in concert with the opposition to state violence, ideological surveillance, and the systematic devastation of everyday life.[xii]
It is incumbent on academics to develop such a nuanced understanding of academic freedom if we are to call for social justice and work alongside the oppressed in their struggles.
The Israeli academy is not the bastion of dissent and liberalism it is purported to be by those who seek to defend Israel, and, in doing so, attempt to delegitimize the call for academic boycott. The vast majority of the Israeli academic community is oblivious to the oppression of the Palestinian people–both inside Israel and in the occupied territory–and has never fought to oppose the practices and policies of their state. In fact, they duly serve in the reserve forces of the occupation army and as such are either perpetrators of or silent witnesses to the daily brutality of the occupation. They also do not hesitate to partner in their academic research with the security-military establishment that is the chief architect and executor of the occupation and other forms of oppression of the Palestinian people. A petition drafted by four Israeli academics merely calling on the Israeli government “to allow [Palestinian] students and lecturers free access to all the campuses in the [occupied] Territories, and to allow lecturers and students who hold foreign passports to teach and study without being threatened with withdrawal of residence visas,” was endorsed by only 407 out of 9,000 Israeli academics – less than 5% of those who were invited to sign it. [xiii]
[i] The Russel Tribunal on Palestine in its South Africa session in November 2011 concluded that:
The Tribunal finds that Israel subjects the Palestinian people to an institutionalised regime of domination amounting to apartheid as defined under international law. This discriminatory regime manifests in varying intensity and forms against different categories of Palestinians depending on their location. The Palestinians living under colonial military rule in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are subject to a particularly aggravated form of apartheid. Palestinian citizens of Israel, while entitled to vote, are not part of the Jewish nation as defined by Israeli law and are therefore excluded from the benefits of Jewish nationality and subject to systematic discrimination across the broad spectrum of recognised human rights. Irrespective of such differences, the Tribunal concludes that Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid.
[ii] The decision was published in the official Israeli Gazette — the Hebrew edition — number 1425. It was therefore “legalized” by Israel. This land, for the most part, was (still is) privately owned by Palestinians living in that area. A large part of the confiscated land was then given to the Hebrew University to expand its campus (mainly its dormitories). The Palestinian landowners refused to leave their lands and homes arguing that the confiscation order of 1968 was illegal.
Consequently, the case was taken to the Jerusalem District Court in 1972 (file no. 1531/72). In 1973, as expected, the Israeli court ruled in favor of the University and the state. The court decided that the Palestinian families must evacuate their homes and be offered alternative housing.
[vii] Keller, U. (2009) the Academic Boycott of Israel and the Complicity of Israeli Academic Institutions in Occupation of Palestinian Territories. The Economy of the Occupation: A Socioeconomic Bulletin: Alternative Information Centre.
[xi] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999,http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(Symbol)/ae1a0b126d068e868025683c003c8b3b?Opendocument
[xii] Judith Butler. “Israel/Palestine and the Paradoxes of Academic Freedom.” in: Radical Philosophy.Vol 135. pp. 8-17, January/February 2006. http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/israel-palestine-paradoxes-of-academic-freedom/ (Accessed on December 10, 2011)