[URBANTH-L] NEWS: Open Letter to Our American Colleagues in the Midst of the Massacre in Gaza

Angela Jancius jancius3022 at comcast.net
Sun Jan 18 18:19:36 EST 2009

From: Phil Gasper <phil.gasper at gmail.com>

Birzeit University Right to Education Campaign and News Center

*Open letter to U.S academics on Gaza from American academics teaching in
Middle East*

Rania Masri, Marcy Newman , 10 January 2009

*An Open Letter to Our American Colleagues in the Midst of the Massacre in

On December 28th, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), with
American-made F-16s, ten times destroying six buildings including research
laboratories and a female dormitory. IUG, like all Palestinian universities
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has no political affiliation. Like the rest
of the society, the faculty and students are a composite of various
political factions ranging from Communist to Islamist. IUG is a flagship
university, one with connections to the United States; Americans have taught
at the university as Fulbrighters, and professors from the university have
been Fulbrighters in the US.

One engineering student, Heba El-Sakka, responded to this military
bombardment of her university stating, "My graduation project, the fruit of
five years of hard study, vanished in a blink on an eye. It can't be. It
feels like the missiles took away a piece of me." Anas, a science major,
asked, "How can a book be the target of a military missile? I ask the
Western world, isn't that what you call 'barbarity?'"

This current bombing-which comes after an eighteen-month air, land, and sea
blockade-began mid-morning the previous day, December 27th, at the precise
time when children walk home from school. Thus, the first bombs killed a
number of school children. They were killed by US-made bombs and dropped by
US-made F-16s.

So far, Israel has bombed several schools-including those UNRWA schools
where Palestinians fled to escape the bombing-the Ministry of Justice, the
Ministry of Education, a control room for Palestine Telecommunications
Company, two animal farms, three charities, the fishing port, six
ambulances, eight mosques, pharmacies, ambulances, a mental health center,
the main prison, police stations (killing 120 civilian police officers) and
homes throughout Gaza.

At this writing, there are over 434 Palestinians who have been killed (21%
women and children) and over 2,300 Palestinians who are injured (57% women
and children), many of whom will likely die as a result of a severe shortage
of medicine and medical equipment. Moreover, unlike other warsÂ-such as the
Israeli assault of Lebanon in 2006-Palestinians in Gaza have nowhere to
flee; they are locked in a prison controlled by Israel via air, land, and

This is not the first time that Palestinians have been besieged by Israel in
Gaza or elsewhere in Palestine or in refugee camps in the region. This is
merely the latest siege in a sixty-one year history of massacres and ethnic

Although Israel's violations of the Geneva Convention have been highlighted
in some international media-such as blocking fuel, medicine, food, and
water from entering Gaza or preventing medical patients from seeking
treatment outside Gaza-other aspects of the siege are largely ignored,
particularly in the United States. Since June 2007, the Israeli-imposed
blockade has held the people of Gaza hostage as it imposes its policy of
collective punishment, which was escalated rhetorically as a shoah (Hebrew
for Holocaust) by Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defense minister in February
2008. Palestinians in Gaza, approximately half of whom are children, are
held captive to the onslaught of Israeli attacks on Gaza.

*Israel's attack on education*

The siege has not only drastically reduced the availability of medicine,
fuel, and food, but also of educational materials. The Israeli government
has obstructed educational accessibility in Gaza and prohibited students
from leaving to attend university in the West Bank or abroad. Last fall,
Khaled Al-Mudallal was one of those students trapped inside Gaza and
prevented from returning to Bradford University; his case symbolizes the
struggle for Palestinians' right to education. The "Let Khaled Study
Campaign," which emerged from student organizations at Bradford, organized
various petitions on his behalf; he finally returned to England last fall.
However, hundreds of other university students remain trapped in Gaza.

It is this context of Palestinians being denied their right to education by
Israel that must be brought to bear in discussions about the Palestinian
Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Israel's
practice of infringing upon the right to education coincided with the
founding of the first Palestinian university, Birzeit, in 1975. In addition
to curricular materials being subjected to Israeli censors-both intellectual
material produced internally and imported- Palestinian students, faculty,
and academic institutions have been in a noose. In the West Bank, the
educational suffocation began when Birzeit's founding president, Dr. Hanna
Nasir, was arrested and deported to Lebanon in 1974. It continued with the
closing of all Palestinian universities, schools, and kindergartens in the
West Bank and Gaza, during the first intifada in 1987, ostensibly rendering
Palestinian education illegal. Between 1988 and 1992, all universities
remained closed, and Palestinian education was forced to go underground into
people's homes, mosques, churches, and community centers, which were
repeatedly raided and during which people were arrested. Since 1992, when
universities were allowed to reopen, Palestinians found themselves
struggling to arrive at their schools as a result of curfews, closures,
checkpoints. Since the start of the second intifada, Palestinian academic
institutions have been military targets as eight universities and over three
hundred schools have been shelled, shot at or raided by the Israeli army.

This brief history provides a crucial backdrop that led to the academic
boycott's genesis. But while progress has been made in Canada and England in
building support for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS), in the United
States advocates of BDS have been met with charges of censorship and
anti-Semitism. PACBI asks for solidarity among global organizations to
support Palestinians by boycotting Israeli academic institutions, and
calling for sanctions and divestment using a strategy similar to that of the
anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Part of its initial 2004 statement
asks us to "refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural
cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions" as
well as promote divestment from Israel at our universities. The Canadian
Union of Public Employees agreed to support the boycott in 2006.
Significantly, in 2005 England's Association of University Teachers (AUT)
was the first to adopt the academic boycott, reversing itself after
thirty-four days. A year later, the National Association of Teachers in
Further and Higher Education supported the boycott in theory; after it
merged with the AUT to form the University and College Union (UCU), the UCU
endorsed a pro-boycott motion in 2007. Last year the UCU congress voted
overwhelmingly to support the boycott process, albeit sans the word boycott.

*Is Israel an apartheid state?*

We know from South Africa that apartheid, in essence, means separation;
separate, and most definitely unequal. Legal experts and leading
human-rights figures including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the current United
Nations General Assembly President, Miguel D'Escoto Brockman, and UN human
rights experts have used this term to describe Israel's policies towards
Palestinians. Even a former Israeli Attorney General, Michael Ben-Yair,
recognized it as such when he wrote in 2002, "In effect, we established an
apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their
capture. That regime exists to this day." Other Israelis agree, including
Amos Schocken, the publisher of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Zehava Gal-On, a
Knesset member with the Meretz-Yachad party, and Israeli historian, Ilan

It has been sixty-one years of Israeli apartheid and we believe the time has
come for Americans to join the academic boycott of Israel. We supported an
academic boycott of South Africa. The situation now, in the occupied
Palestinian territories, is by far worse according to numerous South
Africans who have experienced both, chief among them Tutu.

Israeli professor of history, Ilan Pappe, calls on his academic colleagues
to support the academic boycott of Israel. He argues that change will not
come from within, and that external pressure is essential for Israel to
change. If Israeli academics were working for change, he explained, then the
boycott might be seen as counterproductive. His writings on the subject make
it clear that Israeli academic institutions are complicit. Indeed, the
knowledge that upholds the system of apartheid and the current siege on Gaza
is produced in Israeli universities. Further, Israeli professors and
students alike, as a result of their compulsory, life-long military service
are called up for reserve duty every year.

Support for the boycott also came from a handful of academics in Israel,
some Israeli academics working abroad, and a significant number of Jewish
academics. But there are many American academics who don't support an
academic boycott because they believe in the free exchange of ideas. We
wonder why this value of speech seems to be more important than the lives,
which we value, of those Palestinians and Lebanese whose lives and rights
are regularly violated by Israel; moreover, as educators one of our
fundamental axioms must be: justice and human rights. Dialogue has been
attempted over the last sixty-one years and failed miserably. The argument
that Israeli academics would be punished is equally misguided; these are not
human rights, they are privileges. Access to research funds or travel to
conferences is nothing when compared to the casualties suffered by
Palestinian people and civilian infrastructure like its schools and
universities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says nothing about
academics having a right to academic freedom, but it is clear about one's
right to access education, a right that Palestinians do not have.
Furthermore, in sixty-one years not one Israeli academic body or institution
has ever issued a statement condemning the ethnic cleansing and occupation
that continues to affect Palestinians' daily lives.

What American Academics can do about Israeli Apartheid

Thus, in the midst of this carnage in Gaza, in solidarity with Palestinian
civil society organizations that have called on the international community
to support their call for BDS we urge our fellow American academics to work
towards this end on their university campuses. In the midst of this latest
massacre-the bloodiest massacre since 1967-the Palestinian Association of
University Teachers issued a statement calling for those in the
international community to "immediately impose boycotts, sanctions, and
divestments on the Apartheid Israeli state," and to demand the enforcement
of all United Nations resolutions, particularly UN Resolution 194 calling
for the right of return for all Palestinian refugees, and to demand that
Israel comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention and international
humanitarian law.

Likewise, the Palestinian National Boycott Committee, of which PACBI is a
part, issued a renewed call to action this week:

*While the US government has consistently sponsored, bankrolled and
protected from international censure Israel's apartheid and colonial
policies against the indigenous people of Palestine, the EU was able in the
past to advocate a semblance of respect for international law and universal
human rights. That distinction effectively ended on December 9th, when the
EU Council decided unanimously to reward Israel's criminal disregard of
international law by upgrading the EU-Israel Association Agreement. Israel
clearly understood from this decision that the EU condones its actions
against the Palestinians under its occupation. Palestinian civil society
also got the message: the EU governments have become no less complicit in
Israel's war crimes than their US counterpart.*

The large majority of world governments, particularly in the global south,
share part of the blame, as well. By continuing business as usual with
Israel, in trade agreements, arms deals, academic and cultural ties,
diplomatic openings, they have provided the necessary background for the
complicity of world powers and, consequentially, for Israel's impunity.
Furthermore, their inaction within the United Nations is inexcusable.

Father Miguel D'Escoto Brockman, President of the UN General Assembly
prescribed in a recent address before the Assembly the only moral way
forward for the world's nations in dealing with Israel:

*More than twenty years ago we in the United Nations took the lead from
civil society when we agreed that sanctions were required to provide a
nonviolent means of pressuring South Africa to end its violations. Today,
perhaps we in the United Nations should consider following the lead of a new
generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent
campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end its

Now, more than ever, the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
National Committee, BNC, calls upon international civil society not just to
protest and condemn in diverse forms Israel's massacre in Gaza, but also to
join and intensify the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
campaign against Israel to end its impunity and to hold it accountable for
its persistent violation of international law and Palestinian rights.
Without sustained, effective pressure by people of conscience the world
over, Israel will continue with its gradual, rolling acts of genocide
against the Palestinians, burying any prospects for a just peace under the
blood and rubble of Gaza, Nablus and Jerusalem.

We urge our fellow academics to not only support this statement in theory,
but also in practice by pushing for academic boycott on your campuses as you
return to classes this week. Supporting the human rights of Palestinians is
not anti-Semitic; it is about human rights: Palestinian human rights. If
this were any other captive population besieged for seven days with US-made
material, we would be outraged and acting. So we are asking you to act now.
It is our tax dollars at work that enables this massacre to take place. Let
us work for justice, for consistency. Let us make apartheid, in all its
forms, only present in history books.

*R**ania Masri and Marcy Newman are American professors teaching in the
Middle East. Rania Masri, from North Carolina, is Assistant Professor of
Environmental Science at the University of Balamand, Lebanon. Marcy Newman,
from California, is Associate Professor of English at An Najah National
University, Nablus, Palestine. * 

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