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“It can never be business as usual. Israeli universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation.”
Desmond Tutu, talking shortly before the University of Johannesburg cut ties with Ben Gurion University.
In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) announced its decision to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Justifying their controversial move, the ASA cited, “the documented impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian scholars and students” and “the extent to which Israeli institutions of higher education are a party to state policies that violate human rights”.
The Right 2 Education campaign has extensively documented the impact of the occupation on education for Palestinians (find more here [Right 2 Education – Education Under Occupation) and actively supports the academic boycott.
R&D in service of the IDF
The Israeli security forces are increasingly dependent on the high-tech advancements coming out of Israeli universities. The government’s ability to fund the army is in decline, as is the number of Israelis willing to be drafted. Technology is essential to fill the breach. On one hand, it facilitates the daily operation of instruments of occupation, such as checkpoints, with fewer soldiers. On the other, it provides Israel’s security industry with new products to export, thus compensating for the lack of government funding.
According to Lisa Taraki, sociologist at Birzeit University, several Israeli universities work closely with the arms industry, including Tel Aviv University, the Technion in Haifa, the Weizman Institute in Rehovot, the Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University. Tel Aviv University, the largest in Israel, enjoys a particularly close relationship with the military and intelligence industries, and takes pride in having conducted numerous research and development projects with the army. The Haifa Technion was involved in the development of the “D9” remote controlled bulldozer, widely deployed in the destruction of Palestinian homes. It also benefited from a five year research partnership, from 2008, with Elbit Systems Ltd. Elbit provides electronic detection devices used in the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank, and has also supplied drones to the Israeli army for use in combat in the West Bank and Gaza.
Partners in military policy
Given the increasing privatisation of security roles in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, some small colleges offer entire programs that train students to become security officers. More prestigious institutions are also involved directly with the security sector. Zefat College, a branch of Bar Ilan University, has an exclusive academic program for training members of the Israeli General Security Service (GSS), an organisation with a reputation for using torture as an interrogation technique.
Although it is difficult to chart the correlation between academic research and governmental policy, the case of Haifa University’s Geo-strategy department is a clear example. Arnon Sofer, a prominent member of the department also acts as the head of the Israeli army’s College for National Security. Sofer has been known to boast about the work of the department and its influence on policies regarding the separation wall and the right of return.
Academic institutions become facts on the ground
Some Israeli institutions have gone one step further in becoming tools of the occupation. Ariel University is perhaps the most striking example, situated in the heart of Ariel, Israel’s largest illegal settlement in the Palestinian territory. The decision to upgrade the institution’s status from a college to a university in 2012 was a clear attempt to solidify the status of the Ariel settlement as a part of Israel on a permanent basis. With cheaper tuition fees and lower entrance requirements, Ariel University is attracting students who may or may not understand their complicity in this illegal enterprise.
Former PM Ariel Sharon commented directly on the growth of the institution saying, “I ascribe great importance to converting the school in Ariel into a university. This is in keeping with government policy, which views strengthening the settlement blocs as one of its primary goals.”
Silence is complicity
Of course, it is not unusual for a state institution to serve state interests. However, when that state has been in an official state of emergency since its inception, enlists around 80% of all Jewish adult males in military service, has invaded and occupied territories in all its neighbouring states and maintains the longest enduring illegal military occupation in the world, the actions of state institutions become complicit in these actions.
The academy in Israel has remained largely silent on the issue of the right to education for Palestinians, despite evidence that awareness of the issue is high. A petition circulated in 2008 demanding academic freedom in the Occupied Palestinian Territories reached 10,000 Israeli academics. Only 407 signed it. It is not merely a case of Israeli academic institutions failing to condemn the catastrophic effect of the occupation on Palestinians’ right to education. The very denial of academic freedom that is imposed on the Palestinian people is supported and entrenched by the negligence of silent Israeli institutions.
The academic and cultural boycott should be a moral obligation for all those who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and who believe in the universal principles of human rights and the right to education.