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Right to Education

Israel’s newest “university” to ensure illegal settlement “will forever remain part of the state of Israel”

Written by admin  •  Monday, 25.01.2010, 14:26

Report, Right to Education Campaign

On Wednesday, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, announced the implementation of a five year old government decision that upgrades Ariel College to university status. Now known as “Ariel University Centre of Samaria”, the facility is located in a West Bank settlement which is considered illegal under international law.

The decision means that the college will be officially recognized as a “university centre” yet it is likely that the campus is on track to become the eighth university recognised by the Israeli state.

According to Rinat Saguy, a spokesperson for Ariel college, Barak’s decision would help the college obtain academic credentials that would enable it to expand research programmes and increase its student body to some 20,000 in the next decade..

Indeed Ariel college has grown dramatically since it was founded 1982. It was initially established as a second campus of Bar Ilan University of Ramat Gan (close to Tel Aviv). However, in 2004 it became an independent college and immediately began lobbying for university status. The then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, strongly supported Ariel’s bid for upgrade, he described it as of “great importance” in realising a policy of “strengthening the settlements”.

In May 2005 the government approved the college’s upgrade to a university. However, the decision was never implemented due to opposition from Israeli higher education authorities.

Nonetheless, in 2007 the college renamed itself the “Ariel University Centre”, and this was endorsed by ministers. However, under pressure from education officials the government’s decision was reversed on the grounds that only Israeli military authorities in the West Bank could authorise such a change.

A self-described “demonstratively Zionist institution,” the University Centre directs all students to “study one course per semester on some aspect of Judaism, Jewish heritage or Land of Israel studies” and that “the Israeli flag must be displayed in every classroom, laboratory and auditorium on campus.”

In opposition to the latest development, Yossi Sarid, former chairman of the Council for Higher Education, wrote in Haaretz “I can assert: There is no academic justification for recognizing Ariel College as a university…{Ariel college} is far inferior to other Israeli colleges. Had it not established itself in occupied territory, it wouldn’t have had the slightest chance of upgrading its status. The defence minister’s decision is evidently political.”

The ongoing construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is illegal under UN Security Council Resolution 242 and under the Geneva Conventions and this latest constitutes an attempt to legitimisation the existence and expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

However, in 2005, the then opposition leader but current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the time of the first government upgrade decision, that a university in Ariel would ensure the settlement “will forever remain part of the state of Israel”.

Tel Aviv University’s head of political science, Amal Jamal, explained that support for the change runs deep than just the ministries “There is strong support for the college among some academics at Israeli universities, which co-operate with it in holding conferences, conducting research, supervising doctoral students and teaching,” he said.

Students at the oldest and best established Palestinian University of Birzeit (which achieved regional and International accreditation in 1976-7) have also rejected Ariel’s upgrade. Mai Tahboub a final year law student, and volunteer with the Right to Education Campaign, explain that the latest action is a “clear reminder as to why Palestinian students support an academic boycott of Israel”.

Further, internationally the reception for the new university has been less welcoming. In September 2009, the Spanish government disqualified Ariel college from an architectural competition, as, in the words of competition organizers, for it was operating “on occupied land”.

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