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The U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [USACBI] is proud to host Professor Lisa Taraki during her tour of the United States. In addition to her academic work as a sociologist at Birzeit University in Palestine on aspects of Palestinian society, politics and urban social history, she has been an activist in the struggle for the right to education in Palestine since the late 1970s. She is one of the founders of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), established in Ramallah in 2004.
As an academic she has devoted much of her life to ensuring access to education for Palestinian students at an institution which, like all Palestinian educational institutions, has been subject to extended closure, military assault and incursions, restrictions on the movement of students and faculty, and interference of politically motivated kinds designed to hinder the timely and regular fulfillment of its mission and to deny the right to education of Palestinians. All this happens on a daily basis under the conditions of a military occupation that is widely recognized to be illegal under international law and under a regime of repression that is well understood to aim at the displacement of the Palestinian population and the illegal settlement of its internationally recognized territory.
The author of numerous articles on urban life in occupied Palestine and on the consequences of occupation, Professor Taraki has also served as the Dean of Graduate Studies and as a department chair at Birzeit University. She is an expert on the conditions and possibilities of Palestinian higher education and has as much right to express publicly her opinions as a scholar, an administrator and a citizen on the measures, infrastructural and political, that could safeguard Palestinians and their right to education as would the representatives of the Israeli academy or the President of the UC system. And our students and colleagues and the public in general have the same right to hear her views in a university that ostensibly supports academic freedom.
Israel’s academic institutions and their representatives are part of a state apparatus that has been found over and over again by authoritative international bodies to constitute a regime that conforms to U.N. definitions of apartheid due to its systematic, institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians and non-Jewish citizens. This applies both within Israel proper and in the Occupied Territories and Gaza. Not one Israeli academic institution has condemned the occupation or Israel’s discriminatory policies that reduce its Palestinian citizens to second-class citizenship and enables the continuing dispossession of their historic homes and lands. Their silence makes them entirely complicit in a regime that consistently and persistently infringes on Palestinian rights to education and freedom of movement and association.
Those who oppose the call for the academic and cultural boycott or who condemn sponsorship by academic units of Professor Taraki’s visit to United States universities in the name of academic freedom are guilty of a breathtaking degree of hypocrisy. Academic freedom is not the property of those who have the power to defend it for themselves and to deny it to others. On the contrary, it is our duty as academics to protect the academic and cultural freedom of those most vulnerable to repression and silencing. The denial of Palestine’s academic freedom seems unlikely to end so long as Israel continues its current regime and will not end without the non-violent, moral pressure of those who condemn it.
Singling out discussion of those human rights issues that affect Palestinian students and Palestinian education for censorship is unacceptable in an institution of higher education that claims to uphold the principles of racial and religious equality. We urge all who can to hear Professor Taraki and invite those who think they disagree to listen and to debate her and the facts that she has to relate. Neither she nor the proponents of USACBI are afraid of debate: it is for Zionists to justify Israel’s discriminatory regime of ethnic cleansing, military violence, occupation, dispossession and ethnic cleansing. It is not their prerogative to silence debate and censor the right to speak of their opponents.