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Erasing Academic Freedom in America

boycott-israel“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly Native American criminal class except Congress.” -Mark Twain

Mark Twain died 104 years ago, but his truth goes marching on. Witness two of our exalted Congressmen who recently launched a resolution of such ineptitude that it twists facts inside out without batting an eyelash, indeed while fluttering their eyelashes like some street harlots beckoning the innocent to join them in their frolic. Well here are two that take the facts and figures that characterize the malevolent state of Israel, erase them as though they were chalk on a black board, and then apply their crimes to those desirous of justice and equity for those destroyed by the Israeli state.

“In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) became the second major educational organization to adopt an academic boycott of Israel. This measure [H.R. 4009] would block federal funding for American universities engaging in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund bigoted attacks against Israel that undermine the fundamental principles of academic freedom,” thus spoke Congressman Peter Roskam introducer of the bill. “Congress has a responsibility to fight back against these hateful campaigns, which contradict academic freedom and are designed to delegitimize the Jewish State of Israel," Roskam continued.

Obviously Roskam and his co-legislator, Congressman Dan Lipinski, have not done their homework nor have they read the ASA arguments for promoting the boycott. ASA and all academic institutions and academics who agree to cite the Zionist state as acting illegitimately do so to ensure “academic freedom” not to undermine it, to guarantee access to higher education for all not only Israelis, and to secure open universities in Palestine not to accept forced closure and destruction of laboratories by massive military power. Should Roskam and Lipinski spend some time researching the truth of ASA’s boycott statement they would find that justice can only be achieved by a resolution that would require the United States to stop providing Israel with 8 million dollars a day each year to support a regime that has, since1967, calculatedly disrupted or prevented the indigenous people from gaining access to higher education, actions decidedly contrary to international law, anti-democratic since as occupiers they are obligated to provide for the people under occupation, and destructive to the educational well-being of the Palestinian people. Wouldn’t it be better to spend taxpayers’ dollars in support of freedom and not apartheid?

Fortunately, we have an international study our Congressmen could have considered if they did their homework before submitting their resolution that conclusively demonstrates the malevolent and illegal actions of the state of Israel against the Palestinian people, done in 2009, that specifically notes the crimes committed by that state as it prevents higher education opportunities in the occupied territories. How just and ironic that it draws the following conclusion just as our two representatives of the Israeli Knesset, Roskam and Lipinski, introduce their racist resolution justifying high crimes and misdemeanors by the Israeli government:

The study warns that states providing aid to Israel can be found complicit in this international crime and implies that individuals aiding Israel may bear criminal responsibility (by Human Sciences Research Center of South Africa, June 2009).

These representatives are in fact encouraging their colleagues and through them their constituents to defy international law and become complicit in the crimes committed by our best “democratic” (sic) ally in the mid-east as they and this country become recognized world-wide as supportive of genocidal acts against a people that seeks only justice.

Instead of appeasing the Israeli State for its defiance of international law regarding education, the Congressmen might consider a law that would bring Israel before the International Court of Justice if it does not implement policies that allow all Palestinians to exercise their rights to higher education. Perhaps a little interscholastic reflection might illuminate the desire of all to learn and work together rather than deposit white phosphorous and fleshette bombs on defenseless civilians, which appears to be the mode of behavior by the IDF.

I offer here some references the good Congressmen might consider before they force their colleagues to vote in favor of the poor Israeli institutions that might have to rethink their silence in light of an academic boycott as their government continues its genocide against the Palestinians, references any decent student might review should he or she wish to have the facts.

Before June 5, 1967, no universities existed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinian high school graduates, however, enjoyed easy and free access to university education in the Arab world. West Bank students, as Jordanian citizens, had direct access to the University of Jordan 1 and almost unrestricted admission to all universities in the Arab world - mainly Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. Students in the Gaza Strip, which was under Egyptian administration, had complete access to Egyptian universities. 

The Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip changed this situation. For one thing, access to Arab universities for Palestinian students became increasingly difficult, due to the stiff Israeli measures imposed on border crossing (permits, a mandatory nine-month stay abroad, harassment on reentry). Secondly, admission to Arab universities became gradually limited for Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Thirdly, the economic situation, both in the OPT and in the Arab countries, was not favorable. 

Such circumstances, coupled with a heightened Palestinian national awareness, thrust Palestinian university education on top of the agenda.2 Private initiative, in most cases with the tacit coordination or approval of the PLO started the ball running. 

It was only natural to build on already existing structures: , Bir Zeit University, Bethlehem University followed in 1973 by expanding the Christian Brothers school campus, An-Najah National University was founded in 1977, Gaza Islamic University in 1978 and Hebron University in 1982.4 AI-Quds University started with four independent colleges: the Sharia College in Beit Hanina, 1978; the College of Nursing (later College of Medical Professions) in El-Bireh, 1979; the College of Science and Technology in Abu Dis, 1979; and the College of Arts for Women in Jerusalem, 1982. AI-Azhar University was installed in Gaza in 1992 on the same campus as the Islamic University and took, from the latter, part of the faculty and staff. 5 (“Education,” Vol.3, No. 1, Palestine-Israel Journal, 1996, Gabi Baramki).

How did Israel react to this attempt by the Palestinian people to create their own educational system since the freedom of movement had soured access to institutions beyond their borders? Need you ask.

Throughout the period of development of the universities, the Israeli military authorities were not innocent bystanders. From the outset, they did not welcome the establishment of these institutions and placed hurdles at every point of their development. First, it was the licensing. All colleges were issued with a temporary license which needed annual renewal. In addition, the creation of a new faculty also needed approval, which was sometimes denied, as in the case of the Faculty of Agriculture at An-Najah University. Bir Zeit, in this connection, chose not to ask for approval and went ahead by establishing facts on the ground. This, however, was not always possible, especially when it came to building permits and zoning. After a protracted fight which had reached the Supreme Court, Bir Zeit won a zoning permit for a 300-dunum campus (Education, Baramki).

But the malevolence of the Israeli government was not confined to licensing; illegal measures such as withholding tax exemption on construction, building material, laboratory equipment and books were employed, universities were forced to pay custom duties, VAT and luxury taxes were imposed on such material as kitchen equipment, on building material, both local and imported. “The conservative figure of six million dollars extorted from them in taxes on these items, constitutes a major breach of international law and UNESCO directives exempting books for educational purposes from any kind of taxation.” Additionally, the Israeli mantra “security reasons” allowed the military to censor books and periodicals, withhold work permits deny access by international faculty, and most reprehensible of all, close universities making completion of degrees virtually impossible for many who had to drop education to grovel for any work to be had.

Closures varied in length and nature. Those of one week or less were common, but not considered "serious" as the work could be made up. However, from 1979, the closures usually lasted for a minimum of two months. With time, three- to four-month closures became the norm. The worst case was the extended closure of all universities in January 8, 1988, for periods ranging from 33 to 51 months.

Lest anyone think that these measures have been curtailed, think no more Move forward to this new century, 2002, 2003, 2009, 2012 as illustrative examples. Our Congressmen have to realize that they wish to impose sanctions against those who want the true draconian harassment employed by Israel against academic institutions under their international control to stop; and since neither the Israeli government nor its United States puppets in our Congress will not force them to stop, it becomes the responsibility of the international community to bring boycotting to bear so that true democracy and academic freedom can be provided for all. Simple to do one would think since Israel can alter its policies and let the Palestinian institutions do their job. Indeed, the government could embrace interscholastic dialogue and cooperation between the higher education units in Palestine and Israel, a peaceful and truly academic pursuit. .

Israeli forces closed an administration building of a Palestinian university in Jerusalem this week, confiscating files, academic documents and computers. The order to close the building at Al-Quds University came from the minister of the interior security, Uzi Landou (theguardian.com, Friday 12 July 2002 11.51 EDT)

Where one might ask is the voice of the Israeli universities condemning such disruption of academic freedom? Shouldn’t our Congressmen seek the answers to such a question before condemning those who seek the answer? Perhaps our main stream newspapers might carry this information instead of getting it from the UK.

Consider the following study as it details more blatant disruption and destruction of Palestinian education. Consider as well how outraged we’d be if these tactics were employed against Israeli institutions. Yet we hear nothing from the academics at Israel’s institutions, just the weeping at the discomfort they’d endure if boycotts continued against them. How hypocritical when the punishment gets meted out to those real victims of the crimes against international law.

On Friday 16 January 2009, Israeli occupation forces bombed the headquarters of the University Teachers Association-Palestine (UTA), in Gaza, during their indiscriminate, willful destruction of the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City…

Israel’s total siege on Gaza has devastated the educational sector. Students in Gaza are systematically prevented from traveling to the West Bank or abroad to attend universities. Students already abroad are unable to return home to visit their families.

During the nonviolent Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation that began in 1987, Israel ordered the closure of all Palestinian universities, schools and kindergartens, ostensibly rendering the acts of teaching and learning illegal. Between 1988-92 Palestinian educations was forced underground as classes were held in homes, mosques, churches and community centers which were repeatedly raided. Even after universities were allowed to reopen in 1992, Palestinians have faced an ever more difficult struggle to reach their places of learning as a result of curfews, closures, checkpoints.

Since Israel began its violent suppression of the second Palestinian uprising starting in 2000, eight universities and over three hundred schools have been shelled, shot at or raided by the Israeli army. Since 2004, the wall Israel is building on West Bank land, illegal according to a 2004 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice, has made the work of educational institutions even more difficult.

While various unions in England and Canada have worked to endorse and support PACBI’s initial call since 2005, since the recent siege on Gaza Canadian and Scottish academics have mobilized to support the boycott campaign. In contradistinction, American academics have remained silent (“Why American academics must join boycott of Israel,” (Rania Masri and Marcy Newman, The Electronic Intifada, 18 January 2009).

There is need, I believe, to quote sections of the South Africa Human Rights Report mentioned above. Because the United States blocks all attempts to bring Israel before the international courts, the American people know little about Israeli genocidal actions. Israel claims that Palestinians are terrorists because they live under the authority of Hamas which they label as a terrorist organization. Most countries in the world include the state of Israel as a terrorist state yet the US does nothing about those allegations. This report has international significance since it is thorough and relies on approved and agreed upon definitions and evidence. All Americans should read it; certainly all our representatives should read it so that they can judge for themselves if Israel is or is not an apartheid state. If it is it is not democratic no matter how many times we are told it is. I’ve cut the report down to basic lines; the full report must be read and it is included as a footnote for readers’ reference. I’ve taken the liberty to cut a comprehensive review (written by Francis H. Remillard in March of 2010) down to essentials because space is limited.

Summary of a legal study by Human Sciences Research Center of South Africa.

This fifteen-month collaborative study set out to examine legally the question:

Do Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, amount to the crimes of colonialism and apartheid under international law?

Apartheid defined under international law
Apartheid is defined as an institutionalized form of racism in which states enact laws which function as the apparatus to commit inhuman acts for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.

Apartheid regimes rely on three “Pillars of Apartheid” to maintain their domination

  • Pillar 1: The state codifies into law a preferred identity: (See full report for evidence that supports this statement; this further exploration of the full report is advised for all statements made in this reduced version).
  • Pillar 2: The state segregates the population into geographic areas based on their identity.
  • Pillar 3: The state establishes security laws and policies designed to suppress any opposition to the regime.

Using these criteria, the May 2009 South African study found that “Israel, since 1967, is the belligerent Occupying Power in occupied Palestinian territory, and that its occupation of these territories has become a colonial enterprise which implements a system of apartheid.”

Israel’s practices, Apartheid Pillar 1: A preferred identity; separate system privileging Jews

Israel’s domestic law codifies the Jewish identity as the preferred identity and establishes that collective rights extend to Jews only. All other people lack the right to a national life anywhere in Israel proper or occupied Palestinian territory.

  • Israel’s state resources (including land in occupied Palestinian territory which Israel has declared ‘state land’) are specified as being for the exclusive benefit of Jews, administered under the World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency, and Jewish National Fund.
  • Since 1967, Israel supplanted existing laws governing Palestinian territory with two separate sets of law: Israeli domestic law to apply to Jewish settlers and Israeli military law to apply to Palestinians. [Note: the report provides extensive evidence on each of the above Pillars. I can only provide reference to Right to Education here and that in précis form. The reader is encouraged to read the entire report to grasp the extent of Israeli malevolence against Palestinians.]

Right to an Education

– Israel denies Palestinians the right to an education through indirect measures such as creating obstacles to movement so Palestinian students cannot get to their schools; repeated closure of Palestinian schools; military attacks on schools and students; destroying educational infrastructure; and denying Palestinian students exit permits preventing them from studying abroad.

Since we are most concerned here with the destructive efforts of Israel to curtail freedom of education to the Palestinian people, we must ask readers to go to the full report for the last two practices that establish apartheid in Israel: Pillar 2: Segregation. Exploitation of resources; and Pillar 3: Matrix of security laws to suppress opposition. These two areas of concern ensure Israeli control not only of education, but of all measures of freedom that are enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The report ends with this comment on Israeli inhumane treatment of the Palestinians.

Cruel and inhumane treatment: Gaza

– From 2000 to 2004, Israel demolished over 2500 homes in the Gaza Strip leaving 16,000 Palestinians homeless.

– In 2006, Israel bombed the Gaza power plant destroying all six transformers and halting electricity production, leaving Gaza almost completely dependent on Israel as the sole provider of electricity, power, desalination, pumping sewage, and pumping water.

– After years of systematic bombing and destruction, which transformed Gaza into a dependent population, Israel isolated Gaza with an encircling ‘security wall.’ Then in October 2007, Israel initiated a blockade on Gaza limiting fuel, water, and electricity and cutting basic supplies to less than 1/5 their former levels. 95% of Gaza’s industries shut down; poverty levels reached 80%; hospitals experienced power cuts of 8 to 12 hours a day; thirty to forty million liters of raw sewage poured into the Mediterranean sea every day; 1.1 million Gazans were living below the poverty line.

– Gaza’s fishing grounds extend 20 miles off shore, yet Israel enforced a three-mile limit by opening fire on Palestinian fishing vessels beyond three miles, severely damaging Palestinian fishermen’s livelihood and denying a viable food source to Gaza.

– On December 27, 2008, Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead,” a three-week military attack on Gaza, killing 1380 Palestinians and injuring 5380. During this attack Israel prevented Palestinian civilians from leaving Gaza, “subjecting the entire population to the extreme physical and psychological hazards of modern warfare.”

–Since “Operation Cast Lead,” Israel has continued the blockade, preventing Palestinians from rebuilding, thus deepening the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

The State of Israel has the duty to:

  1. Cease its unlawful activity
  2. Dismantle the structures of colonialism and apartheid
  3. Promote full rights and expression of the Palestinian people
  4. Pay reparations and damages to the Palestinians people

Third party States are obligated to:

  1. Not recognize the illegal situation as lawful
  2. Not render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation
  3. Cooperate to bring the illegal situation to an end
  4. Not become complicit in the crimes by failing to fulfill the first three obligations

As a next step, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa strongly recommends that states take action to meet their legal obligations under international law and urgently request the International Court of Justice render an advisory opinion on the question of Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory. (End of shortened version of Remillard’s review of the full report. All of those truly interested in justice must read the full report).

Now as a full professor at an American university, as a scholar and researcher, as a mentor of a Fulbright Scholar from Morocco, as a professional academic administrator at four institutions in four different states, public and private, and as a full time tenured professor at a private university for the past 14 years, with an aggregate of 52 years of experience from Instructor to Vice President for Academic Affairs, I believe I can speak with some authority relative to academic freedom, tenure, ethics and values appropriate to this profession.

The action threatened by Roskam and Lipinski through their H.R. 4009 seeks to curtail not just freedom of expression voiced against a political entity, the state of Israel, for perceived crimes against humanity in its destructive actions against Palestinian educational institutions and its students, but presents the American people, most particularly the faculty and administrators at American institutions, with obligations to support a state that has been found guilty of apartheid actions that require international legal action and could, at some time in the future, result in a finding that convicts this nation and its people of crimes against humanity. The evidence presented in truncated form in this article damns the state of Israel for crimes that are intolerable by any intellectual measure, crimes that cannot be supported by those committed to justice, human dignity, and respect for the rights inherent in all humans under the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Accords, most especially the definition of Genocide as expressed in its charter.

Would it not be better for these two Congressmen and their peers to offer the American people a gift of peace, beginning with the withholding of the 8 million per day provided to Israel so it can maintain the horrendous conditions it imposes on those occupied, by suggesting that Israel’s institutions of higher learning demand of their government a commitment to open the gates of the walled in state of Israel to all of good will beginning with an interscholastic dialogue on equity for all, the citizens of Israel and the citizens entrusted to their care as occupiers under international law, that all may share the gifts of thoughtful interchange as citizens of the world.

After all, the purpose of higher education is to enhance the intellect, to promote the expansion of its capabilities, to recognize that all, all things both living and non-living, infuse the possibilities of life by providing richness in artistic expression, compassion in understanding of differences, creativeness in technical advancement to benefit all, to seek, in the realm of the unknown, what enriches us and lifts us beyond our limited selves because we see the joy of fulfillment in the multitude of faces among whom we live, and play, and work, and pray. The great wonder of higher education is in its freedom of thought, its openness to ideas and explorations of the mind, its quest to know, to seek answers, to thrive on speculation, to entertain paradoxes and mystery and fantasy and intuition yet know that all accept that journey of the mind and do so without threat to another, without fear of another, without anxiety or anger or hate.

There is no place in that purpose to criticize with vitriol, to lash out at perceived ignorance, to mock others, to devise weapons of destruction whether of military kind or of mental that binds some to hate, that creates ‘exceptionalism” that blossoms against another, that excludes others to enhance a few, as all of these are anathema to learning. And certainly, we might all learn from this exercise that the criminals in Congress should not be the ones responsible for how academia responds to its purpose.


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