Open Letter to Address Violations of the Right to Education and Academic Freedom of the People of Gaza
CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM
An Open Letter to Address
Violations of the Right to Education and Academic Freedom
of the People of Gaza
California Scholars for Academic Freedom,* an organization devoted to defending academic freedom and representing more than one hundred fifty faculty at universities and colleges throughout California, strongly condemns the ongoing Israeli government assault on Gaza. At this moment of temporary ceasefire, Israel’s assault has killed nearly1900 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including hundreds of children. Like all people of conscience, we deplore above all the loss of life and the injury to people, whether Palestinian or Israeli, and condemn unequivocally the conduct of warfare by any party in a manner that inevitably and willfully leads to the slaughter of innocent civilians.
As an organization of scholars, however, it is our mission to note that, as in previous assaults, the Israeli government has targeted schools and universities, including at least three United Nations facilities that were being used as shelters by civilians who had been forced out of their homes by Israeli military threats and had no other refuge. Beyond these strikes, which the UN condemns as possible war crimes, at least 167 schools and six universities have been damaged by the month-long Israeli assault, including most recently the Islamic University of Gaza. While the Israeli government characteristically claims that these incidents were the result of the use of these schools by Hamas combatants or activists, or of the proximity of these facilities to active combat, no evidence has been produced to corroborate these claims, and the United Nations has documented its very numerous communications of its schools’ locations to the Israeli forces.
We deplore these assaults both on civilians and on educational infrastructure in the ongoing Israeli government assault. However, we equally condemn the continuous if less manifestly violent and destructive measures that the Israeli government has adopted against the basic educational rights of the Palestinian population of Gaza. In the course of its blockade of Gaza since 2006, a blockade largely considered illegal under international law and expressly planned to reduce the entire civilian population to the most minimal levels of subsistence, Israel has not only denied essential construction materials for the rebuilding of educational institutions destroyed in its previous campaigns, but even prevented the importation of such basic educational supplies as pens and paper. Its act of sustained collective punishment also targets basic medical supplies, foodstuffs, and other necessities of life that inevitably affect the well-being of young people and children who form a very high proportion of the civilian population on whom this petty and vicious war of deprivation has been inflicted.
Furthermore, having so drastically curtailed the basic means to education, the Israeli government has denied to students in Gaza the right to travel in order to take up scholarships for study abroad or to continue their education at more advanced levels than Gazan institutions can offer by attending universities on the West Bank. Those who attempt to do so are labeled infiltrators and risk arrest, deportation or even incarceration. Israel has denied to faculty the right to travel to conferences or to do research on arbitrary grounds and generally infringed in a daily and systematic manner on fundamental rights to academic freedom.
Nor has Gaza been the only area in which universities and schools have recently been occupied or targeted by Israeli forces. In the lead up to the current offensive, using what is now admitted to have been the mere pretext of the abduction of three settler youths, as reported by the Palestinian policy institute, Al-Shabaka, the Israeli army raided the campuses of five institutions of higher education, including Birzeit University near Ramallah, the Arab American University in Jenin, Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, and the Polytechnic University of Palestine in Hebron. In the course of these raids, heavily armed Israeli soldiers attacked and arrested students, detained university guards, destroyed university property and equipment, and confiscated student organization materials. The Israeli army also raided and subsequently used the Palestine Ahliya University as a holding ground for detainees arrested during a separate raid of Dheisha Refugee Camp near Bethlehem. These assaults on educational institutions are not exceptional, but constitute a long-standing aspect of the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of the West Bank as well as Gaza.
This is the third time in five years that the Israeli government has unleashed its enormous military power, funded and supplied by the United States, on a sliver of land that houses nearly two million people who have no means of escape, whose most fundamental means to life, including water and power, have been steadily deteriorated, and whose homes have been systematically destroyed. The current offensive on Gaza, in its apparently deliberate targeting of civilians, is the most extreme manifestation of the deprivation of the Palestinian people of Gaza of even the most fundamental rights to life. But it is continuous with the Israeli government’s ongoing assault on the Palestinians’ ability to maintain their cultural and intellectual life also.
In addition to the unspeakable violence of the last three weeks the military assault on a predominantly civilian population, and the great loss of life that this has entailed, we deplore and condemn the deleterious impact the blockade and the violence has had on educational opportunities for Palestinians.
We therefore urge our university and college presidents and our elected representatives to speak forthrightly against the Israeli government’s denial to Palestinians of educational facilities and opportunities by violence and blockade. Many of them, with the pretext of defending academic freedom, have recently condemned non-violent efforts by academic associations and student organizations to boycott or divest from Israel’s academic or economic institutions. To say nothing now in the face of Israel’s egregious destruction and invasion of educational facilities in Palestine is to condone a gross and ongoing humanitarian disaster and to be complicit in the continuing denial of fundamental freedoms, including academic freedoms, to a profoundly vulnerable civilian population.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom
Professor Larry Gross, School of Communication, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Lloyd, Department of English, University of California, Riverside,
Ahlam Muhtaseb, Associate Professor, Communication Studies,
California State University, San Bernardino, AMuhtase@csusb.edu
*CALIFORNIA SCHOLARS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM is a group of over 150 professors at universities and colleges throughout California. The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-9/11/2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks have been aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope to include threats to academic freedom across the United States, and where relevant, globally as well. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.
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