Letter from Palestinian students at Israeli Universities

 Palestinian Students based at Israeli Universities
20 March 2011

Palestinian Students at Israeli Universities Call on UJ to Terminate Cooperation with Israeli Universities

We are Arab Palestinian students at Israeli universities and we wish to express our support to the call made by more than 400 South African academics, as well as numerous supporters (including the University of Johannesburg’s Student Representative Council, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the National Health and Allied Workers Union and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) for UJ to terminate its cooperation with Ben-Gurion University.

We believe that the boycott is timely and will consolidate the upholding of moral values such as fairness, justice and equality, which have been sorely missed in our region. Our belief and confidence in the necessity of boycott stems from the long and consistent struggle that South Africans waged against the racist regime of apartheid – and which the Palestinian struggle for freedom at times proudly echoes.

We wish to emphasise our support for the view expressed by the UJ SRC in its letter to UJ on March 7th - a decision by UJ to terminate its relationship with Ben-Gurion University will constitute a “landmark in the international movement to boycott Israeli institutions until such time as the state abides by international law.”[1]

We are writing this letter to UJ affirming the need for boycott, sharing our voices and our daily experiences as Palestinians in Israeli institutions. We are the lucky ones who have been able to pursue our studies in institutions of higher learning, to which we arrived against great odds.

Only very few among our generation have been qualified to attend universities due to the Israeli state’s discriminatory policies. Our schools mostly lack the basic facilities needed for education, and the curriculum is structured to serve the State’s goal in socializing the pupils for self-estrangement. It contains very little, if any at all, on our history and culture. Additionally it aims to erase our historical memory and promote the official policy line of divide and rule. In short it is modeled on curriculums that dark regimes have used to indoctrinate rather than educate. We arrive at Israeli universities with this “educational” baggage.

The idea that Israeli universities adhere to the values of free academic institutions, where academic freedom, objectivity and meritocracy prevail is widely accepted in the West. From our experience we attest that this is most certainly not the case. In recent years Israeli universities have changed the criteria of acceptance to various faculties in order to prevent large numbers of - as one president of Israeli university put it – “undesirable” [i.e. Arab] students from attending prestigious faculties such as medicine and natural sciences. Moreover, lecturers (such as Professors Ilan Pappé and Neve Gordon) who present findings which are at odds with the official ideology are bullied and harassed or forced to resign. Meanwhile raw racist statements by many lecturers are considered by the authorities of the universities as benign or even objective statements. For example recently Dr. Dan Scheuftan stated in one of his lectures: “The Arabs are the biggest failure in the history of the human race... there’s nothing under the sun that’s more screwed up than the Palestinians”; Throughout the Arab world, people fire guns at weddings in order to prove that they have at least one thing that’s hard and in working order that can shoot.”[2] It goes without saying that none of these lecturers have ever been officially criticised.

Although some Israeli universities (including BGU) attempt to pride themselves on promoting “co-existence”, nothing is in fact further from the truth. For example, we are prevented from forming our [i.e. Arab] students’ unions. Further, racist discrimination against us – under the pretext of not serving in the army – is widely practiced in the granting of scholarships, as well as, in the provision of housing at the universities’ residential halls.[3] This is particularly grave for us as the universities are located in Jewish towns, resulting in Arab students having to face many obstacles and hardships in finding appropriate housing. This is due to the prevailing prejudices, discrimination and anti-Arab sentiment in Israeli society.

The restrictions imposed on our freedom of expression are even more stifling. We are not allowed to express our collective sentiment or ideas publicly. Our public gatherings are often violently interrupted by extreme right wing students and on various occasions the universities (rather than protecting our free expression) will actually call the police to intervene against us. Moreover, the universities are well-known to collaborate with the internal security services (the feared Shin Bet), providing it with names of activists among the students who are then regularly summoned, investigated and threatened.

In the end we are hopeful that you will take a decision which will reaffirm the true meaning of human values, and provide proof that racism, cynicism, obfuscation and the disregard of human dignity are no longer tolerated.

Yours respectfully,
Abnaa al-Balad Movement (Student chapter - www.abnaa-elbalad.org/engballad1.html)
National Democratic Assembly (Student chapter - www.tajamoa.org/?mod=arch&ID=38)

[1]UJ SRC, “UJ SRC supports the right to education of Palestinian students,” 7 March 2011. Available online at http://www.ujpetition.com/2011/03/uj-src-supports-right-to-education-of.html
[2] Article Studies in Racism by Sara Leibovitz-Dar published in Maariv, 21 of October 2009
[3] Press Release published by Adalah - Haifa District Court Issues Precedent-Setting Judgment that Considering Military Service Criterion in Allocation of Housing at Haifa University Discriminates Against Arab Students  
[4] Tel Aviv University Review, “In Defense of the Nation,” Winter
2008-2009. Tel Aviv University: Marketing and Donor Relations
Department, 2009.
video of the police aggression towards the students:
photos from protest, showing the brutal treatment of the police: