Academics are gearing up to attack Israel from another front. Accusations of "Scholasticide," that is, the "systematic destruction by Israeli forces of centres of education," are now resurfacing.
It was coined in January 2009 by Prof. Karma Nabulsi, a former PLO representative and a professor in Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. Nabulsi won "inspiring leader” by The Guardian University Awards in 2017, when she directed "The Palestinian Revolution", a bilingual Arabic-English digital teaching resource for exploring "Palestinian revolutionary thought and practice". The award was supported by HSBC Bank, which in Dec 2018, decided to divest from the Israeli company Elbit for human rights causes, claiming that HSBC “strongly supports observance of international human rights principles as they apply to business.”
Borrowing the concept of "scholasticide" from Nabulsi, Prof. emeritus Herman De Ley, former director of the Centre for Islam In Europe at the University of Gent, Belgium, and a leading activist with the Belgian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (BACBI), announced that since last year BACBI launched a "global academics' solidarity campaign with our Palestinian colleagues and students.” He referred to a recent article by Amira Hass in Haaretz, "As Israel tightens entry rules, foreign lecturers at Palestinian universities forced to leave," De Ley accused Israel of "scholasticide policies... clearly driven by the desire to weaken our institutions and destroy the Palestinian future." There was another article by Hass in Haaretz two days later, "Israel’s Academy for Indifference," questioning why should Israeli professors and students care if Israel is subverting academic freedom and interfering with Palestinian universities hiring of foreign lecturers?
In reality, things are a bit more complicated. Just days before the Hass Haaretz articles, on 2nd of July, Israeli security forces detained five Hamas operatives inside Birzeit University while raising money and recruiting activists. This was just another instance of a foiled Hamas attempt under the guise of students belonging to the Islamic bloc at Birzeit University. Members of the cell were arrested, and money was confiscated, including a vehicle funded by Hamas. The detainees were named as Ma'ad 'Abed, Muhammad Nakhla, Usama Fakhuri, Bara' Atzi, and Bilal Hamed. The purpose was to raise funds and recruit new Hamas operatives to execute terror attacks in Judea and Samaria, as Hamas tries to establish itself within the West Bank. Unsurprisingly, Hass did not mention the security angle of the story.
Birzeit has a history of association with Hamas. Just recently, in March 2019, about 150 Palestinian students threw firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets. This protest broke out after Israeli forces, in a night-time raid, arrested three students at Birzeit University identified with the Islamist group. Shortly before that, in October 2018, the Israeli security services said it arrested 3 members of Hamas terror network that has been recruited by a network of Hamas military wing members in the Gaza Strip to carry out attacks beyond the Green Line. Their cell is alleged to have been established in 2015 and has been devoting efforts to recruit engineering students at Birzeit University. Two of the arrested Palestinians, 21-year-old Issa Shalalda and 20-year-old Omar Ma’soud, were active in the Hamas-affiliated Islamic bloc at Birzeit University. According to the Israeli security forces, the pair also underwent military training during their recruitment. Likewise, in March 2018 Israel arrested two Birzeit University students for receiving funds from Hamas. 24-year-old Omar Al-Kiswani and 20-year-old Yahya Alawi had received $178,000 after contacting Hamas operative in Gaza and members of the movement in Turkey asking them to cover Hamas activities at Birzeit University.
In July Israel commemorated the 17th anniversary of the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing. Clearly, Israel's security concerns do not attract attention, instead, protesters present Israel as deliberately evil. Times Higher Education has reported on the prevention of visas, quoting Prof. David Palumbo-Liu, a long-time endorser of BDS for alleging of "privations Palestinians suffer" at the hands of Israel. Also quoting Amira Hass accusing Israel of the “onslaught against the Palestinian people is multisystemic."
Even the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) tried to intervene by writing a letter "Arbitrary arrests of Birzeit University students," addressing the Israeli Prime Minister but ignoring Hamas recruit of students for the purpose of terrorism.
These reports also ignore a racist law which surfaced in Birzeit University. In 2014, Hass attended the conference "Alternatives to Neo-Liberal Development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – Critical Perspectives,” organized by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and the Center for Development Studies at Birzeit University. Hass was told to leave because Birzeit University has passed a law making it illegal for Israelis to be present on the university grounds. This was highly ironic because Hass has been one of the staunchest defenders of the Palestinians.
Also worth noting that none of her articles paid any attention to the Hamas-Fatah bitter split inside Birzeit University. In December 2018, the University suspended all its activities for two days after a brawl erupted between the student blocs of Hamas and Fatah after Palestinian security forces wearing civilian attire attempted to arrest a student belonging to the Islamic Bloc, Hamas’ student wing. Gunshots were reported, but no one was injured. Enraged by what had happened, Birzeit students yelled at the security personnel and hurled insults about the PA, angering members of Fatah's student party, Shabiba. An altercation developed into a brawl. The school canceled courses for the next day, and classes resumed two days later. The Islamic Bloc members at the West Bank universities say they are constantly hunted by Palestinian security forces due to the students' school activities designed to raise money from students. Yet, students who are arrested are often charged with serious crimes such as sectarian violence, libel, defamation, or even receiving funds from illicit parties or possessing weapons. Hamza Abu Qaraa, a student and the Islamic Bloc's coordinator at Birzeit University, was also arrested in June 2018 by PA intelligence affiliates as they started shooting in the air, "they caught me, handcuffed me and beat me in the street." Abu Qaraa was held for 19 days. More than 400 students from various West Bank universities have been arrested during the school year, Abu Qaraa said. About 24 Birzeit students have been arrested since May, when the Islamic Bloc won student council elections for the fourth year in a row, in December 2018.
But no one protests Palestinian security forces arresting students.
The timely accusations against Israel prompted also Israeli academics and peace activists to write a letter in protest to the leaderships of both the Hebrew and Ben Gurion Universities, stating "We are a group of faculty and emeriti concerned about the violation of the academic freedom of Palestinian universities as reflected in restrictions on exchange of students and lecturers with academic institutions abroad and employment of lecturers from abroad. As you can see in the attached documents, this is not a single harm. We appeal to you to raise your voices against the systematic violation of academic freedom. We are very anxious about violating our academic freedom, but academic freedom is indivisible to national affiliation, and just as we are anxious about our freedom, we must be concerned of its prevention from our neighbors. This is for moral and even selfish reasons: as history has taught us, those who are paralyzed while others are hurt end up being hurt as well." Prof. Amotz Agnon has initiated the letter. His partner Daphna Golan-Agnon has published an article a year ago, "Destroying Palestinian Universities" where she lamented that "Foreign lecturers as well as Palestinian lecturers who studied or taught abroad are being expelled from West Bank academic institutes with a form of bureaucratic violence." She ended her piece by questioning whether Israel’s "bureaucratic violence" would lead to similar restrictions imposed on Israeli students and academics. Evidently, De Ley and the BACBI campaign of "scholasticide" are gaining support. Haaretz published a piece "It is Time to Boycott Israeli Academia."
According to Adalah, the NGO which deals with Palestinian minorities rights in Israel, between 2017 and 2019, four full-time foreign faculty members, and three part-time lecturers were forced to leave after Israel refused to renew their visas. In 2019, Israel denied entry to two international lecturers with Birzeit contracts. Adalah plans to take the case to the Israeli High Court of Justice.
IAM will report on the case in due course.
כוחות הביטחון עצרו 5 פעילי חמאס שפעלו בתוך אוניברסיטת ביר זית. חברי התשתית ניסו לגייס כסף ופעילים - אך כוחות הביטחון סיכלו את הניסיון
החדשות | פורסם 02/07/19 15:52 | עודכן 02/07/19 15:57
כוחות צה"ל, בשיתוף גורמי הביטחון, סיכלו שוב תשתית של חמאס. התשתית פעלה במסווה של "סטודנטים" של הכתלה האסלאמית באוניברסיטת ביר זית. חברי התשתית מעצרו, כספים הוחרמו - וגם רכב מסוג "קיה" שמומן מכספי חמאס.
העצורים הם: מעאד? עאבד, מחמד נח'לה, אסאמה פאח'ורי, בראא עאצי ובלאל חאמד. המעצרים נגד פעילי החמאס בוצעו על רקע פעילות בין כותלי האוניברסיטה, אשר ממומנת ונתמכת על ידי ארגון חמאס.
מטרת התשתית: לגייס כספים ופעילי חמאס על מנת לבסס תשתיות טרור לפיגועים ביהודה ושומרון. הניסיונות של חמאס לתפוס חסות תחת אוכלוסיית סטודנטים, ארגוני צדקה ואף נשים כבר סוקרו בעבר, והארגון ממשיך לנסות לבנות את עצמו ולהתבסס בגדה.
Shin Bet says it arrested 3 members of Hamas terror network in West Bank
Cell run by operatives in Gaza Strip alleged to have recruited engineering students at Birzeit University through Facebook to carry out attacks beyond Green Line
3 October 2018, 1:16 pm
The Shin Bet security service announced Wednesday that it had arrested three Palestinians in the West Bank that been recruited by a network of Hamas military wing members in the Gaza Strip to carry out attacks beyond the Green Line.
Their cell is alleged to have been established in 2015 and has been devoting particular efforts to recruit engineering students at Birzeit University outside Ramallah, who could be useful in executing attacks and transferring “terror funds.”
The security agency said it has arrested dozens of the network’s other members since its founding, but that recently the network has stepped up its activity in the West Bank.
The Shin Bet arrested three Palestinians from the West Bank during July and August who were indicted on various terror charges in September.
Two of them — 21-year-old Issa Shalalda and 20-year-old Omar Ma’soud — were active in the Hamas-affiliated Islamic bloc at Birzeit University. According to the Shin Bet, the pair underwent military training during their recruitment.
The third member indicted was Hazem Hamayel, a resident of the northern West Bank. The 24-year-old is alleged to have attempted to carry out a terror attack after being in contact with a Hamas official in Gaza who used a Facebook account under a fake identity.
“The activity of the terror infrastructure in Gaza, along with additional Hamas activity from the Gaza Strip, is an inseparable part of Hamas’s attempts to undermine stability in the West Bank, Israel and the Gaza Strip,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
In June, the Shin Bet revealed that its agents uncovered a large and highly active Hamas terror cell operating out of the Palestinian city of Nablus earlier this year that was allegedly planning to conduct a number of bombings and shooting attacks in Israel and the northern West Bank.
The Shin Bet said it arrested more than 20 suspected members of the Hamas cell in late April, including its two leaders: Mutassem Muhammad Salem, 35, and Fares Kamil Zebidi, 33. According to the security service, the cell began operating in October 2017.
Israel arrests Birzeit students due to ‘links’ with Hamas
May 4, 2018
Israel arrested two Palestinian students during a raid on the occupied West Bank’s Birzeit University in March because they were receiving funds from Hamas, Israel’s Channel 7 reported Shin Bet saying yesterday.
Citing the Israeli intelligence agency, the channel reported that 24-year-old Omar Al-Kiswani from the village of Beit Eksa and 20-year-old Yahya Alawi had received hundreds of thousands of shekels from Palestinian prisoners deported to Gaza Strip and Turkey.
According to the agency, Al-Kiswani contacted Hamas activist and deportee to Gaza who was part of the Shalit deal, Yassin Rabie, and members of the movement in Turkey, and “asked them to cover Hamas activities at Birzeit University”.
As a result, he received €150,000 ($178,000).
On 7 March, an Israeli army commando group broke into Birzeit University in civilian clothes and arrested the students. Al-Kiswani began a hunger strike following his detention. Israel’s military court has renewed his incarceration on numerous occasions allegedly to allow time for the investigation surrounding his case to be completed.
No Passage to Palestinian Universities
Birzeit University joins two human rights groups to challenge Israeli visa policies that they say are blocking foreign faculty from coming to the West Bank to teach -- or forcing them to leave.
By Elizabeth Redden
Roger Heacock first started teaching at Birzeit University, a Palestinian institution in the occupied West Bank, in 1985. An American citizen, Heacock built a career and raised three children there. For many years he came and went largely without incident, renewing his visa every three months.
But over the past couple of years, Palestinian universities and human rights groups say, it’s become increasingly difficult for foreigners like Heacock who work in the West Bank to get permission from Israel, which controls access to the Palestinian territories, to renew their visas, or to come there to teach in the first place.
In May 2018, Heacock and his wife -- also a Birzeit employee and a U.S. citizen -- were returning from a short stint abroad. Upon re-entry, Heacock said, they were given a two- or three-week visa, even though their work permits were valid through the end of the academic year in September, for him, and the end of the calendar year for his wife. He was given no reason, he said, but told to take his grievance up with Israeli military authorities (which he tried, unsuccessfully).
"We rushed around to get out," said Heacock, a retired professor of history at Birzeit. "We got rid of our rental apartment; we gave away hundreds or thousands of books, our furniture, what we had accumulated over 35 years" (he'd first moved to the West Bank in 1983).
Heacock and his wife attempted to return to the West Bank this past March -- he had a 30-hour teaching assignment at Bethlehem University, and he still supervises graduate students at Birzeit -- but he said they were stopped at the border with Israel and told that they failed to get the necessary permission from the Israeli military’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
“We said we’ve been coming for 35 years,” recalled Heacock, who is now living in Paris. “No one said we needed permission.”
Heacock's case is not unique. Birzeit reports that between 2017 and 2019, four full-time and three-part time international lecturers were forced to leave the country when Israel refused to renew their visas, and that in 2019 Israel denied entry to two international lecturers with Birzeit contracts.
“Not a single international faculty member, with the exception of those directly employed by foreign government-sponsored programs, was issued a visa for the length of their 2018-2019 academic year contract,” the university said in a July 20 press release. “As of press time, six full-time international faculty members contracted for the 2018-2019 academic year are without valid visas; another five -- including a department chair -- are overseas with no clear indications of whether they will be able to return and secure visas required for them to stay for the coming academic year. Over 12 departments and programs face losing faculty members in the coming academic year because of the Israeli policy.”
Birzeit has joined with Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, to challenge Israeli visa policy. The groups claim that for the past two years, “Israel has been escalating the visa restrictions it is imposing on international academics, including: denial of entry to the West Bank; refusing visa extensions; delays in processing visa extension applications beyond the duration of the period the visa is valid; arbitrarily granting visas for short periods, sometimes ranging from only two weeks to three months; restricting visas to the West Bank only and permitting entry and exit only via the Allenby Bridge crossing rather than via Ben Gurion Airport; [and] requirements to deposit large sums as guarantees, sometimes as much as … 80,000 [new Israeli shekels] (approximately $23,300).”
In April, Sawsan Zaher, an attorney at Adalah who is representing Birzeit in its suit, wrote to Israeli authorities on behalf of Birzeit demanding that they lift restrictions on the entry to the West Bank for visiting foreign academics, that they “refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions” on the duration or extension of scholars’ stay and that they “order the publication of a clear and proper procedure for issuing entry visas and visa extensions for foreign academics in the West Bank, similar to the procedure that exists for Israeli institutions of higher education that seek to hire foreign lecturers or researchers.” Israeli universities attract many visiting foreign faculty, and Zaher's letter notes that Israel has detailed regulations in place allowing them to apply for and extend work permits.
In an interview, Zaher said Israeli officials have not yet provided a substantive response to the letter. Zaher said the regulation governing entry for foreign academics to the West Bank hasn't recently changed, but that they “are very vague and they enable as such the arbitrary enforcement that is being done now.”
“The fact that there is an occupation, even if it is a prolonged Israeli occupation over the West Bank, does not cancel the academic freedom of a university in Palestine to decide and determine who will be brought to teach and for what time and what kind of research,” Zaher said. “The international humanitarian law that applies, which is the law of occupation, imposes an obligation on the state of Israel as an occupying power -- the obligation not to intercede in the civil life of the local population, unless there is a security necessity. None of the professors that were denied extension of permit and had to leave were denied the extension because of security reasons.”
“Blocking our right to engage international academics is part of an ongoing effort by the Israeli occupation to marginalize Palestinian institutions of higher education,” Birzeit’s president, Abdullatif Abuhijleh, said in a statement. “The latest escalation in visa restrictions is just one in a long-standing and systematic Israeli policy of undermining the independence and viability of Palestinian higher education institutions.”
The Middle East Studies Association's Committee on Academic Freedom has also weighed in with a July 15 letter echoing the demands of Birzeit and the two legal and human rights groups.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington did not comment over several days.
Israel’s restrictions on international academics at Palestinian universities must be opposed
In the context of all the privations Palestinians suffer, international academic isolation is a terrible thing indeed, says David Palumbo-Liu
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”, such as the right to justice and freedom of expression.
Israel is signed up to that declaration, yet, as reported in Times Higher Education and elsewhere, it has made it harder and harder for international scholars to teach at Palestinian universities, driving one institution to launch legal action.
Israeli journalist Amira Hass asserts that Israel’s creation of a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare for any international scholar wishing to teach at a Palestinian university is part of the larger logic of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, which involves an “onslaught against the Palestinian people [that] is multisystemic”. That logic involves the continual denial of basic human rights to the Palestinians, including the right to education. Indeed, an attack on the right to education is an attack on the ensemble of rights that allow individuals to participate fully in the world.
The reason that international scholars are important to any university, in any part of the world, is that they provide unique perspectives emanating from different cultures and places, and enrich the intellectual conversation among students and faculty. International scholars help train those students for global citizenship and, in turn, those students help visiting scholars to understand their country and culture better.
A statement from the Committee on Academic Freedom of the US-based Middle East Studies Association addresses all of these issues. It asserts that Israel’s actions “imperil the right of Palestinians to education, isolate the Palestinian community from the rest of the world, and may eventually cause severe harm to the educational and employment opportunities of the next generation of Palestinian students.”
This is more than simple harassment. These actions are intended to show the deep reach of the Israeli state into all aspects of Palestinian life. In this case, it is interference with whatever semblance of normal functioning Palestinian universities might have. It sends the message that Israel does not want international scholars in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and that if one wants to travel there to teach, Israel will make that as hard as possible.
The picture is quite different for international scholars coming to teach at Israeli universities. In another article, Hass notes: “There is a clear and convenient Interior Ministry procedure for hiring foreign academics by Israeli universities. For West Bank universities, there is no parallel procedure – and it must be an Israeli one, because Israel controls the borders and determines who enters the Palestinian enclaves.”
It is precisely this “lack of parallels” that indicates the dramatically uneven situation for Palestinians – in terms not only of education but all aspects of everyday life, including the hopes young people might have for the future.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by Israel in 1991, recognises the importance of childhood as a crucial time for growth and development. It also recognises childhood as a time of increased vulnerability. The organisation Defense for Children International-Palestine reports that in its 2014 attack on Gaza, Israel damaged more than 200 schools, and completely destroyed 29 others. In that attack, more than 1,000 Palestinian children were permanently disabled, and the World Health Organization has reported a massive mental health crisis among children in Gaza.
While the denial of visas to international scholars might seem a small inconvenience by comparison, put into the context of the overall weakened conditions of Palestinian schools and universities, as well as the totality of deprivation the Palestinians suffer under, it is a terrible thing indeed. The international community, especially the international academic community, needs to wake up.
Publicație : The Times
Palestinian university fights Israeli visa restrictions
Rising numbers of overseas academics have been hit with visa denials or refused entry to Palestine, scholars say
Foreign academics who have been forced out of the West Bank have accused the Israeli government of making “mediocrity” a characteristic of Palestinian higher education after a university in the region began the process of legal action.
A lawyer acting on behalf of Birzeit University in the West Bank and two Palestinian human rights groups – Adalah and Al-Haq – sent a letter to Israeli officials demanding that they lift the restrictions preventing international academics employed by the university from staying and working in the region.
It asked Israel to refrain from imposing “arbitrary restrictions on the duration of stay or extension of stay for international academics” and to publish a clear and lawful procedure for issuing entry visas and work permits for foreign scholars in the West Bank, to enable the university to maintain its academic freedom.
Sawsan Zaher, the lawyer working on the case, said “Israel as an occupying power has no authority based on international law to disrupt the academic freedom” of Birzeit University.
She added that international academics at Israeli universities can receive annual work permits, and tenured professors may apply for permanent residency after five years. In contrast, foreign scholars at universities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories can usually receive only a three-month visa, which is not always extended.
Although there have long been visa issues for international academics in the region, figures suggest that an increasing number of scholars are being either refused re-entry after short trips abroad or denied visa renewals.
According to Adalah, no international academics at Birzeit, with the exception of those directly employed by foreign government-sponsored programmes, were issued a visa for the duration of their 2018-19 academic year.
Six full-time foreign scholars contracted for the 2018-19 academic year are without valid visas, while five others, among them a department chair, are overseas with no clear indication of whether they will be able to return, the group said.
The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, which is an affiliate of the board of trustees of Birzeit University and has five sites, including two in the West Bank and one in Gaza City, reported that eight out of 19 international academics were denied visa extensions or entry in 2018-19, up from four out of 20 in 2017-18.
These reports follow a 2018 study conducted by the Palestinian Ministry of Education that found that 32 out of 64 international lecturers and staff at eight universities across the West Bank had had applications for new visas or visa extensions rejected or had been denied entry to the territory during the previous two years.
Roger Heacock, a US citizen and professor of history at Birzeit, where he has worked for 35 years, was given three weeks’ notice to leave the country by Israeli officials last year after he went abroad on a short trip, even though he holds a valid working visa. He attempted to return again earlier this year but was deported on his way in, he said.
Professor Heacock said the policy “makes sure that mediocrity [is] part of the characteristic of Palestinian civil society” and that education institutions in Palestine are “kept stumbling around in the dark and prevented from becoming great success stories”.
He suggested that the only way the Israeli government would change the policy would be if Israeli universities and academics mobilised against it.
Rana Barakat, an associate professor in the department of history and archaeology at Birzeit and a US citizen who has spent 18 months unsuccessfully pursuing a visa extension, said the “level of obfuscation” in the visa process was a big problem.
“There is not a clear process or a clear procedure for us to know what we have to do in order to travel, in order to return and in order to sustain ourselves in our place of work,” she said.
Dr Barakat, who has worked at the university since 2007, left the country in January 2019 to take up a one-term visiting professor fellowship at Columbia University. Now she is anxious that she will not be allowed to re-enter the West Bank in time for the 2019-20 academic year.
“I received a teaching fellowship at a top-tier university, and I didn’t even have the capacity to feel joy about it because it became an existential crisis immediately: should I take this? Because if I leave I don’t know if I can come back,” she said.
“The point is to make life as difficult as possible for us in individual cases…and then the larger scheme it seems is…a process of marginalising higher education.”
The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not provide a comment.
Publicație : The Times
ברק ואשר שלום,
אנחנו קבוצה של נשות ואנשי סגל וגמלאים וגמלאיות באוניברסיטה מודאגים מהפגיעה בחופש האקדמי של אוניברסיטאות פלסטיניות כפי שהיא באה לידי ביטוי בהגבלות על חילופי תלמידים ומרצים עם מוסדות אקדמיים בחו"ל והעסקת מרצים מחו"ל. כפי שניתן לראות במסמכים המצורפים אין מדובר בפגיעה נקודתית. אנחנו פונים אליכם בבקשה שתשמיעו את קולכם נגד הפגיעה השיטתית בחופש האקדמי. אנחנו חרדים מאד לפגיעה בחופש האקדמי שלנו, אך חופש אקדמי אינו ניתן לחלוקה לפי השתייכות לאומית, וכשם שאנו חרדים לחופש שלנו עלינו להיחרד מנטילתו משכנינו. זאת מטעמי מוסר ואף מטעמים אנוכיים: כפי שמלמדת אותנו ההיסטוריה, מי ששותק בזמן שאחרים נפגעים, סופו להיפגע גם כן.
אבינועם בן שאול אדוארד יורקביץ? אורי דווידוביץ? אורי דיין אורן ברק אמוץ עגנון אסף שלג אפרת מורין אריאלה אופנהיים בעז לזר גיא דוידוב גידי שלח דוד אנוך דוד הראל דוד לוי-פאור דודי צפתי דני שרירא דפנה גולן דרור ורמן הלל פורסטנברג ורד ויניצ?י-סרוסי חגי גינזבורג חן ברם חנן חבר טלי אורנן יגאל אראל יגאל ברונר יהודה אנזל יהושוע קולודני יובל דור יונה רוזנפלד יונתן ברויאר יעקב ריטוב יצחק חן מוטי פרי מיכאל קרן מירי גור-אריה מתניה בן-ארצי נורמן מטאנס נעמה גרשי נתי ליניאל סיליה וסרשטיין פסברג סטיב פסברג עודד זינגר עודד נבון עוזי מוטרו עידן שגב עופר אשכנזי עמוס גולדברג עמית גבריהו ענבל ארנון ענת זעירא ערן פייטלסון פיקי איש-שלום צח אדם קלאודיה קדר רוני אלנבלום רות הכהן רז חן-מוריס שי מורין שמשון בלקין שרון שפיר תומר שלנק תמיר שפר תמר רפפופורט.
פרופ' דני חיימוביץ, נשיא
פרופ' חיים היימס, רקטור,
מכתב זה נשלח אליכם במתואם עם מכתבים דומים הנשלחים לראשי אוניברסיטאות נוספים. אנו מצרפים אליהם את קולנו.
אנחנו קבוצה של נשות ואנשי סגל וגמלאים וגמלאיות באוניברסיטה מודאגים מהפגיעה בחופש האקדמי של אוניברסיטאות פלסטיניות כפי שהיא באה לידי ביטוי בהגבלות על חילופי תלמידים ומרצים עם מוסדות אקדמיים בחו"ל והעסקת מרצים מחו"ל. כפי שניתן לראות במסמכים המצורפים אין מדובר בפגיעה נקודתית. אנחנו פונים אליכם בבקשה שתשמיעו את קולכם נגד הפגיעה השיטתית בחופש האקדמי. אנחנו חרדים מאד לפגיעה בחופש האקדמי שלנו, אך חופש אקדמי אינו ניתן לחלוקה לפי השתייכות לאומית, וכשם שאנו חרדים לחופש שלנו עלינו להיחרד מנטילתו משכנינו. זאת מטעמי מוסר ואף מטעמים אנוכיים: כפי שמלמדת אותנו ההיסטוריה, מי ששותק בזמן שאחרים נפגעים, סופו להיפגע גם כן.
סטיב רוזן חגי רם דני פילק ורד סלונים-נבו חגית בנבג'י יוליה מירסקי אברהם מלקמן אפרים דוידי אייל ניר לב גרינברג רנה פוזננסקי דניאלה טלמון-הלר חן קיסר ניצה ינאי דוד ניומן יונתן אנסון נעמי שיר שרה הלמן הללי פינסון גלית נמרוד עדו גייגר רון הוז אמנון רז-קרקוצקין עמליה אס-זיו איריס אגמון יעל בן-צבי חנן יורן אבינועם מאיר אבי רובין אהרון לנדאו יצחק (יאני) נבו.
Stop the discrimination against Palestinian universities!
We, the undersigned, members of the international academic community, demand that the Israeli authorities immediately cease to restrict international academics from working at Palestinian Universities and other academic institutions!
Please sign and share!
Dear colleagues, Please consider signing this petition regarding the discrimination against Palestinian universities, an initiative of Academia for Equality (https://www.academy4equality.com/?lang=en
). The petition will be forwarded to the following: Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Israeli Att...
Hamas-Fatah bitter split plays out in West Bank universities
Tempers flare as the Palestinian Authority pursues Hamas-affiliated university students on campuses.
January 6, 2019
Author: Ahmad Melhem
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Birzeit University suspended all activities recently after a brawl erupted between the student blocs of Hamas and Fatah.
The Dec. 17 fight began after security forces wearing civilian attire attempted to arrest a student belonging to the Islamic Bloc, Hamas’ student wing. Witnesses and members of the Islamic Bloc who spoke to Al-Monitor said the forces were most likely affiliated with the Palestinian Authority (PA) intelligence network in the West Bank, which is known to pursue students belonging to the Islamic Bloc because of their university and student activities.
The targeted student was leaving the university with his friends when security forces intercepted them. All of the students managed to escape and hide inside the university. Gunshots were reported, but no one was injured.
Enraged by what had just happened, the students started yelling at security personnel and hurling insults about the PA — which didn’t sit well with members of Fatah's student party, Shabiba. An altercation developed into a brawl despite the university guards’ attempts to contain the situation, which required an intervention by the university's administration. The school canceled courses for the next day, and classes resumed Dec. 19.
Almost 14,000 students are enrolled at Birzeit University.
Aziz Shwayka, the school's assistant president, urged all parties to “stop disrupting academic life and consider the university space a sacred one that is not to be desecrated.” He told Al-Monitor, "We have no contact with the Palestinian security apparatuses and have no knowledge of the individuals who attempted to arrest the students."
University guards had tried to defuse the situation, according to one such guard who asked for anonymity as he is not allowed to speak to the media. “We tried to maintain order inside the university during the brawl,” he told Al-Monitor. “A number of guards suffered injuries during a clash as they were trying to end the dispute.”
Shwayka said, “The university guards are not armed and don't have the tools to deal with cases of violence." He added, “Their responsibility is to maintain order at the university through peaceful means." Because of this, outside security forces should stay off the campus and not interfere with student affairs, Shwayka said.
He denied reports that PA police tried to storm the university after the incident and stressed that the police deployed around the university after the incident to prevent further complications.
Al-Monitor attempted to speak with Palestinian security, which refused to comment.
Following the 2007 Palestinian division between the Hamas and Fatah political parties, Hamas' student bloc was persecuted in the West Bank; its members were pursued and their university activities banned. But in 2012, following a 10-day sit-in organized by the bloc's students inside Birzeit University, the sides reached an agreement that unshackled the students' work and put an end — at that time — to the harassment. Under the agreement, security apparatuses and the Ministry of Interior pledged to stop all forms of persecution over students' political affiliations and university activism. That agreement, however, is being violated.
Islamic Bloc members at West Bank universities say they are constantly hunted by Palestinian security due to the students' school activities, which include organizing artistic, cultural, student and academic exhibitions designed to raise money from students.
Yet students who are arrested are often charged with serious crimes such as sectarian violence, libel, defamation, or even receiving funds from illicit parties or possessing weapons. Hamza Abu Qaraa, the Islamic Bloc's coordinator at Birzeit, told Al-Monitor these accusations are mostly fabricated, so courts issue orders to release the students. Although security officials often stall for a few days, they do eventually release most of the students.
“Security apparatuses try to fabricate charges against the Islamic Bloc students to put them off getting involved with it,” he said.
Abu Qaraa himself was arrested June 27 by PA intelligence affiliates. “I left the university heading for a gas station where I was surprised by an intelligence vehicle. The officers got out of the car, introduced themselves and asked me to surrender myself," he told Al-Monitor.
He got out of his car and tried to flee. “I went back to the university to hide there, but another intelligence vehicle was waiting for me on the other side. They started shooting in the air. This is when I stopped. Subsequently, they caught me, handcuffed me and beat me in the street. They took me to the [PA police intelligence] headquarters in Ramallah,” Abu Qaraa said.
Abu Qaraa said he was held for 19 days, even though he was granted a release order after the fifth day by the judge handling his case in Ramallah.
More than 400 students from various West Bank universities have been arrested during the school year, Abu Qaraa said, though exact figures aren't available. He said about 24 Birzeit students have been arrested since May when the Islamic Bloc won student council elections for the fourth year in a row.
The Islamic Bloc accuses PA security of trying to disrupt its work by persecuting its members. “The security apparatus’ interference with student life was the cause of the recent events at Birzeit University,” Abu Qaraa said, adding, “They make sure [they undermine] the Islamic Bloc’s [activities]. This is the case at all [West Bank] universities."
“Security apparatuses document any event or activity organized by the [Islamic] Bloc at the university, be it service-centered, academic or union-related, to subsequently pursue the people involved,” he said.
However, Sadek al-Khdour, spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education, told Al-Monitor, “The ministry distances higher education institutions from any divergence of viewpoints or disputes to preserve the educational process.”
Khdour denied that any PA security forces were involved in the brawl.
Asked whether the ministry or any affiliated personnel were connected to attempts to abduct students, Khdour said, “Security apparatuses might have some ulterior goals and motives, but we won’t comment about what happened without knowing the reasons.”
With the Fatah-Hamas split entering its 12th year, the fallout — including student persecution — is evident in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Manifestations of the rivalry correlate with each progressive or negative development between the parties.
Destroying Palestinian Universities
Foreign lecturers as well as Palestinian lecturers who studied or taught abroad are being expelled from West Bank academic institutes with a form of bureaucratic violence
Jul 26, 2018 3:21 AM
As Israeli students are finishing their final exams, Palestinian students in the occupied territories don’t know whether their institutions will be opening for the coming academic year or if their lecturers will continue to teach, as dozens of lecturers with European and American citizenship are being expelled.
Around half the foreign lecturers at Palestinian universities started receiving letters last November, saying their requests to have their residency visas extended had been refused because they’ve been “living in the area for more than five years.”
In addition, the foreign spouses of these lecturers are being asked to sign declarations that they do not intend to work. To assure that they keep this promise, they are asked to pay guarantees of between 20,000 shekels and 80,000 shekels (about $5,500 to $22,000), which will be forfeited if it is discovered that they’d been working despite the ban.
We are not talking about universities in Gaza, where both the lecturers and students are under siege and cannot leave at all, and foreign lecturers cannot enter, but universities in the West Bank.
This year, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I had the privilege of teaching both Israeli and Palestinian students, as well as students from Peru, Kenya, Cyprus, Canada and Greece. During this academic year, as every year, there were international conferences held at the university attended by foreign researchers. By contrast, dozens of students and lecturers from abroad who want to study or teach at Palestinian universities are being arrested at the border and expelled.
Laura Wick and her husband, Prof. Roger Hickok, are among those who are being forced to leave after 35 years of teaching and research at Birzeit University, because their visas have not been extended. Wick specializes in pediatric medical research and Hickok is a professor of European history, one of the founders of the university’s Institute of International Studies.
In a public letter that was circulated on international academic networks, Hickok described how he and his wife had become “illegal” residents. It happened when they returned from a home visit to the United States. At Ben-Gurion Airport they were given a tourist visa for two weeks, and told they would have to ask the military authorities to extend it. The description of their Kafkaesque efforts to enter the military camp in Beit El to deal with their visas, and of the phone calls and faxes that weren’t answered for months, is sad and depressing.
The presence of international researchers for lengthy periods is an international criterion for ranking institutions of higher education. Without such a presence, the university suffers from what’s referred to as “ghettoization of knowledge.” What’s more, a significant number of the lecturers being expelled are Palestinians who studied in the United States and Europe; some were born in the occupied territories and went to study abroad.
While Israel makes great efforts and invests millions to bring back Israeli academics who are teaching abroad, it makes life very difficult for Palestinian lecturers who studied and taught abroad, allowing them to teach in Palestinian universities for five years at most. The expulsion of Palestinian lecturers, which prevents them from getting tenure and developing an academic career in the territories will only lead to the slow destruction of Palestinian universities.
At Birzeit University, all students are required to study European philosophy and history. It was also the first university in the Middle East to establish a women’s studies program. However, the male and female students – women account for more than half of the student body – have almost no option to study abroad, and the lecturers who teach English, European or American history, cultural studies and foreign literature, are being expelled.
During the first intifada, the Israeli army closed the universities for years, and closed schools and kindergartens for many months, creating the so-called “lost generation.” This is the generation whose education suffered a serious setback and from which the lecturers of today could have sprung.
Does Israel want to create more lost generations of Palestinians who won’t get higher education and are not exposed to foreign ideas and knowledge? Does the destruction of higher education in the territories benefit Israel? Will Israel’s bureaucratic violence lead to similar restrictions being imposed on Israeli students and academics?
Prof. Golan teaches in the Hebrew University Law Faculty. Her book “Hope on the Campus Margins – Israeli and Palestinian Students in Jerusalem,” was recently published by Resling.
As Israel tightens entry rules, foreign lecturers at Palestinian universities forced to leave
Short-term tourist visas and refusals to extend them are routine obstacles, but the West Bank's Birzeit University is now fighting back”
Amira Hass | Haaretz, Jul. 13, 2019 ,
Among the many problems at Birzeit University in the West Bank, foreign lecturers’ troubles haven’t received top priority. But as Mudar Kassis, an associate professor in philosophy, puts it, “suddenly I looked around and discovered that my colleagues were being deported.”
He found that their visas aren’t extended and they’re required to leave before the end of the academic year, or they’re not allowed to return for the next year. Some decide not to abandon their students in the middle of the year and are left without a valid visa. In fact they’re imprisoned in the Ramallah enclave. They don’t leave for fear that a soldier at a checkpoint will check their passport will order their deportation.
“A university is like its name – universal,” says Kassis, who also runs Birzeit’s Muwatin Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. “It’s important to us that lecturers offer other perspectives and come from different backgrounds, so that students can expand their worldview and develop critical positions. Every university in the world has lecturers from abroad. Their employment is part of its autonomy, and it’s natural that we too have this academic freedom.”
Kassis’ discovery was made possible due to the increasing difficulties, for three years now, to obtain a visa to enter and stay in the Palestinian enclaves. Israel controls entry to the West Bank. Even before the recent worsening, the professors and other foreign citizens were confronted by a vague procedure, red tape and unexplained fluctuations in treatment by the Israeli authorities.
All this took place after lecturers had passed the security vetting. Due to the difficulties, they have been forced to hire lawyers to handle the exhausting correspondence with Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories before every visa extension, or for obtaining a new visa.
Each lecturer and accompanying lawyer – in many cases Lea Tsemel – was alone in conducting the battle for the right to teach at the university he or she chose, as if the problem were an individual one and didn’t stem from Israel’s policy.
Now Birzeit University has decided to deal with the infringement on its academic freedom of choice as an institution. With the help of rights groups Al-Haq and Adalah, it’s demanding that the Israeli authorities respect this freedom and stop piling difficulties on the employment of foreign lecturers at Palestinian universities.
The process began with a letter from attorney Sawsan Zaher of Adalah to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Military Advocate General Sharon Afek, Interior Minister Arye Dery and COGAT chief Kamil Abu Rokon. The letter was sent on April 30. Zaher deliberately addressed the principle rather than individual cases. She wrote that under the Hague Convention, an occupying force must allow the continuation of normal life, including studies.
“The right of a university under occupation to define itself by realizing its academic freedom, especially regarding decisions to develop and advance its academic standards, is not revoked or suspended due to the occupation, especially when no security considerations justify it,” she wrote, adding that this still applies when the occupation unnaturally lasts for over 52 years.
The attorney general’s office replied that Zaher’s letter had been passed on to Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, who was handling it. Haaretz asked the respondents if, after receiving the letter, they had met or planned to meet to sort out the problems. Haaretz also asked for a response to the claim that the restrictions were intended to harm Palestinian institutions in general and the university in particular.
The army spokesman and Justice Ministry replied only that the request was being handled and would be responded to directly. The Interior Ministry and COGAT said the letter – which was sent by fax – had not reached them. The latter added that it would be addressed once they receive it.
Zaher told Haaretz that the letter had been sent as a preliminary legal step, and if things didn’t change, this would lead to a court petition.
As Zaher stressed in her letter, when foreign lecturers are accepted to Israeli universities, the institution represents them and fills out the paperwork, according to a special rule for B1 researcher/lecturer visas. The first visa is valid for up to two years, with an option to be extended for up to five years or more, with multiple entries permitted. The regulation clearly sets a limit for the length of processing a request.
More than mere foot-dragging
In contrast, even without the worsening of the process, the COGAT regulation for entering the Palestinian enclaves doesn’t distinguish between lecturers and other visitors, and its vagueness allows for great arbitrariness, foot-dragging and a lack of transparency.
The army and the Population and Immigration Authority responded to a Haaretz query by saying that there has not been a change in the entry regulations for the Palestinian enclaves. Over the phone, COGAT gave the same response.
However, the facts on the ground say the opposite, as detailed in a number of Haaretz articles this past year and according to the paper’s interviews with several Birzeit lecturers. They received visas that were shorter than the semester, the visas are extended for periods shorter than the norm or weren’t extended at all, the visas are single-entry, entry to Jerusalem and Israel are forbidden, the time it takes to process the visa or visa renewal drags on for no clear reason, and lecturers are forbidden from leaving and entering via Ben-Gurion International Airport – making their trips abroad more expensive and complicated, especially if they had to go for short conferences or make emergency trips.
Some have also been required to pay tens of thousands of shekels to the Civil Administration as a guarantee they wouldn’t violate their visa conditions. Moreover, all the lecturers are given tourist and not work visas. Thus the population registry chief at the Civil Administration demands of lecturers married to Palestinian residents to resign from their university job in exchange for a visa extension, a demand they refuse.
As of this past Wednesday, nine of 19 foreign lecturers working full-time at Birzeit since 2018 did not have a valid visa. Five of them stayed on in Ramallah. Four left and don’t know if they’ll return to teach this fall. Of the 10 who obtained visas, three received ones shorter than the teaching period in their contract. The other seven are lucky. They’re working for a program funded by the German, Spanish, Italian and U.S. governments, which arranged their visas.
Five of the 13 part-time lecturers didn’t receive a visa; four left and don’t know if they’ll be able to return. One of them stayed. At the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, a part of Birzeit where 19 foreigners lecture, three teachers were denied entry during the 2018-19 academic year, and five were refused a visa extension.
All of the lecturers are experts in their field (such as linguistics, theater, Chinese and ecology) who currently have no replacement in the West Bank. Thus those who were forced to leave in the middle of the year continued with Skype lessons, including cello lessons.
One of the traumatic outcomes of the visa odyssey, even before the current worsening of COGAT policies, was a year delay in the opening of a nursing school at Birzeit. The uncertainty hampers research, relationships with students and the overall mood.
Because of the situation it’s impossible to engage in faculty or student exchange programs with other universities. It also makes lecturers waste precious time navigating the Civil Administration bureaucracy. The difficulties in obtaining a secure visa cause the university to hesitate before picking foreign professors, or it forgoes certain specializations. Also, potential lecturers are deterred from submitting their candidacy.
Solidarity and culture
Many of the foreign lecturers, citizens of Western countries, aren’t really foreigners but rather Palestinians who were born abroad or lost their residency status in the West Bank or Jerusalem because of Israeli policy. They – and non-Palestinian lecturers – keep coming to Palestinian universities for intellectual integrity, rather than attractive material conditions, says Ghassan Khatib of the cultural studies department, who teaches politics and communication. The pay is low; all the universities are in the red because the already modest funding from the Palestinian Authority has been cut in recent years to less than 1 percent of their budget. Some lecturers want to serve their people or show solidarity; for others it’s a new cultural experience.
“Palestinian society in the West Bank suffers from an ongoing brain drain,” Khatib says. “We at Birzeit lose three to five of our best academics every year” to universities abroad.
Kassis adds that emigration waves that Israel has imposed in various ways over the past 70 years have taken away the best minds. Thus it’s not just a matter of seeking fresh perspectives but a need for the knowledge and expertise of guest lecturers from abroad.
Moverover, over the past two decades Birzeit and other universities have become local institutions of the Palestinian enclaves where they’re located; most students at Birzeit, for example, hail from the Ramallah region. Several reasons explain this trend. The fragmentation of the West Bank through military checkpoints and the closing of large territories and roads to the Palestinians have changed the Palestinian perception of space and time. Close distances now seem very distant because of the unnaturally long trip, and besides losing time to checkpoints, families fear their children’s possible dangerous confrontations with the army and settlers. Likewise, most parents have a hard time paying for their children’s dorm room or apartment.
Before 2000, about a third of Birzeit students and many lecturers were from Gaza. Today Israel prohibits their exit to the West Bank – thus a regional social monotony is created that is also foreign to the idea of a university. It only emphasizes the academic and intellectual need for lecturers from abroad, with different experiences, teaching styles and perspectives.
Khatib says university officials have discussed the problem with foreign diplomats. “I told them they should intervene, that there’s no security issue here. They said they report to their foreign ministries. No one promised to raise the issue with their Israeli counterpart,” he said.
“When asked why Israel is doing this, I answer that I can’t find a reason besides the Israeli desire to weaken our institutions and destroy the Palestinian future. When they fight against the quality of the Palestinian academic institution, they’re weakening our future.”
Israel’s Academy for Indifference
Why should Israeli professors and students care that their country is subverting the academic freedom of Palestinian universities and interfering with their hiring of foreign lecturers?
Jul 15, 2019 1:16 AM
Qassam rockets, rocks or incendiary balloons are not the reason that Israel interferes with the academic freedom of Palestinian universities and subverts the process of hiring lecturers from abroad or accepting foreign students.
This routine Israeli interference with the ordinary life of Palestinian universities doesn’t interest presidents, faculty deans or senior lecturers of Israeli universities, nor their student population. Their voices are not heard despite the fact that the meddling of the Interior Ministry and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories in granting visas to academics and students headed for the Palestinian enclaves began long ago, and has only exacerbated over the last three years.
Perhaps they will begin to show interest in the subject if European and American student councils and a few professors associations once again raise the obstacle of visas for academics as a reason to boycott Israeli universities. Official Israeli representatives will probably complain that it’s anti-Semitism, self-righteously roll their eyes and say that they didn’t know – one more thing they didn’t know.
And why should the Israeli academic world care that due to the movement restrictions imposed by Israel, the West Bank’s Birzeit University lacks lecturers in mathematical economics and civil engineering, for instance. After all, it doesn’t bother the law faculties that judges in Jerusalem approved the expulsion of the Siyam family from their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan by the right-wing settler group Elad, and it doesn’t bother architecture students or their lecturers that the army ordered the destruction of a neighborhood in Wadi Hummus, near the separation barrier in Jerusalem.
Why should the Hebrew University of Jerusalem take an interest in the following explicit discrimination, one of innumerable examples? There is a clear and convenient Interior Ministry procedure for hiring foreign academics by Israeli universities. For West Bank universities, there is no parallel procedure – and it must be an Israeli one, because Israel controls the borders and determines who enters the Palestinian enclaves. After all, that same Hebrew University doesn’t take an interest in the Israeli abuse that goes on in the Isawiyah ghetto, located on the slopes of the hill that it overlooks.
The students and the lecturers are an integral part of the Jewish Israeli public, and like the public, they are indifferent to the undermining of Palestinian universities. For the academic world as for the entire public – except Arab Israelis and a handful of left-wing Jewish activists in Israeli universities who are not paralyzed by the uniformity of thought forced on them by right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu – our domination of the Palestinians is a non-issue.
There are about 30 foreign lecturers in Birzeit out of a faculty of about 450 – not much. The 20 or so foreign music teachers out of 110 in Ramallah’s Edward Said National Conservatory of Music is already a higher percentage of faculty members trapped in the network of caprices and arbitrariness of the Civil Administration and the Population and Immigration Authority.
Whether it’s a lot or a little, what’s important is not the individual numbers but the principle. If there were a clear and convenient procedure, similar to that in Israel, we can assume that the number of music teachers and lecturers of sciences or in various interdisciplinary tracks would be even greater, whether filling the currently missing positions or developing new fields. We can also assume that other Palestinian universities – which hire fewer foreigners, or none at all – would also like to expand and enrich their faculty with guests from abroad.
There are far greater horrors than a seasoned history professor at Birzeit who has been stuck in Cyprus for over a year because Israel won’t renew his entry visa to Ramallah, or exams that are scanned and sent by email to the lecturer who wasn’t allowed to return. Once again I will mention the neighborhood of Silwan, which is being tortured by a right-wing organization that is drowning in money, and with the help of dubious archaeological projects pressures its residents to leave.
But it’s a mistake to rank the Israeli methods of harming the lives of Palestinians according to their bloody horror. The Jewish Israeli onslaught against the Palestinian people is multisystemic. It’s conducted with advanced military and technological means that are developed in Israeli universities, and with complicated bureaucratic procedures. It’s conducted by government ministries and ostensibly nongovernmental associations for espionage and slander, and by “autonomous” local councils like Nof Hagalil and Afula in the north (which in different ways ignore the existence of Arab citizens and their rights), and the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council in the West Bank, which funnels millions of dollars into illegal and unauthorized settlement infrastructure. It’s conducted also through the lack of media coverage and the sophisticated or blatant incitement heard daily on radio and television.
Even if Israel didn’t kill or wound a single Palestinian during demonstrations, this would still be a multisystemic onslaught to bring about the disintegration of the Palestinian collective and turn it into a random group of individuals, each of whom must deal with the attacker on his own.
Israel invests human, technological, financial and intellectual resources in order to continue the multisystemic onslaught designed to cause the disintegration of the Palestinian collective. For that purpose it uses the human, financial and intellectual resources of Jews throughout the world, not to mention the diplomatic, economic and political support of many countries.
When we take into account this enormous Israeli, Jewish and global investment, we can once again be amazed and moved by the steadfastness of the Palestinians – both individuals and the collective. And that includes the Palestinian universities.
Arbitrary arrests of Birzeit University students
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu
Minister of the Interior Aryeh Machluf Deri
Minister of Education Naftali Bennett
Chairman, Council for Higher Education of Israel
Major General Kamil Abu Rokon
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories
Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, and Major General,
We once again write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to urge a halt to the Israeli army and security forces’ incursions into and arbitrary arrests at Palestinian universities, assaulting of students, faculty and staff, and obstructing the education of thousands of students. We also condemn in the strongest possible terms the harm inflicted by the Israeli Army on students at all levels of education through these incursions and arrests.
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has over 2,500 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
On 26 March 2019, undercover Israeli operatives stormed the campus of Birzeit University, raided the offices of the Student Council, and arrested three students: Hamza Abu Qare’, Tawfiq Abu Arqoub and Odai Nakhleh. This is not the first time the Israeli Army and its operatives have conducted such arbitrary arrests. This past fall semester, on 19 November 2018, the Israeli Army arrested Yehya Rabie, the President of Birzeit University’s Student Council and a third-year student of business and economics. The Israeli Army raided Rabie’s home in a dawn arrest. In March 2018, five Israeli soldiers disguised as journalists entered the same university and arrested the previous President of Birzeit University’s Student Council, Omar al-Kiswani. Both men remain in detention without trial. We are very concerned that the three students detained on 16 March will face similar fates.
We noted similar attacks on higher education and education more broadly in the occupied Palestinian territories in letters sent to you on 22 January 2019 and 13 March 2018. For example, on 18 December 2018, Israeli forces entered Al-Quds University’s Abu Dis campus, raided several faculties and offices, searched offices of student activists, damaged personal belongings, and seized surveillance footage. On 14 July 2018, Israeli forces raided the Hind Al-Husseini College in Jerusalem and banned a planned conference there. The college remains closed. Israeli forces have also used excessive force on campuses, including firing rubber-coated bullets and tear gas canisters at students at the Palestine Technical University in Hebron on 4 March 2018.
We reiterate: the attacks, assaults, and detentions described above are grave violations of basic rights to education and academic freedom. In our view, they are a part of a larger assault on the Palestinian right to education in the West Bank, which has been especially brutal during the past year. Detentions of students increase the time spent toward the attainment of academic degrees, while arrests of faculty members disrupt instruction. The new measures, in which students, including student leaders, faculty members, and administrators are detained, turn campuses from safe spaces into zones where the students’ and staff members’ politics put them in grave danger both on and off the campus.
These arbitrary arrests and detention of students are also a clear violation of the right to education enshrined in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Israel is a party to the UDHR and a signatory to the ICESCR and is therefore obligated to uphold them. We call upon you to cease these attacks on Palestinian universities and ensure the rights of Palestinian students to education unobstructed.
We look forward to your response.
Judith E. Tucker
Professor, Georgetown University
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor, University of Southern California
---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Herman DeLey [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, 14 July 2019 17:00
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Israel's scholasticide policies are clearly driven by "the desire to weaken our institutions and destroy the Palestinian future. When they fight against the quality of the Palestinian academic institution, they’re weakening our future” (thus our colleague Ghassan Khatib, Birzeit U, the cultural studies department). Once more, Amira Hass too is sounding convincingly the alarm, i.e. with her article in yesterday's Haaretz: "As Israel Tightens Entry Rules, Foreign Lecturers at Palestinian Universities Forced to Leave
Short-term tourist visas and refusals to extend them are routine obstacles, but the West Bank's Birzeit University is now fighting back" (July 13), https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-as-israel-tightens-entry-rules-foreign-profs-at-palestinian-universities-forced-out-1.7497044 .
In order to contribute, in a very modest way, stimulating the eventual launch of a global academics' solidarity campaign with our Palestinian colleagues and students (as we in Belgium already did, in a modes way, last year), allow me please to send you in attachment a plain copy of Hass's article (with my apologies to friends disposing of a regular subscription to the paper). Below you find the message I already sent to my Belgian comrades 2 days ago, with links to 3 other publications.
PS I don't dispose, since a week, of my regular pc; my address books for that reason are not up-to-date. My apologies.
With my best regards,
Herman De Ley,
No 'myth-historic' celebrations (nor burlesque drama) in Palestine, yesterday's July 11. With the support of Adalah and Al-Haq our BZU colleaguest continue their struggle against Israel's scholasticide policies.
See info below (will be published also in the academic NL 49, July-August).
Perhaps it'd be a good idea, even during these holidays, to use this info to (try to) re-invigorate somewhat the attention of your academic contacts? It's a great pity it hasn't been possible to get a state of affairs of our past "Bizeit campaign."
"Israel forcing international lecturers out of West Bank Palestinian universities" (BZU, Adalah & Al-Haq, July 11, 2019):
Birzeit University, Adalah, Al-Haq are now fighting to end escalating discriminatory Israeli policy aimed at preventing international academics from staying in the West Bank and refusing to renew visas for those with teaching contracts. In a letter sent on 30 April 2019 to Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, Israeli Chief Military Advocate General Sharon Afek, and the Israeli military's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) Kamil Abu Rokon, Birzeit University, Al-Haq, and Adalah demand that Israel:
- lift the restrictions preventing international academics employed by Birzeit University from staying and working in the West Bank;
- refrain from imposing arbitrary restrictions on the duration of stay or extension of stay for international academics;
- order the publication of a clear and lawful procedure for issuing entry visas and work permits for international academics in the West Bank, which will enable the university to manage and maintain its academic freedom.
Adalah Deputy General Director Attorney Sawsan Zaher, who drafted the letter to Israeli authorities, said: "Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – like all other peoples around the world – are entitled to exercise their right to academic freedom as part of their right to self-determination. The Israeli military occupation cannot prevent Palestinians from exercising this right". Indeed, according to the interpretation applied to Article 43 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, sovereignty of education does not change hands - it is inalienable - and must remain in the hands of the occupied Palestinian population.
Yumna Patel, "Palestinian universities fight back against Israel forcing international academics out of the country" (Mondoweiss, July 11, 2019):
Birzeit, which has ranked within the top three percent of universities worldwide, is fighting back. The highly acclaimed university, hand in hand with legal rights groups Adalah and Al-Haq, is "demanding an immediate halt to this policy targeting Palestinian academic freedom and isolating Palestinian institutions of higher learning," the groups said in a press release on Thursday. "Blocking our right to engage international academics is part of an ongoing effort by the Israeli occupation to marginalize Palestinian institutions of higher education," Birzeit University President Abdullatif Abuhijleh said in a statement. "The latest escalation in visa restrictions is just one in a longstanding and systematic Israeli policy of undermining the independence and viability of Palestinian higher education institutions."
Maureen Clare MURPHY: "Israel isolates Palestinian universities" (The Electronic Intifada, 11 July 2019):
...Dozens of international staff and lecturers have been "detrimentally affected during the previous two years by Israeli rejections of applications for new visas or visa extensions or by refusal to allow them to enter the West Bank" (letter). Many are Palestinians who hold international passports, and the majority are from the US and European Union member states. Israel's policy toward international academics "violates universities’ freedom to expand the areas of research and studies it offers to Palestinian and international students alike. As such, Israel is blocking the occupied Palestinian population from determining for themselves what kind of education they want to provide." A regulation issued by COGAT, the bureaucratic arm of Israel's military occupation, allows international "lecturers and advisers" to apply for a visa lasting up to three months only. Meanwhile, Israeli universities "are able to recruit foreign academics under a separate procedure that allows the entry and employment of foreigners for a period of up to five years."
Em.Prof. Herman De Ley,
Solidarity with Birzeit University
To: X, President of … University
On behalf of the endorsers of this letter, we would like to urge you to access and
disseminate as widely as possible the urgent call from Birzeit University, and to send a strong
signal against the alarming academic isolation imposed by the Israeli authorities on
Palestinian universities in the Occupied Territories.
On July 12 of this year, Professor Abdullatif Abuhijleh, your fellow Rector of the Palestinian
University of Birzeit (hereafter BZU), published an urgent appeal to the international
community to defend academic freedom in Palestine.1
In his outcry, he denounces the harmful consequences - not only for Birzeit, but for all
Palestinian universities and colleges2 - of Israel's increasingly restrictive policy on access to
and residence in the Palestinian territories which are entirely under its control. 3
An increasing number of prospective professors and collaborators with international
passports are being denied an entry visa (a B2 temporary tourist visa). For people already
active in Palestine, regardless of the length of their residency, it is becoming increasingly
difficult to obtain an extension of their permit. A glaring example is that of Professor Roger
Heacock and his wife Dr. Laura Wick: two months ago, after working for 35 years in
Palestine, they were forced to leave. 4
1 See below on p. 4: “Annex 1: Call by Prof. Abdullatif Abuhijleh, president of Birzeit University”; and
on p. 6: “Annex 2: Open Letter: “Stop the academic asphyxiation of the occupied Palestinian
2 The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip comprise 14 universities, 1 open university for
distance learning, 18 colleges and 20 university centres for the first cycle. In 2015, the number of
students enrolled was 214,000, of which about 54% were female and 46% male students. (Source :
the report “Les universités palestiniennes sous l’occupation” (AURDIP, le 1er juillet, 2015),
3 Israel has full control over access to (and departure from) the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and
thus has the power to decide whether or not to issue a visa. Unlike some international humanitarian
organisations, Palestinian universities (with the exception of Al-Quds Bard College) do not have the
possibility to issue visas to their employees in coordination with Israel.
4 Roger Heacock worked at the BZU as a full-time professor of History and chairman of the Graduate
Program in International Studies, where Laura Wick worked as a midwife and health researcher. See:
Rania Zabaneh, “Foreign residents in Palestinian territories denied visa renewals. Israel is increasingly
rejecting applications to renew residency visas and families face being split up” (Al-Jazeera, July 13,
academics are holding Palestinian universities back. A labyrinthine visa process and perverse decision-
making are making life increasingly untenable for non-Palestinian academics” (The World University
Solidarity with Birzeit University
Certainly, also in the past, foreign academics already faced deliberate sabotage by Israeli
border authorities,5 but since 2017 the situation has worsened considerably. Visa applicants
face an alarming escalation in obscure, arbitrary and ever-changing requirements and
restrictions.6 According to officials of the Palestinian Civil Affairs Commission, the number of
extensions granted by Israel to international academic staff has decreased from 70 per cent
in 2017 to about 10 per cent in the first half of 2018. The very duration of this type of visa
has been reduced to three months - a period that is absolutely insufficient, of course, to
cover a full academic year. According to a questionnaire presented by the Palestinian
Ministry of Education and Higher Education in eight universities, over the past two academic
years - more than half of their international staff have been subjected to this kind of
arbitrary refusal and restrictions. As a result, academic programmes and structures have
been seriously disrupted, and it is increasingly difficult for universities to attract
international expertise. Not surprisingly, the number of international academics in
Palestinian universities has been reduced considerably.
From its inception, internationalism - the free mobility and collaboration of students and
professors from various cities, regions and countries - has always been part of the
university’s DNA. In the global context of the 21st century, the presence of an international
staffing is, more than ever, a cornerstone and a condition for academic excellence. Israeli
universities and research centres themselves have acquired their universally recognized
excellence precisely through international collaboration and support. Think, for example, of
their participation in long-term European research and innovation programmes such as
Horizon 2020. Conversely, through its increasingly restrictive access policy, Israel prevents
Palestinians living under its yoke from being able to reap the full intellectual and scientific
benefits of international collaboration and exchange. Moreover it should be noted that
mobility is sabotaged in both directions: Palestinian students and researchers who, often on
an external grant, would also wish to study, work or attend a congress abroad, also face
great difficulties in obtaining an exit visa. Since the Rafah to Egypt crossing is only
exceptionally open, normally their sole possibility to leave the occupied territories including
the Gaza Strip is via Jordan, an exit which is under full Israeli control.7
6 See the protest letter, “Arbitrary demands on foreign national academics working in Palestinian
universities.” 6/8/2018 the “Committee on Academic Freedom” of the Middle East Studies
Association of North America (MESA) to all Israeli ministers involved: “We write to you … to express
our dismay regarding the severe and unreasonable limitations imposed on foreign nationals who are
faculty members at Birzeit University (BZU) and other Palestinian universities in the West Bank and
7 For a year now, researchers and students in the Gaza Strip have found it particularly difficult to
travel abroad via the Erez Crossing: as a condition of boarding the shuttle to the Allenby Bridge, they
Solidarity with Birzeit University
Israel's policy clearly violates the academic freedom of Palestinian institutions, their
professors and students. Together with other Israeli discrimination and disruptions,8 the
fundamental human right to education and future-oriented training that is at stake here.
Rector Abuhijleh rightly refers in his complaints to the international obligations of the Israeli
State: the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) concerning military occupation,9 international
conventions such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
(1966),10 as well as the right to education guaranteed by article 26 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Finally, it is not surprising that the rector of the BZU is the first to sound the alarm. The BZU
is not only one of the largest Palestinian universities,11 but it is also probably the most
international exchange-oriented institution.12 It is therefore particularly affected by Israel's
discriminatory policy. On 8 June 2018, seven of its international staff - one third of his
international team - were denied a visa extension; several others had already been forced
earlier by Israel to leave Palestine.
Together with Rector Abuhijleh, we must be aware of the disastrous consequences that this
will have in the short and long term. The contribution of professors and researchers from
abroad is of crucial importance, he wrote, "not only to continue to be able to offer quality
education to the BZU, but also for the longer-term development of Palestinian higher
education". If Israel's obstructionist policy continues, "Palestinian universities, including
Birzeit's, will find themselves even more isolated from the global academic community. Our
are forced to sign a commitment not to return to Gaza for at least a year. See: “Gisha in letter to
Gaza CLA: Stop the unlawful practice of making Gaza residents sign a commitment not to return for a
8 See the report by the Irish guest professor Brendan Ciarán Browne, at Al Quds Bard College:
9 Art. 50: “The Occupying Power shall, with the co-operation of the national and local authorities,
facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.”
10 Signed by Israel on 3 October 1991. See in particular article 15(3): "States Parties shall undertake to
respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activities". Paragraph 4. "States
Parties to this Convention recognize the benefits arising from the promotion and development of
international [!] scientific and cultural contacts and cooperation.”
11 Cf. at the start of academic year 2017-18 at the BZU: “On September 9, 2017, around 3500 new
students began their journey at Birzeit University for the new academic year 2017-2018. The
university welcomed a diverse group of new students, symbols of the growth of the institution, which
has reached around 14,000 enrolled students”. See: “New academic year kicked off with
contemporary academic programs and innovative co-curriculum initiatives” (Sept 9, 2017),
12 “The president talked about the achievements that the university has accomplished in the last year.
‘We are gaining increasing international recognition, and we are proud to be listed in the QS World
University Rankings among 3% of the best universities in the world’”, during the same opening.
Solidarity with Birzeit University
ability to provide world-class education will be further compromised if we lose international
perspectives, diverse high-level professional experiences and skills, which are of crucial
importance to Palestinian academic life and the campus environment as a whole.”
Dear rector, dear colleague, in the interest of academic solidarity with the affected sister
institutions in Palestine, we ask that our university gives a strong signal. First, the signatories
ask you to send a letter to your BZU colleague in which you express your solidarity and
support. Secondly, we ask you to join your colleagues of the other universities to denounce
publicly the isolation the State of Israel tries to impose on Palestinian universities and high
Any rector who wishes to turn the institution he or she heads into a "truely international
university" may only be shocked, we think, if this legitimate aspiration is denied to other
universities. That is why we hope you will support us.
Annex 1: Call by Prof. Abdullatif Abuhijleh, president of Birzeit University
Since the beginning of the current academic year (2017-2018), scores of foreign passport
holders, many of Palestinian origin but without residence documents, living and working in
the occupied Palestinian territory have been denied entry in the country, or have had their
visa renewal applications refused by the Israeli authorities. At Birzeit University alone, we
have 15 foreign passport-holding faculty members whose requests for visa renewals have
been refused or significantly delayed.
These faculty members have full-time status, work in all the various faculties on our campus,
and include senior faculty and department chairpersons. Our faculty who are currently under
threat teach in the BA, MA, and Ph.D. programs at Birzeit University, are members of
university committees, and serve the larger Palestinian community through public seminars
and lectures. Already some professors have been forced to leave the country; including one
from the Department of English and Literature, and a professor of European History at the
Ibrahim Abu Lughod Institute for International Studies who has devoted his entire academic
career to Palestine and the university for the past four decades.
These international professors play a critical role not only in the ongoing provision of quality
education at Birzeit University but also in the long-term development of Palestinian higher
education. If this policy continues, Palestinian universities, including Birzeit University, will be
further isolated from the global academic environment. Our ability to deliver a world class
education will be further compromised if we lose the international perspectives, diverse
professional experiences and high-level skills these faculty members crucially bring to
Palestinian academic life and the campus environment as a whole. In the global academic
Solidarity with Birzeit University
environment of the 21st Century, having an internationally diverse faculty has become a
fundamental cornerstone of academic excellence at universities worldwide. If Birzeit
University and Palestinian higher education as a whole are denied the right to engage
international faculty members, what is ultimately being denied is our right to deliver a quality
and standard of education that meets the accepted global norm.
The right to education is a fundamental human right as established in Article 26 of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That article simultaneously underlines the critical link
between education and the furthering of global perspectives, understanding and connection
between diverse peoples and nations:
"Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the
strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote
understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and
shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace."
A long line of UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, and rulings of the
International Court of Justice affirm Israel´s obligation to exercise its responsibility as the
occupying power in West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in accordance
with international humanitarian law (including The Hague Convention of 1907 and the
Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949) as well as applicable international human rights law.
Israel is obligated by international law to both protect and facilitate the functioning of
Palestinian civil institutions, including higher education. All states that are signatories to
these resolutions also bear a responsibility to ensure that Israel exercises its obligations
towards Palestinian education under international law; including that it exercises its control
over the entry and presence of foreign academics in a manner that avoids unnecessary harm
to Palestinian higher education and to the occupied population´s fundamental right to
We call on everyone - including governments, institutions, academics, and associations - to
decry these policies, protect our fundamental right of academic freedom at Birzeit
University and for all Palestinian higher education.
President Abdullatif Abuhijleh,
+970 2 2982008
Solidarity with Birzeit University
Annex 2: Open Letter: “Stop the academic asphyxiation of the occupied Palestinian
While Israel has been a member of UEFA since 1994 and has been participating in the
preliminary rounds of the European Championship since then, it restricts the freedom of
movement of its Palestinian football players and officials, disrupts the importation of their
football equipment and hinders the construction of sports facilities in the Palestinian
While Israel is warming up for the organisation of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019,
Palestinian musicians, theatre makers, writers and cartoonists are the target of persecution,
harassment and being deprived of their livelihood.
While Israel is able to compete for funding from the major European research funds such as
Horizon 2020, for Palestinian universities and colleges it is becoming increasingly difficult to
attract foreign teachers and researchers or to send their own people abroad.
In short, while Israel is enrolling ever more deeply in the European, and therefore global,
sports, cultural and academic space, it is isolating the Palestinians in each of these areas and
depriving them of vital international growth opportunities. The latter is serious when it
comes to sport or culture, but totally unacceptable when it comes to science and higher
education, because it is hampering the intellectual and technological future of an entire
society. That is what is happening now in the oPt and against which we want to protest
As academics, we know all too well the importance of good international networking,
communication and exchange. Academic mobility is an essential part of any university
career, whether it concerns participation in congresses or summer schools, visiting
lectureships or research stays abroad. Conversely, every university or college of higher
education knows the added value of international mobility of its teachers, researchers and
students. In the occupied Palestinian territories they are aware of this for years for the
simple reason that this international interaction is increasingly made difficult for them.
For some time now, foreign academics in the oPt have been encountering deliberate
obstruction from the Israeli border authorities, but since 2017 the situation has deteriorated
dramatically. Applicants are faced with an escalation of obscure, arbitrary and ever-changing
requirements and restrictions. This is reflected in the decreasing number of extensions
granted by Israel to international academic staff, which have fallen from 70% in 2017 to
around 10% in the first half of 2018. The very duration of such visas has been reduced to
three months - a period that is absolutely insufficient, of course, for a full academic year. As
a result, academic programmes and structures have been severely disrupted and
international expertise is increasingly moving away from Palestinian universities and
Not only the indefinite duration of Israel’s occupation and colonisation of the Palestinian
territories is in breach of international law, as confirmed by a long and sad list of United
Nations Security Council resolutions. The way in which Israel’s policies of repression and
Solidarity with Birzeit University
dispossession of the native population are implemented, is also unacceptable under
international law. Being part of a comprehensive policy of cultural dispossession (recently:
the demotion of the Arabic language in Israel from a “national” to a “special” status) Israel’s
incremental international isolation of Palestinian higher education and scientific research
not only violates the academic freedom of Palestinian institutions, their lecturers and
students but it also jeopardizes the fundamental human right to education and future-
oriented development. The Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) on military occupation, the
international conventions such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (1966) and the right to education guaranteed by Art. 26 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and by Art. 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(1990), they are all ignored by the Israeli regime.
The outcry that prompted us to write this open letter and the call for urgent action
addressed to the Belgian rectors, came last July from Prof. Abdullatif Abuhijleh. As the
Rector of Birzeit University, one of the largest and most internationally oriented Palestinian
universities, and in the name of some fifty Palestinian higher education institutions and their
more than 200,000 students, he expressed his fears about the future of Palestinian quality
education and training and the spectre of ever-increasing isolation from the global academic
community. He knows what he is talking about. From the West Bank, where Birzeit is
located, the dystopia of Gaza is looming, where universities have been virtually closed off
from the outside world for ten years.
The many academic signatories of this open letter are first and foremost addressing all the
rectors of the Belgian universities in order to publicly and collectively respond to and echo
the cry for help from our colleagues of Birzeit University. This comprehensive reaction must
above all be a signal to the Israeli authorities that the destruction of the academic,
intellectual and scientific life in the oPt will not pass silently. It will not even be drowned out
by the applause of the Eurovision Song Contest or the enthusiasm for a European project
2 Forum ISIM NEWS LETTER 1 / 98
Muslims in Belgium Enemies from within or Fellow - Citizens?
B e l g i u m
HERMAN DE LEY
In the core countries of the European Union, Muslims, today, are counted in the millions and Islam is engaged in a process of institutionalization in the midst of secularized societies. Whereas Christianity is receding to the countryside, Western Islam is manifesting itself as an urban phenomenon: Muslim populations are concentrated in towns and the symbolic attributes of Islamic faith and culture are becoming more and more conspicuous in this urban environment. In these closing years of the twentieth century, Europe is more than ever before becoming a space were Islamic, Christian, Jewish and secular traditions come together “to fight, support, and fertilize each other”.1
If we would accept Huntington’s well-known thesis of the coming “clash of civilizations”,2 this state of affairs would imply that the “front” between Islam and the West once again (i.e. since 1492) is no longer “safely” located between the continents, or between the eastern and western parts of the European continent, but that it is actually running through our very towns and societies. Are we heading then for a kind of “civil war” in Western society itself? And the Muslims in our societies: i.e. the Turks, the Moroccans and the others, naturalized or not, immigrants and converts, are they to be imagined as “the enemies from within”? Will they, as a consequence, eventually have to be driven out again - just like the Moriscos in Spain were, at the beginning of the 17th century?3 There is no denying that there are signs that would superficially seem to confirm such a reading: for instance, the riots and confrontations between “Muslim” youngsters and the police which on a more or less regular basis break out in our towns.
Already, a new racism is legitimizing this growing polarization between the so-called indigenous population and the so-called immigrants, not only in Belgium but in other European countries as well. This new racism, which is actually accompanying the construction of European unity, can be identified as an “anti- Muslimism”. While it is being constructed along the selfsame lines as the anti-Semitism in the thirties ,4 this European racism is mainly based on the ethnicization of cultural, i.e. religious, differences between “Europeans” and “Muslims”. Starting from the myth of an originally “white” and “(lay-) Christian” Europe, it operates by identifying “Turk/Moroccan” and “Muslim” and, generally, by identifying “immigrant” and “Muslim”. As Fred Halliday formulated it, this anti-Muslimism “involves not so much hostility to Islam as a religion (É) but hostility to Muslims, to communities of peoples whose sole or main religion is Islam and whose Islamic character, real or invented, forms one of the objects of prejudice“.5
Feeding on these anti-Muslim feelings and fuelling them at the same time, right-wing extremist parties are exploiting the situation, in Belgium as well as in other countries of the E.U., in order to win popular votes.6 However, there is no fatality in this evolution. All in all, the process of Muslim integration into our secularized society has been going on peacefully for many decades. It is urgent though that an end be put to all discrimination and also that Muslims, especially youngsters, get the chance to contribute as Muslim citizens to the social development of their country. The number of Muslims in Belgium - i.e. of people having an immigrant Muslim background and/or considering themselves Muslim (converts included) - is rapidly growing. Of course, figures are necessarily inaccurate, for (a) the criterion of nationality is becoming less and less relevant since a growing number of people originating from Muslim countries acquire Belgian nationality; (b) the definition of Muslim identity has inevitably many nuances, going from strictly-practising believers to laymen and agnostics. In the early nineties, the total number of people in Belgium with a Muslim cultural background was estimated at 285,000 - more than 2.5 per cent of the total population. At this moment, the number is going beyond 350,000. Concurrent with this demographic growth, there has been a proliferation of mosques and prayer halls: on the eve of the new century, Belgium counts some 240 places of Islamic worship.
Whatever the precise figures may be, it is undeniable that “Belgian Islam” has become a cultural and social fact. Quantitatively, it represents the second largest religious denomination of the country; or to put it otherwise, Islam is the largest minority religion in Belgium, far outnumbering Protestantism, Judaism, Humanism, e t c . The settlement of a large Muslim population in Belgium is an irreversible phenomenon. The major question therefore that has to be faced by a society that considers itself to be democratic and pluralist, is the one concerning the place and space that one is willing to concede to these cultural and ethnic minorities. Will we actually allow them to maintain - be it inevitably in interaction with their secular environment - their collective cultural and religious identity? Or will we, out of irrational fear for the future survival of the secular state (if not of “the West” itself), impose upon Muslims a kind of privatization or secularization of Islam - something that, for the great majority of them at least, would be tantamount to demanding that they abandon their religion?
There is no denying that, from the perspective of basic human rights, the Belgian state made a good start when as early as 1974 it passed a law granting Islamic worship the same status as that accorded to religions historically established in the country: Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism. The immediate and most spectacular effect of this recognition was the introduction (since 1975-76) of the teaching of Islam in public schools, on the same basis as the other religions. At present, there are about 700 Muslim teachers giving Islamic instruction in both primary and secondary schools, their salaries being paid by the State.
The law of 1974 also allowed for financial provisions to be made for the costs of the infrastructure (e.g. places of worship) and the “personnel” of the religious group (e.g. the salaries and pensions of the Imams). The importance of this kind of religious “engagement” by the Belgian state - which is officially a secular state, based on the principle of separation between Church and State - is measured when one considers that in this way the Catholic Church is annually receiving a total provision of no less than about 10 billion Belgian Francs. This sum is paid by the Belgian taxpayer - which is also by non-Catholics, meaning Muslims as well. As for Islamic worship, this kind of advantageous treatment has still not been put into effect. So, for a quarter of a century or more, Muslims financially contribute to a system they themselves are excluded from. The reason for this unfortunate state of affairs is offi - cially the same one as that for the existing deficiencies in the status of the Islamic teachers: viz. that it requires the identification of a national Muslim authority, an issue that until now has remained unsolved.
This financial discrimination was accompanied, all these years, by violations against the basic rights of religious freedom, which in principle are guaranteed by the Belgian Constitution (e.g. the right to be buried according to your philosophical or religious faith). Generally, Muslims in Belgium as yet do not have the possibility of burying their loved ones in the cemetery of their own place of residence. The same goes for religious rights at school, in prison, and in hospital: for example, the right to eat food that is prepared according to your religious prescriptions; the right to safeguard yourself against (threats of) violations of your physical integrity - e.g. by wearing a head-scarf and modest dress; and the right to celebrate your religious feasts, etc. These infringements must be taken together with: the usually negative coverage of Islam in the press and the other media; regular conflicts in schools (e.g. concerning the head-scarf); the systematic stigmatizing of Islamic values and symbols as being obstacles for a smooth integration of Muslim immigrants; and, of course, the many forms of “daily racism” being perpetrated by officials, for example by members of the police force, etc.
It goes without saying that this situation puts heavy pressure on the peaceful coexistence between the communities, and as a consequence on the democratic future of Belgian society as well. Luckily, there are political signs pointing in a more hopeful direction, i.e. of a society willing to really assume it”s cultural and ethnic pluralism. The Belgian government, for one, has recently accepted a proposal for the election of a representative council of the Belgian Muslim communities. Once put into place, this council offers the perspective that the institutional situation of Belgian Islam one day will be finally regularized. Still more recently, a new law has been accepted on burial places, which could provide for Muslim sections in local cemeteries . Of course, equality of treatment at the institutional level, if ever realized, does not suffice.
Islam and Muslim culture should as well be enabled to develop their intellectual and social potential within a secularized society. Besides taking the necessary social measures, an efficient anti-racist policy requires the introduction of a whole set of measures in the cultural and educational domain as well. For example, in our secondary schools Arabic and Turkish should be introduced as optional languages for all pupils; the history and culture of the Mediterranean countries of origin and the history of immigrations in Belgium and Europe should receive a place in our schools” curricula; a comparative history of religions should be offered, etc. At the university level, an all-round curriculum of modern Islamic studies should be introduced: for the sake of Muslims but also for that of society at large, the study of Islam should be freed from the historicist and colonial shackles of traditional Orientalism.
The final goal should be the “interculturalization" of our society. Muslims themselves, it should be said, whatever their ethnic affiliations, are playing more of an active role in this process of cultural and social interaction. Running their own social and cultural organizations and working together with non-Muslims as well ,7 they are demonstrating the correctness of the view that, far from being a threat, the West once again has much to gain from the new Muslim presence.©
Prof. dr Herman De Ley is the director of the Centre
for Islam In Europe, University of Gent.
N o t e s
1 . Gerholm, T,.& Y.G. Lithman (eds), The New Islamic Presence in Western Europe (London 1988), in their Introduction, p. 3. 2 . See S.P. Huntington (1993), The Clash of Civilisations ? For an interesting critique of Huntington by an Arabic philosopher, see Mohamed Abed El Jabri, “Choc des civilisations ou conflit d”int.r ts?”, in: M. Dure.as (ed.), Xoc de civilitzacions . Barcelona, 1997, pp. 324-31. 3 . For this “expulsion model”, as a typical European “logic of racism”, see A. Rea, “Le racisme europ.en ou la fabrication du Òsous-blancÓ”, in: Rea (ed.), Immigration et Racisme en Europe. Brussels, 1998, p . 182. 4 . See Marc Swyngedouw, “La construction du Òp.ril immigr.Ó en Flandre 1930-1980”, in: Rea (ed.) 1998, pp. 107-30. 5 . Fred Halliday (1996), Islam and the Myth of Confrontation. Religion and Politics in the Middle East. London, p. 161. 6 . The strength of racist feelings in many countries o f the E.U. was openly revealed by the opinion poll that was organized by the European Commission, at the closing of the “European Year against Racism”, see “Racism and Xenophobia”, Eurobarometer Opinion Poll, NR. 47.1, presented in Luxembourg, 18-19 December 1997. For an analysis of the figures, see the contribution of Andrea Rea, Le racisme europ.en ou la fabrication du “sous-blanc” (1998). 7 . E.g. in the “Forum voor Gelijkberechtiging en Interaktie” (“Forum for Equal Rights and Interaction”), and in the newly created “Centre f o r Islam in Europe” (University of Gent). 8 . So Brian Beedham, “Not again, for heaven’s sake. A Survey of Islam”, The Economist Surveys, August 6th 1994, pp. 16-18.