An open letter to the administration of the Hebrew University and the academic community with regard to the University’s involvement in police harassment of the Issawiyah neighborhood


Academia for Equality is an organization of about 550 teachers, students and others involved in academic life in Israel, among us about sixty members of the Hebrew University community. For many months, we have been observing with worry as the Israel Police applies continuous harassment to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiyah, which adjoins the Mount Scopus campus of the University. [1] Several recent events have raised even greater concerns about the University’s role in this harassment, a role which communicates a very un-neighborly message to Issawiyah and shows a lack of concern for the hundreds of members of the University community, both students and employees, who live in the neighborhood. Together with the new “Havatzalot” program of the IDF’s Intelligence Corps, against which we protested last year, this involvement contributes to a dire trend of militarization of the campus, which is surrounded by the neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, and to the propagation of a hostile environment vis-à-vis the Palestinian members of the community, as the Palestinian groups on campus have testified in a recent statement. [2] We call upon members of the academic community in Israel and around the world to join our call to the University to reject all collaboration with the Police’s actions in Issawiyah.

The recent involvement of the University in these actions is manifest in two main ways. The first is the closing of the southern entrance to the neighborhood, which adjoins the Mount Scopus campus and Hadassah Hospital. [3] This entrance has been closed intermittently since 2001 and continuously since 2007, on the orders of the police ; among the reasons given is that the closure is necessary to guarantee the security of both institutions. This closure of one of the only two entrances to the neighborhood is an act of collective punishment with a deep impact on the everyday life of its twenty thousand inhabitants. During a visit to Issawiyah on 18 September 2019, members of the neighborhood committee told us that the police had informed them that the closure of the entrance was at the request of the University, and that if the latter were to announce that it has no security need for the closure, it would be removed.

A second issue is police activity directed at the residents of Issawiyah from within the Mount Scopus campus. On 4 December 2019 two uniformed Israel Police officers were photographed standing on the roof of the Rabin Building on campus, next to a large set of binoculars and a video camera, both mounted on tripods and pointed towards the center of the neighborhood, which lies at the foot of the building. In response to a letter we sent to the University’s rector, Prof. Barak Medina, we were told that the operation “was made necessary by information the Police possessed about an intention to carry out concrete against faculty and students at the University,” that it “was coordinated with the University’s Security

Department,” and that “the Police’s activity foiled the attempt to harm faculty and students.” This response raises many questions, but a follow-up letter we sent to Prof. Medina was not answered. [4]

In light of these developments we expect the University to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian members of the University community and with the residents of Issawiyah, and we call upon University authorities, President, Prof. Asher Cohen, and the Rector Prof. Medina, to take the following steps :

  1. Inform the Police that opening the southern entrance to Issawiyah does not pose a security threat as far as the university is concerned, but rather the opposite, that the University sees it as crucial to the development of good neighborly relations between the Mount Scopus campus and the neighborhood.
  2. Refrain in future from allowing the Police to access the campus except in emergencies, and especially from allowing the campus and its facilities to be used for intelligence gathering or offensives directed against the residents of Issawiyah.

We call upon all members of the academic community, in Israel and around the world, to join us in this call.

Sincerely,

The Board
Academia for Equality

[1See the extensive coverage by Nir Hasson in Haaretz, and especially “Instead of Quelling Violence in East Jerusalem, Israel Police Just Inflamed It,” 11 November 2019 (link).

[2See the statement (link ; Arabic) by the Palestinian groups on campus.

[3See a map of the area and the relevant locations (link) on our website.

[4See the photograph (link) and our correspondence with University Rector Prof. Barak Medina on Academia for Equality’s website (link ; Hebrew).