The right to study and academic freedom in Palestine

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Open letter to Italian academics on cultural and university discrimination against the Palestinian people

Pisa, 5th of March 2010

Dear colleagues,

We are a group of Italian university professors particularly concerned about the situation faced by the Palestinian people in universities and schools, both in the occupied territories (Gaza and the West Bank) and within the state of Israel, especially in Galilee, home to more than one million "Israeli Arabs". Through our direct experience and on the basis of research carried out in Palestinian and Israeli centers we are in a position to denounce serious violations of the right to education, freedom to teach and freedom of thought of the Palestinian people. Since Italy in 2009 became the primary European partner in scientific and technological research of the state of Israel, which is responsible for the violations mentioned above, we consider it necessary that the Italian academic community become conscious of these acts of discrimination.

The cultural and scientific level of the 11 Palestinian universities has been strongly influenced by the occupation and by the restrictions on the mobility of teachers and students, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. After the closure of Palestinian schools and universities by the Israeli government during the first Intifada (1987-93), the Oslo accords led to the creation of a Ministry of Education within the Palestinian National Authority, but violations on the part of the Israeli army continue. In terms of loss of human life, between October 2000 and June 2008, 658 students have been killed, 4852 wounded (including 3607 minors), and 738 imprisoned. Among professors, 37 have been killed, 55 wounded, and 190 arrested. During the same period, total damage to the universities (buildings, equipment, and so on) caused by Israeli invasions amount to $7,888,133 (US), while damage to schools comes to $2,298,389. All of this implies a percentage decrease of students attending classes and a limited presence of professors. In Gaza the situation is especially dramatic : 50% of students and 40% of professors are absent. During the military operation Cast Lead in Gaza (December 2008-January 2009), Israeli aircraft bombardment destroyed or severely damaged 280 schools and nursery schools and 16 university buildings. In the space of a few days 164 students and 12 professors were killed.

The restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinian students and professors is moreover a violation of the right to study and to academic activity. The military checkpoints scattered across the West Bank make it difficult to travel to schools and universities, and during examination periods identity checks are especially severe. On the other hand, the blockade of the Gaza Strip hinders travel by Palestinian professors who seek to carry out research at foreign universities, by foreign professors who attempt to visit Gaza’s universities, and by the over 1000 students who every year apply to study abroad. And one can’t ignore the cases of discrimination against Arab students at Israeli universities, widely condemned by the representatives of students and Palestinian faculty unions as well as by Israeli human rights organizations. More generally, the main Israeli academic institutions have not adopted a critical nor a neutral stance in the conflict ; on the contrary, they accept the support of scientific research for governing and military institutions in Israel, and have gone so far as to tolerate the recognition as "University Center" of Ariel College, located in an illegal settlement in the occupied territories. We recommend reading the dossier compiled by Uri Y. Keller, entitled "Academic boycott of Israel and the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation of Palestinian territories”.

The increasingly likely prospect is of a genuine ethnocide of the Palestinian and Israeli- Arab people ; the younger generations risk a radical loss of awareness of their own history and of their own cultural and linguistic identity.

What do we intend to do and what do we propose ? In the first place, we ask you to respond positively to our "Open Letter" and to join our project to intervene in support of Palestinian universities. When a sufficient number of colleagues have signed our document, we want to organize seminars at Italian universities, with the presence of Italian, Palestinian, and Israeli university professors. The goal will be to identify and establish concrete means of intervening in support of the universities and the younger generations of Palestinian and Israeli Arab students and scholars. It would be very useful to sign cultural, scientific, and educational cooperation agreements between Italian and Palestinian institutions of higher education. A further step might be the organization of a first national convention on these matters, with the participation of national and international institutions, not necessarily of an academic nature, that are ready to support our project : helping the younger generations of Palestinians to attain a good level of schooling and university training, in full autonomy, in spite of the occupation, the siege, and the ongoing repression.

Please visit : http://dirittostudiopalestina.wordpress.com
and check the first 220 signatures !

Endorsements can be sent by professors and PhD students affiliated to Italian Universities. Write to : diritto.studio.palestina chez gmail.com


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Uri Yacobi Keller, Academic boycott of Israel and the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation of Palestinian territories, in The Economy of the Occupation, a Socioeconomic Bulletin, by The alternative information centre, N. 23-24, October 2009. Download : http://aic.webhop.org/images/stories/downloads/Economy_of_the_occupation_23-24.pdf

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