BDS roundup: Scholars’ delegation to Palestine, UK museum slammed for links to Ahava

A delegation of five academic scholars recently participated in a week-long fact-finding mission to Palestine, and are calling on their colleagues in universities across the US to join the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

The delegation, organized by USACBI, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, reported witnessing:

… numerous violations of Palestinian civil and legal rights; daily rituals of “subordination, humiliation, and suspicion” at the hands of the Israeli security state; continued expansion of settlements into Palestinian territories in violation of the so-called “peace process;” and repeated violations of Palestinian human rights by Israeli universities.

The scholars also visited Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli soldiers have violently evicted Palestinian families from their homes to allow Israeli settlers to move in. They also held visits with Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and learned about the various kinds of racist discrimination in land ownership laws, social services and educational resources.

In the press statement, USACBI reported on the delegation’s specific focus on educational discrimination:

In visits with university scholars and students, the delegation observed that Palestinian scholars and students are routinely denied academic freedom by the state of Israel. They noted that Israel has consistently closed Palestinian universities under security pretexts and restrictions on freedom of movement mean that it is often very difficult for students to attend universities; international and Palestinian scholars living abroad are denied visas for faculty appointments in the occupied territories.

Furthermore, some 80 students from Birzeit University are held in Israeli prisons and detention centers, 10 of whom are currently being held without charge or trial. The delegation also reported that Israel thwarts Palestinian research capacities by restricting imports of equipment necessary for teaching basic science and engineering. It is all but impossible for Gaza students to attend West Bank universities, or for scholars from Ramallah, Gaza City, and East Jerusalem to meet in the same room.

The delegates say that through 2012, they will speak publicly at academic forums about their trip to Palestine, and will encourage their colleagues to join the academic and cultural boycott.

This week, as The Electronic Intifada reported, The Feminist Wire (TFW) has been posting moving testimonies by participants of a recent LGBTIQ delegation to Palestine. Just a couple of days ago, as part of its Forum on Palestine, TFW included a remarkable essay — “Why the Question of Palestine is a Feminist Concern” — on the connections between feminism and Palestine by Neferti Tadiar, who was a delegate on the USACBI trip.

Purdue University’s Bill Mullen, another delegate, published an essay on Mullen wrote:

In December, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans for a $2 billion research campus in New York in partnership with Cornell and Technion. USACBI’s mission seeks to shut down forever such deadly collaborations.

Perhaps the most fitting symbol of the need for educators to play a role in the liberation of Palestine was graffiti on the wall of a Palestinian school in Hebron: “To learn or not to learn—that is the question.” The words beckon not just to the education of future generations of Palestinians, but to the education of people everywhere about the urgency of ending Israel’s colonial regime.

Additionally, several delegates from the USACBI trip were interviewed on Arab Talk radio last week. The audio archives can be found here.

London’s Natural History Museum under scrutiny for links with Ahava settlement lab

Nearly two dozen prominent UK scientists, academics and artists signed an open letter demanding that the National History Museum drop its links with Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories, which is located inside an illegal settlement colony in the occupied West Bank.

The letter, which was published in the Independent on 17 January, states:

It is extraordinary, but true, that one of our great national museums is co-ordinating an activity that breaks international law. That museum is the Natural History Museum, which is collaborating in research with an Israeli commercial firm located in an illegal settlement in the Palestinian West Bank.

The firm is Ahava/Dead Sea Laboratories, whose business is manufacturing cosmetics out of mud, which it excavates from the banks of the Dead Sea. Ahava/DSL is located at Mitzpe Shalem, a settlement 10km beyond the Green Line. The collaboration with the Museum is through an EU-funded project called Nanoretox, in which Kings College London, Imperial College and a number of foreign institutions are also involved. The museum is the coordinating partner for this project.

Ahava/DSL is based on occupied territory. It extracts, processes and exports Palestinian resources to generate profits that fund an illegal settlement. Israel’s settlement project has been held by the International Court of Justice to break international law. Organisations which aid and abet this process may well themselves be found to be in violation. We find it almost inconceivable that a national institution of the status of the Natural History Museum should have put itself in this position.

We call on the museum to take immediate steps to terminate its involvement in Nanoretox and to establish safeguards that protect against any comparable entanglement.

Amongst the signatories is professor, author and historian Dr. Ghada Karmi, actor and director Mike Leigh, and film director Ken Loach — who has been an active supporter of the academic and cultural boycott against Israel.

Since the letter was published, several articles in the science and technology press have come out slamming the museum’s links to Ahava.

An article in The Scientist, entitled “Europe funding illegal Israeli lab,” was published on 23 January. The article stated:

The Israeli laboratory’s corporate owner, a cosmetic company called Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories, is based in Tel Aviv but runs the lab in a West Bank settlement that runs afoul of international law. The International Court of Justice has ruled that all such Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

ScienceInsider magazine also reported on the letter and the ties between the Natural History Museum and Ahava; as did Nature, one of the most highly-regarded publications in the science and environmental communities.

Nature reported:

[Ahava], which sells cosmetics made of minerals extracted from the Dead Sea, received more than €300,000 [$396,000] to perform laboratory analyses for a project called NanoReTox, which is part of the Seventh European Commission Framework Programme, a €50-billion [$66 billion] funding package for EU research for 2007–13.

The Natural History Museum (NHM) is coordinating NanoReTox, which began in December 2008 and ends this year. The project aims to determine the potential environmental and health effects of nanomaterials. The project involves several other institutions, including Imperial College London, Kings College London and the US Geological Survey.

“It should be brought to people’s attention that the NHM of all organizations is very much tied up in a project that involves the exploitation of Palestinian resources,” says Malcom Levitt, a chemist at the University of Southampton, UK, who signed the letter. His co-authors include Patrick Bateson, a zoologist at the University of Cambridge, UK, and president of the Zoological Society of London.

… In response to questions about Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories from a European Parliament member this summer, the European Commission said that the company is based within the state of Israel and therefore eligible for research funding under the Framework Programmes. The company has received more than €1 million [$1.32 million] in such funds under four different projects, including NanoReTox.

“I believe that the EU should not be allowed to fund companies that breach international law and so I have asked the commission to revise its research-funding regulations so that participating laboratories must declare the location of their research in order that, where that location is illegal, EU funding can be withheld,” says Keith Taylor, a British Green Party member of the European Parliament, who raised the questions about Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories in June 2011.

British boycott group urges symphony conductor to cancel upcoming performance with Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

BRICUP, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, this week published an open appeal to conductor Christoph von Dohnány, encouraging him to cancel his planned appearances this April with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). The letter stated:

Dear Christoph von Dohnányi,

We were impressed to read that last October you cancelled several appearances as conductor with the Hungarian State Opera, in protest at appointments made by the mayor to the New Theatre in Budapest. You were quoted as saying that you did not want to appear in a city ‘whose mayor entrusted the direction of a theatre to two known anti-Semites of the extreme right.’

We share your alarm at the growing power of racist and authoritarian parties in the Hungarian state, and we salute you for the stand you have taken. But we’re also interested to see that you actively support the withdrawal of cultural engagement as a means of expressing political and moral outrage. Please allow us to suggest that moral and political considerations might therefore argue against your appearances this coming April as guest conductor with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

UPenn BDS conference information

Next weekend, boycott organizations and Palestine solidarity activists will be attending the 2012 BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania. The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah will be giving the keynote address, and plenty of our contributors and colleagues will be there to give lectures and discussions on strengthening the BDS movement across the US and across the globe.

For more information on the Penn BDS conference, visit the website at The Electronic Intifada will continue to bring you special reporting and blogging about the Penn conference at


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).