Educators can’t stay silent about Israeli apartheid

Aerial view of Israel's wall in the West Bank with a settler road along one side

Israeli apartheid must not go unchallenged.

Mahfouz Abu Turk APA images

Today the systematic dispossession of the Palestinian people continues unabated and largely unchallenged by the United States and the European Union. Barriers to Palestinian mobility, social and political development are visible everywhere.

While Jewish-Israeli citizens pass freely, more than 500 police and military checkpoints regulate Palestinian movement between the occupied West Bank and Israel. Passing through these checkpoints on a recent fact-finding tour organized by the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, we witnessed Palestinians endure a daily ritual of subordination, humiliation and suspicion.

Abutting the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem, the massive Israeli separation wall annexes Palestinian land for the expanding settlement of Gilo. For Palestinian families who find themselves on the “wrong” side of the wall, what had once been a short walk to school now takes several hours.

Since 1992, Jewish-Israeli settlement within the West Bank has increased by more than 50 percent; some 500,000 Jewish settlers now live among 2.5 million Palestinians. Walled, gated and connected by a sophisticated road network that bypasses the dilapidated infrastructure used by Palestinians, these illegal settlements maintain privileged access to the most fertile lands, water and energy resources.

In Hebron, a few hundred Jewish settlers backed by the Israeli military control the eastern part of the city inhabited by some 35,000 Palestinians. There we saw how settlers have seized houses above the souq, the main market street, and pummeled Arab merchants with garbage, excrement and acid in order to strangle the commercial life of the city and render it prone to future settlement.

Second class citizens

Israel’s status as the one true “democracy” in the region rests in part on the myth that the 1.5 million Palestinians living within Israel enjoy equal rights. In truth, they are Israel’s second-class citizens, governed by exceptional legal proscriptions and subject to special scrutiny by the security services.

Palestinian citizens of Israel do not have the right to live with their spouses from the West Bank, Gaza, or overseas inside the post-1948 boundaries of Israel. They are denied many social benefits and employment opportunities because, unlike Jews, they are not required to perform mandatory military service — a prerequisite for housing subsidies, government or security jobs.

Meanwhile, any person whom the state recognizes as Jewish can settle inside Israel, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and receive instant citizenship, residency rights, as well as housing and education subsidies. In short, Israel’s legal regime and political culture discriminates against Palestinian citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and nationality. The objective is to “purify” the Jewish state by substantially reducing or transferring Palestinians beyond its walls and borders — a direct violation of international law and human rights.

Houses pillaged

We witnessed first hand the human scale of this violation in East Jerusalem. We heard testimony from four Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, refugees from 1948, who in November 2008 and August 2009, were forcibly evicted from their homes in the dead of night by the Israeli military. Their houses were pillaged and seized by settlers who tossed their belongings into the street.

We learned that Israel denies residency permits to some 10,000 Palestinian children who live in East Jerusalem because their parents live in the rest of the West Bank or in Gaza, thus curtailing their access to education, health and social services. Meanwhile, Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem have been linked to the western half of the city by a state-of-the-art light rail system built by the French transportation giant Veolia, in direct violation of the 1907 Hague Regulations on the laws and customs of war which prohibit infrastructural changes that do not benefit the occupied population or serve a military purpose.

The evictions, demolitions, population and zoning restrictions, new infrastructure and walling projects in East Jerusalem aim to produce a Jewish demographic majority throughout what Israelis call “Greater Jerusalem.” Since 1992, more than 110,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have been effectively expelled from the city by the separation wall, which the International Court of Justice advisory opinion found violates international law in 2004.

The justification for these appalling violations of Palestinian human rights and human dignity is defense of Israeli security in the face of terrorism. We do not accept security as a rationale for the dispossession of an entire people, for the racist devaluation of their lives, or for the blatant disregard of their claims to social and political rights and economic opportunity.

America’s culpability

For this reason, we question why our own government continues to subsidize the Israeli occupation to the tune of $8.6 million per day. Indeed, we believe that the militarization of security that Israel and the US increasingly share is a source of escalating violence in the region, not peace and stability as it purports to be.

As members of an international community of scholars, cultural workers and activists, we are attuned to the role that knowledge production, dissemination and exchange plays in both upholding and challenging relations of unequal power. Palestinian scholars and students do not enjoy academic freedom under occupation. Israel has routinely closed Palestinian universities under security pretext, denied visas to international and Palestinian scholars living abroad who have faculty appointments in the occupied West Bank, blocked imports of equipment needed to teach basic science and engineering, and prevented Gaza students from attending West Bank universities.

Even Israeli scholars who dissent from state policy are marginalized and harassed. And yet, most Israeli (as well as US) academic institutions have been either silent or complicit in the face of Palestinian scientific and educational suffocation. Israeli universities are culpable for violating Palestinian human rights and international law — from expropriating Palestinian lands to providing demographic, sociological, medical, legal and scientific research in the service of Israel’s apartheid policies.

Boycott: a tool of solidarity

While other countries may have worse human rights records, Israel is the world’s most egregious example of an occupation that has persisted for almost half a century in flagrant violation of international law. Neither periodic pressure from diplomats and non-governmental organizations, nor international legal judgments condemning Israel’s wall in the West Bank, the settlements, or the siege of Gaza, nor the ongoing, and now visibly fraudulent “peace process” itself, have pierced the veil of Israeli impunity.

In response to a call from within Palestinian civil society, we therefore declare our support for the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. The academic and cultural boycott emerges in the context of a broader call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it fully abides by its obligations under international law.

The call for boycott has been endorsed by a majority of Palestinian unions, political parties, non-governmental organization networks and civic organizations. We believe that it is one of the more hopeful signs in ongoing Palestinian resistance to occupation and systemic inequality within Israel and a powerful means to build international solidarity with the Palestinian people.

We refuse to be silent or passive in the face of gross violations of principles of universal human rights that both Israel and the US publicly purport to uphold. As was the case with the US removal of tribal nations, the US South under anti-black “Jim Crow” laws, or South Africa under apartheid, Palestine today is the measure of the meaning and value of human rights in our time.

By challenging injustice there, we call into question US and Israeli state policies that normalize military colonialism, mass incarceration and permanent war - a security regime for the global one percent that today jeopardizes basic aspirations for opportunity and freedom. Prospects for self-determination and human rights wither under heavily policed states, particularly those subject to occupation, colonialism, segregation, or discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion.

We urge our academic colleagues to join us in endorsing the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and upholding the principles of boycott, divestment and sanctions in solidarity with our Palestinian counterparts. We believe that the perpetuation of the international travesty of colonial occupation in a post-colonial world must be brought to an end for it ultimately threatens the rights, dignity and security of everyone who believes in self-determination, equal justice and human rights.

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui is an associate professor of anthropology and American studies in Wesleyan University; Robin D.G. Kelley is a professor of American history at the University of California Los Angeles; Bill V. Mullen is a professor of English and American studies in Purdue University; Nikhil Pal Singh is an associate professor of social and cultural analysis and history in New York University; Neferti Tadiar is a professor and chair of women’s, gender and sexuality studies in Barnard College.




Thank you for doing this important and much needed work.


"The military checkpoints regulate Palestinian movement between the occupied West Bank and Israel."

That would be bad enough but the checkpoints also control Palestine movement within the West Bank. Outside Qalquilya, I witnessed trucks being unloaded on one side of the checkpoint, the goods loaded on trolleys and hand wheeled through the checkpoint. There's no point to this other than to made commerce insanely difficult and stifle the Palestinian economy, all to make Palestinians want to leave. But they are steadfast. Sumud.