The news that the US State Department has decided to cancel all previously approved Fulbright grants to Palestinian students in Gaza is deeply shocking. In yet another clear demonstration of US complicity with the Israeli occupation regime, the State Department has decided to withdraw the grants for graduate studies in the US because Israel has not given permission for the students to leave Gaza. The US Consulate in Jerusalem is reported to have stated that the grant money had been “redirected” because of concern that if the students were forced to remain in Gaza the grant money would go to waste. Is it credible for the US government, principal supporter and financier of Israel, to claim impotence in the face of Israeli measures restricting the movement of Palestinians into and out of the Gaza Strip?
This US government measure comes only days after Amnesty International termed the siege and imprisonment of a million and a half Palestinians in the Gaza Strip collective punishment that is causing the gravest humanitarian crisis to date; the decision was announced scarcely a few weeks after former US President Jimmy Carter called the imprisonment of the entire Gaza population a terrible human rights crime and a brutal punishment and called for strong voices in Europe, the US, Israel and elsewhere to speak out and condemn this human rights tragedy. Only yesterday, Nobel laureate and head of the UN human rights observer team visiting the Gaza Strip, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, denounced the international community for its “silence and complicity” on Israel’s “abominable” 11-month blockade of Gaza.
What should be the response of the international academic community to this travesty of the most basic of human rights, the right to move freely, especially when students and academics are involved? We recall that one of the strongest arguments against the academic boycott of Israel put forth by some associations of academics in the United States and Europe is that boycotts violate the free exchange and circulation of ideas among academics. How can there be a free exchange of ideas when a whole people are denied their basic human right of movement? Are the human rights — let alone academic freedom — of Palestinian students and scholars of no concern to academics the world over?
We urge all associations of academics, as well as individual academics, particularly in the United States, to protest in the strongest terms possible this latest instance of US government complicity in the criminal Israeli policy of siege and imprisonment. We also appeal to academics to advocate and adopt effective measures to counter US complicity and, most crucially, Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights and international humanitarian law. The Israeli academy in particular cannot be allowed to carry on its business as usual in the face of the deepening oppression of the Palestinian people. Its deafening silence is a certain sign of its complicity in the structures of oppression, including the criminal siege upon the Gaza Strip and the collective punishment of its people. Measures such as academic boycotts, divestment initiatives, and any other form of pressure on the Israeli academy are among the few avenues left for academic activism today.