Irish academics were thanked this week in an open letter, signed by over 100 academics and 1,000 students of Birzeit University near Ramallah, Palestine. The thanks were addressed to the 61 Irish academics who wrote a public letter in September calling for a moratorium on EU aid to Israeli universities, until Israel abides by international law and basic human rights norms.
The letter, published in the Irish Times on September 16th, has caused a public stir in Israel; the education minister Yuli Tamir has travelled to England to ‘verify if they [the signatories] are lecturers who have influence’. With many Israeli academics privately acknowledging that the international campaign for academic boycott is starting to have an effect, two leading Israeli intellectuals - Aharon Shabtai and Tanya Reinhardt - were recently in Ireland talking about Israeli occupation and promoting the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
Meanwhile Palestinians face ongoing Israeli attacks on their educational institutions and are increasingly being denied the right to use the Israeli system. There is a growing clampdown in the occupied territories that includes the arbitrary detentions of students, the prohibition of Gazans from studying in the West Bank, the harassment of foreign students entering the occupied territories and the increasing difficulties facing ordinary academic exchange between Palestinians and the outside world.
Palestinian academics and students have reacted positively to the Irish initiative, seeing it as a welcome challenge to their growing isolation by Israel. Laura Hibeiro, Coordinator of the Right to Education Campaign, based in Birzeit University, explained that, “the students are calling for the academic boycott as an effective means to pressure Israeli society and government to act. They are saying ‘enough is enough’.
She continued, “The occupation stifles the development of Palestinian education through arbitrary checkpoints, arrests, detentions and deportations. Israeli academia has failed to denounce these abuses despite their position of influence and their moral obligation to be factual and unbiased.
“By calling for the boycott, Palestinian students are claiming their own rights against the occupation and asking the international community to take action with them.”