Rebuilding the Islamic University of Gaza

Academics are calling for solidarity with Palestinian universities under siege. (Rami Swidan/MaanImages)


Since Israel’s bombing of the buildings housing scientific laboratories at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) on 28 December, the rubble that remains debunks Israeli claims that those labs were used to manufacture weapons. Of course such allegations are preposterous; indeed it would be quite foolish for IUG to even entertain the notion of producing weapons given the way in which Palestinian universities have been under constant Israeli attack since the founding of Birzeit University in the West Bank in 1975.

Rather, it is Israeli universities that contain the laboratories where the weaponry used to destroy Palestinian lives in Gaza and elsewhere is developed. In the 14 June 2007 issue of The Nation, US journalist Naomi Klein makes it clear that the relationship between the State of Israel, its academic institutions and its military are intertwined:

“Thirty homeland security companies were launched in Israel in the past six months alone, thanks in large part to lavish government subsidies that have transformed the Israeli army and the country’s universities into incubators for security and weapons start-ups (something to keep in mind in the debates about the academic boycott).”

The way that Israel binds together its universities (all of which are state-run and funded) and its military can be gleaned from any number of Israeli universities and their laboratories, which serve as incubators of destruction while the Palestinian people inevitably become its guinea pigs. In a recent article in the Tel Aviv University Review (Winter 2008-2009) entitled “Lifting the Veil of Secrecy,” Gil Zohar lays out the collaboration between Israeli universities and Israel’s colonial military project quite clearly:

“… Tel Aviv University [TAU] is at the front line of the critical work to maintain Israel’s military and technological edge. While much of that research remains classified, several facts illuminate the role of the university. MAFAT, a Hebrew acronym meaning the [Research and Development] Directorate of the Israel Ministry of Defense, is currently funding 55 projects at TAU. Nine projects are being funded by DARPA — the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense.”

What is significant is that the US government and its military are complicit in the research leading to the destruction and devastation of Palestinian lives through their funding of these research projects, projects that inevitably lead to acts of aggression such as the bombing of IUG.

IUG is an institution of higher education open not only to its 20,000 students, but also to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza who visit its libraries and attend its lectures. USAID, the US government’s foreign aid agency, claims that it funded more than $900,000 of projects, which went into building IUG’s campus (see “Audit finds US funded university linked to terrorism,” The Chicago Tribune, 12 December 2007). In March 2007 The Washington Times published a propagandistic article, “School Linked to Hamas Gets US Cash,” charging that USAID did not follow US federal laws when financially assisting IUG, as well as Al-Quds University (famous for its normalizing relations with Israeli academia, although it recently promised to cease such joint projects). USAID conducted an audit in response to The Washington Times article that questioned $140,000 of USAID money awarded to the university and to 49 students who received scholarships. The article and the audit argued that funding a so-called “Hamas-controlled” university violates US federal law. As a result of this audit faculty and students at IUG have been prohibited from receiving US State Department funds — whether USAID-related funds for building, scholarships or the Palestinian Faculty Development Program. This is yet another method of destroying educational opportunities for Palestinians in Gaza over the course of the past few years.

It is difficult to assess at present how much of the damage sustained by IUG was built with USAID funds. Likewise, it is difficult to ascertain a direct link between military research projects at Tel Aviv University funded by Israel and the US and the destruction of IUG. But what is clear is that past educational opportunities, for individual faculty members and students as well as for expanding scientific studies in the form of building laboratories, coming from the US are no longer available to Palestinians affiliated with IUG. Moreover, the primary “living” testimony which verily refutes Israeli claims about IUG as a place for hiding or manufacturing weapons can be found in the rubble of its destroyed buildings, which were decimated with knowledge produced by American research projects at Israeli universities. The mountains of rubble call out to any investigation team to come, to dig, to excavate in order to prove that Israeli allegations are merely a pretext employed to destroy a prestigious academic institution in Palestine. The debris of the science lab buildings shows that beneath it were 74 laboratories serving the science and engineering students at IUG. These labs were places for diligent research and scientific experiments. They were a fountain of hope for impoverished students, many of whom were about to graduate.

The science and engineering lab buildings were not the only premises that were pounded by the Israelis with their American-made weapons. Many other university buildings housing sophisticated computer labs, classrooms, workshops and seminar rooms were also bombed. In spite of the tremendous damage inflicted on IUG, it will be rebuilt with the spirit of resiliency that we see in the young minds of our students. This role however cannot be sustained without the help of our colleagues from around the world. That academics have taken the decision to boycott Israel and support Palestinians given Israeli academia’s role in its continuous military aggression, offers a glimmer of hope for IUG.

IUG needs financial support to help it rebuild and re-equip its labs. But it does not just need charity. IUG faculty and students also require solidarity from their academic colleagues at institutions around the world to start partnerships in order to rehabilitate the rest of its premises. Projects such as collaborative video-conference courses, faculty and student exchange programs and scholarships for faculty and students are all important ways of lending solidarity to IUG. Equally important for our American colleagues is to remove the false label that IUG is a “Hamas-controlled” institution. Just as Palestinians in Gaza belong to a variety of political parties, IUG’s students, board, faculty and staff represent that reality. IUG is a university like any other in Palestine that reflects the diversity of its population. As with Israel’s propagandistic claims that it engaged in a “war with Hamas,” when they besiege all Palestinians living in Gaza, this classification of IUG hurts all Palestinians pursuing higher education. We call on our colleagues to work to rebuild IUG through their solidarity through which it can remain an edifice of light, love and learning.

Akram Habeeb, teaches literature at the Islamic University of Gaza and Marcy Newman teaches literature at An Najah National University. For more information about IUG reconstruction please visit http://www.iugaza.edu.ps/iugrec/en/. For more information about how you can help please email Marcy at marcynewman at riseup dot net or Akram at akramhabeeb at yahoo dot com.