California Scholars for Academic Freedom, a group of 100 scholars at 20 California institutions of higher learning, condemns in the strongest possible terms the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip that have targeted the Islamic University and other educational sites.
While we decry Israeli war crimes and violations of human rights, and condemn the massive Israeli bombardment of Gaza which has caused hundreds of deaths, as educators in California institutions of higher learning, we are especially appalled at the destruction of educational institutions and student casualties.
On 27 December, Human Rights Watch reported that an Israeli air-to-ground missile struck a group of students leaving the Gaza Training College, adjacent to the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in downtown Gaza City, killing eight students and wounding 19 others. Two days later, on 29 December 2008, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, destroying the science laboratory block and destroying or damaging other blocks of buildings, including the library. Although Israel has claimed that the science laboratory facilities were used as “a research and development center for Hamas weapons,” this claim has been denied by officials of the Islamic University, and according to the New York Times of 1 January 2009 Israel has not produced any evidence for its claim.
These direct assaults on Palestinian students and educational institutions are only the latest chapter in Israel’s ongoing denial of the right to education guaranteed in international conventions. Since the first uprising in 1987, Israel has systematically frustrated or denied Palestinian students their right to study, not just in the occupied territories, but at universities abroad, as most recently demonstrated by the Israeli government’s refusal to allow students awarded prestigious Fulbright fellowships to leave for the United States. University students living in Gaza have not been able to leave in order to attend universities throughout the world, let alone Birzeit University, and students in the West Bank itself have to negotiate roadblocks and checkpoints to get to their classes — often never making it.
The background to the current crisis is too complicated to detail in a press release. It is, however, important to note, first, that under international law, Israel is still an occupying power, maintaining control of Gaza’s borders, air and water space. It has completely isolated Gaza and wrought a humanitarian catastrophe, as noted by UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk. Second, the current bombing campaign by Israel constitutes collective punishment, which is a violation of international law. Third, Hamas won the majority of seats to the Palestinian Legislative Council in the internationally acknowledged fair election of January 2006.
As California Scholars for Academic Freedom, we will continue to play our mandated role to educate the international public about the right to education and the egregious violation of that right by the Israeli government. We will participate in campaigns aimed at exerting pressure on international authorities and the governments of Israel and the US to implement an immediate cease-fire and begin preparations for an end to the blockade and the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
We insist that Israel has the responsibility to ensure the right to education as mandated in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Israel ratified in 1991. The undermining and disruption of Palestinian education as a result of the deliberate destruction of academic facilities constitutes a violation of a basic human right that will have long-term negative political, economic, and humanitarian ramifications for all people involved.
California Scholars for Academic Freedom is a one-year-old group of 100 academics who teach in 20 California institutions. The group formed as a response to various violations of academic freedom that were arising from both the post-11 September 2001 climate of civil rights violations and the increasing attacks on progressive educators by neo-conservatives. Many attacks were aimed at scholars of Arab, Muslim or Middle Eastern descent or at scholars researching and teaching about the Middle East, Arab and Muslim communities. Our goal of protecting California Scholars based mainly in institutions of higher education has grown broader in scope. We recognize that violations of academic freedom anywhere are threats to academic freedom everywhere.