Israeli Violations of Palestinian Academic Freedom & Access to Education
As a result of the discriminatory system of ethnic privilege that Israel has instituted in the territories that it controls between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, Palestinians living in different areas face different Israeli-imposed obstacles to exercising their rights to education and academic freedom.
PALESTINIANS IN OCCUPIED & BESIEGED GAZA
- Although Israel withdrew its approximately 8000 settlers from Gaza in 2005, according to international law the tiny coastal strip remains under Israeli military occupation as Israel retains “effective control” over its airspace, coastline, and borders. Due to Israeli restrictions imposed in cooperation with the government of Egypt, it is extremely difficult for any of Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians to travel abroad to study, attend academic conferences, or to leave for other purposes. Entry into Gaza by foreign academics has been similarly limited.
- Since 2000, Israel has prevented students in Gaza from traveling to study at universities in the West Bank, some of which offer fields of study and degrees not available in Gaza. According to a report from Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, between 2000 and 2012 Israel let just three Gazans travel to study at universities in the West Bank, all of whom had received US government scholarships.
- In July 2013, Amnesty USA held a week of action in support of Gaza students denied their right to education by Israel. The Amnesty USA campaign announcement noted:
“Right now, Israel blocks thousands of Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip from pursuing higher education in the nearby West Bank, part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. These students are forced to pursue limited higher education options in Gaza or find resources to travel to other countries. The Gaza blockade is collective punishment and a violation of international law.”
“The total ban on students from Gaza pursuing higher education in the West Bank cannot be considered a proportionate security measure, particularly since the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are considered to be one territory under the Oslo Accords and international humanitarian law.”
- In January 2014, Israel barred a 21-year-old Palestinian from Gaza from travelling to attend a coexistence program at New York University. The student eventually made it out of Gaza via the Rafah crossing to Egypt.
- In 2010, amidst great fanfare during a visit to the region, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a program to provide scholarships for students from Gaza to study in the West Bank. In 2012, after Israel refused to issue travel permits to the students, the Obama administration quietly canceled the program.
- In May 2008, the US government withdrew seven grants from students in Gaza who had won Fulbright Scholarships to study in the US after Israel denied them permission to travel (eventually four were allowed out by Israel after American pressure).
- During military operations, most notably during Israel’s bloody assault in the winter of 2008-2009, Operation Cast Lead, Israel bombed universities and other educational institutions in Gaza, killing and maiming students and staff.
- While Israel does not specifically prohibit the importation of books into Gaza as part of its blockade and siege, doing so is extremely difficult, leading to a shortage of books on all subjects. At one point, Israel barred the importation of writing paper, notebooks, and pencils (leading to a shortage of the latter two) into Gaza.
PALESTINIANS IN THE OCCUPIED WEST BANK
- Like Palestinians in Gaza, the approximately 2.6 million Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank face severe restrictions on their movement, both within the West Bank itself and between the West Bank and the outside world.
- At any given time, there are hundreds of obstacles to Palestinian movement in the West Bank, an area smaller than Delaware. Checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles prevent Palestinian students and teachers from freely accessing educational institutions, as does the illegal West Bank wall that Israel is building.
- The Israeli military frequently launches aggressive raids on campuses in the West Bank, arresting and injuring students and faculty.
- Israel makes it difficult for foreign academics to travel to Gaza and the West Bank for professional purposes. In probably the most well known incident involving Israel denying entry to a foreign academic, in May 2010 Israeli authorities stopped internationally renowned intellectual and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky from entering the occupied West Bank, where he was scheduled to deliver two lectures at Birzeit University. According to Chomsky, he was denied entry following questioning in which interrogators told him he had written things that the Israeli government didn’t like.
PALESTINIANS IN OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM
- Although Israel annexed East Jerusalem after occupying it in 1967 in a move not recognized as legal by the international community, the city’s approximately 300,000 Palestinian residents do not have Israeli citizenship and face systematic discrimination in the allocation of state funding and other educational resources.
- In September 2013, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and NGO Ir Amim released a report entitled Failing East Jerusalem Education System which found:
- In response to a 2011 Israeli Supreme Court ruling calling for the construction of 2200 new classrooms in East Jerusalem by 2016 to address a severe shortage of class space for Palestinians, the Jerusalem municipality and Israeli Education Ministry had only completed 150.
- A huge disparity in the allocation of school guidance counselors, with only 29 assigned to East Jerusalem, compared to 250 in the western, mostly Jewish, section of the city.
- According to Ronit Sela, director of ACRI’s East Jerusalem Project:
“The enormous shortage in classrooms, budgets, personnel and educational programming constitutes a serious violation of the right to education of tens of thousands of Palestinian schoolchildren in Jerusalem.”
- Palestinians from East Jerusalem who travel abroad to study risk losing their residency rights if they stay away too long or are unable to prove that Jerusalem continues to be their “center of life,” according to an Israeli formulation that doesn’t apply to Jewish residents. Since Israel began its occupation of East Jerusalem during the June 1967 War, Israeli authorities have revoked the residency rights of more than 14,000 Palestinians.
PALESTINIAN CITIZENS OF ISRAEL
- Palestinians make up about 20% of Israel’s population, or about 1.5 million people. Although they are citizens of the state, they face widespread, systematic discrimination in virtually all aspects of public life, including education. This manifests in lower state funding for Arab schools and discrimination against Arab students and faculty at Israeli institutions of higher learning.
- In July 2013, Haaretz newspaper reported on the disparities in funding between different sectors of the Israeli education system, which is segregated into Arab, religious Jewish, and secular Jewish sectors. The report found that in the largest Arab town in Israel, Nazareth, high schools were allocated an average of about $5400 (USD) per student per year, while right next door in the Jewish town of Upper Nazareth the Israeli Education Ministry spent an average of about $7400 (USD) per student annually. On the national level, the report found that in 2012 each Arab high school student in Israel was allocated on average about $6000 (USD), below the overall national average of about $7200 (USD). At the top end of the scale, religious Jewish high schools received an average of about $7700 (USD) per student per year.
- Access to most government financial aid for college students is dependent on military service. Because most Palestinian citizens of Israel choose not to serve in the army of a state that represses and discriminates against them and occupies and colonizes their Palestinian brethren in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, the military service requirement results in the privileging of Jewish students over non-Jewish ones in accessing higher education.
- In June 2013, the Center for Advancement of Higher Education in Arab Society released a report detailing 14 barriers that young Palestinian citizens of Israel face in obtaining a college education. They include:
- Discrimination in the awarding of scholarships through the granting of extra credit for army service or residence in so-called “national priority areas,” where few Arabs live.
- Lack of access to campus housing due to preference given to applicants with military service and growing racism in Israeli society that makes it difficult for Palestinian students to find housing on and off campus.
- A lack of freedom of speech for Palestinian students, who are often denied the right to freely express their political opinions on campus.
- All courses at Israeli universities are given in Hebrew, and books in Arabic are extremely rare. While most Palestinian citizens of Israel are fluent in Hebrew, the lack of access to higher education offered in their native language illustrates the exclusion and discrimination that they face.
- In September 2013, Haaretz newspaper reported that the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, which is comprised of 108 of Israel's most distinguished scholars, doesn't have a single Arab member. The article also reported that only 2% of the 174 senior staff members of state-funded institutions are Arab.
COMPLICITY OF ISRAELI INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN WAR CRIMES & MAINTAINING ISRAEL’S DISCRIMINATORY REGIME
- While the Israeli government denies Palestinians freedom of education and academic inquiry, Israeli universities and other institutions of higher education are complicit in maintaining Israel’s discriminatory political system and illegal occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands.
- Quasi-governmental and military think tanks such as the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), associated with Tel Aviv University, help formulate military strategy, political policies, and global propaganda. An INSS Senior Research Fellow helped develop the so-called "Dahiya doctrine," which was adopted by the Israeli military, calling for the massive, deliberately disproportionate use of force - a war crime - to eliminate enemies and create “deterrence.” The doctrine is named after a heavily populated neighborhood of Beirut that was virtually flattened by the Israeli army during Israel’s assault on Lebanon in the summer 2006. The doctrine was employed during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, which killed approximately 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including more than 300 children.
- Universities collaborate on military research and the development of weapons used by the Israeli army against Palestinians and others. A prime example is the case of Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. According to a March 2013 article in The Nation magazine:
“Technion conducts research and development into military technology that Israel relies on to sustain its occupation of Palestinian land. For example, Technion developed an unmanned D-9 bulldozer for the Israeli military, which it used during Operation Cast Lead, a war that killed around 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians… Technion also has partnerships with Israeli arms companies, such as Elbit and Rafael. Elbit provides surveillance equipment for the [West Bank] separation wall, such as cameras and drones, while Rafael manufactures missiles that accompany drones and an armor protection system for the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) Mk4 battle tank… Technion is also a leader in the development of drone technology, which Israel has deployed in the occupied territories.”
Technion is currently involved in a controversial project with Cornell University to build a joint campus, Cornell NYC Tech, on Roosevelt Island in New York City.
- Some Israeli schools, like Hebrew University, have campuses partially built on occupied Palestinian land, while Ariel University is located entirely inside the settlement of Ariel on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
- It is extremely difficult for Palestinians in the occupied territories to gain access to Israeli universities. Over the protests of human rights organizations and some Israeli academics, in 2009 the Israeli Supreme Court approved “non-security” criteria proposed by the Israeli army for Palestinians from the occupied territories to study at Israeli universities. They include allowing only PhD and Masters students to apply, and only if there is no “practical alternative” to studying in Israel. They also give the army the right to veto applicants even if they meet all required criteria. Other restrictions include a prohibition on the study of subjects that have the potential to be “used against Israel.”
PHOTO: The Center for Place Culture and Politics