[Marxism] Where's the Academic Outrage Over the Bombing of a University in Gaza?

nchamah miller nchamah at gmail.com
Wed Dec 31 13:06:39 MST 2008


The Chronicle of Higher Education                   December 30, 2008

Where's the Academic Outrage Over the Bombing of a University in Gaza?

By Neve Gordon and Jeff Halper

Not one of the 450 presidents of American colleges and universities,
who denounced the decision of the union representing British academics
to promote a boycott of Israeli universities, raised their voice
against the bombardment of the Islamic University in Gaza. Columbia
University President Lee Bollinger who organized the petition remained
silent, as did his co-signatories from Princeton, Northwestern, MIT
and Cornell. Most others who signed similar petitions, like the
11,000! professors from nearly 1,000 universities around the world,
also refrained from expressing their outrage when the leading
university in the Gaza Strip was attacked. The artfully named Scholars
for Peace in the Middle East, which organized the latter appeal,
surely had nothing to say about the assault.

The story was reported widely by the different news agencies,
including the Chronicle. Ha'aretz noted that Israel "bombed the
Islamic University and a government compound in Gaza City, key centers
of Hamas power, in the third day of its aerial assault on the city."
While the extent of the damage to the university, which was hit in six
different air strikes, is unknown at this moment, Ha'aretz reported
that "Two major buildings were leveled to the floor… One building was
main laboratories and the other was lecture rooms buildings. Each
building was 4 floors high." Witnesses said the two university
structures hit today were the science-laboratory block and the Women's
Building, where female students studied in classrooms separate from
those for male students. There were no casualties, as the university
was evacuated when the Israeli assault began on Saturday.

Virtually all the accounts agree that the Islamic University was
attacked because it was a "cultural symbol" of the Hamas movement, the
ruling party in the elected Palestinian government which Israel has
targeted in its ongoing attacks on the Gaza Strip. Mysteriously,
hardly any of the news articles emphasized the educational
significance of this university, which exceeds by far its cultural or
political symbolism.

Established – with the approval of the Israeli authorities – in 1978,
the Islamic University is the first institution of higher education in
the Gaza Strip and still its major and most important university,
serving over 20,000 students, sixty percent of whom are women. It is
comprised of ten faculties – education, religion, art, commerce,
Shariah law, science, engineering, information technology, medicine
and nursing – and awards B.A., B.Sc., M.A., M.Sc. and Diplomas. Taking
into account that Palestinian universities have, in UNICEF's words,
been regionalized because Palestinian students from Gaza seeking hig!
her education are barred by Israel from studying either in the West
Bank or abroad, the educational significance of this institution
becomes even more apparent.

These restrictions became international news when last summer, Israel
refused to grant exit permits to seven carefully vetted Gazan students
who has been awarded Fulbright fellowships by the State Department for
study in the US. After the incident was covered by The New York Times,
top State Department officials intervened to restore the students'
Fulbright fellowships – although Israel allowed only four of the seven
to leave, even after appeals by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
"It is a welcome victory — for the students," opined the New York
Times in its July 8, 2008, editorial, "[and] for Israel, which should
want to see more of Gaza's young people follow a path of hope and
education rather than hopelessness and martyrdom; and f! or the United
States, whose image in the Middle East badly needs burnishing."

Notwithstanding the importance of the Islamic University, Israel has
tried to justify the bombing. An army spokeswoman told The Chronicle
that the buildings had been used as "a research and development center
for Hamas weapons, including Qassam rockets….One of the structures
struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of
Hamas's research and development program, as well as places that
served as storage facilities for the organization. The development of
these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who
are activists in Hamas."

Islamic University officials denied the Israeli allegations. Yet even
if there is some merit in them, it is common knowledge that
practically all major American and Israeli universities are engaged in
research and development of military applications, and receive funding
from the Pentagon and defense corporations.  Unfortunately weapons
development and even manufacture has become a major part of university
systems worldwide – a fact that does not justify bombing them.

How, given the unfolding events, should academics respond to this
assault? Regardless of one's stand on the boycott of Israeli
universities, anyone so concerned about academic freedom as to put
one's name to a petition, should be outraged no less by Israel's
destruction of a Palestine university. The question, then, is whether
the university presidents and professors who signed the different
petitions will speak out against the bombing of an Islamic University.

Neve Gordon is chair of the department of politics and government at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel's Occupation
(University of California Press, 2008). Jeff Halper is director of the
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. His latest book is An
Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (Pluto
Press, 2008).

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