Palestine Academics and Students Feel Abandoned by the World

From the archive (legacy material)

Lawrence Davidson | C.I.E. | 19 January 2003

I have just returned from Israel/Palestine and while there I met with members of the faculty of Birzeit U., Al-Quds U., The Arab-American U. outside of Jenin, Al-Aska U. in Gaza, and Bethlehem U. They feel abandoned by the rest of the world and, with the too few exceptions of people like us, they in fact are.
They and their students are all frustrated and in despair. They carry on day to day but with no hope of the future. One can tell them that they have allies on the outside but it does not cheer them much because they are isolated and can see no change in their situation. In the meantime they are subject to daily harassment.
To get to Birzeit one must pass through three checkpoints manned by 18 year soldiers armed to the teeth and with a license to humiliate, maim, and kill. Any one of them can shut down access to any university anytime on their own authority. There are students on these campuses who haven’t seen their families in two years because of the travel restrictions in place. Faculty are on half-salary, campuses are regularly raided at which time the soldiers steal cash, jewelry, cell-phones and other items from the dorms and offices, buildings are periodically shot up, people are randomly harrassed, arrested, and injured. Palestinians cannot predict the consequences of their everyday behavior. In other words, the Israelis have transformed the entire OT, including the campuses, into a Kafkaesque nightmare.
I also met with many Israeli academics most of whom are much more worried about our boycott of their institutions than they are of the destruction of Palestinian institutions of education at all levels. On the whole their institutions are lock step with the government either for budgetary reasons or because the admin. and bulk of the faculty are in agreement with the Likud policies. (The few sympathetic Hebrew U. faculty we saw could not even get permission to see us on campus). The numbers of faculty who are openly critical of the government are very few in number, perhaps only a few hundred nation wide. Most of them (though not all) understand that the boycott is not personally aimed at them.
I came away without any doubt at all that our actions on this matter are absolutely correct. If those who attack you and the boycott could spend just one hour in Gaza, Jenin, Ramallah or elsewhere in the OT they would have to be made of stone not to reconsider their positions. Edmund Burke once said that for evil to exist it is sufficient that good people do nothing. Evil certainly has the upper hand in this struggle, but I will be damned if I am going to sit around and do nothing.
Update From Israel/Palestine: Security Through Occupation?
We have just returned from a two week (12/26/02 -1/9/03) trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories sponsored by Faculty for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (FFIPP). While there we met with academics, NGO officials, politicians, and peace activists on both sides of the struggle. We also talked to representatives of the Israeli right wing, Palestinian refugees, as well as the average citizen and soldier. We spent time in Tel Aviv, East Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva, several Kibbutzim, Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem, and Gaza. What we found is a situation fraught with despair, contradiction, and paralyzing suspicion.
On the Israeli side almost everyone wants the same thing, security and normality. According to polling statistics supplied by Tel Aviv University, 90% of Israelis are concerned about their personal safety on a daily basis, and about the same percentage urgently desire some sort of peace settlement. On the other hand, only 37% believe that the Palestinians want peace because a majority of Israelis believe that the Palestinians turned down Ehud Baruch’s alleged “generous offer”of peace at Camp David and took up the latest deadly intifada instead. Israelis mainly blame Arafat for this and so a vast majority of Israeli Jews feel that, while they yearn for peace, there is no “partner” to negotiate with on the Palestinian side. How then do you achieve security? Through the building of a security fence (supported by 70% of Israeli Jews), perhaps through “transfer” (supported by 40% of Israeli Jews), and a very harsh form of military punishment that will force the Palestinians to deal with Israel on “acceptable terms.” Thus, according to most polls, a majority of Israelis will vote for Sharon and the right-wing parties in the upcoming elections thinking they are the ones who can procure at once security and peace.
The ability to see Sharon and the Israeli Right, both ideologically committed to a “Greater Israel,” as “peace makers” seems abetted by 1) a pervasive national fear and suspicion of the Palestinians as “terrorists,” and 2) an inability to understand the nature and consequences of Israel’s 36 year old occupation (most Israelis do not know or come into contact with Palestinians in any normal fashion). For the majority of Israeli Jews the occupation is a justified act that gives “this little country with its impossible borders” (to quote Yuval Seinwitz, Likud MK) defensive depth. That the occupation is in fact the source of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians alike simply has not been accepted by most Israelis or their present government. Rather, they attribute them to Muslim religious fanaticism. Thus, they see no problem in demanding that it be a hard line right wing government that negotiates a peace that demilitarizes, economically emasculates, and subordinates any Palestinian political entity. Israelis seem to believe that their own normality and security is predicated on forcing the Palestinians to accept such an abnormal state of affairs.
On the Palestinian side there is deep despair at every level. They see their homes destroyed, olive trees uprooted, and lands confiscated on a daily basis. They have been locked into ghettos by over three hundred Israel checkpoints which restrict movement between Palestinian towns and villages. Curfews are a daily affair. The Palestinian political infrastructure has been destroyed, education is erratic, malnutrition is growing, and medical care is deteriorating. The economy has been demolished and unemployment stands above 60%. Despite the efforts of NGOs and groups dedicated to the survival of “civil society” and eventual political reform, 90% of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories see no hope in their future without international intervention and, as long as the US sides so solidly with Israel, they despairof this too. Under these circumstances the influence of Hamas grows and the martyrs (the suicide bombers) have become national heros.
Both sides live in alternate universes that run like parallel lines that appear not able to intersect. They both have alternate and conflicting histories of the conflict which they accept as unquestionably true. Yet there are factors that can result in movement toward real peace if given a chance to come to the fore. We found that the vast majority of Palestinians have given up any idea of destroying the Israeli state. They know (even if the Israelis do not) that it is impossible. Almost all the Palestinians we talked to are willing to negotiate on all matters (including the controversial issue of the “right of return”) except their right to a viable state occupying roughly the 22% of Palestine beyond Israel’s 1967 borders. On the Israeli side there are a growing number of influential military men (such as Danny Rothchild and Ami Aylon), who have some credibility with the Israeli public, and understand that continuing the occupation will not bring security and normality, but rather a continuing brutalization of Israeli culture. The problem is that while those who are ready to take risks for peace appear to be a majority on the Palestinian side, they are as yet a small minority on the Israeli side.
In the end what we have found is a horrible process of physical and emotional destruction that can only be overcome by a psychological leap–and that mostly on the Israeli side. There must be a realization that the occupation is the source of Israeli insecurity and only by giving it up can there be security and normality. Whether the Israelis can achieve this level of awareness while in the grips of an historically rooted, paralyzing fear and anxiety (played upon by a Likud government and right-wing factions which are determined to stay in the Occupied Territories forever) is problematic. Some measure of this ability to escape the past for the sake of the future may come in Israel’s next election.
Some of the individuals met with during this trip:
Salim Jubran (poet & jounalist)
Azmi Beshara (political leader)
Prof. Ghassen Abdullah (Bir Zeit U.)
Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi ( Dir of Health, Development, Information, Policy Institute in Ramallah)
Dr. Khaled Al-Saifer (Palestine National Initiative)
Abdul Jibal Sallah (activist)
Zahi Khouri (businessman)
Rashon Adoni (leader of the International Solidarity Movement)
Prof. Adnan Musallam (Bethlehem U.)
Prof. Walid Shomaly (Bethlehem U.)
Sari Nusseibeh (Pres. Al-Quds U.)
Various faculty from Al-Azhar U. in Gaza)
Salah Abdel Shafi (Acting Dir. General of the Gaza Comm. Mental Health Program)
Jamal Zakout (Palestine Democratic Union)
Waleed Siam (PA Amb. to Japan)
Prof. Rema Hammadi (Bir Zeit U.)
Hanun Nasser (Pres. of Bir Zeit U.)
Prof. Mudar Kassis (Dir. Instit. of Law, Bir Zeit U.)
Dr. Jamil (Head of the Medical Relief Center in Jenin)
Waleed Deeb (Pres. of the Arab-American U. outside of Jenin)
Ilan Pappe (Haifa U.)
Prof. and Major General Isaac Ben-Israel (Tel Aviv U.)
Prof. Zeev Maoz (Tel Aviv U.)
Prof. Moshe Zuckerman (Tel Aviv U.)
Prof. Michael Shalev (Tel Aviv U.)
Prof. Michal Shamir (Tel Aviv U.)
Maya Rosenfeld (Checkpoint Watch org.)
Roni Hammerman (Checkpoint Watch org.)
Carolyn Glick (Deputy Managing editor of the Jerusalem Post)
Daniel Yossef (leader of “Peace for Generations” a settler movement)
Yuval Steinwitz (Likud MK)
Prof. Tabet Aburass (Ben Gurion U.)
Prof. Oren Yiftachael (Ben Gurion U.)
Prof. Daphna Golan (Hebrew U.)
Prof. Victoria Buch (Hebrew U.)
Michael Warschawski (Org. against House Demolitions)
Beiga Shochat ( Ex Finance Minister)
Ami Aylon (Ex Head of Shin Bet)
Yury Avenari (Head of Gush Shalom)
Gen. Danny Rothchild (Ex Head of Intelligence and Commander of forces in Lebanon)
Benjamin Ben Eliazer (Ex Defense Minister)
Nadim Karkutli (Second Secretary, European Union Commission)
Lawrence Davidson is Professor of History at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.