To boldly go

From the archive (legacy material)

Ilan Pappe | The Guardian | 20 April 2005

Haifa University academic Ilan Pappe is one of the few Israelis supporting the university boycott of Israel. Here he explains
I appeal to you today to be part of a historical movement and moment that may bring an end to more than a century of colonisation, occupation and dispossession of Palestinians. I appeal to you as an Israeli Jew, who for years wished, and looked, for other ways to bring an end to the evil perpetrated against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, inside Israel and in the refugee camps. I devoted all my adult life, with others, creating a substantial peace movement inside Israel, in which, so we hoped, academia will play a leading role. But after 37 years of endless brutal and callous oppression of the people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and after 57 years of colonisation and dispossession of the Palestinians as a whole, I think this hope is unrealistic and other means have to be looked at to end a conflict that endangers peace in the world at large.
Violence and armed struggle have also failed, and they can’t be easily condoned by people like myself who are basically pacifists at heart. Historical examples, such as in South Africa and Gandhi’s movement in India, prove that there are peaceful means for achieving an end to the longest oppression and violation of human rights in the last century. Boycotts and outside pressure have never been attempted in the case of Israel, a state that wishes to be included in the civilised democratic world. Israel has indeed enjoyed such a status since its creation in 1948 and, therefore, succeeded in fending off the many United Nations’ resolutions that condemned its policies and, moreover, managed to obtain a preferential status in the European Union. Israeli academia’s elevated position in the global scholarly community epitomises this western support for Israel as the “only democracy” in the Middle East. Shielded by this particular support for academia, and other cultural media, the Israeli army and security services can go on, and will go on, demolishing houses, expelling families, abusing citizens and killing, almost every day, children and women without being accountable regionally and globally for their crimes.
Military and financial support to Israel is significant in enabling the Jewish state to pursue the policies it does. Any possible measure of decreasing such aid is most welcome in the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East. But the cultural image in Israel feeds the political decision in the west to support unconditionally the Israeli destruction of Palestine and the Palestinians. The message that will be directed specifically against those academic institutes which have been particularly culpable in sustaining the oppression since 1948 and the occupation since 1967, can be a start for a successful campaign for peace (as similar acts at the time had activated the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa).
Calling for a boycott of your own state and academia is not an easy decision for a member of that academia. But I learned how the concerned academic communities, worldwide, could mobilise at the right moment when I was threatened with expulsion by my own university, the University of Haifa, in May 2002. A very precise and focused policy of pressure on the university allowed me, albeit under restriction and systematic harassment, to purse my classes and research, which are aimed at exposing the victimisation of the Palestinians throughout the years. This is a particular important avenue, as I am the only one who does it in my own university, and one of the few who does it in the country as a whole, and also because the university has a large community of Palestinian students, who are prevented by draconian regulations from expressing their anger and frustration at what had been, and is, done against their people. These students have felt totally isolated since the university established close links with the security apparatuses in the country. The fact that the university is closely connected to the security services – by providing postgraduate degrees – is by itself not a crime, but as these are the agencies that exercise on a daily basis the occupation in the Palestinian areas, their presence in the campus means academia is significantly involved in perpetuating the evil.
As I learned from my own case, outside pressure is effective in a country where people want to be regarded as part of the civilized world, but their government, with their explicit and implicit help, pursues policies which violate every known human and civil right. Neither the UN, nor the US and European governments, and societies, have sent a message to Israel that these policies are unacceptable and have to be stopped. It is up to the civil societies, through organisations like yours, to send messages to Israeli academics, businessmen, artists, hi-tech industrialists and every other section in that society, that there is a price tag attached to such policies.
I thank you in advance for your support. Should you decide to embark on the bold policy suggested, you empower me and my friends who will, I am convinced of this, be able to build together with our Palestinian comrades a just basis for peace and reconciliation in Palestine.
· Ilan Pappe is senior lecturer in the department of political science in Haifa University and the chairman of the Emil Touma institute for Palestinian studies in Haifa.