A feminist praxis for academic freedom in the context of genocide in Gaza

Palestinian Feminist Collective condemns sophicide and scholasticide in Gaza – the deliberate annihilation of Indigenous knowledge traditions and the physical destruction of centers of knowledge.

As members of the Palestinian Feminist Collective and scholars at North American universities, we are steadfast in our commitment to the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, truth, and justice in environments free from systemic oppression. The Zionist regime’s escalated genocide in Gaza has meant the annihilation of intellectual and cultural sources of wisdom, or sophicide.

Sophicide refers to the Zionist regime’s deliberate annihilation of Indigenous knowledge traditions inspired by the land itself, as well as the carriers of that knowledge, including elders and women. It involves the crushing of Palestinian life and learning through the systematic murder of Palestinian students, mentors, teachers, researchers, scholars, academics, writers, librarians, archivists, spiritual leaders, historiographers, creatives, poets, interns, lecturers, professors, staff, and lab technicians. Such attacks on these Indigenous knowledge carriers impacts entire generations of learners, crushing their aspirations and dreams.

Sophicide also includes scholasticide, a Palestinian concept that refers to the physical destruction of centers of knowledge, educational resources, infrastructures, and archives as well as the silencing, censorship, and repression of Palestinian history, epistemology, scholarship, and subjectivity. The Zionist regime’s academic repression has extended beyond Palestine and into U.S. and Canadian education centers across Turtle Island, reflecting a systemic failure by university administrators and other authorities to protect students, educators, and staff in their communities and the pursuit of knowledge free from harm.

As feminists, learners, teachers, scholars, Palestinians, and those who love and are committed to Palestine, we bear witness to the many forms of sophicide that are unfolding at alarming rates in Gaza, and we refuse to be silent about it. Honoring our commitment to freedom and liberation for all oppressed peoples, including the freedom to access and pursue knowledge, requires a praxis that centers our kin in Gaza and all of Palestine. It requires a praxis capable of addressing the unprecedented levels of institutional violence against Palestinians, including our own universities’ investments in the Zionist settler-colonial regime and their tactics of repression and censorship.

Existing frameworks for “academic freedom” on our campuses have actually enabled violence against Palestinians and our allies to occur with impunity. Our feminist praxis for true academic freedom begins with the premise that all forms of genocide, including sophicide and scholasticide, are antithetical to learning, teaching, well-being, and safety; that university administrators and authorities should be held accountable for their role in genocide and systemic oppression; and that feminism must center the ability to live and learn freely, from our campuses to Palestine.

Sophicide in Gaza


Zionist genocide aims to eradicate Palestinians’ lives and, with them, Palestinian ways of life. Since October 2023, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have killed over 40,000 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, and displaced over two million people from their homes. Almost all residential units in Gaza have been either entirely “destroyed or damaged” by Israeli soldiers, who share celebratory videos on their social media accounts as they torture Palestinian hostages and detonate buildings. This domicide extends to other spaces of life and vital infrastructures, including hospitals, mosques and churches, public libraries, water wells, and electricity networks throughout Gaza.

The obliteration of Palestine’s schools, universities, and libraries furthers the settler-colonial project of erasure because these are spaces that nurtured the creation and transmission of knowledge. Since October 2023, the IOF have destroyed over 378 schools, public libraries, laboratories, classrooms, and research facilities, depriving Palestinians of the histories and knowledges housed in these institutions. Understanding this form of genocide as sophicide elucidates how schools, universities, and learning spaces are not just physical structures; they are “the fabric of life.” These were places of realizing the aspirations of Palestinian youth who had been under siege in Gaza their entire lives. Zionist sophicide has advanced the evisceration of Palestinian institutions of learning and memory that have served as archives for Gaza’s long tradition of knowledge seeking and appreciation.

Since October 2020, the IOF have killed at least 5,881 Palestinian students and injured an additional 9,899. Their incessant aerial bombardment has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, to the extent that the United Nations has declared Gaza “the world’s most dangerous place for children” and Phillippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner General for UNRWA, has warned, “We’re running the risk here of losing a generation of children.”

The staggering theft of life and injuries among Palestinian children highlight a broader, devastating impact on the educational system in Gaza. The ongoing Israeli assault has robbed more than 625,000 primary and secondary school students and over 100,000 college and university students in Gaza of their access to education. In addition, the relentless attacks on Gaza have prevented at least 555 Palestinian students from enrolling in their scholarships abroad.

Sophicide extends to Palestinian educators and administrators who are also targets of Zionist settler-colonial violence and genocide. Since October 2023, the IOF have injured over 891 teachers and administrators and murdered at least 255, including 94 beloved university professors whose contributions to world-renowned research exemplified the intellectual resilience of Palestinians subjected to the brutal Israeli blockade of Gaza since 2007.

Between October and December 2023 alone, the Zionist regime, armed and backed by the U.S. empire, killed at least three Palestinian university presidents. Among these professors was Dr. Mohammad Eid Shubair, an eminent scholar and former President of the Islamic University in Gaza, who was killed by Zionist airstrikes on al-Shifa hospital and surrounding areas where he lived with his family. Dr. Shubair and his family had survived the initial bombing and were attempting to walk the short distance to the hospital to take shelter when they were shot by IOF soldiers besieging the hospital on November 12, 2023. His martyrdom was followed by that of Dr. Sofyan Taya, Dr. Shubair’s successor and the President of the Islamic University of Gaza. A globally celebrated physicist and applied mathematician, Professor Taya was in the top 2% among the highest skilled researchers in the world in electromagnetics and optics. The IOF killed him and his family in an airstrike on December 2, 2023. The Zionist regime also murdered Dr. Said Alzebda, President of the University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS) on December 31, 2023.

The IOF’s calculated killings of knowledge producers and destruction of spaces of teaching and learning deprives Palestinians in Gaza, one million of whom are children under 18, of their “past, present, and future,” by attacking  their education and their dreams, hopes, and ambitions. One clear example is the martyrdom of Dr. Refaat Alareer, a prominent Palestinian writer and teacher of medieval literature, whose lyrical genius was expressed through his poetry as well as his non-profit “We Are Not Numbers,” which aimed to bring dignity to the people of Gaza and Palestine. Alareer was killed by an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza on December 7, 2023, alongside his brother, sister, nephew, and three nieces. We mourn the profound loss and honor the martyrdom of Dr. Alareer as a valuable mentor and knowledge producer whose final poem “If I Should Die” has come to mark the precarity of Gazan life.

To date, the IOF has damaged or destroyed nine in every ten schools in Gaza. At least sixty-five of these schools were UNRWA-run facilities, sheltering thousands of displaced Palestinians. On February 7, 2024, the IOF used tanks to fire directly at a UNRWA school in Khan Younis sheltering over 1,800 displaced Palestinians; they subsequently ordered everybody out of the school, where they beat Palestinians, stripped over 800 men, and abducted 15 people whose whereabouts are still unknown.

Between October 2023 and January 2024, the IOF bombed all twelve universities in Gaza. Consequently, Gaza’s treasured intellectual landmarks, including the Islamic University of Gaza, the North Gaza and Tubas branches of Al-Quds Open University, and Palestine Technical University, have all been destroyed. On January 18, 2024, the IOF used over 300 landmines to detonate the main buildings of Al-Isra University, which is located in an area they had labeled a ‘safe zone’ in southern Gaza City. Before destroying Al-Isra, they occupied the university for seventy days, converting the campus into a military base and detention center to conduct torture, interrogations, and sniper operations on abducted Palestinians. Among the cherished academic buildings decimated was the first and only university hospital in Gaza as well as buildings housing medical and engineering laboratories, nursing labs, media training studios, the law college’s court hall, and graduation halls. They also looted more than 3,000 rare artifacts from the National Museum on campus before completely detonating it. These spaces housed the dreams of Palestinian children, and students, and educators all of whom are currently 100% food insecure and at risk of death by Zionists’ aerial bombardments, deprivation of water, forced starvation, cold, and disease. Today, most Gazans have been displaced to Rafah, which has become the newest target for genocide, and where over 1.2 million displaced Palestinians are taking shelter.

Scholasticide in the occupied West Bank


Similarly, in the West Bank, the IOF are systematically attacking Palestinian universities and other educational spaces. On November 8th, 2023, they stormedBirzeit University in Ramallah with six military vehicles, raiding the Student Council and shooting a young Palestinian. Also in November, Zionist settlers set fire to two classrooms in Khirbet Zanuta, depriving dozens of Palestinian children of their schooling. These assaults on academic infrastructure extends beyond physical buildings affecting the foundations that support learning and intellectual growth throughout Palestine.

Since October 2023, the IOF and armed settlers have killed at least 438 Palestinians, including 106 children, across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Among those murdered are 56 Palestinian students, and the IOF have injured a further 329 and forcibly detained at least 105. The IOF have also invaded Palestinian teachers’ homes, ransacking their contents, assaulting families, and enforcing arbitrary arrests. In one such raid on Jenin refugee camp on January 19th, 2024, they murdered Jawad Fareed Bawaqneh, a beloved physical education teacher at a local secondary school and parent to six children.

In the occupied West Bank, the systematic murder of teachers, mentors, and students, as well as the deliberate destruction of learning infrastructure is also upheld by the silencing, censorship, harassment, desecrating, devaluing, intimidation, sabotage, and repression of educators and learners. In these ways, sophicide functions to destroy and erase Palestinian histories, intellectual memory, and wisdom.

The Palestine Exception to Academic Freedom


Zionist attacks on Palestinian knowledge involved repression campaigns worldwide, including within the settler-colony itself. Over 74 Palestinian students at 25 Israeli institutions have been targeted and punished merely for liking tweets and authoring posts expressing sympathy for their family members in Gaza. Most recently, renowned Palestinian feminist scholar Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian was suspended from the Hebrew University for her outspoken stance against genocide. While she was reinstated, the Zionist state has made it a crime to express any empathy and support for Palestinians, thereby making genocide the only acceptable public opinion. In fact, settlers who stray from genocidal language and activity are met with state violence. On October 28, 2023, thirty Palestinian students were locked in their rooms at Netanya College while their dormitories were stormed by Israeli settlers chanting “Death to Arabs.”

Sophicide against Palestinian learners and educators has become a global phenomenon such that institutional repression of Palestinians has emerged as a rule of thumb. Furthering the settler-colonial technologies of erasure, Zionist sophicide converges with the U.S. and Canadian settler-states’ repression of scholars and learners based on Turtle Island.

The suppression of academic freedom and free speech related to Palestine on U.S. and Canadian campuses extends back decades. Since at least 1973, Zionist lobby groups have subjected student, staff, and faculty advocates for Palestine to state-sponsored surveillance and defamation campaigns that falsely accused them of antisemitism. The weaponization of antisemitism to censor all forms of anti-Zionist speech has long been a fulcrum of attacks on academic freedom, operating through what is known as the Palestine exception to free speech. Using this formula, the ADL created and circulated what is likely the first blacklist of scholars in 1983. With the advent of the internet and social media, these blacklists were digitized and more easily circulated, and Zionist groups organizing such attacks, including the David Project, CAMERA, Stand With Us, AMCHA Initiative, and Canary Mission, proliferated and grew more organized. These organizations have facilitated an Israeli government-led campaign to target anti-Zionist students and faculty by surveilling, blacklisting, and levying false charges of antisemitism against those critical of the Zionist regime, the supremacist ideology of Zionism, and the ongoing genocide of Palestinians.

Universities and colleges have failed to protect their students, faculty, and staff from harassment and attacks by these external organizations, and worse, have even participated in suppressing academic freedom. Repressive measures have been taken by many university administrators, academic associations, local law enforcement, alumni, social media platforms, senators, and the federal government to silence student activism and free speech on Palestine. They have repressed, doxxed, and harassed students, staff, and faculty; threatened graduates with unemployment; terminated and suspended faculty positions; retaliated against student organizers; silenced Palestinian speakers and our co-strugglers; arrested, imprisoned and physically assaulted protestors; and made campuses unsafe, hostile and threatening for Palestinians and anyone speaking in solidarity with Palestinian liberation.

Indeed, Western institutions are not neutral, not least because they invest millions of dollars in Israeli banks and companies upholding the settler-colonial occupation as well as the arms dealers profiting from the ongoing genocide of Palestinians. Claims of “neutrality” and “balance” add to our immeasurable grief as we witness the genocide of Palestinian loved ones in besieged Gaza and a surge in racist attacks, harassment, and repression against our communities in the diaspora. As the Zionist onslaught in Gaza has escalated, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim communities across Turtle Island have faced unprecedented levels of violence.

The catastrophic and even deadly impacts of such repression continues to manifest in terrifying examples of anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic violence, including, but not limited to: the murder of 6-year-old Palestinian American Wadea Al Fayoume, who was stabbed along with his mother by their landlord; the racist shooting of Palestinian university students Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ahmed; and the attack on an Arab Muslim student at Stanford, who was hospitalized after being targeted and struck by a car. These disturbing examples of violence reflect a much larger and alarming sharp increase in hate incidents, repression of Palestinian content on social media platforms, and increased government surveillance and domestic policing of Palestinians and FBI visits to and surveillance of mosques.

The academic repression carried out on our university campuses actively contributes to the silencing of Palestinian narratives, truth, and free speech while inflaming a widespread culture of racist demonization. This epistemic violence is particularly insidious because it denigrates and suppresses forms of knowledge that are already disempowered, further enabling the Israeli genocide of Palestinians in Gaza as well as targeted assaults on our communities across Turtle Island.

Toward a Feminist Praxis for Academic Freedom


Our feminist praxis for academic freedom foregrounds the idea that education is the practice of liberation and is anchored in rebellion as a communal process. Holding the experiential truth of the multiple ways that women of color have been, and continue to be, silenced and devalued in the academy, we foreground radical care as an antidote to repressive, racist, discriminatory, and anti-intellectual measures.

Our feminist praxis for academic freedom works against the weaponization of “safety” and other feminist and liberatory ideals on university campuses and beyond. We call out the Zionist, racist, and white supremacist weaponization of “safety” and “fear” as a guise for silencing, repressing, and erasing us. We know that “when colonizers talk about ‘security,’ they are in fact talking about ‘violence.’” Coupled with the weaponization of antisemitism, this colonial, Eurocentric concept of “safety” has been used to silence pro-Palestinian speech in the service of the “comfort” of Zionist students. This repression will not keep any of us safe; as a collective of anti-Zionist Jewish organizations has asserted, “investment in state violence is not indicative of ‘care’ for Jewish lives.”

As feminists rooted in anti-colonial work, we know that “we keep us safe” against state violence, including policing and administrative tactics of repression. We affirm community accountability models of responding to state and intimate violences rooted in abolitionist movements led by Black, Indigenous, racialized, and oppressed peoples.

The idea of “safe spaces” on university campuses and beyond emerged out of feminist and queer organizing, which agitated for centers and resources that would enable people to come together to strategize ways to survive the material impacts of institutional violence collectively. Born out of political activism, LGBTQ movements focused on taking back the streets in the 1960s and consciousness-raising sessions characteristic of the women’s movement in the 1970s, the idea of a “safe space” has always been about actively forming collective resistance against structural oppression.

Yet in the multicultural neoliberal university, the concept of “safe space” has been both diluted and co-opted. It has become a method of containment – a place to keep us silent and confine our organizing. Mangled in the watered-down concepts of “diversity” and “inclusion,” university-created “safe spaces” operate as underfunded centers designed to feed the university’s PR machine. We reject this neoliberal multicultural version of “safety,” through which the university proposes to prove its concern for students by offering anesthetized, enclosed, and underfunded “space” for each “included” group. Such “safe spaces” dilute the term from its original intent to bring a collective together to transform violent, oppressive structures actively and instead contain it by focusing on individual rights and a state security agenda.

Universities in North America have responded to the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza with presidential statements that are tacitly and explicitly complicit with genocide. Through deflection tactics, both covert and overt – from bureaucratic measures meant to stall and shut down discussion of Palestine to overt punishment of student organizations – our universities engage in technologies of erasure. Our university administrations have refused to name Palestine, Palestinians, or anti-Palestinian racism much less the genocide in Gaza or the ongoing settler colonial violence and military occupation happening there. Instead, using the colonialist term “Middle East,” they perpetuate disinformation and diminish the violence that Palestinians are experiencing in Palestine and on Turtle Island.

From the genocidal removal of Indigenous Peoples to enable “land grant”universities and historic investments in the institution of racial chattel slavery to the gentrifying land grabs of contemporary universities, our universities have systematically perpetuated settler-colonial technologies. As purveyors of debt through the mechanism of student loans, universities operate through the capitalist logic of accumulation. Through their corporate investors and investments – both in terms of the power of donors to influence university policies and decisions and as literal real-estate investors – universities propagate militarization and violence, which are antithetical to the movements for true liberation that inaugurated the call to actively create “safe spaces.”

Against this anesthetized and denuded version of “safe space” on campus, we uphold a feminist praxis of academic liberation rooted in the collective commitment to building “practical resistance to political and social repression.”

Calls to Action


The Palestinian Feminist Collective urges fellow academics and educational institutions to engage in proactive measures to support Palestinian rights and academic freedom. We propose the following actions:

  1. Advocate for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)
    1. Pressure academic institutions and organizations to adopt policies that eliminate involvement with the settler state’s military, academic, and legal institutions.
    2. Pressure academic institutions to divest their endowments and investments from corporations that support Israeli settler-colonialism, militarism, and apartheid.
    3. Heed the call of PACBI and end all study abroad programs as well as demand the closure of satellite campuses operating on occupied and stolen Palestinian land.
    4. Urge institutions to sever ties with study abroad programs in occupied Palestine.
    5. Urge institutions to sever ties with Zionist lobby groups operating on university campuses.
    6. Urge institutions to contract divestment-friendly vendors, preferably local and community-oriented.
  2. Protect and Uphold Academic Freedom and Autonomy
    1. Denounce any form of campus censorship and organize initiatives against it.
    2. Resist external interference and pressure from donors, alumni, corporations, lobby groups, and government bodies that seek punitive actions for supporting Palestine and Palestinian liberation.
    3. Protect against wrongful suspension, terminations, or denial of tenure for advocates of Palestinian liberation.
    4. Refuse the weaponization of safety to repress academic freedom.
  3. Support Palestinian Scholars and Students
    1. Establish dedicated fellowships, scholarships, and funding opportunities focused on Palestinian scholars, especially those from Gaza.
    2. Promote employment and speaking opportunities for Palestinian scholars (including virtual engagements).
    3. Facilitate access to global academic resources for Palestinian scholars.
  4. Recognize and Celebrate Palestinian Knowledge and History
    1. Dedicate campus facilities or buildings in honor of Palestinian history and achievements.
    2. Actively incorporate and highlight Palestinian contributions in academic citations and research.
    3. Contribute to the rebuilding and development of universities in Gaza through donations and partnerships.
    4. Resource and initiate Palestinian and Arab Studies departments, centers, and institutes at your universities

These actions are critical for fostering academic environments of equity, justice, and freedom while also standing in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation and self-determination. By implementing them, we scholars commit ourselves and our places of learning to meaningfully nurturing feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial models of education.



Lila Sharif, Amira Jarmakani, Amanda Najib, and Shereen Hindawi-Wyatt on behalf of the Palestinian Feminist Collective.


A feminist praxis for academic freedom in the context of genocide in Gaza