Israel’s Academy for Indifference

Why should Israeli professors and students care that their country is subverting the academic freedom of Palestinian universities and interfering with their hiring of foreign lecturers?

FILE Photo: The Jewish Studies building at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, 2016.
Emil Salman

Qassam rockets, rocks or incendiary balloons are not the reason that Israel interferes with the academic freedom of Palestinian universities and subverts the process of hiring lecturers from abroad or accepting foreign students.

This routine Israeli interference with the ordinary life of Palestinian universities doesn’t interest presidents, faculty deans or senior lecturers of Israeli universities, nor their student population. Their voices are not heard despite the fact that the meddling of the Interior Ministry and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories in granting visas to academics and students headed for the Palestinian enclaves began long ago, and has only exacerbated over the last three years.

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Perhaps they will begin to show interest in the subject if European and American student councils and a few professors associations once again raise the obstacle of visas for academics as a reason to boycott Israeli universities. Official Israeli representatives will probably complain that it’s anti-Semitism, self-righteously roll their eyes and say that they didn’t know – one more thing they didn’t know.

>> Read more: As Israel tightens entry rules, foreign lecturers at Palestinian universities forced to leave ■ Destroying Palestinian universities | Opinion 

And why should the Israeli academic world care that due to the movement restrictions imposed by Israel, the West Bank’s Birzeit University lacks lecturers in mathematical economics and civil engineering, for instance. After all, it doesn’t bother the law faculties that judges in Jerusalem approved the expulsion of the Siyam family from their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan by the right-wing settler group Elad, and it doesn’t bother architecture students or their lecturers that the army ordered the destruction of a neighborhood in Wadi Hummus, near the separation barrier in Jerusalem.

Why should the Hebrew University of Jerusalem take an interest in the following explicit discrimination, one of innumerable examples? There is a clear and convenient Interior Ministry procedure for hiring foreign academics by Israeli universities. For West Bank universities, there is no parallel procedure – and it must be an Israeli one, because Israel controls the borders and determines who enters the Palestinian enclaves. After all, that same Hebrew University doesn’t take an interest in the Israeli abuse that goes on in the Isawiyah ghetto, located on the slopes of the hill that it overlooks.

The students and the lecturers are an integral part of the Jewish Israeli public, and like the public, they are indifferent to the undermining of Palestinian universities. For the academic world as for the entire public – except Arab Israelis and a handful of left-wing Jewish activists in Israeli universities who are not paralyzed by the uniformity of thought forced on them by right-wing groups like Im Tirtzu – our domination of the Palestinians is a non-issue.

There are about 30 foreign lecturers in Birzeit out of a faculty of about 450 – not much. The 20 or so foreign music teachers out of 110 in Ramallah’s Edward Said National Conservatory of Music is already a higher percentage of faculty members trapped in the network of caprices and arbitrariness of the Civil Administration and the Population and Immigration Authority.

Whether it’s a lot or a little, what’s important is not the individual numbers but the principle. If there were a clear and convenient procedure, similar to that in Israel, we can assume that the number of music teachers and lecturers of sciences or in various interdisciplinary tracks would be even greater, whether filling the currently missing positions or developing new fields. We can also assume that other Palestinian universities – which hire fewer foreigners, or none at all – would also like to expand and enrich their faculty with guests from abroad.

There are far greater horrors than a seasoned history professor at Birzeit who has been stuck in Cyprus for over a year because Israel won’t renew his entry visa to Ramallah, or exams that are scanned and sent by email to the lecturer who wasn’t allowed to return. Once again I will mention the neighborhood of Silwan, which is being tortured by a right-wing organization that is drowning in money, and with the help of dubious archaeological projects pressures its residents to leave.

But it’s a mistake to rank the Israeli methods of harming the lives of Palestinians according to their bloody horror. The Jewish Israeli onslaught against the Palestinian people is multisystemic. It’s conducted with advanced military and technological means that are developed in Israeli universities, and with complicated bureaucratic procedures. It’s conducted by government ministries and ostensibly nongovernmental associations for espionage and slander, and by “autonomous” local councils like Nof Hagalil and Afula in the north (which in different ways ignore the existence of Arab citizens and their rights), and the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council in the West Bank, which funnels millions of dollars into illegal and unauthorized settlement infrastructure. It’s conducted also through the lack of media coverage and the sophisticated or blatant incitement heard daily on radio and television.

Even if Israel didn’t kill or wound a single Palestinian during demonstrations, this would still be a multisystemic onslaught to bring about the disintegration of the Palestinian collective and turn it into a random group of individuals, each of whom must deal with the attacker on his own.

Israel invests human, technological, financial and intellectual resources in order to continue the multisystemic onslaught designed to cause the disintegration of the Palestinian collective. For that purpose it uses the human, financial and intellectual resources of Jews throughout the world, not to mention the diplomatic, economic and political support of many countries.

When we take into account this enormous Israeli, Jewish and global investment, we can once again be amazed and moved by the steadfastness of the Palestinians – both individuals and the collective. And that includes the Palestinian universities.