Opinion

Hebrew University’s Disgrace and the Occupation

The institution has a strange way of hosting conferences that further the settlement project – the latest a hypocritical one on 'environmental quality'

An Israeli at a spring in the West Bank.
Reuters

On Thursday July 27, in the Senate Hall at Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, a conference was held called “Environmental Quality and Nature Preservation Transcending Borders” – the event was hosted by the university’s Advanced School for Environmental Studies. Just as a few months ago I attended a conference in the Humanities Faculty’s Mexico Hall to recruit employees for the Shin Bet security service, I went to the environment conference.

It was a meeting of thieves of land, water and natural resources, a convocation of settlers, their yea-sayers and their minions from both sides of the Green Line – there’s no other way to describe it.

Among the organizers was the Kfar Etzion Field School in the West Bank’s Gush Etzion, which spreads over land it does not own. (Don’t say “state land” – what state?) The residents of the Palestinian villages that have been swallowed up have been transformed from farmers into unemployed workers and builders of the settlements. Another sponsor was the Samaria and the Jordan Valley Research and Development Center, which operates under the aegis of the Ariel University Center of Samaria.

Among the speakers were the head of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, who lectured in uniform, the head of the Municipal Association for Environmental Quality for Judea, and the head of the same group for Samaria – only settlements belong to those latter two organizations.

There was also Gilad Ach, who lives in the settlement of Eli, a founder of the group Ad Kan that conducts “undercover investigations to expose groups posing as human rights organizations.” Ach currently heads the Forum for a Green Israel, founded by young people formerly of “special units” in the Israel Defense Forces.

Ach’s interest in the conference was to warn about the blight of “pirate quarries” operated by Palestinians and to have all the permit procedures required in Israel applied to them – as if this large swath of land had already been annexed.

There were also people from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which is responsible for the belt of “national parks” around Jerusalem that close off the Palestinian villages that have been annexed to Jerusalem and block their development. It’s this authority that handed over the operation of the City of David National Park in the heart of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan to the settler group Elad, also known as the Ir David Foundation.

Blazoned across the top of the conference program was: “The conference will examine possible directions for action to advance and improve the environment in the reality in which we are living, out of responsibility for the land and its inhabitants, members of both peoples.” That's what they wrote: “members of both peoples.” “Environmental quality and nature preservation transcending borders,” they wrote (in faulty Hebrew). The typing fingers transcended the long-eradicated borders and weren't arrested.

The fact of the conference’s exclusive use of "Judea and Samaria" (instead of "the West Bank") testified to its illegal and illegitimate political character. Indeed, Hebron is a city in Judea and Schem (Nablus) is the capital of Samaria, and their Palestinian inhabitants derive great pleasure and benefit from their neighbors Kiryat Arba, Itamar, Yitzhar and the rest.

And the Bedouin locale Khan al-Ahmar is of course green and flourishing in its proximity to Kfar Adumim and its offshoots. And the chain of settlements alien to their surroundings on the hills of the West Bank – which were once softly curved and are now capped in concrete and cement – are undoubtedly the cutting edge in the struggle for environmental quality.

And what about the violent Jewish-settlement takeover of the springs that were once recreational sites for the village residents? And what about the criminal way the water resources are divided between the settlers and the local Palestinians?

The settlers splash in pools and the Palestinians’ pipes are dry for days on end during the summer, with their cisterns blocked. All these, apparently, weren’t worthy topics at the “professional” conference on environmental quality at Hebrew University’s Senate Hall.

As the knuckles in my clenched fists grew whiter by the minute, I sat there and listened to what was being said until I couldn’t help but react to the self-righteous hypocrisy from “the reality in which we are living.” I demanded again and again that the speakers say something about the distribution of natural resources in the region they were discussing, that they plunge their oh-so-clean hands into the real filth that’s spreading through the downtrodden land they boast of benefiting. But I was scolded from every side to stop turning a “professional conference” into a political event.

The day before the conference I visited Silwan, where I met people from the parks authority and saw the suffering they’re causing the neighborhood’s residents. The local people’s lives are hell, simply put. And the authorities’ hand is still outstretched, day by day and hour by hour, to frighten them, to narrow further their already small living space and dig near and beneath their homes until cracks mar the walls. Then they’ll evict the people.

A few weeks before the conference I visited the Jordan Valley and saw the ethnic-cleansing policy in full swing under the settler’s baton. And now, for a session at the conference called “Declaration of a Reserve – A New Opportunity for the People of the Valley,” an invitation was sent to Jordan Valley Council head David Elhayani, patron of the valley’s violent outposts that drive the shepherds and their flocks out of their grazing lands. Just so you’ll know for whom the “new opportunity” is intended.

Answering Haaretz’s Zafrir Rinat, as reported in the Hebrew edition last month, Prof. Eran Feitelson, head of the Advanced School for Environmental Studies, said: “In my opinion, one of the roles of academia is to serve as a platform for diverse opinions.”

But how are the opinions of the settlers and their ideological institutions relevant to a professional conference on environmental quality in the West Bank? They are, after all, relevant only to a political conference. And how can people from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority be given a platform without mentioning their work that’s destroying the lives of thousands of people in East Jerusalem?

True, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel established lovely nature reserves in the West Bank, but the military immediately declared them off-limits for Palestinians. Does this group really make the quality of life for both peoples its top priority?

Environmental quality? Water purity? The well-being of the flora and fauna? And what about the human environment? After all, the vast majority of the people in the West Bank are Palestinians, whom the Jewish settlement project is robbing of every kind of resource, from natural resources to human rights.

At the two conferences at Hebrew University – both the elaborate and ugly Shin Bet conference and the hypocritical “environmental quality” conference – not a single lecturer raised a voice in protest. And you enlightened academics, don’t even think of saying that after my April 3 piece on the Shin Bet conference you sent protest letters to the humanities dean and the rector, and received the reply, as I’ve been told, that “a mistake occurred here.”

“This matter has to be dealt with from within,” one of you told me. Another wrote to me: “The university rents out halls to many groups and cannot allow itself not to do so in this case .... The publication of the invitation by the university was a mistake,” and they regret this mistake. Well, you didn’t make your protest public in any way.

This conference – what do you have to say about it? You were informed that it would be held, and it was announced in the newspaper. Did you attend? Did you listen? Did you protest? Maybe so and I didn’t hear about it. Maybe so but it happened behind closed doors. You don’t know what protest is.

This university’s halls overlook in lordly arrogance the crowded neighborhood of Isawiyah, where the people’s quality of life is beyond dreadful and where there are no parks or even sidewalks. I therefore hold that this university deserves to have academic communities abroad boycott it, its heads and its faculty members. This is the only thing that will compel them to fulfill their obligation and at long last address “the reality in which we are living out of responsibility for the land and its inhabitants, members of both peoples.”