SOAS Israeli academic boycott – is it justified and effective? – A Response

by Henry Brown, student of War Studies, and Abraham Jacobs, student of War Studies and Philosophy at King’s College London.

We feel it necessary to respond to the published article on the academic boycott of Israel. In our assessment it did not adequately reflect the reality of the conflict. One of the world’s most powerful military forces is occupying and periodically invading the Gaza strip; an area whose population consists of 60% children and 80% refugees. Simultaneously in the West Bank, Israel is annexing territory, demolishing homes, arbitrarily detaining and torturing youths; demonstrating a callous disregard for Palestinian life. These practices occur under the pretence that Israel is seeking a peace deal whilst in reality it is actively undermining the conditions for a viable Palestinian state. It is in this context that we support SOAS’ decision to boycott the Hebrew University and we argue that the academic boycott is a necessary component in bringing an end to the occupation and establishing a just peace for both parties.

In the article in question it is stated that the academic boycott in some way forces academic institutions to ‘utterly undermine Israeli legitimacy’. This is untrue. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of which the academic boycott is but one part has three aims: an end to the occupation, the security of Arab rights within Israel and respect for the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Rather than seeking to undermine the legitimacy of Israel, these aims merely demand that it adhere to the international conventions and resolutions that it is already subject to. This should not incur feelings of ‘desolation’; it is an appeal to the shared principles of enlightened nations.

Further, we would like to reaffirm the legitimacy of the term apartheid as applied to Israel. The crime of apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts ‘committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’ Israel’s apparatus of subjugation provides a model for this definition as demonstrated by their ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land, aggressive construction of illegal settlements linked by a system of Jewish-only ‘sterile roads’ all enforced by the very symbol of  the occupation: the Security Barrier. What the article in question obscures in its approach to the barrier is its full illegality under international law (as interpreted by the world’s highest judicial body) and the scale of the misery that the barrier and its associated policies inflict upon the Palestinian population every day. Close to half a million residents, already living under military rule, have been affected by the barrier’s route. They require permits to live in their homes and are only able to leave their communities via a gate in the barrier. As Amnesty International describes, it is being built on Palestinian land ‘not on the Green Line…but […] several kilometres inside in order to isolate Palestinians away from Israeli settlements.’ The article in question characterises the barrier’s purpose as being one of ‘protection’ pointing to a sharp drop in suicide attacks within Israel since its construction. However, the Israeli Security services themselves claim that the drop in attacks is due to a 2006 ceasefire decided upon by Palestinian armed factions. Furthermore rather than preventing illegal immigration, as claimed, Palestinians are still able to cross illegally sometimes at a rate of over 1000 a week. If desperate individuals seeking employment are able to cross the barrier regularly then what is there to prevent more determined individuals from launching suicide attacks into Israel? What is clear, therefore, is that these policies including the barrier constitute a state of apartheid masked under the veil of security and protection.

In addition, the article in question is somewhat incoherent in its failure to recognise the distinction between the aforementioned apartheid policies in the West Bank and the punitive conditions of the Gaza blockade. Unanimously declared as illegal by 50 UN agencies and charities, the blockade amounts to a brutal collective punishment of the civilians of Gaza, taking the form of constant food insecurity, a desolated healthcare system and lack of sanitation. This situation is interspersed with periodic Israeli violence, whilst Hamas (the political authority within Gaza) observes a previously negotiated ceasefire, eventuating in Israeli military operations. These are described by a leading member of the UN Fact Finding mission on Operation Cast Lead as ‘planned in all their phases as ‘…deliberately disproportionate attack[s] designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population’. The most recent of these, Operation Protective Edge, involved the murder of 2131 Palestinians, of which 1473 were non-combatants, according to UN figures. They were killed in hospitals, homes and schools as reported by all leading human rights organisations.

It is in the light of these crimes that we must regard the academic boycott as a positive instrument to target those institutions complicit with the occupation. As expressed by Israeli academic Sarah Herschorn:

While it may make some Israeli and Diaspora Jewish academics more comfortable to believe that a kind of cordon sanitaire separates scholarship from the settlements — between the halls of Hebrew University and the human rights crisis in Hebron — this is an inaccurate representation of Israeli reality. The entire nation is complicit in the occupation, and there is no safe haven in the libraries and laboratories within the Green Line. Whether it is the research dollar spent on a security algorithm, the professor serving guard duty as a reservist in the territories, or even the Bagel-Bagel snack (produced in Ariel!) purchased in a cafeteria, Israel’s educational network — regardless of the political persuasions of faculty — is already entrenched in the occupation.

By supporting the academic boycott we are not seeking to divide Jewish and Palestinian students, we are not even seeking to divide Israelis from the rest of the world; rather we are seeking to undermine the institutions of separation which perpetuate the continued injustice of apartheid.

Sources:

‘Recognise the new Palestinian Unity Government’ Editorial, Haaretz, 02 June 2014, viewed on 20 March 2015 (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.596570)

‘UN agencies join in shared call for end to Israeli blockade of Gaza’ Editorial, UN News Centre, 14 June 2012, viewed on 20 March (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42227#.VQyKPmIgGSM)

‘India, China and Turkey endorse Palestinian unity government’, Haaretz, 03 June 2014, viewed on 20 March 2015 (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.596914)

Horowitz, A. and Weiss, P., ‘Claim that Hamas killed 3 teens is turning out to be the WMD of Gaza onslaught’, Mondoweiss, 26 July 2014, viewed on 20 March 2015 (http://mondoweiss.net/2014/07/killed-turning-onslaught)

Sulttan, T., A., ‘Israel, not Hamas, is the serial truce-breaker’, Middle East Monitor, 13 July 2014, viewed 20 March 2015 (https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/12758-israel-not-hamas-is-the-serial-truce-breaker-)

‘50 Days of Death & Destruction: Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge”’, Institute for Middle East Understanding, 10 September 2014, viewed on 20 March 2015 (http://imeu.org/article/50-days-of-death-destruction-israels-operation-protective-edge)

‘Mounting evidence of deliberate attacks on Gaza health workers by Israeli army’, Amnesty International, 07 August 2014, viewed on 20 March 2015 (https://www.amnesty.org/en/articles/news/2014/08/mounting-evidence-deliberate-attacks-gaza-health-workers-israeli-army/)

‘Statement of Judge Abdul G. Koroma, former Justice of the International Court of Justice’, Question of Palestine, 09 July 2014, viewed on 20 March 2015 (http://www.un.org/depts/dpa/qpal/docs/Committee/2014/ICJ/Statement%20of%20Judge%20Koroma.pdf)

‘Forbidden Roads Israel’s Discriminatory Road Regime in the West Bank’, B’Tselem Information sheet, August 2004, viewed on 20 March 2015 (http://www.btselem.org/download/200408_forbidden_roads_eng.pdf)

Harel, A., ‘Shin Bet: Palestinian truce main cause for reduced terror’, Haaretz, 02 January 2006, viewed on 20 March (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/shin-bet-palestinian-truce-main-cause-for-reduced-terror-1.61607)

‘The Separation Barrier – Statistics’, B’Tselem, 01 January 2011, viewed on 20 March
(http://www.btselem.org/separation_barrier/statistics)

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