De-Colonization through Academic Engagement?: The Blurred Vision of Al-Quds University’s Administration

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Palestinian Academics and Intellectuals | boycottisrael@palnet.com | 16 April 2005

Rebuttal by Prominent Palestinian academics and intellectuals of the Statement [1] issued by Al-Quds University’s administration regarding Joint Palestinian-Israeli academic projects: We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, both in the diaspora and inside the occupied Palestinian territories, believe that the recent public statement issued by the administration of Al-Quds University depicting calls for boycotts[2] and other punitive measures against Israel as indications of “blindness and deafness” and defending its “vision” of ending oppression and injustice through scientific “engagement” with Israelis is seriously flawed, both morally and politically. First, the University administration claims that ending Israel’s illegal occupation would require “winning over” Israelis, not pressuring them. It explicitly attacks attempts to apply pressure on Israel in any form as counterproductive, since “Israel’s posture towards us can only be transformed from the inside.” This “vision” is clearly ahistoric as it ignores the accumulated experience of liberation movements around the world. When did a colonized nation succeed in winning its emancipation without considerable international pressure on the colonizing power? The issue is not whether Israel can change “from within;” it is how to bring about such a change in a society and state founded in a moment of colonial aggression and characterized by a deep-seated refusal to acknowledge the illegality and inadmissibility of ruling over and controlling the destiny of another people. In view of the obvious imbalance in power between the oppressed and the oppressors in the Palestinian case, international pressure becomes an essential ingredient in bringing an end to injustice and oppression. The success of the international campaign to end apartheid in South Africa through sanctions, boycotts, and other punitive measures is a case in point. Second, calling upon the world to ignore its moral obligation in forcing Israel to comply with international law and numerous UN resolutions is not just irresponsible; it is in fact harmful to the Palestinian cause, as it gives the false impression that the conflict is between two morally equivalent sides engaged in a domestic feud of sorts that can only be resolved through dialogue, collaborative projects and the gradual process of “winning over” one Israeli at a time. In the meanwhile, Israel’s various forms of oppression of the people of Palestine continue unabated and even intensify, without so much as a public statement condemning the occupation from the overwhelming majority of Israeli academics, including those engaged in collaborative projects with Al-Quds University. The University administration’s statement conspicuously ignores international law and the urgent necessity of engaging the world to bring about justice and genuine peace in our region. Third, the statement is manifestly at odds with the declared position of the Palestinian Council of Higher Education -- in which all Palestinian universities, including Al-Quds, are represented -- which has repeatedly and consistently rejected “scientific and technical cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli universities.” Fourth, the statement conflicts with the expressed view of a solid majority of Al-Quds University’s academic and administrative staff. A recently publicized poll conducted at Al-Quds University by its own Union of Professors and Employees revealed that 3 out of 4 of those who responded were opposed to joint research with Israeli academics precisely because in their view such projects “harm the Palestinian cause in the current circumstances” and “largely serve the interests of the Israeli side.” Fifth, the opening paragraph of the statement summarizing the political position of the University administration goes against the Palestinian national consensus as expressed by all the political forces as well as the most prominent unions, organizations and civil society representatives. This democratic consensus was recently reaffirmed in the Cairo Declaration endorsed by parties representing the entire Palestinian political spectrum. The Al-Quds statement’s call for “a real and immediate solution to the refugee tragedy” turns a blind eye to the firm Palestinian demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees as stipulated in international law. Sixth, the statement confuses calls for boycott of Israel with “dialogue-blocks.” Nowhere does the Palestinian call for boycott “block” dialogue. In fact, it unambiguously sanctions such dialogue and any other form of cooperation as long as they are based on the main principles that have consistently informed and guided the Palestinian political struggle. Conducting “normal” academic relations with Israelis under the rubric of “engagement” while ignoring these principles is both deceptive and damaging. Asking Palestinian academics to ignore the history of oppression and the reality of occupation is a political demand par excellence. It gives priority to building “bridges” with the occupier over the necessity to struggle for justice, freedom and independence. Moreover, this approach perpetuates the political status quo; it helps the Israeli academy bolster its international image as a bastion of academic excellence and a seeker of peace and “coexistence” without generating any mechanism or momentum whatsoever for the end of colonial rule. It is indeed ironic that while most Palestinian academics decry Israeli academics’ complicity in the prolongation of colonial rule through the latter’s pursuit of “business as usual” in institutions deeply complicit in the colonial regime, there are those Palestinians who lend legitimacy to these very institutions and by extension to the status quo. It is disingenuous to claim that Palestinians engaged in academic collaboration with their Israeli counterparts are somehow advancing the cause of justice in Palestine. In fact, by benefiting from the professional and other rewards of scientific “engagement” with Israelis, these Palestinians are unwittingly lending legitimacy to core institutions of the colonial regime. It does not need to be emphasized that the Israeli academy has historically been one of the major pillars of the Israeli system of apartheid through its intellectual and often practical contributions to the legitimization and entrenchment of the system. Seventh, the statement explicitly calls upon Europeans and others not to “impose” international law, but to maintain their support -- mostly financial, one can assume -- of joint Palestinian-Israeli projects that purportedly lead to a “consensual peace,” a “rational peace based on mutual interests.” This position is unique in the history of liberation movements when those in the oppressed and dispossessed community appeal to outsiders to ignore the colonial realities and “facts on the ground” -- including the daunting Wall that imprisons Al-Quds University’s own main campus and that was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice -- and call upon them to support the “mutual interests” of the oppressors and oppressed. Last, the statement makes the claim of representing “the Voice of Reason” implying that the majority of Palestinian academic, trade, cultural and professional unions and organizations that have supported the Palestinian Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel are irrational and by extension “extreme.” From the above, it is not too difficult to see what “Reason” means to those who drafted this ill-conceived document: largely accepting injustice while making do with insignificant gains -- mostly benefiting individuals -- without addressing the need to struggle to end Israel’s colonial oppression. We, Palestinian academics and intellectuals, believe that brining an end to this oppression is a necessary condition for achieving true peace and coexistence in our troubled land. Notes: [1] Al-Quds University's administration's statement follows. [2] The most important Palestinian call for boycott was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). It was endorsed by close to sixty of the most important unions and organizations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, including the Palestinian Federation of Unions of Universities’ Professors and Employees and the largest NGO network, PNGO (West Bank). The full text of PACBI’s Call for Boycott can be read at: http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/news/article178 Rebuttal Signatories (listed affiliations are strictly for identification purposes only) 1. Naseer Aruri Chancellor Professor of Political Science (Emeritus) University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, US 2. Nur Masalha Senior Lecturer University of Surrey, UK 3. Joseph Massad Assistant Professor Columbia University, US 4. Lisa Taraki Associate Professor of Sociology Birzeit University, Palestine 5. Omar Barghouti Independent Researcher Palestine 6. Fouad Moughrabi Political Science, University of Tennessee Chattanooga, Tenn. US 7. George Giacaman Associate Professor, Birzeit University Palestine 8. Elaine Hagopian Professor Emerita of Sociology Simmons College, Boston, US 9. Samih Farsoun Professor of Sociology (Emeritus) The American University, Washington, D.C., US 10. Gabi Baramki President, Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace Palestine 11. Muhammad Abuzeid Lecturer, Languages and Translation Department, Birzeit University Director, Federation of Unions of Universities’ Professors and Employees Palestine 12. Ibrahim Dakkak Member, Jerusalem Higher Committee Jerusalem, Palestine 13. Jacqueline Sfeir Assistant Professor, Bethlehem University Palestine 14. Carmela Armanios Omary Assistant Professor, Birzeit University Palestine 15. Lamis Andoni Journalist and University lecturer UC Berkeley, US 16. Seif Da'na Professor of Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Parkside, US 17. Rosemary Sayigh Independent scholar and author Beirut, Lebanon 18. Rabab Abdulhadi Director , Center for Arab American Studies University of Michigan-Dearborn, US 19. Jamil Hilal Independent Scholar Palestine 20. Bashir Abu-Manneh Assistant Professor of English Barnard College (Columbia University) New York, US 21. Karma Nabulsi Fellow, Oxford University, UK 22. Mazin Qumsiyeh Associate Professor of Genetics Yale University, US 23. Islah Jad Assistant Professor, Women’s Studies Institute Birzeit University, Palestine 24. Khalil S Hindi Professor of Engineering Management American University of Beirut, Lebanon 25. Muhammad Ali Khalidi Chair, Department of Philosophy American University of Beirut Beirut, Lebanon 26. Mr Souheil el-Natour Author Beirut, Lebanon 27. Ghazi-Walid Falah Department of Geography Akron University, US 28. Marwan Khawaja Associate Professor American University of Beirut Lebanon 29. Salman Abu Sitta Former Professor, Western Ontario University Canada 30. Fathi Kulaib Writer Beirut, Lebanon 31. Nadia Dabbagh MD, PHD, London UK 32. Rema Hammami Assistant Professor, Birzeit University Palestine 33. Saree Makdisi Professor, Department of Literature, UCLA US 34. Elias Srouji MD Pediatrics USA 35. Rita Giacaman Associate Professor, Institute of Community and Public Health Birzeit University Palestine 36. Rachad Antonius Department of Sociology, Quebec University, Montréal, Canada 37. Hala Al-Yamani Assistant Professor, Bethlehem University Palestine 38. Tarif Khalidi Shaykh Zayid Professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies American University of Beirut, Lebanon 39. Muhammad Shuraydi Professor of Sociology, University of Windsor Windsor, Ontario, Canada 40. Ibrahim K. Lada'a Physician, Head of ENT Department, Lippspringe Germany ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Al-Quds Statement sent by email to various academics: Al-Quds University Vision on Israeli-Palestinian Scientific Research Cooperation COLLEAGUES AND FRIENDS, ACADEMICS AND REPRESENTATIVES OF WORLD ORGANIZATIONS, From time to time we find few groups of Palestinian people Calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and institutions, as a suggested means of generating pressure against Israel with a view to ending the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people. As a University, we would like to put before you our own thoughts on this controversial subject, so that the point of view of “the other side” to this debate may be heard. Our vision for the ending of injustice is predicated on a final settlement which will ensure the end of occupation which began in 1967, the creation of an independent Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a real and immediate solution to the refugee tragedy. We are as cognizant of and affected by the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people as any other Palestinian group or movement. However, being also cognizant of the political and social dynamics of our “enemy”, and the win-win nature of the solution we propose, we believe that it is our national duty to wage a conscious campaign which seeks to “win over” as many Israelis to our point of view as we can. WE ARE INFORMED BY THE PRINCIPLE THAT WE SHOULD SEEK TO WIN ISRAELIS OVER TO OUR SIDE, NOT TO WIN AGAINST THEM. Therefore, informed by this national duty, we believe it is in our interest to BUILD BRIDGES, NOT WALLS; TO REACH OUT TO THE ISRAELI ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS, NOT TO IMPOSE ANOTHER RESTRICTION OR “DIALOGUE-BLOCK” ON OURSELVES. Our point of departure is that WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR, and RIGHT IS ON OUR SIDE. By engaging the Israeli academic community, we manage to make Israeli academics side with us against the restrictions imposed by their army on our own academic lives. We seek to win friends because Israel’s posture towards us can only be transformed from the inside. WE PUT OUR POINT ACROSS AS WE ENGAGE: WE DO NOT REINFORCE THE BLINDNESS AND DEAFNESS THAT EXISTS BY REFUSING TO ENGAGE. We win by co-option, not by further alienation. Furthermore, we believe that Palestinian Institutions of Higher Learning should indeed play a leading role in society. Such a role, especially in the midst of understandable Palestinian rage and anger, should be to help guide national policy and public attitudes towards employing those means which might facilitate the end of injustice, and to avoid the employment of those means which can only be of further devastating effect. We should address the moral and leadership role of our Academic Institutions in our respective civil societies, should perhaps have underpinned the claimed moral voice of Academia by addressing squarely and courageously the immorality of actions taken by either side, and condemned all actions indifferently, as a means of highlighting human values which do not know national or religious borders, and which Academics and Academic institutions should surely uphold. In sum, we do not wish Europe or the world to become an extension of the Israeli-Palestinian battle-ground: we wish that our (pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian) friends there help us end this battle by instituting peace amongst themselves, and together work towards an equitable political solution for us here as the one we propose. The day may yet come when peace will have to be imposed, but a rational peace based on mutual interests is clearly more stable and lasting. Our aim should therefore be to rally more people behind a consensual peace. Potential costs to continued occupation and the rule of force should by all means be made clear; but the genuine desire for a just peace as well as the rule of reason should be what primarily define our approach. Finally, we wish to thank all of you who are seeking to help end the Palestinian plight. Being committed to free speech, we welcome and appreciate all points of view. We believe ours expresses the Voice of Reason, and that of many Palestinian academics and free thinkers. A real Palestinian voice for peace, for a future of hope exists. We must CREATE that peace on every front, including that of Academia. Al-Quds University 18th,march 2005