Hypocrisy on Campus: Decolonization Means Cutting Ties with Israeli Apartheid

'Universities must commit to decolonization by ending material and institutional complicity with Israeli Apartheid.' (Photo: via Twitter)

By Adam Saeed

Those of us who have the misfortune of following their universities on social media were recently exposed to a new wave of hypocrisy when these institutions which are directly complicit in apartheid against the Palestinian people and the destruction of our environment released statements “in support” of the BLM movement. This act of performative solidarity and intentional distortion of the meaning of decolonization was rightly met with anger and outrage by many student activists calling the institutions out on their duplicity.

Indeed, these words that celebrate humanity and commitment to fighting for equality and against oppression ring hollow to those who see Palestinians being excluded from this racist definition of humanity. If the case is being put for equality and against oppression, then the first step our universities and unions should take before they attempt to co-opt the Black Lives Matter Movement is clear: they must commit to decolonization by ending material and institutional complicity with Israeli Apartheid. 

In stark contrast to the line of marketing teams of universities like SOAS or Glasgow, we are calling for decolonization of our institutions that will have factual implications to the situation on the ground. Namely ending institutional links to Israeli Universities which are directly complicit in the colonization of Palestinian land and contribute to the development of strategies and technologies that are used in the violent oppression of Palestinians across the land. The Hebrew University represents a prime example of institutional involvement in this process of colonization of Palestine.

At the time of its establishment in the early 20th century, the University was viewed as being a key symbol of the Zionist project in Palestine: plans for establishing the university were formulated by key Zionist thinkers, including Chaim Weizmann, who would later become the first president of Israel. In this sense, the university was an essential part of the process of settler-colonialism within which Israel was created and in which it continues to constitute its existence. The University also contributed to the development and propagation of Zionist colonial ideology and advocates for Jewish ethnopolitical supremacy in Palestine until today.

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After Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, annexing East Jerusalem, the Israeli Government confiscated the land around Hebrew University and its affiliated Hadassah Hospital, embarking on large-scale expansion. This expansion reached beyond the green line and included private Palestinian land. As it stands today, substantial parts of the Hebrew University that are built upon occupied Palestinian land, are defined as an illegal settlement under international law. Constituting a clear breach of the Geneva Convention. Importantly for UK universities, the accommodation offered to international students undertaking Year Abroad programs lies within the Student Village, which stands on occupied land, and therefore students housed in these buildings are directly taking part in a perpetration of a war crime. 

The violations committed by Hebrew University don’t end there. Like all Israeli higher education institutions, Hebrew University plays an active role in the Apartheid system by discriminating against Palestinian students and supporting the Israeli Army’s repression of Palestinians. Recently, the Hebrew University has launched an academic excellence program for IDF soldiers, opening a ‘de-facto military base’ on campus. 

The program, known as ‘Havatzalot’, offers three-year training for future intelligence officers as part of their mandatory army service. It includes basic training at combat level, officer training, a bachelor’s degree, and military intelligence and leadership training. The IDF student soldiers live on campus and are required to wear uniforms and carry weapons at all times. Moreover, the IDF has enforced further security measures to be put in place inside the campus, including biometric IDs and the right to demand the replacement of anyone employed in the soldiers’ compound if they don’t pass a security screening. For the Palestinian staff at the university, this presents a threat to their livelihoods and safety.

The extreme militarization of Hebrew University manifested through programs like Havatzalot goes hand in hand with its premises and buildings being used by the IDF and Israeli police to oppress and control the population of Palestinian Issawiyah neighborhood next to which the Hebrew University is located. This also includes closing the southern entrance to the neighborhood by the Israeli police and brutalizing its inhabitants passing through the gate close to the university campus.

Our universities are sending their students to directly take part in the maintenance of war crimes and normalize relationships with institutions that are rooted in the most brutal form of racism in our time: colonialism and European supremacy. The need for decolonization at our universities as a process of ending material support for these institutions is the only viable next step forward and towards an anti-racist, decolonial future. We must not allow decolonization and anti-racism to be co-opted by the marketing teams of these marketized institutions. 

I urge every anti-racist student campaigner to join our decolonizing mission at Apartheid Off Campus today. Let us unite under the banner of anti-racism and decolonization to end our universities’ complicity. Let’s follow in the footsteps of the University of Johannesburg which terminated its relations with Israeli academic institutions in 2011 and show our solidarity with the Palestinian people, whose voices must be heard today more than ever.

– Adam Saeed is a Palestinian student of Arabic and Politics at the University of Leeds. He is also an activist within the Apartheid Off Campus student led-network. They are on Twitter: @AOC_movement.  He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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