Neve Gordon and Jeff Halper: Where's the Academic Outrage Over the Bombing of a University in Gaza?





[Neve Gordon is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008). Jeff Halper is director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. His latest book is An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (Pluto Press, 2008).]

Not one of the nearly 450 presidents of American colleges and universities who prominently denounced an effort by British academics to boycott Israeli universities in September 2007 have raised their voice in opposition to Israel’s bombardment of the Islamic University of Gaza earlier this week. Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, who organized the petition, has been silent, as have his co-signatories from Princeton, Northwestern, and Cornell Universities, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most others who signed similar petitions, like the 11,000 professors from nearly 1,000 universities around the world, have also refrained from expressing their outrage at Israel’s attack on the leading university in Gaza. The artfully named Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which organized the latter appeal, has said nothing about the assault.

While the extent of the damage to the Islamic University, which was hit in six separate airstrikes, is still unknown, recent reports indicate that at least two major buildings were targeted, a science laboratory and the Ladies’ Building, where female students attended classes. There were no casualties, as the university was evacuated when the Israeli assault began on Saturday.

Virtually all the commentators agree that the Islamic University was attacked, in part, because it is a cultural symbol of Hamas, the ruling party in the elected Palestinian government, which Israel has targeted in its continuing attacks in Gaza. Mysteriously, hardly any of the news coverage has emphasized the educational significance of the university, which far exceeds its cultural or political symbolism.

Established in 1978 by the founder of Hamas — with the approval of Israeli authorities — the Islamic University is the first and most important institution of higher education in Gaza, serving more than 20,000 students, 60 percent of whom are women. It comprises 10 faculties — education, religion, art, commerce, Shariah law, science, engineering, information technology, medicine, and nursing — and awards a variety of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Taking into account that Palestinian universities have been regionalized because Palestinian students from Gaza are barred by Israel from studying either in the West Bank or abroad, the educational significance of the Islamic University becomes even more apparent....

comments powered by Disqus