Revolution#132, June 15, 2008
From A World to Win News Service
Free the Gaza 1.5 million!
Revolution Editors’ Note: The following article reports, among other things, on the decision by the U.S. State Department to cancel Fulbright scholarships to study in the U.S. that had been given to seven Palestinian students in the Gaza Strip. The cancellation was attributed to Israel’s blockade of Gaza which prevents Palestinians from leaving the area. Since the article came out, the U.S. State Department announced on June 2 that the Fulbright grants are being reinstated. The students will still have to undergo individual “security checks” by the Israeli Defense Ministry before they will be cleared to leave. According to the New York Times, Israeli and U.S. officials wanted to restore the scholarships because “training ambitious and talented young people under Fulbright grants was one of the ways to help blunt the appeal of radical forces in Palestinian society.” Meanwhile, as the following article makes clear, the vicious Israeli closure of Gaza continues—for example, power cutbacks forced the closure of the half dozen colleges and universities in Gaza in April.
The News Service article also reports on Israel’s arrest and deportation of Norman Finkelstein, whose fierce criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and U.S. backers of Israel led to his being denied tenure at DePaul University a year ago. This outrageous move by Israel still stands. And so does Israel’s decision in April to bar Richard Falk—a distinguished professor of international law and a newly appointed U.N. official—from entering Israel to carry out his mandate to investigate human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine.
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June 2, 2008. A World to Win News Service. Since last September, when the Israeli government formally declared Gaza a “hostile territory,” very few people have been let out of Gaza for any reason. Between one and two thousand young Palestinians used to travel from the Gaza Strip every year to attend university abroad. Now even those students who have won acceptance and scholarships at schools abroad, let alone the vast majority for whom this is impossible, have little hope of ever going anywhere.
Two recent events have spotlighted this situation. One is the announcement by the prominent American professor David Mumford that he would donate the money he received for a prestigious Israeli mathematics prize to a Palestinian university in the West Bank and an Israeli group that opposes travel restrictions on Palestinians. The other is the decision by the American State Department to cancel Fulbright Scholarships to study in the U.S. that had been awarded to seven students from Gaza, so as to spare Israel further embarrassment caused by its refusal to let them out. The coincidence of the two events was particularly bad timing for both the U.S. and Israel. Mumford’s thoughtful, moral stance underlined the hypocrisy and inhumanity of both the superpower and its client state.
Mumford, almost 71, is well known for his work in algebraic geometry and later vision and pattern theory over many decades at Harvard before becoming a professor at Brown. The Wolf Foundation prize, one of the field’s most important, awarded to three mathematicians this year, is only one of a series of distinctions he has won. While in Tel Aviv to receive the award at the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) from Israeli President Shimon Peres, he explained his decision to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz May 26. “I decided to donate my share of the Wolf Prize to enable the academic community in occupied Palestine to survive and thrive. I am very grateful for this prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education. Students in the West Bank and Gaza today do not have an opportunity to do that,” he said. “The achievements I accomplished in mathematics were made possible thanks to my being able to move freely and exchange ideas with other scholars. It would not have been possible without an international consensus on an exchange of ideas.”
Speaking to the Associated Press the same day, he said, “I feel strongly that mathematics is an international enterprise, and it’s really grown up essentially in every country. It’s really important that everyone have access to higher education, to the international community where mathematics is being carried on.”
It is a measure of what kind of world we live in today that even these sentiments can be considered treasonous and tantamount to “terrorism.” Although renown and age may have put Mumford beyond the pressure the Zionists and American authorities have put on other academics, many Israeli commentators linked his gesture to the case of Norman Finkelstein, arrested on his arrival in Israel May 23, held for questioning by the Shin Bet (domestic security police) for 24 hours until a fellow prisoner helped him contact a lawyer, and then deported and banned from re-entering Israel for the next decade.
Both of Finkelstein’s Polish Jewish parents survived Nazi concentration camps. He was forced to resign from DePaul University in Chicago last year because of critical reviews he had written of books by other prominent scholars whom he accused of misrepresenting the documentary record to defend Israel’s policies and practices. The 55-year-old American political scientist describes himself as a supporter of the “two-state solution” and “not an enemy of Israel,” but also says that he believes that in the pursuit of the truth it is “possible to unite exacting scholarly rigor with scathing moral outrage.” His research has led him to call the alleged historical basis for Zionist claims to Palestine “a hoax.”
This kind of police attitude toward academic dissent is becoming more flagrant in Israel and in regard to Israel in countries like the U.S. and Great Britain. Last year, Ilan Pappe, a well-known Israeli historian who has researched and exposed the Zionist leadership’s long-standing plans and later conscious military campaign to drive out the Palestinians when Israel became independent, was pressured to resign from his job as a senior lecturer in political science at the University of Haifa and forced to leave Israel by threats to kill his family. He currently teaches in the UK.
Recently the University and College Union, the largest professional organization of academics in the UK, called on its colleagues to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss “the humanitarian catastrophe imposed on Gaza by Israel” with their Israeli colleagues. Last year the organization dropped a call for a boycott against Israel in the face of legal threats and the condemnation of the British government. A group called Academic Friends of Israel had threatened to bring action against the Union for violating UK laws against racism. The British government called the academics’ latest motion, which is not a call for a boycott, a threat to “academic freedom” anyway. Apparently in the eyes of the British government, such freedoms only apply to Zionists and not their critics, and certainly not to Palestinians.
The decision to drop the Fulbright Scholarships for the Gaza students was particularly remarkable because all seven had been interviewed and vetted by the U.S. State Department for inclusion in a State Department-run program that is explicitly meant to serve American foreign policy interests. Its purpose is to identify and train young men and women seen as potential future influential friends of the American empire. When, in the swirl of the events described above, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was challenged about this at a news conference, she claimed that she knew nothing about the decision taken by the department she heads.
Even an Israeli member of parliament, the Rabbi Michael Melchior, chairman of the educational committee in the Knesset, was far more honest than Rice. On hearing about the Fulbright controversy, he compared Israeli and American policies to the way Jews were “deprived of higher education” under the Nazis and given restricted access to education and academic positions in European and American universities historically. At the time of this writing, it seems that the State Department may reverse its decision.
Bir Zeit, the university near the West Bank town of Ramallah to which the mathematician Mumford donated some of his prize money, is one of 11 Palestinian universities, five university colleges and 25 community colleges. Its students include secularists, Moslems and Christians. Despite Israeli restrictions, Palestinians on the whole continue to have one of the world’s highest literacy rates.
Although the West Bank, unlike Gaza, has not been declared “hostile territory” and is not under the same kind of total imprisonment as Gaza, the 572 Israeli checkpoints and frequent lockdowns by the Israeli army can mean spending hours in line to reach their campus, if they can get there at all. The UK-based Network for Education and Academic Rights points out that Israeli restrictions make school attendance particularly difficult for women. The lack of funds is so dramatic, the group says, that Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, with 6,000 students, has less than a thousand books in its library.
The Israeli government long made it very difficult for people from Gaza to attend school in the West Bank, as part of cutting off connections between the two Palestinian territories, separated by just 40 kilometers, and left it slightly easier for them to go abroad. Now neither opportunity is open to them. The Israeli organization Gisha, the other recipient of Mumford’s prize money, gives a detailed count of 710 Gaza university students cut off from the schools abroad where they were either enrolled or accepted as of October 2007. Israel also keeps foreign lecturers and specialists from entering Gaza.
Although Gaza has half a dozen universities and colleges, in April they all had to shut down for lack of electricity when Israel cut back power supplies. These schools are unable to offer degrees in many important fields, even at the undergraduate level, let alone more advanced training. The quality of education is necessarily affected by the fact that local academics and professionals are kept isolated from their colleagues everywhere else. The lack of any possibility for study in the various medical disciplines is particularly cruel because this keeps Gaza residents dependent on Israeli medical facilities that are very often denied to them.
Israel claims that it will make exceptions for “humanitarian cases,” but specifies that it does not consider education a “humanitarian” need.
The truth is Israeli policy is not to treat Palestinians as human beings. To leave aside the issue of whether Palestinians have a right to higher education and focus on the indisputably “humanitarian” issue of medical treatment alone, Israel is literally killing Palestinians. Of course, one way it does this is with missiles and bullets fired at civilians on an almost daily basis (the Israeli army opened fire on a demonstration of thousands of people identified as Hamas supporters in Gaza May 30, wounding at least six). But another is by denying them medical care, which amounts to a targeted killing of the weak.
Ha’aretz, other Israeli news sources and the Palestinian media have been filled with accounts of people who have died while waiting for the occupiers’ permission to leave Gaza for treatment. Most recently, on May 20, a 22-year-old Palestinian suffering from cancer and 11 other critically-ill Gaza residents filed a petition asking the Israeli High Court to overrule the military’s refusal to let them leave. In an affidavit filed by Israeli Physicians for Human Rights, the youth, Ahmed al-Baghdadi, said that the Israeli General Security Services told him that he could hope for medical treatment only if he agreed to become an informer. Some patients are given permission to leave, but are turned back when they arrive at the border, even in an ambulance. A doctor speaking for the Israel physicians’ group called this “torture.” It is also, sometimes, murder. In early April, the World Health Organization reported that 32 Palestinians had died while awaiting an exit permit or because they had a permit but were turned back anyway.
The student issue, like medical care, is just one dimension of Israeli policies that have made Gaza, with its 1.5 million residents crammed into 360 square kilometers, the world’s biggest open-air prison camp.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
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