Academics oppose West Bank college, alleging apartheid


MORE THAN 150 Israeli university lecturers have signed a petition calling for a boycott of the University Centre of Samaria, which is situated in the large West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The move follows last year’s boycott by some actors and artists of Ariel’s new cultural centre, which sparked a fierce debate in Israel on the rights and wrongs of internal boycotts when groups abroad were stepping up efforts to isolate Israel.

The lecturers said they would not take part in any academic activity in Ariel. “Ariel is not under Israeli sovereignty, and therefore we cannot be forced to appear there,” the petition read. “Our conscience and public responsibility obligate us to take a stand.”

The signatories noted that Ariel was part of a reality that created apartheid in the West Bank.

“Only a few kilometres away from flourishing Ariel, Palestinians live in villages and refugee camps under unbearably harsh conditions and without basic human rights. Not only do they not have access to higher education, some do not even have running water.”

But Yigal Cohen-Orgad, chairman of the Ariel college’s executive committee, noted hundreds of Israeli Arabs studied at the campus. He said those signing the petition were a small and unrepresentative minority.

“The co-operation between the Ariel University Centre and many hundreds of scholars from universities in Israel and many hundreds more from 40 universities abroad, is the response to this petition. We know the heads of the universities oppose the call for a boycott and all it entails. I am sure that academia will continue to co-operate with us.”

Israel’s education minister, Gideon Sa’ar, called the boycott “a provocation without practical significance”, noting that the signatories did not participate in events at the Ariel college and would probably not be asked to do so.

The initiator of the petition, Nir Gov of the Weizmann Institute, stressed the importance of distinguishing between “Israeli academia” and “settlement academia” to help friends abroad who are campaigning against academic boycotts of Israel.

In a separate development, Israeli bulldozers yesterday began destroying the Shepherd hotel in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah to make way for 20 homes for Jewish settlers.

The hotel was built in the 1930s and was once home to Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The building was declared “absentee property” after Israel captured Arab east Jerusalem in 1967, and was eventually sold to American-Jewish businessman Irwin Moskowitz to develop settler homes.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the demolition meant Israel was destroying any chance of returning to peace talks, but settlers claimed the site had been purchased legally and Jews had a right to live anywhere in Jerusalem.

Reuters adds: Hamas said yesterday it had begun talks with other militant factions in the Gaza Strip to urge them to stop firing rockets at Israel. The talks are a signal that Hamas hopes to avert any large-scale Israeli military operation in the enclave similar to a three-week campaign that ended in January 2009 and in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.