MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on Israel

August 25, 2014

Rabbi Professor Daniel Hershkowitz
President
Bar-Ilan University
+972-3-535-3523
via fax president.office@mail.biu.ac.il

Dear President Hershkowitz,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our dismay at the recent statements made by your administration at Bar-Ilan University and its Law School to censure, intimidate and humiliate Professor Hanoch Sheinman. MESA calls upon Bar-Ilan to rescind its chilling message, apologize publicly to Professor Sheinman, and rigorously adhere to the norms of academic freedom and freedom of expression on its campus.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

As the conflict in Gaza intensified in mid-July, and disruptions to academic and everyday life increased in Israel, Professor Sheinman sent an email to his students confirming that the final exam date would be scheduled in due course. He concluded the message to his students with the hopes that it “finds you in a safe place and that you, your families and those dear to you are not among the hundreds of people that were killed, the thousands wounded, or the tens of thousands whose homes were destroyed.”

Due to a perceived lack of discrimination between Israeli and Palestinian victims of the conflict, an undisclosed number of anonymous students complained to the administration, which led Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Shahar Lifshitz, to issue a public statement declaring how “shocked” he was at the “hurtful” letter Sheinman had sent. At this point the university released its own judgment that Sheinman’s e-mail amounted to “an inappropriate use of the power given to a lecturer to exploit the platform given to him as a law teacher.”

The expression of sympathy to casualties of war – regardless of their nationality or religion – is hardly an abuse of faculty power, and certainly cannot be said to contravene the code of universal morality guiding a Jewish institution such as Bar-Ilan. Moreover, even the possibility that students and their families would be “offended” by the tenor and spirit of such an e-mail would not constitute just grounds for publicly reprimanding Sheinman and intimidating in turn any other faculty or students who hold such opinions.

Such reactions from Dean Lifshitz and the Bar-Ilan administration are even more egregious in light of the fact that less than a month beforehand another faculty member at Bar-Ilan, Professor Mordechai Kedar, stated in an interview on Israeli radio, “The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the [three Israeli hikers] and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” In response, the administration of Bar-Ilan took no disciplinary action against Professor Kedar, deciding instead to issue an official statement, cynically defending Kedar, who was it was claimed “using hyperbole” in order to make an argument about the appropriate Israeli response to the kidnapping and murder of those three Israeli teenagers, and merely “gave the rape of women as an example.”

The boundaries of academic freedom and freedom of expression are never more forcefully tested than under such frightening conditions of insecurity, conflict, and violence. We call upon Bar-Ilan and all other institutions of higher learning in Israel to protect and nourish the spaces within which faculty and students alike are not only allowed but encouraged to articulate and debate their political and personal opinions. MESA therefore calls upon Bar-Ilan to issue a public apology to Professor Sheinman, to re-affirm its commitment to academic freedom and finally, to reject the culture of silencing and intimidation.

Sincerely,

Nathan Brown
MESA President

cc:

Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister
State of Israel
Fax 972-2-5303367

Rabbi Shai Piron
Minister of Education
Chairman, Council of Higher Education of Israel
Fax 972-2-649-6011

Rabbi Professor Daniel Hershkowitz
President
Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan, 52900 Israel
Fax 972-3-535-3523

Professor Shahar Lifschitz
Dean of the Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law
Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan, 52900 Israel

Fax 972-3-7384044

June 30, 2014

John Kerry
US Secretary of State
via fax 202-663-3636

Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
via fax 972-2-5303367

Dear Sirs,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express our concern about the recent raids by Israeli forces against Palestinian university campuses.  In the course of these raids, Israeli forces destroyed university property, confiscated computers, student organization materials, documents and records, detained a number of university guards, and converted academic facilities into military barracks. Such attacks against educational institutions are direct infringements on academic freedom and serve only to bring more opprobrium upon the Government of Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.  

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

During the early morning hours of Thursday, June 19, 2014, the Israeli military stormed the grounds of Birzeit University, north of Ramallah, in an attempt to round up student members of the Islamic bloc; the students were holding a non-violent sit-in to protest the political detention of their peers.  In the course of the incursion, soldiers broke the eastern and western gates, raided campus buildings, and confiscated the property of student groups, including flags, notebooks, and flyers. For a second consecutive day, Israeli forces continued with their assaults and raided the Arab American University in al-Zababdah village, east of Jenin, and in the process destroyed the entrance gate padlocks and detained a university guard. There, too, the military raided student organization offices and confiscated flags and papers belonging to these groups.  Israeli forces also raided the Palestine Ahliya University in Bethlehem on the morning of Friday, June 20, and used its courtyard as a holding area for Palestinian detainees apprehended in the nearby Dheisheh refugee camp.  In the latest of this series of raids, Israeli soldiers stormed Al-Quds University in Abu Dis on the morning of Sunday, June 22.   During the raid, soldiers locked the security guards in one room, searched buildings, and confiscated Islamist flags and banners. Clashes broke out during many of these raids, and the Israeli military’s attacks and use of tear gas incapacitated a number of protesters and students.

We are concerned that these recent acts of aggression are not isolated incidents, but part of Israel’s broader systematic policies of undermining Palestinian academic institutions and infringing on Palestinian educational freedom.  Palestinian university campuses continue to suffer immeasurably from Israeli collective punishment policies, foremost among them imposed movement restrictions which impede, and in some cases, prevent students from attending university.  Disproportionately affected by these policies are students from the Gaza Strip, who are no longer allowed to study in West Bank universities. Since the latest reprisals, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon issued instructions to further restrict movement through Gaza’s crossings with Israel. In particular, at the Erez crossing, Israeli authorities now only allow medical patients and foreign citizens to exit Gaza. If there are Palestinian students from Gaza who wish to travel, Israeli authorities are preventing them from doing so. 

These policies are systematic and ongoing.  Israeli authorities limit the travel of Gaza students in a number of ways. Students who are awarded scholarships by foreign governments are technically eligible to receive Israeli travel permits to leave through the Erez crossing, however, Israel regularly prevents students from leaving the Gaza Strip.  Moreover, because Israeli authorities issue the Palestinian identification documents required to obtain a Palestinian passport, they indirectly have the authority to delay student travel through the Rafah, Allenby, or Jordan Valley crossings—which they often do. The harassment, arrest, and holding of university students in administrative detention, a system of incarceration in which prisoners are held indefinitely without charge for renewable six-month periods, remains commonplace.  These collective punishment measures extend to the physical infrastructure of Palestinian academic institutions in the Gaza Strip.  As of October 2013 (for the eighth time since Operation Pillar of Cloud in November 2012), the Israeli defense minister ordered that the transfer of building materials into Gaza be halted. According to the Gaza Industrialist Association, 269 projects, including schools and universities--civilian projects which are very much needed by Gaza residents--cannot be completed.

The Israeli government claims to be carrying out the latest attacks on Palestinian towns and universities in retaliation for the alleged kidnapping of three Israeli youths from a West Bank settlement. As a committee charged with monitoring infringements upon academic freedom, however, we believe that such provocative and aggressive measures of collective punishment against educational institutions and their students are never acceptable and cannot be justified.  These collective punishment measures are in clear violation of both human rights law and international humanitarian law, and more specifically Article 33 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, which stipulates: “No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.” Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also guarantees the right to education, as well as Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

We call upon the Government of Israel to halt its illegal assault on Palestinian towns and universities and to respect the sanctity of Palestinian academic institutions. 

Sincerely,
Nathan Brown
President

cc:       
Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon
Minister of Education Shai Piron
Ambassador Ron Dermer
Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro

May 14, 2014

Professor Joseph Klafter
President
Tel Aviv University
P.O. Box 39040
Tel Aviv 6997801, Israel
via email office.president@tauex.tau.ac.il

Dear President Klafter,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our grave concern regarding the recent decision by the administration at Tel Aviv University (TAU) to cancel an invitation to Palestinian activist Muhammad Kanaaneh. MESA calls upon TAU to reinstate the invitation to Mr. Kanaaneh, to reject the politics of silencing and intimidation, and affirm the principles and norms of academic freedom.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Muhammad Kanaaneh is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a prominent activist in Abnaa al-Balad (People of the Land), a Palestinian political movement inside of Israel. Mr. Kanaaneh had been invited to speak at a public event on Monday, April 7, commemorating Palestinian Land Day as part of a conference at Tel Aviv University organized by the student groups Hadash and Al-Awda.

During the week prior to the Tel Aviv University event, there were increasingly strident calls from student chapters of such right-wing nationalist organizations as Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), Im Tirtzu (If You Will It), Likud and Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) demanding that Tel Aviv University cancel the invitation. Not only did the representatives of these student organizations call for the cancellation of Kanaaneh’s lecture; there were also those who expressed the opinion that student activists involved with al-Awda and other “Arab political movements” should be suspended from the university.

These opinions were duly heard and roundly rejected by the non-partisan Student Union as well as the university administration on the grounds that such an action would be a violation of academic freedom. The university administration also released a statement affirming student rights to freedom of speech as well as to engage in public activity that is lawful, respectful and non-disruptive of “public order and the proper order of the teaching, research and work on campus.”

In response, the coalition of right-wing opposition student groups held a protest Sunday morning on campus, and then threatened to take further action by staging a student strike on Monday that would coincide with and intentionally disrupt the conference unless the invitation to Kanaaneh was rescinded. At this point, the administration reversed its opinion, and released the following statement, which directly contradicted the earlier one: “In light of concerns of disrupting the public order, and since the explicit request to have Mohammed Kanaaneh participate was only recently submitted, without time for evaluation, the university does not approve his participation at the event.”

By acceding to the demands of a loud coalition of individuals and organizations that were clearly acting in order to intimidate fellow students, Tel Aviv University has set an ominous precedent that could be referenced in the future as support for other acts of censorship, which could obstruct the free flow of ideas on Israeli campuses.

In order to live up to its democratic aspirations, Israel must ensure that the university stands as a space where the rights of students to freely air a broad spectrum of political opinions as well as the right to protest are equally protected. These tactics of silencing, intimidation and libelous accusation should have no place in the academic and political discourse of the university; they certainly should not be validated by the university administration. MESA therefore calls upon Tel Aviv University to reinstate its invitation to Mr. Kanaaneh, to reject the politics of silencing and intimidation, and to affirm its commitment to the principles and norms of academic freedom.

Sincerely,
Nathan Brown
MESA President

cc:

Shai Piron, Minister of Education
Professor Aron Shai, Rector, Tel Aviv University

September 17, 2013

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon
Minister of Education Shai Piron
Ambassador Michael Oren
Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro

Dear Dignitaries,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express MESA’s concern about the recent repeated attacks against Al-Quds University campus in Abu Dis carried out by IDF forces.  As a result of the indiscriminate firing of tear gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets into campus grounds during school hours, at least eight students have sustained rubber-coated bullet injuries and been  transferred to the Abu Dis emergency center, while  over two dozen  students have suffered from tear gas inhalation.  Such attacks against an educational institution constitute a direct infringement on academic freedom in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Since the beginning of September 2013, an Israeli border police patrol has been stationed near the entrance of the main gate to Al-Quds University.  The soldiers have occasionally searched students, inspected their identity cards, and held some for several hours without apparent cause or stated justification.  On the 8th of September, the Israeli soldiers attempted to enter the university without permission, and were prevented from doing so by unarmed staff and university guards, which soon led to the Israeli forces to attack the campus, wounding two university guards Radwan Dawoud and Mohammed Darwish.  According to eyewitness accounts and student testimonies, it was at this point that the Israeli forces launched tear gas canisters and commenced firing rubber bullets indiscriminately. University officials are concerned that these repeated provocations by Israeli patrols are intended to interrupt the university’s preparations for the start of the new academic year, and to create a sense of instability on campus.  As a committee charged with monitoring infringements upon academic freedom, we fail to see the how such provocative and aggressive measures against an educational institutional, its students and its staff can be justified.   

At the most fundamental level, these recent acts of aggression jeopardize the physical security of students and the general wellbeing of the university environment. Such worrisome events are not simply isolated incidents, but part and parcel of systematic Israeli policies of control and intimidation that infringe upon Palestinian educational freedom, both within the occupied West Bank and inside Israel proper.

Students, faculty, staff and visitors are negatively affected by Israeli restrictions on movement that impede, and in some cases prevent, the regular functioning of courses, university activities and campus life at Palestinian institutions of higher learning. Roads leading in and out of university campuses are regularly subjected to arbitrary closures by Israeli military checkpoints and patrols. Students from the Gaza Strip, who are no longer allowed to study in West Bank universities, are disproportionately affected by these policies.  Moreover, the harassment, arrest, and holding of university students in Administrative Detention, a system of incarceration in which prisoners are held indefinitely without charge for renewable six month periods remains commonplace. 

Al-Quds University has been unduly affected by these travel restrictions. In the early 1990s, the campus was established as a merger between four campuses in Jerusalem and Abu Dis which were only 4.35 miles apart.  On the heels of the Oslo Accords, the direct link between the different Al-Quds University campuses was cut off, and this 4.35 mile distances now requires over 45 minutes of travel time, passing through the separation wall and at least one military checkpoint.

Israel’s infringements on Palestinian institutions of higher education are clearly in violation of both human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL), and more specifically Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the right to education, and Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) to which Israel is a signatory. 

We request that you denounce such widespread practices of intimidation by the IDF, establish credible and effective protections of Palestinian academic freedom, and work to protect the security and dignity of Palestinian educational institutions, students, faculty and staff.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore 

cc:        US Secretary of State John Kerry

 

August 30, 2013

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni
Minister of Education Shai Piron
Ambassador Michael Oren

Dear Ministers and Ambassador:

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern regarding the treatment of Albaraa Kefaya, a recent graduate in Engineering from Bir Zeit University who has been detained by the Israeli authorities and prevented from taking up the internship he was offered in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Mr. Kefaya graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering this past spring. He prepared to  leave the country to pursue his studies abroad, first in California, where he had been awarded a 3-month internship (June-August) at Berkeley, and then in Turkey where he had received admission into a language program beginning in September. However, his efforts to carry out these plans have been repeatedly obstructed. In May 2013, when he attempted to leave the West Bank and enter Jordan, from where he would fly to the United States, the Israeli authorities detained him on the allegation that he was a political activist working against the Government of Israel. After repeated meetings and the intervention of his lawyer and an Israeli Human Rights group, HaMoked, Mr. Kefaya was eventually allowed to leave. However, the permission was conditioned on his agreeing not to return to the Occupied Palestinian Territories – his home -- for a period of three years.

Then, when Mr. Kefaya entered Jordan in June, he was detained by the Jordanian authorities and required to appear at an office of the General Intelligence Directorate in Amman four days later.  Following a lengthy interrogation, that caused him to miss his flight out of the country, Mr. Kefaya was escorted back to the border crossing with Israel and handed over to Israeli authorities. Subsequently, at an obligatory meeting on July 8 in the West Bank with the Israel Security Agency (‘Shin Bet’), the Israeli officer who met with Mr. Kefaya suggested that his Agency had asked the Jordanians to send him back. Moreover, Mr. Kefaya was told that if he would not work as an informant for the Israelis, it would be a very long time before he would be allowed to leave the Palestinian Territories and pursue his studies abroad.

It may be that Mr. Kefaya’s ordeal is the consequence of his having been falsely accused of illegal political activity in 2007 and 2011. (Indeed, he was held at those times, but he was not formally charged or tried, and was eventually released). If this is the case, then these attempts to prevent Mr. Kefaya from pursuing his education abroad are instances of extrajudicial punishment for activities he has neither engaged in, nor been found guilty of engaging in, and for refusing to become involved in illegal activities on behalf of the Israeli government. We strongly urge the Israeli authorities to cease to obstruct Albaraa Kefaya’s academic pursuits, and allow him to exit the country, without further delay, to continue his studies abroad, and without the grossly unfair condition of not returning home for several years.

The International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Israel is a signatory, states that no one shall be prevented arbitrarily from leaving his/her country. Furthermore, the right to education is enshrined in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Articles 13 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Israel is a signatory, as well.  As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, we have written in the past and on several occasions to express dismay and disapproval about the various travel bans and restrictions to education imposed by the Israeli government on Palestinian students. These ongoing practices, preventing Palestinian students of the Territories from pursuing their education, constitute blatant discrimination; moreover, they violate the right to equality enshrined in the human rights conventions that Israel claims to support. These practices are by no means justifiable, not even in terms of Israel’s national security interests; rather, they simply humiliate and subjugate the individuals in question.

We call upon the Government of Israel to review the case of Albaraa Kefaya with no further delay and allow him to travel abroad, without conditions, to pursue his education. We await a prompt response to our letter and the concerns we have expressed.

Sincerely, 

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore 

cc: Israel Security Agency (‘Shin Bet’)

September 24, 2012

Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar
Ministry of Education
Government of Israel
Sent via email gsaar@knesset.gov.il

Dear Minister Sa’ar,

It is with great consternation that I write to you, on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), regarding the recommendation (dated September 4, 2012) of the Subcommittee for Quality Assessment of Israel’s Council for Higher Education that the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University not be allowed to accept students for the 2013-14 academic year. You may recall that in a letter to you, dated January 13, 2012, addressing the evaluation of that same academic department, we expressed our alarm about the punitive suggestion that the department be closed down should it not implement the recommendations embodied in the international evaluation committee’s report, submitted to the Council of Higher Education. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. Its membership includes numerous Israeli scholars, as well as scores of scholars from all over the world whose research focuses on Israel. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

What we find most distressing about this situation is that even though the recommendations of the international evaluation committee for changes to the faculty and curriculum of the department were followed, the Subcommittee for Quality Assessment has nonetheless decided to recommend the suspension of student registration to that department for the 2013-14 academic year. In fact, the department, in conjunction with the university administration, acted upon the committee’s recommendations swiftly and resolutely, achieving much of what was asked of them. To better represent the fields within Political Science, three new faculty members were recruited in comparative politics, quantitative methods, and political theory, and plans have been outlined for a fourth hire next year; at the same time, the department made changes to its curriculum.

The above changes elicited a positive response, in a note of congratulations – dated July 8, 2012 – from two members of the international evaluation committee who had been asked to oversee the department’s implementation of the report’s recommendations. The note goes on to encourage the department to provide “time, resources, and mentoring” to the new faculty members so that they may be able to both advance their academic careers and contribute effectively to building a “pluralistic” curriculum. In closing, the two international members recommend continued attention to diversity in future faculty hires with respect to methodological and theoretical orientations.

That the Council of Higher Education’s subcommittee has recommended closing the department, despite the positive response from its two appointed international members to the significant changes that have already been made and the plans for future changes, suggests, in no uncertain terms, that the recommendation has little to do with academic matters. That the department is not given the opportunity to continue the process of hiring diverse voices, nor even to support the new faculty members, hints at a separate agenda directed at that particular department. As we wrote in our January letter, we remain concerned that political motivations lie behind the negative attention being accorded the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University. As such, this represents a gross and abusive infringement upon academic freedom and independence.

We appeal to you, as Minister of Education and chairman of the Council for Higher Education, to reject the most recent, and very dangerous recommendation of the Subcommittee for Quality Assessment. Beyond the department at Ben Gurion University, the recommendation represents a profound threat to academic freedom, to the Israeli academic community, and to the international reputation of Israeli universities. Instead, we urge you, along with your colleagues, to recognize and applaud the good will and concerted efforts of Ben Gurion University and the Department of Politics and Government. To live up to your mission and your avowed ideals, we urge you, as well, to truly embrace the core of academic freedom by welcoming voices that enrich thought and knowledge by broadening the landscape of ideas.   

Sincerely,
Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc:  Members of the Council of Higher Education

 

September 25, 2012

Professor Thomas Risse                                                                                  
Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science                                                        
Freie Universität Berlin                                                                         
Ihnestr. 22                                                                                   
14195 Berlin, Germany

Professor Dr. Ellen M. Immergut                                                             
Philosophische Fakultät III                                                                   
Institut für Sozialwissenschaften                                                             
Humbolt Universität                                                                            
Berlin, Germany

Dear Professors Risse and Immergut,

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom to express our concern over developments related to the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. As you may be aware, the Israeli Council of Higher Education’s Sub-Committee for Quality Assessment has recently recommended that new students not be allowed to register in the Department of Politics and Government, thereby effectively closing it. (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/politics-in-academia-1.464374) We call upon you, as members of the international committee whose report has been used as a basis or justification for this drastic and troubling move, and as the two members who were chosen to oversee the department’s implementation of the committee’s recommendations, to intervene without further delay.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We are aware of the major criticisms included in the international committee’s report on the department as well as of your subsequent, favorable view of the steps taken by the Department in a very short period of time in response to those criticisms. The department’s move to hire new faculty in the fields of comparative politics, quantitative methods, and political theory was in keeping with your committee’s recommendations. In addition, it had announced plans for 2013-14 to hire a Europeanist to strengthen the political science component of its offerings. Given how slowly the wheels of academe often turn, such swift responses to address the department’s weaknesses indicate a serious desire on the part of faculty and administration to improve and move forward.  

We are also aware that you have continued to stress your recommendation “that the department should increase its diversity in terms of methods and theoretical orientations in future recruitments…” Yet, surely the fact that more remains to be done after such a short period of time should not be allowed to serve as a justification for the closure of the department. Indeed, given the current climate in the academy in Israel, the fact that the Israeli Council for Higher Education is poised to take such a drastic step suggests to us that the motives have less to do with concern for academic rigor, and more to do with a desire to silence voices that are deemed politically problematic.

Given that you have repeatedly pronounced favorably on the steps taken so far by the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, we appeal to you to intervene with the Israeli Council of Higher Education to endorse the positive steps taken by the department to date and to express your concerns over the Council’s closure decision. Time is of the essence, as a final decision is expected shortly after Yom Kippur.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc: Dr. Rivka Carmi, President, Ben Gurion University
Professor Dani Filc, Chair, Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University

July 02, 2012

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar
H.E. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the US

Dear Sirs,

We write this letter on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We remain deeply concerned about the Israeli Government’s ongoing violations against Palestinian education and its denial of Gaza students’ right to study in the West Bank. We understand that the Israeli Supreme Court has asked the Government of Israel to reconsider its refusal to allow four students to complete their programs at Birzeit University. Thus, in accordance with both international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL), we ask that you allow these students to pursue their education at Birzeit University and end the general ban prohibiting Palestinian students from Gaza from studying in the West Bank.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa – the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, we have written in the past to express dismay about Israeli travel restrictions and their impact on Palestinian students and educational institutions. We are disheartened that these violations persist. We are also disappointed that the Israeli Government has yet to adopt the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling to establish a mechanism to evaluate individual requests by Gaza students, and to allow students who are likely to have “a positive humanitarian impact” on society to study in the West Bank.

The case under consideration illustrates the magnitude and pointlessness of these sweeping restrictions. It includes four women – Aza Kfarna, Andlib Sahada, Suheir Saqa, and Amal Abu Aisha – who seek to finish the studies they were forced to discontinue in 2000 when Israel revoked the travel permits of all students from Gaza studying in the West Bank. Pending Israeli government approval, these four petitioners – who are all in their 30s and 40s – seek to resume and complete their MA degrees in gender, democracy, and law at Birzeit University. All have established positions with different NGOs in Gaza, and contribute positively to Palestinian society. A fifth petitioner, Lujain Zaim, is a recent high school graduate, who earned matriculation scores of 97.8 percent – putting her among the strongest students in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Lujain was accepted to the law program at Birzeit University where she hopes to pursue her law degree. Unlike the four other petitioners, Lujain’s case was not included in the Supreme Court’s request. There are no security claims against Lujain, but her request is denied because of the comprehensive ban. We ask that the Government of Israel also allow this talented young woman the opportunity to pursue studies in the Palestinian territories’ top law school.

The blockade on the Gaza Strip has left institutions of higher education severely lacking personnel and basic resources such as books, equipment, and laboratory instruments. Moreover, educational programs vital to the well-being of any society, such as dentistry, physical and occupational therapy, and medical engineering are not available in the Gaza Strip. As you are well aware, the right to education is enshrined in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Articles 13 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The current policies preventing students from Gaza from studying in the West Bank constitute blatant discrimination based on national origin since they apply only to one community, the Palestinians, and violate the right to equality enshrined in the very human rights conventions to which Israel is a party.

For these reasons, we call on the Government of Israel to revoke its ban against the right of Gaza students to study in the West Bank, and honor the Supreme Court’s request to allow these four women to finish their MA studies at Birzeit University, as well as to permit Lujain Zaim to begin university studies there.

We look forward to your response.

On behalf of the CAF,
Sincerely yours,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc:     Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

March 19, 2012

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Ambassador Michael Oren
Honorable George Mitchell
Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro

Dear Sirs,

            On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express MESA’s concern about the recent early-morning IDF invasion of al-Quds University’s Institute of Modern Media at the Abu Dis campus. The Institute is where the department of media studies and Al Quds Educational TV Station (AQTV) are located. During the raid, televising equipment was destroyed and the television transmitter seized. This wanton attack upon an educational establishment is a direct infringement upon academic freedom. It seems to be part of a broader Israeli campaign against education and academic freedom in the West Bank and Gaza and serves only to bring more opprobrium upon the Government of Israel for its continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.

            MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

            As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements upon academic freedom, we see no justification at all for this aggressive action. If there are legitimate complaints about the broadcasts emanating from the university’s television station, they are to be resolved in the courts. There is no excuse for damaging the equipment of an educational institution and seizing its television transmitter, effectively preventing it from continuing its work.

            AQTV was established in 1996, and it strives to promote well-being in Palestinian society. Many of its broadcast programs are specifically educational, and some focus on children – the most well-known of the latter being “Shari’ Simsim” (Sesame Street), which is produced in conjunction with Sesame Workshop in New York. AQTV also broadcasts lectures from the university and makes films on public awareness programs for the benefit of civil society. To this end, it works closely with the PA Ministry of Health on campaigns such as that against smoking; it also works with the PA Ministry of Social Affairs. Moreover, the Institute of Modern Media is supported by USAID, which recently funded a state-of-the art multimedia lab at the campus that was attacked.

We worry that this recent act of aggression is not an isolated incident, but constitutes part of Israel’s broader policy of callously infringing on Palestinian educational freedom. The concern is prompted by the fact that students from Gaza are still barred from studying in West Bank – to date, no such mechanism has been created, and only those students who hold scholarships from international organizations can attend West Bank universities. Moreover, seven universities and colleges were damaged during the 2009 offensive against Gaza. As of March 2012, Israel's continued embargo on building materials to the Gaza Strip has prevented the rebuilding of these institutions.

Israel’s disregard for Palestinian education is a clear violation of both international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL). Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) stipulates that “higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.” Israeli policies, however, have made education in the occupied territories vulnerable through IDF attacks on educational institutions, and inaccessible through the imposition of severe restrictions on movement.

The attack on al-Quds University’s Institute of Modern Media fits into this larger pattern and is so egregious that I write to express MESA’s censure of it. We sincerely hope that you will both correct this particular violation and work towards ending the infringements upon Palestinian educational institutions more generally.

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

January 13, 2012

M.K. Gideon Sa’ar
Minister of Education and Chairman of the Council for Higher Education
The Council for Higher Education
PO Box 4037
Jerusalem 91040
Israel

via fax 02-5679943

To the Israeli Council for Higher Education,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express MESA’s concern about an international committee’s evaluation of Ben Gurion University’s Department of Politics and Government, and the Israeli Council for Higher Education’s (CHE) perfunctory adoption of the report and its recommendations. We are most troubled about the punitive recommendation that Ben Gurion University consider closing down the Department of Politics and Government should it not implement the report’s recommendations. We are concerned that it was the political orientation of the department’s faculty that led the committee to issue this recommendation. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3,000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements upon academic freedom, we do not dispute the right of the CHE to evaluate academic institutions and programs. Our concerns rather stem from three key observations relating to this report and its contents: the arbitrary linking of “community activism” to compromised academic rigor; the methodology guiding the evaluation process; and the drastic suggested measure of closing down the department should it not abide by the report’s recommendations.

We worry that the report’s connection between encouraging social activism and “civic engagement” and questionable academic rigor is tenuous at best and is likely itself to be politically motivated. The report finds that “the strong emphasis on ‘community activism’ emphasized by the Department of Politics and Government raises at least two questions. First, are students receiving a sufficiently rigorous foundation in the discipline of politics and government to equip them with a necessary grounding in the important ideas and understandings common to the subject and the discipline?... Second, is there a balance of views in the curriculum and the classroom?” (p. 6). It is not clear how these two issues are related or how “social activism and civic engagement” undermine the rigor of a “scientific discipline.” Although the report’s findings highlight concern about the Department of Politics and Government’s weakness in terms of number of faculty, core curriculum, and achievements in research, it is not obvious how these alleged deficiencies result from a project of encouraging social activism. 

Second, although, the report places much emphasis on student feedback, it provides no information about the sample size of students interviewed, the representativeness of the sample, the basis for selection, or the nature of the questions asked. The report maintains that although students voiced satisfaction with the Department’s openness and willingness to engage different issues and perspectives, they also pointed to perceptions of a lack of “balanced” views among the faculty. Importantly, the report never states that the students complained about this purported lack of balance—only that they are aware of perceptions to that effect. We were unable, in fact, to find in the report any evidence for the finding that lack of balance is adversely affecting the quality of education offered by the Department. The report nonetheless recommends that the Department demonstrate a sustained commitment to providing “balance and an essential range of viewpoints and perspectives on the great issues of politics” (p. 6).

Most significantly, we are alarmed by the extreme proposal that the Department be closed down should it not abide by the report’s recommendations. The report notes that one problem the Department faces is weakness in the number of faculty, which might explain the Department’s alleged weakness in sustaining a core curriculum. The obvious way to remedy this weakness is to authorize the Department to make some new appointments–not to shut it down. In light of the logical problems and extrapolations on which the report is based, and the lack of methodological transparency, we are concerned that political considerations may have informed this report’s findings, especially given the political orientations of the Department’s faculty members.

Echoing the minority opinion of Professor Galia Golan, a member of the evaluation committee, we worry that the evaluation committee substantially digressed from its initial mandate of providing an academic evaluation and instead went some distance toward providing a political assessment. We ask the CHE to reevaluate its adoption of the report, especially the proposal that Ben Gurion University close down the Department of Politics and Government should it not implement the recommendations. 

We look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc: Ben Gurion University President Rivka Carmi

November 28, 2011

Professor Rivka Carmi
President
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Israel

 

Dear Dr. Carmi:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express our grave concern about an alarming pattern of restrictions on freedom of expression on the Ben Gurion University campus. Since our last letter to you of 27 August 2009, BGU students and faculty have been intimidated and punished for peacefully expressing themselves on matters of public concern. As a self-declared supporter of “critical thinking” and “alternate perspectives,” we call on you to live up to your commitment and to protect dissent and debate on your university campus, especially if university community members espouse political views different from your own.
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.


According to reports in Israeli newspapers and by the human rights organization the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, a growing climate of restriction pervades Ben-Gurion University. In September 2010, a BGU disciplinary tribunal reprimanded students Ran Tzoref and Noa Salor, placing them on probation for one semester for taking part in a protest over Israel’s raid in May 2010 on the Gaza-bound flotilla. A third student, Tal Beharav, was brought up on disciplinary charges after he helped organize a demonstration in support of the janitorial staff at the university.

In late November 2010, BGU Dean of Students Ya’akov Afek barred leftist students from distributing a flyer on campus that criticized various Knesset bills. While other universities permitted the flyer, which featured a picture of Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Afek said it constituted libel.

In January 2011, BGU went a step further by codifying the new restrictive practices. Despite the opposition of some faculty members, the BGU Senate changed the ethics code to prohibit lecturers from mentioning their university affiliation while speaking publicly and to regulate what professors can say in the classroom. The new protocol states, “voicing a partisan stance during a class is strictly prohibited as it may unfairly and indiscernibly influence the students attending the class. The university may regulate the lecturers’ partisan and religious remarks, despite the fact that they are part of their civic liberties, in order to prevent teaching and research being used for partisan purposes.”

In late June 2011, BGU went further still when it withheld half of Linguistics Professor Idan Landau’s salary for the period during which he was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces reserves in the West Bank. Your administration argued that although Landau had made up the lost instructional time, half of his salary would still be deducted because he had been absent from his campus office during his imprisonment. Despite the swift opposition of hundreds of academics from Israel and abroad, including 90 BGU faculty members, university spokesman Amir Rozenblit justified the decision in bureaucratic terms, stating “employees are paid a salary for work. Since Dr. Landau was in detention, he was not at the disposal of his employer and is therefore not entitled to a salary for that period.”

BGU’s concerted attempts to police the behavior of its faculty and students gravely undermine the principle of academic freedom. Universities are only as good as the quality of free inquiry and productive debate they generate on their campuses. Ben Gurion University’s increasing administrative restrictions on its members violate the very principles that you have professed to support.

In your opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post on May 28, 2011, you wrote, “Universities are not about headlines. They are about the footnotes. They are about the slow, painstaking research that goes into the writing of a PhD dissertation or the publication of a scientific paper; about the open exchange of ideas that encourage serious scholarship and innovative thinking. Universities are about empowering students, encouraging them to experience the excitement of discovery and volunteering in the community.”

We call on you to match word and deed and promptly reverse the raft of prohibitions on freedom of expression for BGU faculty and students.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Suad Joseph
MESA President
Professor of Anthropology and Women and Gender Studies
University of California, Davis

21 October 2010

Professor Moshe Kaveh
President
Bar-Ilan University
Ramat Gan, Israel

Fax: +03-5353523
President.office@mail.biu.ac.il

Dear President Kaveh:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), I write to express our concern about your handling of the tenure case of Dr. Ariella Azoulay. It appears to us that she may have been denied tenure at your university as a result of opaque and improper evaluation procedures and because of her political views, rather than on the basis of her record as a scholar, teacher, and member of her university and academic communities.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching of the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

We do not dispute a university’s right to deny tenure to a faculty member. However, we believe that all tenure and promotion decisions should be made solely on the basis of a fair and impartial assessment of a faculty member’s scholarship, teaching, and service to the university and the broader professional community in accordance with generally accepted and transparent procedures. We are concerned that such procedures were not followed in Dr. Azoulay’s case and that political considerations may have played a role in the university’s decision to deny her tenure.

Dr. Azoulay has published a substantial number of books, journal articles, chapters in edited volumes, and translations; it is fair to say that she is widely regarded as a leading figure in the field of cultural studies in Israel. She is also an experienced teacher and has supervised numerous graduate students. On that basis, Dr. Avi Sagi, the head of Bar-Ilan University’s Program for Hermeneutics and Cultural Studies, in 2007 recommended, with the support of his colleagues in the Program, that Dr. Azzoulay be promoted to tenured Associate Professor. A general university committee denied Dr. Azoulay tenure and did not permit any appeal of its decision. In 2008 Dr. Azoulay was again put up for tenure, and again she was denied. Subsequently, a university committee was established to review Dr. Azoulay’s case, and this ad hoc committee also denied her tenure and promotion.

Throughout this process, Bar-Ilan University has refused to disclose the bases for these decisions to either Dr. Azoulay or her attorney. At the same time, neither the university’s tenure review process nor the composition and procedures of the committees charged with evaluating Dr. Azoulay for tenure strike us as sufficiently transparent or as adequately grounded in clear and consistent guidelines. Because Dr. Azoulay has been an outspoken critic of certain Israeli government policies, this lack of transparency creates a basis for concern that political considerations may have been a factor in the university’s decision to deny tenure in this case.

Bar-Ilan University regards itself as one of Israel’s leading academic institutions; as such, it has a clear responsibility to respect and defend the norms of academic life, including academic freedom and the right of faculty to be assessed on the basis of their professional activity and not their political views. We therefore call on you to promptly review Dr. Azoulay’s case and take whatever steps are necessary to be able to assure us that she has been assessed for tenure in accordance with generally accepted, impartial and transparent procedures.

We look forward to receiving your reply.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A. Allen
MESA President 
Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania


26 May 2010

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Mr. George J. Mitchell, US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace
H.E. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the US

Gentlemen:

We write this letter on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We are deeply concerned about Israel’s ongoing travel restrictions and new military orders which effectively ban over 400 Palestinian students from Gaza from studying in West Bank universities.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa-- the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom , we have written to you in the past expressing our dismay about Israeli travel restrictions and their impact on Palestinian students and educational institutions. We are disappointed that new military orders have been issued further restricting free travel in the Occupied Territories, dealing yet another blow to the academic freedom of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In particular, CAF is deeply troubled by Military Orders 1650 pertaining to the ‘Prevention of Infiltration’ and 1649 pertaining to ‘Security Provisions’ which effectively ‘criminalize’ all Palestinians from Gaza residing in the West Bank, including students, and deny them the possibility to contest deportation and imprisonment orders outside the Israeli military system. In the strongest possible terms, we deplore the provisions of Military Order 1650 which deem Palestinians from Gaza, including students, residing in the West Bank without Israeli issued permits as ‘infiltrators,’ and makes them liable to deportation orders, jail terms up to 7 years, and fines approximating 7,500 NIS. Equally, we are concerned that pursuant to Military Order 1649, deportation orders can be contested only before a committee appointed by the local military commander, effectively denying students the right to appeal these decisions in accordance with any accepted standard of proper judicial review.

Such actions constitute an extreme and unwarranted denial of academic freedom, as well as a form of collective punishment. These policies have resulted in grave consequences for the local Palestinian population in all aspects of life, not least education. The blockade on the Gaza Strip has left institutions of higher education severely lacking personnel and basic resources such as books, equipment, and laboratory instruments. Moreover, educational programs vital to the well-being of any society, such as dentistry, physical and occupational therapy, and medical engineering are not available in the Gaza Strip.

These Military Orders demonstrate blatant disregard for international human rights law and standards, including Articles 13 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and relevant articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantee the right to education and free movement, as well as Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the forcible transfer and deportation of protected persons (civilians) living in occupied territory. Furthermore, international humanitarian law requires Israel, in its capacity as the occupier, to ensure the safety and well-being of the local residents, and to maintain, to the extent possible, normal living conditions.

We call on the Government of Israel to revoke these policies. Such measures have dire consequences for the very fabric of Palestinian society, and will have long-term negative political, social, and economic consequences for all peoples involved. We ask that you immediately allow students from Gaza to pursue their studies in West Bank institutions of higher education.

Sincerely,

Roger M.A. Allen
MESA President 
Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania

Cc: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton


November 11, 2009

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Mr. George J. Mitchell, US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace
H.E. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the US

Gentlemen,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to you to express our concern regarding the arrest and subsequent deportation to Gaza by Israeli authorities of Ms. Berlanty Azzam, a 21-year-old student of business translation who was weeks away from completing her degree at Bethlehem University.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Ms. Azzam began her studies at Bethlehem University in 2005 after Israeli authorities granted her a permit to travel across Israel from Gaza to the West Bank. This travel permit was not subsequently renewed, so in order to complete her degree, she remained in Bethlehem, unable to see her family for four years. On October 28, 2009, she was stopped at a roadside checkpoint in the West Bank and was detained, as best we can ascertain, solely because she is legally a resident of Gaza. Despite appeals by the university and human-rights groups she was then deported. 

The Israeli military policy of banning Palestinian residents of Gaza from studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank, and of arresting West Bank-resident Palestinian students with Gaza identity cards such as Ms. Azzam and sending them back to the coastal strip is a drastic and unwarranted denial of academic freedom as well as a form of collective punishment, which, as you know, is forbidden under humanitarian international law. According to the Israeli Human Rights organization Gisha, Ms. Azzam’s case is the sixth in less than two weeks involving Gazans arrested at the same checkpoint.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, CAF members are very troubled by the action taken against Ms. Azzam and what it implies about Israel’s policies toward academic freedom. We have written several letters in the past several years, the most recent dated 1 May 2008, expressing our concern specifically over the issue of the impact of travel restrictions on students from Gaza. Israel has the responsibility to ensure the Right to Education as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1991. If there is evidence of Ms. Azzam’s constituting a security threat, we urge you to produce it and process her case through established judicial channels. If not, we ask that you to allow her immediately to return to Bethlehem to complete her degree. 

The ongoing disruption of Palestinian education constitutes a violation of a basic human right that will have long-term and negative political, economic, and humanitarian consequences for all peoples involved. We call on the Israeli government to create a reliable policy that will allow students from Gaza to undertake and complete university education outside the Strip.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor of History, McMaster University


October 7, 2009

Mr. Eliyahu Yishai, Minister of the Interior, Israel
Mr. Daniel Rubenstein, US Consul General, Jerusalem
Mr. George J. Mitchell, US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace
H.E. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the US

Gentlemen,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to ask about the reasons for Rima Najjar Merriman, a citizen of the US and Assistant Professor of American Literature at the Arab American University in Jenin (AAUJ), to have been denied entry into the West Bank at Allenby on September 14, 2009.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Professor Merriman has been employed at AAUJ for 2 1/2 years and has been allowed to enter the West Bank at Allenby without difficulty each academic year until now. Each time that she entered, she was given a tourist visa stamped “not permitted to work,” even though the authorities at Allenby had full knowledge of her employment at AAUJ. Heretofore, her tourist visa was extended by Beit El through the PA Ministry of Interior for the remainder of the academic year. To this end, Beit El routinely requested work contracts to verify her employment at a Palestinian institution.

From all that we have learned of this incident, we are persuaded that Prof. Merriman has done everything possible to remain within the restrictions imposed by Israel on international academics who seek to enter and reside in the West Bank to teach at Palestinian institutions. Now, however, it appears that new rules are being applied – rules that prevent educators like Prof. Merriman from teaching at AAUJ and her Palestinian students from benefitting from her instruction.

What, then, prompts these changes in policy? And why was Professor Merriman denied entry even though several of her colleagues who teach in the English Department at AAUJ successfully entered the West Bank a week or so before her? Although it now appears that Professor Merriman has been allowed to enter the West Bank, the decision to deny her entry on September 14 and send her back to Amman is unduly capricious. Moreover, it places undue burdens on those who are trying to fulfill their contractual agreements with Palestinian institutions of higher education. And it also creates enormous difficulties for the administrators of those institutions as they seek to attract foreign faculty members.

Such restrictions, as well as the recent practice of stamping the passports of US citizens of Arab descent who are allowed to enter the West Bank with the proviso “PA Territories Only,” are discriminatory. To make matters worse, there is no procedure available in current Israeli administrative regulations that will allow Prof. Merriman or other US citizens of Arab descent to protest such discrimination and seek redress.

The policy, if it is a policy rather than a simple mistake that can easily be corrected by providing Allenby officials with better instructions, is both illegal and short-sighted. It is illegal insofar as it puts Israel in violation of UN regulations governing the obligations of an occupying power, and it is short-sighted insofar as it deprives Palestinians of the very education that will allow them to participate fully in the viable society Israel claims to desire for them.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, CAF members are very troubled by the action taken against Prof. Merriman and what it implies about Israel’s attitude toward academic freedom. In that spirit, I write to urge that you investigate this incident and then explain on what grounds the initial refusal to admit Prof. Merriman was warranted. Since our committee has written several letters to different officers in the Israeli government recently to protest infringements of academic freedom, it would be both instructive and productive for a few members of the committee resident in the Washington D.C. to meet with Amb. Oren or the academic liaison at the Israeli Embassy and explore how such difficulties might be avoided in the future.

I await your response.

Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor of History, McMaster University


27 August 2009

Professor Rivka Carmi
President, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Israel

Fax: 972-8-6472991
president@bgu.ac.il

Dear Prof. Carmi:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) I write to express our grave concern over your recent comments approving Ben-Gurion University’s search for legal means to dismiss Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Government and Politics Department, Neve Gordon. These comments came in response to an opinion piece published by Dr. Gordon in the Los Angeles Times on 21 August, in which he called for a comprehensive boycott of his country as a means to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The threat of dismissal against a tenured faculty member because of opinions he expresses on a subject of regular debate in his country flies in the face of academic freedom, a freedom that Ben-Gurion University has committed itself to uphold. We therefore urge you to publicly rescind this threat and to fulfill your primary duty as university president to affirm and protect the rights of all members of the university community to express their opinions without fear of censure or punishment.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes theInternational Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

CAF does not challenge the right of you or anyone else at the university to disagree, even vehemently, with the views of another faculty member. But it is precisely in moments of political crisis that the principles of academic freedom are tested. In your public statements since August 22, you have added to the popular campaign of vilification mounted against Professor Gordon in the media by repeating, without contesting, the extremely damaging charge that his article amounts to treason against the state. Similarly, your reference to his views as “destructive” and an “abuse of the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at Ben-Gurion University,” and your suggestion that academics with such views should “consider another professional and personal home” cast an alarming chill on the free exchange of ideas that is foundational to the academic enterprise and to democratic governance more generally. Indeed, Article 2 of BGU’s own Academic Code affirms that the university “will not discriminate in its activities against any person for reasons of race, religion, nationality, gender, or political views [and] will act to protect academic freedom.” Article 4c of your university’s Code of Ethics further clarifies “in addition to their academic freedoms, researchers of the university enjoy all civic freedoms enjoyed by every citizen of the state, including freedoms of expression and organization... Researchers are authorized to express their political or religious opinions without incitement and are authorized to act to implement them using legal means.”

In refusing to reiterate the university’s obligation to protect Dr. Gordon’s professional and civil freedoms and in failing to clarify that it will not be blackmailed into suspending the freedoms of particular faculty members that some donors do not like, your administration has given a green light to those attacking him and in some cases threatening his physical safety. We hope you will realize the importance of doing everything in your power to end the intimidation against Dr. Gordon by reaffirming his academic right to free expression as guaranteed by the by-laws of your university. In doing this you would be following the exemplary lead of your colleague Zvi Galil, the former president of Tel Aviv University, who in May 2009 rejected popular pressure to expel Omar Barghouti, an MA student in philosophy, because of his work with the international Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement against the Israeli occupation.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor of History, McMaster University


May 27, 2009

Mr. Eli Yishai
Minister of the Interior
2 Kaplan Street, Kiryat Ben-Gurion
Israel

via fax 011-972-2-670-1628

Dear Minister Yishai,

I write on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to inquire about the reasons why Dr. Nicola Pratt, Lecturer in Comparative Politics & International Relations in the School of Political, Social & International Studies at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK was refused entry into the Occupied Palestinian Territories on 22 April, 2009 at the Allenby Bridge Crossing.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

According to information received from Dr. Pratt, she had been invited to the Institute for Women’s Studies at Bir Zeit University so that she might visit with faculty, staff, and students and also conduct two seminars about her research on gender and conflict in the Middle East. She was in possession of a formal invitation from the director of the Institute for Women’s Studies at Bir Zeit University, Prof. Islah Jad, as well as relevant contact information. Nonetheless, Dr. Pratt was forced to wait for 5 hours at Allenby Bridge and was then refused entry without explanation.

Moreover, Dr. Pratt’s experience comes against the backdrop of a sharp rise in Israel’s denial of tourist or work visas to visiting international faculty at West Bank Palestinian universities since 2006. Bir Zeit University has been particularly damaged by this practice: in 2006 alone one half of its foreign passport-holding staff were deported or denied re-entry.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, CAF is very troubled by the action taken against Dr. Pratt and concerned about what it may imply regarding Israeli policy toward academic freedom in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In that spirit, I urge you to investigate this incident and then either explain why the refusal to admit Dr. Pratt was warranted, or ensure that she will be allowed to visit Bir Zeit University in the near future.

I look forward to your response.

Virginia Aksan
President, Middle East Studies Association
Professor, McMaster University


21 May 2009

Professor Zvi Galil
President
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv, Israel

Dear Professor Galil:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, I am writing to you to express our strong support for your letter of May 3, 2009 regarding Omar Barghouti, a Tel Aviv University master’s student of philosophy.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Generally, the Committee’s work consists of highlighting threats and infringements on academic freedom. When we write to university or government officials in North America or the Middle East, it is usually to express concern or dismay. It is a pleasure in this case to write expressing commendation. Your letter regarding Mr. Barghouti, a student leading a campaign to boycott Israeli universities, is an admirably succinct and eloquent statement of the principle of academic freedom. We are happy to endorse it, all the more because you took this position even though the campaign in question would target your university among others.

Respectfully,
Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Professor of History, McMaster University

Reply received 21 June 2009

19 June 2009

Professor Virginia H. Aksan
MESA President
Middle East Studies Association of North America Inc
1219 N Santa Rita Ave
University of Arizona
Tucson AZ 85721
USA

By Fax: ++1 520 626 9095

Dear Professor Aksan,

Allow me to express my sincere thanks to the Committee on Academic Freedom of the MESA of North America for your letter of encouragement and praise in the wake of Tel Aviv University’s rigorous upholding of academic freedom in the matter of student Omar Barghouti.

Pluralism is a central tenet of Tel Aviv University, a doctrine forming the basis of its very existence and its societal role.  Hence, the diversity of racial and ethnic or cultural groups is accepted, and it is on academic criteria, not on political viewpoint, that a student’s standing is determined.

It is against this background that we object to the unjust and unwarranted imposition of an academic boycott against Israel’s universities, particularly against a liberal university such as ours which, as you have stated, defends the values of academic freedom.  Such a boycott, threatening the continued academic work of thousands of professors and students, would serve to undo much of what we have accomplished in upholding the democratic values of liberal tolerance.  It would be counter-productive and more allied to the hate propaganda of a number of radicals that have permeated academic and in doing so undermine society rather than engage in pursuit of knowledge and academic discussion of all issues, including controversial ones.

We are appreciative of your praise for our endeavors.  In the same spirit that you have spoken out in the interests of one student, we truest you will act to support Israeli universities against these ongoing boycott efforts.

Sincerely,
Zvi Galil

cc:   Prof Dany Leviatan, Rector


5 January 2009

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
3 Kaplan St., Qiryat Ben-Gurion
PO Box 187
91919 Jerusalem
Israel

via fax: 972-2-6512631

Dear Prime Minister Olmert:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to express our grave concern about the 27 December missile strike which killed eight students outside the Gaza Training College in Gaza City and about the bombing of the Gaza Islamic University on 29 December, both part of your government’s current military attacks against the Gaza Strip.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On December 27, the first day of your government’s aerial attacks, witnesses reported to Human Rights Watch that an Israeli air-to-ground missile struck a group of students leaving the Gaza Training College, adjacent to the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in downtown Gaza City. The students were waiting to board buses to transport them to their homes in Khan Yunis and Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. The strike killed eight students, ages 18 to 20, and wounded 19 others.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education of 29 December 2008, two Islamic University structures -- the science-laboratory block and the Women’s Building, where women studied in classrooms separate from those for male students-- were hit by Israeli bombs.  We are aware of the IDF claim that the science laboratory facilities were used as “a research and development center for Hamas weapons, including Qassam rockets.”  However Gaza Islamic University officials have denied these claims.  Such an attack would be lawful only if the Government of Israel can demonstrate that the university was in fact being used for military purposes. If the Government of Israel has proof of the university’s facilities being used for such purposes, we urge it to adduce that evidence immediately. We are aware of no claims, however, regarding the Women's Building except that supporters of Hamas study there or regarding the Training College.  Such impermissibly broad targeting would be a violation of Israel's international commitments.    

In March 2008 we wrote to Ismail Haniyah urging him to use his authority to halt the activities of armed groups engaged in indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli towns bordering Gaza.  Our letter was triggered by the 27 February 2008 bombardment of Sderot, during which around 50 rockets hit the western Negev, one of which slammed into Sapir College near Sderot killing Roni Yechiah, a 47-year-old student.

In the context of the current Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip we are writing to remind you that your government has the responsibility to ensure the Right to Education as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1991. The disruption of Palestinian education caused by the deliberate destruction of academic facilities constitutes a violation of a basic human right that will have long-term and negative political, economic, and humanitarian consequences for all peoples involved.  

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Virginia H. Aksan 
MESA President

cc:   Minister of Defense Ehud Barak 


June 3, 2008

Meir Sheetrit
Minister of Interior of Israel
2 Kaplan Street, Kiryat Ben-Gurion
Israel

via fax 011-972-2-670-1628

Dear Minister Sheetrit:

I write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern regarding your decision on 23 May 2008 to deny Professor Norman Finkelstein entry into Israel on what appears to be retribution for his critical academic examination of Israeli government policy, including the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We urge you to reverse this decision, which represents a serious threat to future scholarship and academic freedom.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in its field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2800 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Professor Finkelstein, a US citizen, is a well-known scholar who has published extensively with the top academic presses in his field. In the early morning of 23 May 2008, he arrived at Ben Gurion airport en route to friends in the West Bank city of Hebron. Over the next 24 hours the professor was detained, questioned by Shin Bet officials, and finally forced to board a plane bound for the United States.  Upon his deportation, the authorities informed him that for “security” reasons he would be barred from entering Israel (and the Occupied Territories) for at least ten years, and that he should contact the Ministry of Interior should he wish to inquire about the precise reason for the ban issued against him. Since then, however, government officials have offered two different explanations for their decision. The first, reported byHa’aretz, was ‘suspicions involving hostile elements in Lebanon,’ referring to Professor Finkelstein’s well-publicized meetings with Hizbullah officials in Lebanon in January 2008. The second reason, reported in the Jerusalem Post, was the professor’s ‘outspoken anti-Zionist opinions and for his harsh criticisms of Israel.”

We understand that Israeli law allows you to deny entry to any non-citizen you choose. But the absence of a consistent explanation, and one that may even constitute punishment for a professional scholarly critique, is troubling on several grounds.  First, you have failed to explain how Professor Finkelstein poses an actual threat to state security as a result of his meetings with Hizbullah officials.  The timing of your decision raises a second concern. According to Professor Finkelstein, this is the first time in 20 years (and at least 16 visits) that he has had trouble entering the country. His most recent book, Beyond Chutzpah (University of California Press, 2007), investigates Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, focusing in particular on Israel’s human rights record since 1967. The unprecedented nature of his deportation can easily lead people to wonder whether there is a connection between your decision and the analysis presented in this book.

If you have evidence that Professor Finkelstein poses a security risk to the State of Israel, we urge you to make it available so as to reassure the Israeli public—who are accustomed to open debates about the state of their country—that untoward political pressures did not affect your decision.  We also ask that you clarify whether you intend to uphold the 10-year ban against Professor Finkelstein: what would happen to him should he attempt to visit Israel before 2018?

Denying qualified scholars entry into the country because of their political beliefs strikes at the core of academic freedom. This is why we write to protest the barring of Professor Finkelstein and to request that the Israeli government reverse the action immediately.

Finally, we would like to request clarification from the Ministry about the implications of your decision regarding Professor Finkelstein for the membership of the Middle East Studies Association. Can MESA members, who may or may not oppose various aspects of Israeli government policy, expect similar treatment when entering your country?

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Mervat F. Hatem
MESA President
Professor of Political Science, Howard University

cc:    The Honorable Condoleeza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State
        Ambassador Richard H. Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Israel
        Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.


March 7, 2008

Dr. Ze’ev Tsahor, President
Sapir Academic College
D.N. Hof Ashkelon 79165
Sderot, Israel

Dear President Tsahor,

I am writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) regarding the case of Nizar Hassan, a well-known filmmaker and professor at Sapir College, who, we understand, is to be dismissed from his post for comments he made on 8 November 2007 to an army reserve student who had come to class in uniform and carrying a weapon.  
 
The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

According to reports in Ha-Aretz, Sapir College has no formal set of disciplinary regulations nor a charter concerning the behavior of students and teachers. Yet, in the absence of such regulations, a disciplinary procedure was launched against Prof. Hassan; moreover, he was suspended from his teaching duties even before the procedure was concluded. Apparently, three days after the first media reports, the Sapir College administration convened its internal academic council, which decided that “measures” had to be taken. This resulted in the establishment, for the first time in the College’s history, of a committee to look into such a case. 
 
Again, according to press reports, the council did not invite Prof. Hassan to the committee’s meeting. Instead actions were taken on the basis of a report you submitted grounded in your conclusions regarding the incident. According to Ha-Aretz, you have contended that the committee acted on the basis of the decision of the internal academic council and according to what you have characterized as “the academic ethos” --that politics stops at the classroom door -- an ethos you claim Prof. Hassan has violated.

Our committee does not seek to pass judgment on either the question of military attire in the classroom, or on what constitutes the politicization of the classroom. We are very concerned, however, that Sapir College does not have established procedures for investigating charges against faculty, and hence that the process initiated against Prof. Hassan has been ad hoc. Indeed, Prof. Faingulernt, who is department chair, has claimed that if both he and Prof. Hassan had been in Israel at the time the controversy arose, matters would have been worked out differently, and that Sapir College has seen worse cases in the past. This statement, in conjunction with your own explanations of how events have unfolded, strongly suggests that the process by which Prof. Hassan’s case has been investigated and considered has been highly irregular.

A key base of academic freedom is a system of regulations and procedures whereby grievances can be investigated and adjudicated openly and fairly. We, therefore, call upon you to review the case of Prof. Hassan in this light, to ensure that his case is dealt with in the same way as other cases of complaints against faculty have been.
 
Sincerely,
Mervat Hatem
MESA President


1 May 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
3 Kaplan St., Qiryat Ben-Gurion
PO Box 187
91919 Jerusalem
Israel

via fax: 972-2-6512631

Dear Prime Minister Olmert:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to express our concern about the continued restriction of movement and travel imposed by the government of Israel on Palestinian students from Gaza. Though a shuttle service for transporting the students via the Erez Crossing and then on to Egypt or Jordan, for exit to third countries, was put into effect in late 2007 it proved to be no more than an ad hoc arrangement that facilitated the passage of fewer than half of the 730 students who need to reach universities abroad. While waiting for the shuttle service to begin or for subsequent shuttles to operate, many of the students in Gaza missed the start of the academic year at universities around the world. Some lost their places for the entire year, as well as their scholarships, because they did not arrive at their campuses in time. It is impossible to estimate how many students, faced with the intensifying closure policy, lost hope and gave up altogether on trying to pursue their studies abroad.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On October 19, 2007, we addressed you about this matter and now wish to reiterate our expectation that the government of Israel will establish a reliable policy that will allow Palestinian students so wishing to pursue their academic studies abroad.

In particular, we wish to bring to your attention the cases of ten Palestinian students who have been prevented from leaving Gaza to pursue their academic studies in the U.S. Belgium, U.K., Germany, and Jordan:

1.   Mariam Ashour, 18 years old, received a scholarship from the Hope Fund to study business administration at Columbia College in South Carolina.

2.   Yahia Abu Hashem, 18 years old, received a scholarship from the Hope Fund to study computer information technology at Roanoke College in Virginia.

3.   Wajdi Halabi has been accepted to complete a PhD in computer science at Vrije University in Brussels, supported by the European fellowship program Erasmus Mundus.

4.   Wissam Abuajwa has been admitted to an MA program in environmental studies at a British university.

5.   Nibal Nayef is the recipient of a scholarship from the German scholarship program DAAD to study at the Technical University in Kaiserslautern, Germany for a PhD in computer science.

6.   Basheer Obaid is the recipient of a scholarship from the German DAAD program to study at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany for a PhD in infrastructure engineering.

7.   Ahmed al Hayak has been accepted to a Master’s program at the Herder-Institute of Leipzig University in Germany, and is a recipient of a scholarship of the German DAAD program.

8.   Fatma Shbair is a recipient of a scholarship from the German DAAD program for a Master’s degree in computer science at the New York Institute of Technology in Amman, Jordan.

9.   Samah Hamouda is a recipient of a scholarship from the German DAAD program for a Master’s degree in industrial engineering at the University of Jordan in Amman.

10. Ahmed Ghorab is a recipient of a scholarship from the German DAAD program for a Master’s degree in computer engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Amman, Jordan.

Israel has the responsibility to ensure the Right to Education as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1991. The ongoing disruption of Palestinian education constitutes a violation of a basic human right that will have long-term and negative political, economic, and humanitarian consequences for all peoples involved.  We call on the Israeli government to create a reliable policy that will allow the ten students mentioned above as well as the hundreds of other registered Gaza university students to travel to their educational institutions abroad.

Sincerely,
Mervat Hatem
MESA President

cc:   Minister of Defense Ehud Barak 


October 19, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
3 Kaplan St., Qiryat Ben-Gurion
PO Box 187
91919 Jerusalem
Israel

via fax: 972-2-6512631

Dear Prime Minister Olmert:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) to express our concern about the restriction of movement and travel imposed by your government on Palestinian students from Gaza. Recently, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition brought by Gisha, the Israeli human rights organization, on behalf of Khaled al-Mudallal, a resident of Rafah. Mr. Mudallal was prevented from resuming his studies in management and business at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Israel’s Supreme Court decision of October 2, 2007 to accept the government’s argument that Gazans with study permits trapped in Gaza should wait for the resumption of the shuttle bus service to Eretz crossing, discontinued since September 6, amounts to a denial of Mr. al-Mudallal’s rights to an education. Israel has the responsibility to ensure the Right to Education as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1991.

The ongoing disruption of Palestinian education constitutes a violation of a basic human right that will have long-term and negative political, economic, and humanitarian consequences for all peoples involved.   We call on the Israeli government to allow Mr. al-Mudallal as well as the hundreds of other registered Gazan university students to travel to their educational institutions, whether abroad or in the West Bank.

Sincerely,

Zachary Lockman
MESA President

cc:           Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
                Prime Minister Gordon Brown
                Gisha


June 06, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert                            
3 Kaplan Street                                                 
Kiryat Ben Gurion                                            
Jerusalem, Israel                                                            
Fax: +972-2-629-6014
Fax: +972-2-566-4838 

The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Dept. of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520            
Fax: 202-647-2283

Minister of Defense Amir Peretz                                    Fax: +972-3-696-2757 
Fax: +972-3-691-6940
Fax: +972-3-691-7915

Mr. Elliott Abrams
Deputy Assistant to the President and
Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy
Fax:  202-835-9066

President George W. Bush                                 
President of the United States                            
The White House                                             
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW                         
Washington, DC 20500                              
Fax: 202-456-2461

The Honorable Richard H. Jones
United States Ambassador to Israel
71 Hayarkon St.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Email: Ac5@bezeqint.net

Dear Prime Minister Olmert, Minister Peretz, President Bush, Secretary Rice, 
Mr. Ambassador Jones, and Mr. Abrams:

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) in order to express our grave concern about the broad assault on the education system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The current academic crisis is the result of numerous factors, including Israel’s military bombing campaigns and incursions in the Palestinian territories. Direct attacks on educational institutions, the denial of free access to schools through the operation of military checkpoints, and the isolation of Palestinian universities through Israeli immigration restrictions on faculty, researchers, and students with foreign passports have severely disrupted education at the primary, secondary, and university levels. The impact of international sanctions against the Hamas-led government is further crippling the Palestinian education system by rendering the Palestinian Authority unable to pay teachers’ salaries with any consistency, parents unable to afford tuition and other fees, and universities unable to provide scholarships to those in need of financial assistance.

Our organization is aware of the violent strife among Palestinian factions in Gaza that have also had a detrimental effect on educational institutions and personnel, and we have publicly expressed our concerns to Palestinian leaders about that fact. We are also aware of the rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilian targets in the past three weeks, but Israeli responses must not violate international law. Moreover, Israel, as the occupying power, and the United States, Israel’s primary financial and political backer, bear responsibility for ensuring the Right to Education as enshrined in The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Israel ratified in 1991. We urge you to take immediate measures to ensure the continuing operation of the educational process at all levels.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

The latest disruption to the Palestinian education system took place on 24 May 2007, when Israeli forces abducted Dr. Nasser Eddin al-Shaer, Minister of Education, along with 32 prominent political and community figures. On Israel’s Army Radio, Defense Minister Peretz stated that the recent detentions are intended to pressure Hamas’s armed wing to stop the firing of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel. However, regardless of official justifications for the arrest, Dr. al-Shaer’s detention without charge or trial clearly contravenes international and human rights laws. In a separate raid on 24 May, the army also vandalized a local school in Hebron, confiscating computers and teaching materials.

These recent events are just a few of the incidents exemplifying a disturbing trend in Israel’s occupation policies, which have hindered the academic freedom of 1.2 million students in the occupied Palestinian territories (who constitute 32 percent of the total population), and obstructed the work of 10,000 teachers and educational staff. Since the start of the Intifada in September 2000, the Israeli army has partially or fully destroyed 73 schools in Gaza, including a teachers’ training college in 2004, and it has shelled or raided eight out of eleven universities in the West Bank.

The ongoing disruption to Palestinian education constitutes a violation of a basic human right that will have long-term political, economic, and humanitarian consequences for all peoples involved. It also does further damage to the reputation of Israel and the United States, and presents an additional obstacle in the already obstructed path toward a peaceful resolution to this conflict. We call on the Israeli and United States governments to take all measures necessary to remove those physical, military, and political barriers that they have placed in the way of Palestine’s educational system.

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
President

cc: President Mahmoud Abbas
      Palestinian National Authority
      Fax: +972-08-282-5856
              +972-2-296-3170
      Colonel Muhammad Dahlan
      Head of Preventive Security Service 
      Fax: +972-7-825-425
+972-2-561-9112 


August 9, 2007

Mr. Zachary Lockman, President

Dear Mr. Lockman,

On behalf of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, we acknowledge receipt of your letter dated May 6, 2007, the contents of which have been noted.

The State of Israel, through the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, makes every effort to allow Palestinian students in Judea & Samaria to study regularly and with no interruptions. To this end, the Civil Administration in Judea & Samaria employs a special coordinator whose exclusive task if to assist the Palestinians in maintaining a regular school routine, despite the harsh security reality in the area–a reality which compels the IDF to continue its security activity in Palestinian cities and establish checkpoints for the purpose of preventing terror attacks.

Israel provides freedom of movement for Palestinian teachers at checkpoints throughout Judea & Samaria, and continues to issue entry permits for Palestinian teachers working in Arab schools in east Jerusalem. During 2006 almost 6,600 free movement permits in Judea & Samaria were issues for teaches, inspectors, examiners, members of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, and employees of the education system. Moreover, 98 special permits were issued recently for education personnel in east Jerusalem in order to allow them to arrive daily at the center for the evaluation of matriculation exams in the city of Bethlehem. Special representatives of the civil Administration and the Coordination and Liaison Offices in Judea & Samaria were stationed at checkpoints in order to ensure regular freedom of movement for Palestinians in general, and teachers and students in particular. Israel also allowed for the regular transfer of textbooks and other teaching materials to all school throughout Judea & Samaria. Operating on the principle that all human beings have the right to education, the State of Israel, through the education coordinator of the Civil Administration, even authorized the entry of textbooks for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Israel also ensured that matriculation and other exams in Judaea & Samaria would take place on time, including in east Jerusalem and among Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. To this end, we made certain that the exam forms would be transferred unhindered through the checkpoints, along with thousands of inspectors, examiners and other employees of the Palestinian Education & Culture Ministry, and tat the exam notebooks would be returned to the various examination center in Judea and Samaria. Official data show that over 34,000 Palestinian students took their matriculation exams this year.

IDF forces in Judea & Samaria did not bomb or demolish a single school, university or educational institute. Apart from instances in which there is an urgent security need, they refrain from even entering Palestinian education institutes. It my be worth noting that this principle is upheld despite the fact that Palestinian education institutes are often cynically used by terrorist organizations for the spreading of hatred and incitement against Israel, the storage of weaponry and the launching of terrorist attacks against IFDF soldiers and innocent Israelis.

The key to ensuring complete freedom of movement for Palestinians in general, and students in particular, lies in the hands of the Palestinians and their leaders. The IDF makes every effort to uphold freedom of education, but its primary responsibility is for the security and safety of the State of Israel and its citizens. Only when the Palestinian radicals place education above terrorism on their list of priorities will there be real change.

Sincerely,

(Ms.) Einat Gluska
Assistant Foreign Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister


September 21, 2006

Dear Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Fax: +972-2-629-6014

Dear Minister of Defense Amir Peretz
Fax: +972-3-696-2757/+972-3-691-6940/+972-3-691-7915

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and its Committee on Academic Freedom in order to request that the Government of Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces allow 10 occupational therapy students from Gaza to attend Bethlehem University. These students, including Shima Naji, petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court in December 2005, and asked the court to overturn the restriction placed on their access to study in the West Bank. We request that you immediately lift the order restricting them from traveling to the West Bank and that you direct your legal representatives not to oppose this petition. This is essential in order that these students exercise their right to access to education, a key component of academic freedom.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2600 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

While Israel has legitimate security concerns and a responsibility to protect its citizens, it must do so in a manner that does not violate international human rights and humanitarian law, including the prohibition against collective punishment. A sweeping prohibition imposed on all students from Gaza against studying subjects such as occupational therapy and medical specializations that are only available at West Bank universities, however, constitutes precisely such a violation. The rationale offered by the Government of Israel and the Israeli Defense Forces is that students from Gaza studying in the West Bank might become involved in hostile acts against the State of Israel in the future. It is not based on any evidence of past and current wrongdoing on the part of individual students, but, rather, on a collective suspicion of all Palestinian students.

As you know, collective punishment is forbidden under humanitarian international law. A restriction imposed on all students from Gaza is transparently punitive and thus clearly constitutes collective punishment as well as a drastic and unwarranted denial of academic freedom. By proscribing access to West Bank universities and academic disciplines of choice, your government is denying the right to education to hundreds of students.

Over 200 professors in Israeli universities have recently called for these sweeping restrictions to be lifted.

On behalf of MESA, I ask that your government allow the 10 petitioning occupational therapy students from Gaza to attend Bethlehem University and thus restore their access to higher education and academic freedom. Occupational therapy is a new specialization in Gaza and there is currently only one practitioner with 24,000 cases requiring his/her attention.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole
MESA President


July 25, 2006

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
3 Kaplan Street
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem, ISRAEL
Fax: 972-2-566-4838

Dear Prime Minister Olmert:

On behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom, I am writing to express our concern over the recent arrest of Professor Ghazi Walid Falah, a dual Israeli-Canadian national working in the US with permanent resident alien status, and a respected associate professor of geography at the University of Akron, Ohio.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2600 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Professor Falah traveled to Israel on July 4 from Toronto after hearing that his mother had been hospitalized with a brain tumor. On July 6, Professor Falah, an avid photographer whose photos have appeared on the cover of the Arab World Geographer and who also uses photographs for his teaching and research, went to Nahariya. Security personnel arrested him that day just north of Nahariya, where he was taking photographs. He was then taken to his brother’s home, near Nazareth, to collect his belongings, and was then brought before a judge in Akko, who approved the security forces’ requests to detain him without charge. He has been under arrest since July 8 and has been unable to see his lawyer or contact his family or consular officials. On Sunday July 16, his arrest was extended for another 15 days.

Because some of Professor Falah’s past research projects have been critical of Israeli land policies, we are concerned, in the absence of formal charges against him, that his arrest may owe to his record of academic research and publishing. The fact that his family requested his home institution, the University of Akron, to send documents to US consular authorities vouching for his academic work heightens our concern that his arrest may be related to his research and publishing and therefore constitute a violation of his academic freedom.

MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom holds that the free exchange of ideas is among the basic human rights codified in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which Israel has ratified. We ask, on behalf of our organization, that you use your good offices to ensure that Professor Falah has access to his lawyer and his family, that he be released promptly or charged with a criminal offense, and if he is charged that he be tried before a court that meets international fair trial standards.

Sincerely,
Juan R.I. Cole
MESA President

cc: Mr. Haim Ramon, Minister of Justice 
Mr. Menachem Mazoz, Attorney General


September 6, 2005

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
3 Kaplan Street
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem, ISRAEL
By Facsimile: 972 2 651 2631 
972 2 566 4838
972 3 691 7915

Dear Prime Minister Sharon,

We write to you to express our grave concern over the impact Israel’s security barrier is having on the Palestinian educational system in East Jerusalem. In practical application, the barrier infringes on the academic freedom and right to education of hundreds of teachers and thousands of pupils by effectively denying access to East Jerusalem schools. We urge you to take decisive action that will guarantee the full right of access of all Palestinian teachers to their schools in East Jerusalem and the right of education to all Palestinian students.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) comprises 2600 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa in North America and elsewhere.

Israel’s security barrier has nearly been completed in the Jerusalem area. In this area, the barrier is being built entirely on Palestinian lands occupied in the 1967 war, in clear contravention of International Humanitarian Law. Because it is being built deep inside Palestinian areas, the barrier has cut off Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem from surrounding Palestinian communities making it nearly impossible for teachers living in the outlying areas from reaching their schools in East Jerusalem.

It is our understanding that nearly 700 East Jerusalem-based teachers fall into the category of living outside the barrier without an Israeli identification card and thus cannot reach their schools. Even though Palestinian schools are about to open, only a small number of these teachers have been approved entry. Essentially barring hundreds of teachers from reaching their schools will have a devastating effect on the 18,000 pupils in the 50 private schools that provide the bulk of education to Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

We have further concerns over the potential of unwarranted delays in crossing the barrier even for those teachers who have the necessary paperwork; this has been a common problem elsewhere for Palestinians seeking to cross the barrier or pass other military checkpoints in the West bank. Punitive or other delays not linked directly to immediate and legitimate security risks would likewise constitute an abridgement of the Palestinians’ right to education.

Guaranteeing the right to education for Palestinians in East Jerusalem is a test case for how Israel intends to use the barrier. To date, it has not been encouraging. We ask that you immediately lift all restrictions on teachers seeking to cross the barrier to access their schools in East Jerusalem. This can be done without harming Israel’s legitimate security requirements.

Sincerely yours,
Ali Banuazizi
MESA President


June 14, 2005

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
3 Kaplan Street
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem, ISRAEL 
By Facsimile: 972 2 651 2631

Dear Prime Minister Sharon:

On behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom, I am writing to express our strong opposition to the May 2, 2005 decision of the Israeli Cabinet to upgrade the status of the College of Judea and Samaria, located on the West Bank settlement of Ariel, to university status. Since that decision is subject to the approval of the Council on Higher Education, we are writing separately to that committee to urge rejection of the decision.

[MESA is...]

Our objection to this decision is based on the fact that Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip are in violation of international humanitarian law. Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) specifically forbids an occupying power from transferring and settling its own citizens in occupied territory. Article 55 of the Hague Regulations (1907) prohibits creating permanent changes in an occupied territory that are not intended to benefit the protected persons of that territory—in this case, the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank. It is manifestly clear that this college, like the settlement of Ariel, is not intended to benefit the area’s Palestinian inhabitants. The College of Judea and Samaria has already increased the traffic of Israeli citizens to the illegal settlement of Ariel. The college’s faculty and students are prime users of the Trans-Samaria Road, a four-lane highway built on confiscated Palestinian land. Palestinians, including those whose land was confiscated to build this highway, are prohibited from using major portions of that road. West Bank Palestinians, moreover, are absent from the faculty and student body of the college. The establishment of an institution of higher learning in an illegal settlement thus creates an additional obstacle to Israel’s compliance with international law.
Indeed, the college to be upgraded lies in an area where the Israeli government is obliged to freeze all construction work under the “Roadmap” peace plan drafted by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, endorsed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1515 (2003), and accepted by your government. Despite your government’s commitments in this regard, you were quoted as saying, in supporting this decision regarding the college, that it is “in keeping with government policy, which views strengthening the settlement blocs as being among its goals.”

MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom holds that the free exchange of ideas is among the human rights identified by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This spirit of freedom of inquiry and exchange is the essence of what higher education should embody. It is clear that such exchange cannot occur at an institution of higher learning built on confiscated land and in clear violation of international humanitarian law. Moreover, upgrading the College of Judea and Samaria to the status of university, on a par with Israel’s other universities inside its internationally-recognized borders, would demean the reputation of the latter by giving an illegal institution equal standing with the recognized high standards of Israel’s universities as a whole.

For these reasons, we strongly recommend that your government not proceed to upgrade the College of Judea and Samaria to university status, but rather relocate its facilities to a location inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders in order to provide educational opportunities to its present and prospective students. Israel must respect its obligations under international law and not tie legitimate educational requirements to its illegal settlement drive.

Sincerely,
Ali Banuazizi
President, Middle East Studies Association
Professor, Boston College

Cc: 
Minister of Education Limor Livnat, and Chair, Council of Higher Education
United Nations General Secretary General Kofi Annan
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of the Russian Federation
Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg for the European Union Presidency 
High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European 
Union Javier Solana
United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice


June 14, 2005

Minister of Education, Culture, and Sports Limor Livnat
Chairperson, Council for Higher Education
34 Shivtei Yisrael Street 
Jerusalem 91911, ISRAEL
By Facsimile: 972 2-5602246

Dear Minister Livnat:

On behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom, I am writing to you and to the members of the Council for Higher Education, to request that the Council reject the May 2, 2005 request of the Israeli Government to accredit the College of Judea and Samaria, located on the West Bank settlement of Ariel as a university.

[MESA is...]

Our objection to this decision is based on the fact that Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip are in violation of international humanitarian law. Article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) specifically forbids an occupying power from transferring and settling its own citizens in occupied territory. Article 55 of the Hague Regulations (1907) prohibits creating permanent changes in an occupied territory that are not intended to benefit the protected persons of that territory—in this case, the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank. It is manifestly clear that this college, like the settlement of Ariel, is not intended to benefit the area’s Palestinian inhabitants. The College of Judea and Samaria has already increased the traffic of Israeli citizens to the illegal settlement of Ariel. The college’s faculty and students are prime users of the Trans-Samaria Road, a four-lane highway built on confiscated Palestinian land. Palestinians, including those whose land was confiscated to build this highway, are prohibited from using major portions of that road. West Bank Palestinians, moreover, are absent from the faculty and student body of the college. The establishment of an institution of higher learning in an illegal settlement thus creates an additional obstacle to Israel’s compliance with international law. 
Indeed, the college to be upgraded lies in an area where the Israeli government is obliged to freeze all construction work under the “Roadmap” peace plan drafted by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, endorsed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1515 (2003), and accepted by the government of Israel.

MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom holds that the free exchange of ideas is among the human rights identified by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This spirit of freedom of inquiry and exchange is the essence of what higher education should embody. It is clear that such exchange cannot occur at an institution of higher learning built on confiscated land and in clear violation of international humanitarian law. Moreover, upgrading the College of Judea and Samaria to the status of university, on a par with Israel’s other universities inside its internationally-recognized borders, would demean the reputation of the latter by giving an illegal institution equal standing with the recognized high standards of Israel’s universities as a whole.

For these reasons, we strongly recommend that the Council for Higher Education reject the request of the government to accredit the College of Judea and Samaria as a university, and recommend that it be relocated inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders in order to provide educational opportunities to its present and prospective students. Israel must respect its obligations under international law and not tie legitimate educational requirements to its illegal settlement drive.

Sincerely,
Ali Banuazizi
President, Middle East Studies Association
Professor, Boston College

Reply received June 27, 2005

Professor Ali Banuazizi, President
Middle East Studies Association of North America, Inc.
1219 N Santa Rita Ave.
The University of Arizona
Tucson AZ 85721

Dear Professor Banuazizi,

Thank you for your letter of June 14, 2005, concerning the proposed upgrading of the College of Judea and Samaria from a college to a university.

We greatly respect your association’s commitment to “the principles of academic freedom ad the free exchange of information and ideas”, as expressed in your letter to the AUT’s President, stating your “determined opposition” to its proposed boycott of Israel’s university and blacklisting of their faculties.

In that letter you also assert: We especially oppose penalizing entire segments of an academic community for any reason whatsoever.” The faculties and student bodies of all Israel’s higher education institutions are made up of people whose opinions and beliefs embrace the entire political spectrum.

This is true at the College of Judea and Samaria as well. Seventy percent of its students come from Tel Aviv and central Israel. Approximately 300 of its students are Arabs.The reasons given by Arab students for studying at the college are manifold. The courses offered by the college are not taught at every university. Some of the College’s departments have a national reputation for excellence.

Acceptance to the college is easier than to the universities, although its courses are difficult. To ensure that students succeed tutoring and English and Hebrew language instruction are available, which also eases their integration in to college life.

Hebrew is not studied in Palestinian universities. Arab students have found that studying in Hebrew and learning about Israeli culture opens more doors to them in the job market after graduation.

The College is convenient for students who commute, and for those who must work and study at the same time. Tuition fees at the College are half those of private colleges.

Research to be published shortly concludes that the College’s Arab students have a positive sense of belonging. Relations between Arab and Jewish students are good; the former are active in campus politics and members of the student union. In an interview, an Arab student said, “If we stay home and don’t go to university, will that help us or our society more?”

The College sponsors an outreach program to find more potential Arab students. Under its auspices, preparatory course for matriculation examinations are given in Arab cities and villages throughout the country.

Last month, the names of three prominent Arab local council heads appeared in an ad on the front page of one of Israel’s major newspaper, Ha’aretz. The ad congratulated the College on opening registration for the 2006 school year, and commended it for encouraging coexistence between the various sectors of Israeli society.

The administration and faculty of the College of Judea and Samaria is committed to providing its students-Jewish and Arab-with the finest higher education and training. We believe that, elevated to university status in accordance with the rigorous requirements of the council for Higher Education in Israel, the College can deepen its commitment to the future of our youth and society.

When asked what attracted him to teaching at the college, an engineering faculty member stated that it was “the thought of teaching at a college in which there is an encounter between Jews and Arabs, between Israelis and Palestinians. It was very appropriate for me to bring people closer together in teaching and in research.

Surely, these lessons in peace and understanding that the College’s students learn in and out of the classroom encourage the “spirit of freedom of inquiry and exchange [that] is the essence of what higher education should embody”.

Sincerely yours,
Limor Livnat
Minister of Education, Culture and Sports
State of Israel


January 21, 2003

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
3 Kaplan Street
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem, ISRAEL
By Facsimile: 
972 2 651 2631
972 2 566 4838
972 3 691 7915

Dear Prime Minister Sharon,

I write to you on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, and its Committee on Academic Freedom, in order to express our grave concern over your government’s closure of two Palestinian universities in the West Bank. The closure of these institutions is transparently punitive, and thus clearly constitutes collective punishment as well as a drastic and unwarranted denial of academic freedom. We ask that your government rescind this decision immediately.

[MESA is...]

The IDF statement of January 15, 2003 announcing the closure of Hebron Polytechnic University and the Islamic College of Hebron the previous day alleged that several students who had attended these institutions had been involved in armed attacks against Israeli targets. Some of these attacks targeted Israeli civilians while others were directed against military occupation forces.
 
While we appreciate that the State of Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens, closing Palestinian universities is not a proper recourse. If Israel has evidence of wrongdoing on the part of individual students or other persons, the government should arrest those persons and prosecute them in a manner that meets international fair trial standards.
 
We further note that most of the attacks cited occurred in early 2002, while one dated from 1996. Thus it appears that these closures were instituted not for concrete and legitimate security purposes but as a form of punishment of the Palestinian community in the Hebron area.
 
As you know, collective punishment is forbidden under humanitarian international law. By closing the universities, your government is denying the right to education to over 6,000 current students because of the alleged deeds of a few. In addition to the collective punishment of thousands of students who have not been charged with any offense, your government’s action also adversely impacts the faculty and staff of these universities.

Press reports indicate that these may not be the only universities to be closed by Israel. Birzeit University and Al-Najah National University in Nablus have also been mentioned as candidates for closure. We urge that your government not make a bad situation worse by further closures of institutions of higher education. 

There is no evidence that university closures such as these will lead to a decrease in Palestinian violence against Israel. Indeed, Israel closed all Palestinian universities for years in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the first Intifada with no discernable drop in violence. We are thus skeptical that enhanced security is a plausible justification for the action.
On behalf of MESA, I ask that your government rescind immediately the decision to close Hebron Polytechnic University and the Islamic College of Hebron, and that no other closures be contemplated. 
I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director 


July 22, 2002

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
3 Kaplan Street
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem, ISRAEL

By Facsimile: 972 2 651 2631
972 2 566 4838
972 3 691 7915

Dear Prime Minister Sharon,

We write to you today to convey our grave concern regarding Israel’s closure of the administrative offices of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, and to urge the immediate reopening of those offices and the return of computer files and other materials confiscated by Israel.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) comprises 2700 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression in the region and in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa.

On 9 July 2002, according to numerous reports, Israeli soldiers and police surrounded the Al-Quds University offices and ordered all personnel to vacate the premises. Included in the closure was the office of the President of Al-Quds University, the renowned scholar and peace activist Dr. Sari Nusseibeh.

The closure of the university offices and seizure of documents was ordered by Uzi Landau, who holds the post of minister of internal security in your cabinet. The closure order reportedly states that the official reason for shutting the offices was that the building was being used for political activities on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. Dr. Nusseibeh, who is also the Jerusalem representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has spoken out prominently against Palestinian suicide bomb attacks against civilians, and publicly urged Palestinians to compromise regarding the right of Palestinian refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes. Israel’s action appears to be political in nature rather than related to genuine security matters, intended to disrupt and silence those Palestinians advocating a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We understand that the ultimate sovereignty of Jerusalem is to be decided through final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In the meantime, legitimate Palestinian educational facilities in Jerusalem should not be harmed in any way pending the outcome of negotiations. This includes most especially Al-Quds University, an accredited educational institution, founded in 1978, that educates over 6,000 students.

We urge the Government of Israel to rescind immediately the order closing Al-Quds University offices in Jerusalem, return all confiscated materials, and allow the university administration to resume its work without delay.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Amy W. Newhall
Executive Director

cc:
Uzi Landau, Minister for Internal Security
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell

The following letter was received in response to the CAFMENA letter sent July 22, 2002, to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel regarding the closure of Al-Quds University.

August 6, 2002

Ms. Amy W. Newhall, Executive Director
Middle East Studies Association of North America, Inc.
The University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

Dear Ms. Newhall,

On behalf of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, we thank you for your fax of July 22, 2002. Every agreement signed with the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords of 1993 has included a Palestinian commitment to situate Palestinian Authority offices exclusively in areas under PA jurisdiction, and to refrain from exercising Palestinian authority outside said territory.

Accordingly, on July 7, 2002, after compelling evidence had indicated that Al-Quds University was operating as an arm of the Palestinian Council, and that the University’s activities in the State of Israel were in violation of these signed agreements, Minister of Public Security Dr. Uzi Landau ordered the closure of the offices of the President and administration of the University.

Information obtained by our security services substantiated that the University was being funded by the Palestinian Authority – which was paying the salaries of its employees – and that donations to the University were being transferred through the PA. Moreover, the PA had been actively involved in the financial, professional and administrative operations of the University, as well as the appointment of its senior officials.
After Prof. Nusseibeh declared, in writing, that his institution would operate without any connection to the Palestinian Authority, and that he personally would not perform his PA “Jerusalem portfolio” function on its grounds, the reopening of the above offices was facilitated.

Sincerely,
Shalom Tourgeman
Acting Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister


5 June 2002

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
3 Kaplan Street
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem, ISRAEL

Dear Prime Minister Sharon,

The Committee on Academic Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (CAFMENA), of the Middle East Studies Association, is writing to express its grave concern over Israel’s recent and ongoing actions that threaten academic freedom and the right to education more broadly in the West Bank.

[MESA is...]

Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield, launched in March 2002, and Israel’s subsequent actions in the West Bank, have caused great and unwarranted harm to Palestinian educational institutions and educational opportunities. The harm falls under three categories: the physical destruction of educational property by soldiers in the Israel Defense Force (IDF), including vandalism; the theft of educational property, particularly hard drives from many computers and the loss of data bases; and the extension and intensification of checkpoints, roadblocks, and other physical impediments which prevent students and faculty from reaching their schools.

We join with all who condemn the savage attacks that have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians inside Israel. These outrages, however, cannot justify the violations of basic rights that your government has imposed on virtually the entire Palestinian Arab population of the occupied territories. These policies have had grave humanitarian consequences, including dire consequences for the right to education.

The destruction and theft of Palestinian educational property and material by IDF personnel during Operation Defensive Shield occurred at numerous Palestinian educational institutions, including at the Ministry of Education, the Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology, various educational nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and numerous Palestinian universities, colleges, and K-12 schools. Property damage can be replaced over time, but valuable information on computer hard disks and paper files cannot be replaced. These must be returned to their rightful owners without delay.

Israel has instituted a multitude of physical impediments to limit and restrict internal travel within the West Bank, thereby making transportation to and from universities and schools frequently difficult and sometimes impossible; Operation Defensive Shield effectively closed most Palestinian educational institutions for its duration. Since this Operation ceased, reports that we have received from numerous sources indicate that internal travel is considerably more difficult today than it was prior to March 2002. Israel’s policies are effectively preventing many students from attending university and many faculty from reaching their university classrooms and laboratories.

We therefore respectfully request that all computer hard drives and other material confiscated from Palestinian educational facilities be returned promptly, and that property damage done by IDF personnel to Palestinian educational facilities be repaired or compensated for in a timely manner. We also urge that any Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement be strictly limited to imperative and specific reasons of security, and that the government ensure that these restrictions are not excessive in impact or duration. This is essential in order to facilitate the access to educational institutions that is vital to thousands of students, faculty and administrators on the West Bank today.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. 

Respectfully,

Anne H. Betteridge
Executive Director


March 16, 2001

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
3 Kaplan Street
Kiryat Ben Gurion
Jerusalem ISRAEL

Dear Prime Minister Sharon:

The Committee on Academic Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (CAFMENA) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America is writing to protest the serious disruption of higher education in the West Bank and Gaza caused by the Israeli government’s protracted restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement. The government’s “closure” policy appears to constitute a form of collective punishment, forbidden under international humanitarian law. By preventing faculty and students from having access to university campuses and other educational facilities, it also represents a serious violation of academic freedom and the right to education.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) comprises 2700 academics worldwide who teach and conduct research on the Middle East and North Africa, and is the preeminent professional association in the field. The association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies, and is committed to ensuring respect for the principles of academic freedom and the freedom of expression in the region in connection with the study of the Middle East and North Africa.

Under your government, Israel’s closure policy has intensified restrictions in the Ramallah area, with particular impact on Birzeit University. This important institution serves 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students and hosts numerous institutes of research, public policy, and community service. On the night of March 7, Israeli security forces destroyed portions of the only road linking Birzeit University to the city of Ramallah. This was accomplished by digging trenches across the road, destroying approximately 400 meters of asphalted road. According to an official statement of the university, no vehicular traffic, including ambulances or trucks carrying food and other civilian necessities, is able to pass. Most of Birzeit University’s faculty and students live in or near Ramallah, and now have effectively been denied access to the university. The trench digging also resulted in cutting phone lines to the university.

Israel’s stringent restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement have also had the effect of stranding at Birzeit University some 300 students from Gaza. Due to the closure of the West Bank-Gaza “safe passage” in October, they have been unable to return home. In addition, their travel permits, which we understand are issued on a per semester basis, have lapsed and they been unable to renew them. Without updated permits they are unable to return to Gaza or to travel within the West Bank. They can be detained and/or fined for being in the West Bank “illegally,” and they can be forcibly returned to Gaza at the discretion of the authorities.

These policies of collective punishment and destruction of property appear to go beyond any reasonable understanding of military necessity. As such, they are in violation of international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 governing the treatment of civilians in circumstances of military occupation. In this instance, these policies also constitute a serious breach of the principles of academic freedom and the right to education, a breach that would not be tolerated in Israel itself.

We therefore strongly urge your government to take immediate steps to allow for the free movement of students and faculty to and from their homes and respective universities, including travel in the West Bank and passage between the West Bank and Gaza. We also urge the government of Israel to repair the damage done to the Birzeit University access roads and telephone links.

We look forward to your prompt and positive response to this urgent and important matter.

Sincerely,

Anne H. Betteridge
Executive Director



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