Where’s the Academic Outrage Over the Bombing of a University in Gaza?

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

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

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

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

Those restrictions became international news last summer when Israel refused to grant exit permits to seven carefully vetted students from Gaza who had been awarded Fulbright fellowships by the State Department to study in the United States. After top State Department officials intervened, the students’ scholarships were restored — though Israel allowed only four of the seven to leave, even after appeals by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “It is a welcome victory — for the students,” opined The New York Times, and “for Israel, which should want to see more of Gaza’s young people follow a path of hope and education rather than hopelessness and martyrdom; and for the United States, whose image in the Middle East badly needs burnishing.”

Notwithstanding the importance of the Islamic University, Israel has tried to justify the bombing. An army spokeswoman told The Chronicle that the targeted buildings were used as “a research and development center for Hamas weapons, including Qassam rockets. … One of the structures struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of Hamas’s research-and-development program, as well as places that served as storage facilities for the organization. The development of these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who are activists in Hamas.”

Islamic University officials deny the Israeli allegations. Yet even if there is some merit in them, it is common knowledge that practically all major American and Israeli universities are engaged in research and development of military applications and receive money from the Pentagon and defense corporations. Weapon development and even manufacturing have, unfortunately, become major projects at universities worldwide — a fact that does not justify bombing them.

By launching an attack on Gaza, the Israeli government has once again chosen to adopt strategies of violence that are tragically akin to the ones deployed by Hamas — only the Israeli tactics are much more lethal. How should academics respond to this assault on an institution of higher education? Regardless of one’s stand on the proposed boycott of Israeli universities, anyone so concerned about academic freedom as to put one’s name on a petition should be no less outraged when Israel bombs a Palestinian university. The question, then, is whether the university presidents and professors who signed the various petitions denouncing efforts to boycott Israel will speak out against the destruction of the Islamic University.

* This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Reposted with author permission.

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

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  1. Dr. Edward S. Beck said on December 31st, 2008 at 12:45pm #

    Neve Gordon and Jeff Halper, both Hamas apologists and polemicists with Halper from Ben Gurion University in Beersheva where Hamas rockets have reached, have decided to exercise their right of free speech.

    Unfortunately they are wrong.

    Scholars for Peace in the Middle East released a press release on Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas. We sent out a press release to over 400 news outlets and have it posted at our website http://www.spme.net. We believe this statement covers their concerns and ours. It has been posted at our website since December 28, 2008. When scholars make statements in error, as Gordon and Halper have done, it is important corrections be made.

    So that there is no misunderstanding here is the statement:

    Scholars for Peace in the Middle East supports Israel’s right to live within safe and secure borders at peace with her neighbors and able to recognize their peaceful aspirations.

    Since turning Gaza over to the Palestinian rule two years ago, Israel has suffered nearly 6000 rocket attacks into its internationally-recognized sovereign borders, even during the six-month Hamas initiated-cease fire.Israel has been remarkably patient and restrained, with the understanding of trying to avoid civilian casualties. Israel has even, until now been willing to open checkpoints to allow material goods into Gaza.

    With Hamas’ decision to end the cease fire, accompanied with a sharp increase in the number of rocket attacks launched against her, Israel has been left with no choice but to stop the military aggression initiated by Hamas aimed at southern Israeli cities such as Sderot, Askelon and Beersheeva.

    The intent of the Hamas rocket attacks is to drive Israelis out of Israel.

    The intent of the Israeli preventative strikes this weekend against military targets in Gaza is to put an end to Hamas’ unacceptable deadly ongoing relentless violence against Israeli citizens.

    Contrary to Geneva rules of engagement, Hamas insists on using human shields by hiding their deadly military centers in civilian populated areas making civilian casualties unavoidable.

    Israel has made it absolutely clear that when the rockets from Gaza and other deadly incitements against Israel cease, there will be no need for these necessary acts of self protection.

    Adopted by the SPME Board of Directors, December 28, 2008.

    For Further information contact:

    Edward S. Beck, SPME President Emeritus, SPME 717.576.5038 moc.loanull@ecaeprofsralohcs or,
    Peter Haas, SPME Vice President for External Relations, ude.esacnull@saah.retep or,
    Judith Jacobson, SPME Vice President for Internal Relations, ude.aibmulocnull@4jsj

    Dr. Edward S. Beck
    President Emeritus
    Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

  2. mary said on January 1st, 2009 at 1:47am #

    Isn’t it ironic that the word ‘philistine’ is used derisively to describe someone who is deficient in learning or who places no value on its acquisition, yet this fine University is located in the historical place from which the word originated, Philistia. The Palestinians are a people who have always placed great value on the possesssion of knowledge and upon acquiring an education and in the time before Al Nakba, their educators were sought after by other Middle Eastern countries to advise on the setting up of schools and colleges and to teach in them. I heard this at a meeting in London at SOAS where Prof Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy and Dr Karma Nabulsi spoke. Dr Nabulsi is the Oxford University Lecturer in International Relations, Fellow in Politics, St Edmund Hall and was the PLO representative at the UN between 1977 and 1990. She described the effects that the Occupation has had on the Palestinian education system in this report.

    ‘She stressed the importance of ‘not giving up’ the struggle. Since statistics are important in reminding us why we participate in activism for Palestine, she ran through a list of statistics to highlight the effects that Occupation has on education:
    30% of Gaza students do not have textbooks due to Israeli restrictions on printing paper.
    346 students are incarcerated in Israeli prisons. Political incarcerations in including the president of Birzeit student union, they are imprisoned with no charges bring brough against them.
    57% of Al-Najah university students need to cross checkpoints to get to university, and some cannot even get to their Jenin campus.
    9% have missed classes due to the checkpoints.
    84% prefer to avoid travel.
    64% have been physically abused at checkpoints.
    Nearly 100% feel angry and nervous at checkpoints.
    The ’security wall’ runs through the Abu Dis campus.
    Since 2004 Gaza students have been prevented from studying in West Bank universities which is quite serious since not all courses are offered in Gaza universities.
    Gazan students who received places in Israeli universities are prevented from taking up said places.
    Studying abroad is often the only choice, but they cannot take up these places since they are prevented from leaving Gaza.
    The denial of education is directly causing the decline in the skills base which is serious for Palestinian economy. Dr Nabulsi then went through the history of education in Palestine, and how the Palestinians were instrumental in introducing modern education to the rest of the Arab world. The decline of their education system has resulted in a sense of isolation resulting in boredom and frustration.’

    One of the current Professors at the Gaza University, Dr Akram Habeeb, also writes about the wanton and cruel destruction of this building here. http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10069.shtml

    The Israelis must learn that although they might have the power and the weaponry to destroy buildings and to kill, they cannot destroy minds. Barbaric action by a state that has no humanity.

  3. Shabnam said on January 1st, 2009 at 6:29am #


    Thank you very much for your information. Palestinians were famous as the most educated amongst Arabs. Unfortunately, the imperialists and the Zionists forces have done everything to destroy the Arab world to wipe the Islamic civilization off the map. They usually go after the educated force to destroy these countries human capital so they can compromise their development. Many university professors have been killed in Iraq for no reason. Women literacy in Iraq where was over 80 percent during Saddam has gone down to 34%, according to an Iraqi woman lecturer, and yet the war criminals claim we want to improve women status in the Islamic world. This is a LIE known to everyone EXCEPT THE FOOLS. The brutal west has brought us nothing but DESTRUCTION. The occupiers must get out as soon as possible.

  4. bozh said on January 1st, 2009 at 6:48am #

    edward s beck,
    speaks of isr’s right to live within its safe and secure borders but ‘forgets’ or finds it of no significance to say that isr has no borders.

    that statement implies following:
    that pals do not have the right to live in peace inside their own borders declared by pals and the UN.

    that pals don’t deserve to live inside any borders or only the borders that isr/euro/US want them to have; namely, none at this time.

    it implies that isr is totally right and pals totally wrong.

    it implies how gentle nonshemites r and how unruly/viles shemites are.

    it tacitly posits the notion that euros w. judaic faith had the right to invade palestine; drive out shemites by warfare/terror, etc.

    yet, the truth is, the land stealers r not at all semitic but genetically god knows what; thus have no right to an inch of the shemitic lands.

    and one day, it’l com to pass. thnx

  5. mary said on January 1st, 2009 at 6:59am #

    “Missiles Took Away a Piece of Me”
    Ola Attallah, Islam on Line Correspondent

    The students’ feelings about the destruction of their University and its effect upon their studies and researches are reported in this article. Are they too tainted by the smear of some association with Hamas?

    I hear that overnight the Parliament buildings and the Justice Ministry have been bombed so I ask if any Palestinian government buildings are going to be left standing and how and where are the Palestinians supposed to function when this madness stops.

  6. George said on January 1st, 2009 at 9:45am #

    Zionist polemicists like Mr. Edward Beck need to address facts and reality, not Zionist hasbara (Hebrew for propganda). He and his ilk would make Goebbels proud.

    “The intent of the Hamas rocket attacks is to drive Israelis out of Israel.” You mean like the way the Zionists drove the Palestinians out of Palestine? Or are only Zionists allowed to ethnically cleanse conquered lands?

    “Since turning Gaza over to the Palestinian rule two years ago…” No, Israel retained control over borders, air space, transit, and all the other indicia of sovereignty. And NEVER relaxed the blockade.

    “Israel has been remarkably patient and restrained, with the understanding of trying to avoid civilian casualties.” The same way the SS was remarkably restrained with the Warsaw Ghetto. If Israel is so restrained, why have there been so many? Israel’s clumsy rationalizations of deliberately heavy civilian casualties in the past show this latest attempt to be a total fraud.

    “With Hamas’ decision to end the cease fire…” NO, Israel ended it by never carrying out its end of the bargain. Hamas stopped the rockets. Israel never ended its blockade and strangulation of Gazauschwitz.

    “Contrary to Geneva rules of engagement, Hamas insists on using human shields by hiding their deadly military centers in civilian populated areas making civilian casualties unavoidable.” NO, Israel has been caught using Palestinians as human shields. On Israeli TV, no less! Israel accusations of this sort have always been proven false. Now, again, we see the same fraudulent lies. All of Gazauschwitz is heavily urbanized. If Hamas had un-populated areas from which to launch rocket attacks, they would. Except that Israel has stolen all of them.

    “Israel has made it absolutely clear that when the rockets from Gaza and other deadly incitements against Israel cease, there will be no need for these necessary acts of self protection.” Just the way the Final Solution was self defense. Israel stole their land and now whines that the Palestinians actually have the chutzpah to want it back! How insolent of these Untermenschen!

    SPME is part and parcel of The Israel Lobby. It is a fraud and its members aid and abet war crimes. They are intellectual frauds. Their name should be Frauds for Zionist Hegemony.

  7. Tree said on January 1st, 2009 at 12:52pm #

    “…have decided to exercise their right of free speech.”
    Why do I get the feeling that doesn’t happen very often in your part of the world, Dr. Beck?”

    Can’t say I give a flip about what academics support or don’t support, they all seem so impotent to me, but at least Gordon and Halper had the guts to speak out against Israel.
    Goodbye tenure…

  8. Max Shields said on January 1st, 2009 at 3:01pm #

    “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Dr. Martin Luther King

  9. Michael Kenny said on January 2nd, 2009 at 12:29pm #

    “Where’s the outrage”, screams the title of this article, and that theme has underlain many articles on this subject, criticising this or that group or country for failing to denounce Israel’s antics. But the one group which has remained almost totally aloof from the protests, and whom nobody has criticised for it, is the most important one, in whose name all of this is supposedly being done: the Jews.

    There are about 13 million Jews in the world, 6 million in the US (including 10% of the population of NYC), 5 million in Israel and 2 and a bit in the rest of the world (750 000 in Russia, 600 000 in France …). Many disapprove of Israel’s action, we are told. I’m perfectly willing to believe it, but it’s a good thing we were told because otherwise, we would never have known! A few individual Jews have written articles of protest on this and similar websites but there is no sign whatsoever, anywhere in the world, of any sort of mass protest by Jews or Jewish organisations. Nothing could more symbolise Israel’s moral bankruptcy than that its supporters should feel the need to intimidate their fellow Jews into complicit silence.

  10. Max Shields said on January 2nd, 2009 at 1:27pm #

    Michael Kenny

    Yes, we also hear how in the Israeli media and Knesset there is heated debate, the likes of which is not heard in the US.

    This appears to be more meaningless talk about the “openness” of Israel’s voices and their peace activists. Whatever exists are much as here, marginalized and basically token voices.

    “Heated” debates and are Israel does is launch one human catastrophe after another. What heated debates – the ones where war always wins is NO debate at all.

    We suffer from the same Grand Illusion in Amerika. People, so-called progressives, write love letter agendas to santa claus, aka Barak Obama telling he about their wish list for peace. They ask for US military bases in the US to be converted to housing for the poor. They ask that he eliminate the military machine and the war and the empire that we’ve “become”

    This foolish naive nincumpoops are worse than the power, they are jackasses waiting to be kicked in the ass, providing the power structure with its front to continue…tone deaf. This is the same in the parasite nation called Israel. They yell and scream in their Knasset before the genocidally bomb and destroy the lives of children and civilians.

    Some, “heated” debate. The only thing worse then the maniacs that produce war and destruction, are the complicit peaceniks that have NEVER on god’s Earth stopped ONE f^cking war. NEVER!

  11. Shabnam said on January 2nd, 2009 at 1:51pm #

    Alarabiya news reported:

    “Israelis are massively backing their army’s blitz on Hamas, despite the threat of more casualties and the soaring Palestinian toll.”

    “A poll published on Friday — the seventh day of the offensive — showed that some 95 percent of Israel’s Jewish population supports the bombardment of Hamas.”

  12. mary said on January 25th, 2009 at 2:17pm #

    My brother received this appeal from his friend the Dean of UCAS in Gaza. You can see that the cost of repairing just one institution is $690,000. The message was on a pdf and included a set of photos, a bizarre kind of before and after, ie buildings turned to rubble. He uses the word ‘barbaric’ correctly to describe the attacks.

    Damages to University College of Applied Sciences
    January 24, 2009

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    Greetings from the University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS) in Gaza. As you may know, the Gaza Strip was bombarded by thousands of tons of Israeli bombs from air, sea, and land for more than 20 days. The bombs resulted in a devastating damage to thousands of homes and buildings throughout the Gaza Strip.

    UCAS, the largest college of its kind in Palestine, was one of the educational institutions that suffered during this attack. The College was shelled several times during the multiple Israeli incursions to the College’s neighborhood. This resulted in partial and total damage to classrooms, labs, offices, facades, etc. The initial estimate of our losses due to the barbaric attack on our College is about $690,000.
    The College family: students, faculty, and staff are calling upon your generous donations to contribute to the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the College.

    Please feel free to contact us for further information and details.

    Dean Yahya R. Sarraj, Ph.D.
    The University College of Applied Sciences

    Life in Gaza did not stop when the first Israeli missile hit Gaza City on Dec. 27th, 2008. As the smoke of bombs was finally disappearing, Gazans discovered the harsh reality of the widespread destruction of houses, schools, universities, hospitals, worship places, among other civil infrastructure in Gaza.

    Like other Palestinian institutions in Gaza, the University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS) could not escape the Israeli machine of destruction. The Israeli forces need no excuse to hit the largest college providing technical and vocational education in Palestine. The barbaric attack on the College resulted in partial and total damage to our classrooms, labs, offices, equipment, and building facades and walls throughout our main campus. The initial estimate of our losses is about $690,000.

    The College family: students, faculty, and staff are calling upon your assistance and generous donations to contribute to the rehabilitation and rebuilding of the College.

    The University College of Applied Sciences (UCAS) in Gaza, which until recently was known as the Community College of Applied Science and Technology (CCAST), is the largest college of its kind in Palestine, whether in terms of number of enrolled students or programs of study it offers to those students. The College is the proud winner of the 2007 International Palestine Award for Excellence and Creativity, an honor awarded by the Palestinian President.

    UCAS enrolls approximately 7,000 students and offers associate degrees in more than 40 different academic programs and just starting to offer bachelor degrees in a few distinguished programs. Our students enjoy a well-equipped campus, especially for students with disabilities. Our mission is to provide the various sectors in Palestine with its needs for highly-qualified and skillful professionals, mainly in technology and applied science fields. The College awards its associate degree to about 1,200 graduates every year. Many of these graduates find jobs in the local and regional job markets shortly afterwards.

    Though our College was not directly bombarded by the Israeli Jetfighters, UCAS was shelled several times during the multiple Israeli incursions to the College’s neighborhood. This resulted in partial and total damages to classrooms, labs, offices, facades, etc.

    The following table details the damages and summarizes the costs for fixing these damages:

    Item Estimated Costs in US Dollars
    Concrete Works $20,000
    Finishing (stone, plastering, floors, tiling, painting) Works $123,000
    Doors, Window, and False Ceiling and Partition Works $103,000 Electrical Works $25,000
    Sanitary and Mechanical Works $72,000
    Miscellaneous Works $87,000
    Furniture and Equipments $165,000
    Animation and Cartoon Production Unit $65,000
    Other Unforeseen Works $30,000

    Total $690,000

    P. O. Box 1415
    Remal, Gaza, Palestine
    Tel: +970 8 286 8999
    Fax: +970 8 284 7404
    Email: sp.ude.sacunull@ofni
    URL: http://www.ucas.edu.ps