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How Israeli universities aid and advance Zionist entity’s settler-colonial project

By Humaira Ahad

Jabir Abu Hatim, a third-year student in agricultural sciences at the Hebrew University, has been taking anti-depressants for the last few years.

The 20-year-old was one of the very few Arabs who got admission to an Israeli university.  The university acceptance, however, proved a nightmare for him as he was not allowed to study courses of his choice.

Abu Hatim was forced to opt for subjects he had no interest in. His hardship didn’t end there.

The young Palestinian became a victim of discrimination on the campus. Shoddy and prejudiced treatment from his professors and university administration greatly impacted his psychological health, forcing him to confine himself to his room and avoid social circles.

According to a 2017 report, about half of the Arab university students accepted into Israeli universities reported racism and discrimination, and some 40 percent said racist comments came from the faculty.

Israeli universities “are a central pillar of Israel’s regime of oppression against Palestinians,” Maya Wind writes in her book Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom.

The Israeli regime was created through massacres and violent expulsion of Palestinians from their native land. The institutions created by the Zionist entity have worked to push the settler-colonial project of depopulating the land of Palestinians and bringing in outsiders.

Wind, a Jewish Israeli scholar says Israeli universities directly constrain Palestinian rights by supporting and even developing the policies of occupation and apartheid used by the Israeli regime.

According to Wind, these universities train soldiers to create target banks in Gaza.

“And they are, in fact, actually granting university course credit to reserve soldiers returning from Gaza to their classrooms,” she noted, making these universities deeply complicit in the genocide in Gaza.

Israeli universities- tools of settler colonialism

Hebrew University, which was founded in 1918, played a significant role in establishing and promoting the Zionist identity. Built at Mount Scopus in the northeast of the occupied Jerusalem al-Quds, the university worked as a strategic outpost to occupy the historic city.

Frank Mears, one of the master designers of the Hebrew University wrote in a letter that it is the responsibility of the Zionists and the Hebrew University to build a campus atop Mount Scopus that would symbolize the “New Jerusalem upon the hill”.

“After visiting several universities in Israel (occupied territories), I found the history and campus of Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in occupied Jerusalem to be a great example of how higher education institutions became complicit in the Israeli settler-colonial project,” writes Somdeep Sen, associate professor of international development studies at Roskilde University, Denmark.

The Technion (1925) in Haifa and the Weizmann Institute (1934) in Rehovot were used to advance the Zionist plans of drawing Palestinians out of their land.

Weizmann Institute, built on the ruins of the Palestinian village Zarnuqa, was depopulated by the Givati Brigade, a Zionist militia group. The regime later rechristened the village as Rehovot.

In the lead-up to Nakbathese, “scientific and technological institutes” played a significant role in the mass exodus of Palestinians in 1948.

Haganah, the terror militia, established the ‘Science Corps” in all three universities, opening bases on all three campuses to research and refine the military capabilities” of Zionist militias.

The teaching staff and students helped in the production of arms and biological weapons. These weapons were used by the Zionist groups to massacre Palestinians.

Science Corps later merged into Israel’s ministry of war and also led to the creation of the regime’s leading weapons manufacturers, including Rafael and Israeli Aerospace Industries.

As per reports, Technion University, in cooperation with Elbit, one of Israel's largest arms companies, implemented the apartheid wall and surveillance technology on Palestinians.

Universities as strategic Zionist outposts

By design, Israeli universities were built as strategic regional outposts for pushing Palestinians out of their ancestral homes and expanding Zionist settlements.

In the guise of expanding its campus, Hebrew University occupied Palestinian lands in Sheikh Badr or Issawiyeh and East Jerusalem.

During the Nakba, the Palestinian population of al-Khureiba was forcibly displaced by Zionist forces and the sub-district was occupied by the University of Haifa.

Ben-Gurion University (1969) was established with the sole purpose of occupying the Negev desert. The desert that stretches over an area of 14,000 kilometers in the southern regions of the occupied Palestinian territories borders Jordan in the east and the Sinai Desert in the west.

Falsely promoting the idea of development of the Negev desert through the university, the regime has been targeting the Palestinian Bedouins of the region shrinking their access to the ancestral land and extending its Zionist occupation in the area.

Ariel University, which started as a college related to Bar Ilan University, became an Israeli regime-affiliated official university in 2012. The university was formed in the occupied Palestinian villages of KIfl Hares and Marda, providing way for the establishment of settler colonies in the occupied West Bank.

The university dates back to 1978 when a colony was established in the aftermath of the Camp David agreement between Egypt and the Israeli regime.

The colony started on 1000 square meters which was grabbed from the Palestinians from Salfit City and Marda village to later seize 13.7 km. The university now comprises a college, a number of factories, hotels and residential blocs.

The borders of the colony are four times the size of its built-up area, paving the way for future settlement expansions. Ariel is the third biggest colony in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in terms of size and number of colonists.

Aerial “transformed…Israeli public perception from an illegal and heavily militarized settlement to a suburb of Tel Aviv. The institution confers degrees as a means of expanding Israeli sovereignty and advancing the annexation of the OPT (occupied Palestinian territories),” writes Wind in her book.

Israel’s Scholasticide

The regime has not stopped using its universities for forwarding the settler colonial agenda but has been working systematically to destroy the Palestinian education system, considering it as a threat to its illegitimate existence.

Palestine’s commitment to education is a significant part of its identity. The resilience of Palestinians is showcased by the country’s incredibly high literacy rate, which stands at 97.7 percent.

"The role and power of education in an occupied society is enormous. Education posits possibilities and opens horizons. Freedom of thought contrasts sharply with the apartheid wall, the shackling checkpoints, the choking prisons," says Dr Karma Nabulsi, a professor who coined the term “scholasticide” in 2009.

The term denotes the systematic destruction of centers of education precious to Palestinian society by the apartheid Israeli regime forces.

According to the Scholars Against the War on Palestine (SAWP) findings, Israel has bombed all of Gaza’s 11 universities since it launched its genocidal war on the besieged strip on October 7.

At least twelve libraries were also razed to the ground by Israeli airstrikes. SAWP says that this eradication fits the description of scholasticide.

On Tuesday, in a new report, Gaza’s Ministry of Education said around 5,881 Palestinian students have been killed and 9,899 others have been injured since October 7.

According to the ministry, over 5,826 students have been killed and 9,570 others injured in Gaza, while in the occupied West Bank, at least 55 students have been killed and 329 others injured.

A total of 264 teachers and school administrators are also among those killed in Gaza, while 286 government schools and 65 UN schools have also been partially or destroyed in Israeli airstrikes.

Targeting educational infrastructure

Israel’s policy of scholasticide has continued over the years. In 2009, Israel bombed Gaza’s ministry of education, destroyed the infrastructure, and demolished many schools across the besieged strip.

As per a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Israeli forces and Zionist settlers launched an average of 10 attacks per month on the occupied West Bank kindergartens and school students, staff and facilities between January 2018 and June 2020.

“Over the span of 30 months, 296 attacks against education by Israeli forces or settlers and settlement private security guards took place during 235 separate incidents.”

The regime has also been targeting Palestinian intellectuals and academics in an attempt to muzzle the voice of resistance. The Israeli army has killed 94 academics, along with hundreds of teachers and thousands of students, since October 7, according to reports.

According to Euro-Med Monitor, a Geneva-based human rights group, the Israeli army has been intentionally targeting academic, scientific, and intellectual figures in the coastal territory.

One of them was Refaat al Araeer, a Palestinian poet, writer, professor, and activist, who was killed on December 7 in an Israeli airstrike in Al Shujaiya, a district in southern Gaza.

Al Araeer was a distinguished professor of world and comparative literature and also taught creative writing at the Islamic University of Gaza.

Just two days before his brutal murder, Al Araeer penned a tribute to the Palestinian resistance.

"More horrific Israeli bombardments…We could die this dawn. I wish I were a freedom fighter so I die fighting back against those invading Israeli genocidal maniacs invading my neighborhood and my city."

Over the years, Israeli universities have been directly complicit in implementing the racist and genocidal policies of the Tel Aviv regime, which assumed the ugliest form after October 7.

Wind believes that Israeli universities are complicit in the ongoing war, marking a new stage of scholasticide. The universities are enlisting their institutes, resources, and courses for the regime’s obnoxious propaganda.

“They are crafting legal scholarship to shield Israel from accountability for its war crimes. They are training soldiers and developing weapons for the Israeli military. Every day, Israeli universities make this genocide possible,” she asserted.

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