Broad assault on education systems in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert                                                           The Honorable Condoleezza Rice

3 Kaplan Street                                                                                Secretary of State
Kiryat Ben Gurion                                                                           U.S. Dept. of State
Jerusalem, Israel                                                                              2201 C Street NW
Fax: +972-2-566-4838                                                                    Washington, DC 20520

       +972-2-629-6014                                                                      Fax: 202-647-2283

Minister of Defense Amir Peretz                                                     Mr. Elliott Abrams

Jerusalem, Israel                                                                               Deputy Assistant to the President and

Fax: +972-3-696-2757                                                                      Deputy National Security Advisor for

+972-3-691-6940                                                                              Global Democracy Strategy

+972-3-691-7915                                                                              Fax:  202-835-9066


President George W. Bush                                                               The Honorable Richard H. Jones

President of the United States                                                          United States Ambassador to Israel

The White House                                                                              71 Hayarkon St.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW                                                       Tel Aviv, Israel
Washington, DC 20500 


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.


Zachary Lockman




President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian National Authority
Fax: +972-08-282-5856


Colonel Muhammad Dahlan
Head of Preventive Security Service
Fax: +972-7-825-425


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