The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association of North America condemns the ongoing and intensified Israeli government assault on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip and those who are Israeli citizens.
During May 7–20, 2021, Israeli military attacks on the occupied Gaza Strip damaged at least 51 educational facilities, including 2 kindergartens, 46 schools, 1 university, 1 vocational training center, and 1 Ministry of Education facility—among other vital infrastructure. Israeli air strikes and tank shells directly hit a number of these buildings. The deadly conditions created by the Israeli military attacks in Gaza forced all schools to remain closed for at least five days after the end of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, affecting the lives and access to education of 591,685 students. In addition, Israeli military strikes internally displaced at least 66,000 Palestinians who then sought refuge in 58 schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), causing further disruptions to the population’s education–indeed, to their lives.
During the same period in the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces escalated the harassment of Palestinians passing through military checkpoints. In addition, Israeli settlers persisted in their systematic intimidation and attacks against Palestinians. Both dynamics severely constrain the movement of Palestinian teachers and students, among others. Furthermore, Palestinian protestors, many of them students and teachers, were met with violence and military detention by Israeli forces. In response, and to avoid further targeting of Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education in the West Bank closed schools on May 16–17, and maintained school closures in select areas—particularly Hebron, the central West Bank, and elsewhere—further compromising the education of Palestinians.
Inside Israel, racial violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel has endangered lives and disrupted access to education. At the same time, Israeli police and officials have done little to nothing to protect these Palestinians despite flagrant public incitement against them. At Haifa University, a Palestinian student has been referred to the disciplinary council for raising the Palestinian flag. At Tel Aviv University, a group of Jewish Israelis attacked 4 Palestinian students just outside of the campus, while a different group assaulted another Palestinian student inside. At Ben Gurion University, campus security attacked a Palestinian student protest and detained 4 participants.
The Israeli government's attacks on Palestinians’ right to education and academic freedom have a long history, the last thirty years of which has been amply documented by the 98 letters addressed to Israeli authorities by MESA's Committee on Academic Freedom (established in 1990). MESA is not alone in this regard: Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organizations have regularly decried instances of the Israeli government’s violation of Palestinians’ right to education and academic freedom.
There is little doubt that successive Israeli governments across the political spectrum have carried out a decades-long attack on Palestinian students, teachers, and educational facilities. Indeed, this attack is part of a broader political, administrative, and legal system of racial discrimination and domination—regularly enforced through violence—that has defined the Israeli government's treatment of the Palestinian people. And, as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch have found, the Israeli government’s purposeful and systematic privileging of Jewish Israelis while dominating and oppressing the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid.
As the leadership of a scholarly association that promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples, and defends academic freedom, we declare our support for Palestinian liberation. We recognize that there can be neither academic freedom for Palestinians nor their full enjoyment of the right to education so long as racism and apartheid undergird the logic of Israeli rule over Palestinian lives.
The following ACLS Member Societies and MESA Affiliates have signed on to this statement:
American Comparative Literature Association
Arab American Studies Association
Association for Middle East Anthropology
Association for Middle East Women's Studies
Lebanese Studies Association
Middle East Medievalists
Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association