Israeli Apartheid Week: packed conference at al-Quds University calls for academic boycott
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Israeli Apartheid Week: packed conference at al-Quds University calls for academic boycott

This year for the first time students in Palestine joined the Israeli Apartheid Week. The main conference was organized by activists within the al-Quds University in Jerusalem on Monday the 11th of February. A panel of academics campaigning for boycott were invited to address the students and university staff.

The hall was fully packed showing the great interest of both staff and students in the academic boycott as a way to resist Israeli apartheid. Gabi Baramki, former president of Birzeit University and Islah Jad, assistant professor of gender and development at Birzeit university and active member of PACBI (Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott Initiative) talked about the motivations and potential for academic boycott as a powerful tool in the Palestinian struggle. They addressed both the national and international dimension of the debate.

Opposing normalization in al-Quds University

The venue of the debate, al-Quds University in Jerusalem, has given the discussions a particular angle. While all other Palestinian universities generally refuse cooperation and normalization projects, the administration of al-Quds university has tied the campus financially and politically to normalization projects, in particular with Hebrew university, the Israeli university built in East Jerusalem. Bringing the debate on campus was in itself a success.

“Some of the professors and staff were not happy about what we had to say, but I think most of the people agreed on academic boycott“ commented Dr. Gabi Baramki, “and we know that 70 % of the staff and students are in favour of academic boycott.” Yet the way towards a complete rejection of normalisation projects with Israeli universities will still involve a strong battle within the university that must be taken up by students and the staff.

Expect other countries to follow

The strategy of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) has emerged as one of the key ways for Palestinians to resisting the Occupation’s apartheid while at the same time mobilizing international solidarity. Baramki challenged academics all over the world: “I also expect other countries to take the same stand as they did against South Africa. They can not close their eyes and do business as usual with a country that is committing crimes and is occuping another people. They are expropriating land, stealing our resources and killing our people, day by day. It is unacceptable. Internationals say that they feel concerned about the situation, and yet, as long as they seem to be breathing normally, how big is their concern?”

The academic boycott is, however, gaining steadily more support. Successes, both large and small, were highlighted and Baramki encouraged students and staff that “support is picking up. We have had more success with our ideas this year than earlier years, especially in England.” The growing mobilization and media attention around the Israeli Apartheid Week is surely another indicator that support is growing.

The closures made it impossible

***image2***The conference in al-Quds University was supposed to be one of three actions during the Israeli Apartheid Week in Palestine. Events should have been held as well in Tulkarem and Qalqiliya universities and colleges. Yet they were unable to go through with their arrangements because of the closures imposed by the Occupation forces on the cities of Tulkarm and Qalqiliya.

Both cities had been completely cut off from the rest of the West Bank for the whole of last week. Qalqiliya’s only entrance was closed and Occupation forces created nightmarish conditions at the checkpoints isolating Tulkarem. The entire attack on the area climaxed on Thursday when hundreds of people were forced to wait in the cold and pouring rain in front of each of the checkpoints towards Tulkarem from the morning until late in the evening. The closure resulted in the death of Fawziya Qabb, a Palestinian woman, when Occupation soldiers refused to let her ambulance travel to the hospital.

The majority of students live outside the city, and students and professors alike were unable to reach their campuses. Exams had to be cancelled and postponed. Mass action became impossible. Only a small activist meeting in Tulkarem was held with the local students. Activists considered the week’s global activities and the group discussed future plans.

“We knew that curfews and road blocks could make it difficult for us to go through with our demonstrations and conferences, but I am disapointed that only al-Quds was able to hold their conference”, says Mohammad Ethman, youth coordinator of the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign who had been mobilizing for the Israeli Apartheid Week within the West Bank universities. “Now we are just satisfied that so many of our international solidarity organisations are putting it on their agenda. It is very important to us that we are not alone in this struggle.” Universities in over 25 cities all over the world joined in this week against Israeli apartheid.

The Israeli Apartheid Week in Palestine drew great interest from both national and international media. Several Palestinian radio stations and websites reported on the week’s activities. Palestinian students had the chance to talk to international media outlets in the UK and Morocco that called to listen to their voice.