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Should we consider a boycott of Israeli academic institutions? Yes

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39266.495567.AD (Published 19 July 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:124

Rapid Response:

The case for an academic (and wider) boycott of Israel

In June this year we reached a milestone: 40 years ago Israel
occupied East-Jerusalem, the Westbank and the Gaza Strip and started a
process of creating facts on the ground in the form of illegal and
relentless colonization of Palestinian territory. The Oslo Agreement,
which was supposed to lead to the formation of a viable Palestinian state,
had little impact on this. In fact, during the 'peace process' the number
of colonists in occupied territory rose faster than ever. Nowadays more
than 450.000 Jewish settlers continue to encroach on Palestinian land.
Violent settlers terrorize Palestinian farmers and wreak destruction in
their olive groves.

The building of the separation wall, supposedly for security reasons,
in many places deep in Palestinian territory, resulted in another
landgrab.
Jewish only roads see to it that the colonies are connected with each
other and with Israel within the Green Line, but they bypass and exclude
Palestinian communities. At the same time the system of military
roadblocks in Palestine is designed to suffocate the Palestinian economy
and a normal functioning of Palestinian society.

A system like this cannot exist without widespread repression and
violations of human rights, international law (the Geneva Conventions) and
UN resolutions.
Whilst Jewish settlers are judged by Israeli common law, the Palestinians
are judged by military courts and emergency laws from the Mandate era and
more than 10.000 Palestinians languish in Israeli jails, many under
administrative detention. The occupation affects every aspect of
Palestinian life.
I am a frequent visitor to Palestine and Israel and go there annually
since the last 5 years. Every year it gets worse.

Israel may say in public that it wants peace, but the facts on the
ground tell a different story and that is, that Israel is more interested
in land than peace. In essence, what it wants is maximum Palestinian land
and minimum Palestinians.
There is a set of policies in operation to discourage Palestinians from
hanging on to their land (denying Palestinians building permits is but one
example). It is a silent form of ethnic cleansing. The process that
started in 1948 has never stopped.

Israel had 40 years to prove its good will. It is found wanting and
now is the time to act.

I have stopped buying Israeli goods for quite a few years now, but we
need to consider broadening the boycott to include academia as well.

Why is an academic boycott appropriate?
Tom Hickey has already supplied a number of reasons. I want to add to
that.

Israeli academics - the Arabists, psychologists, sociologists,
anthropologists, political scientists, military engineers etc. are
involved in creating and maintaining the matrix of control over the
occupied Palestinian population.
The academics - apart from doing their normal military service - do
reserve duty every year and that often involves being part of the
repressive machinery in the Occupied Territories.

And then there is the issue of the lack of academic freedom enjoyed
by Palestinians. Palestinian students from the Gaza Strip are forbidden to
access the institutes of higher learning in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and
Nablyus and are therefore denied basic academic freedoms. The Palestinian
universities are frequently the target of closures and the suffocating
network of military roadblocks makes normal academic life frequently
impossible.

As a medical doctor I recently signed together with my wife, A&E
consultant Dr Pauline Cutting, the petition to call for a boycott of the
Israel Medical Association.
The IMA in my opinion has breached a moral code by refusing to condemn in
principle the torture of Palestinian prisoners, sanctioned by the Landau
Commission.
It refuses to protest against the callous treatment of ill persons and
pregnant women at military roadblocks, where Palestinian women are all too
often forced to give birth rather than in hospital.

Unfortunately the silence of the IMA and the rest of academia, their
unwillingness to act as regards the situation in the Occupied Territories
speaks for itself. Less than 5% of the academic community courageously
speaks out against the occupation. The rest sides with the Israeli
establishment and goes along with State policy.
I can therefore only conclude that in my opinion there is a definite case
for an academic boycott.

How long should it last? Our Palestinian colleagues have asked for
this boycott and if they have come to the conclusion that Israel has made
a significant U-turn then we will follow their lead.

On a personal note: I think that the two state solution is no longer
possible. Israel's occupation has become too entrenched to reverse. The
Palestinians will rightly refuse to accept some truncated state in the
fashion of the Bantustans and Israel refuses adamantly to retreat to the
1949 Armistice line. There are more and more voices on the Palestinian
side heard that say: allright, you want the land, annex us. But we will
demand to become equal citizens in your state. They will join up with
those Palestinians, who stayed put in 1948 and later became Israeli
citizens. These Palestinian Israelis are involved in a long struggle for
equal civil rights.

Only a few days ago the Knesseth passed the first reading of a bill
which excludes non-Jewish Israelis from leasing state land administered by
the Jewish National Fund. This bill is widely seen as discriminatory and
even racist. It is not the first piece of discriminatory legislation.
There is in fact a clear process of South Africanisation in
Israel/Palestine. Occupation is the central issue, but not the only one.
Fundamentally this whole issue is about equality between Jews and non-
Jews.

There are many good people in Israel, who are acutely aware of the
historical injustice that has been inflicted on the Palestinian people.
They are our allies. We do not want to hurt them.
But if Western governments refuse to act to exert meaningful pressure on
the State of Israel to end the occupation of Palestine, it is we the
people who need to take action.

I boycotted Outspan many years ago. Now I enjoy oranges from South
Africa and boycott Jaffa. I hope the time will come that I will enjoy
Jaffa oranges again and have tea and cordial relations with my colleagues
from the Israel Medical Association.

Competing interests:
I have worked as a health care worker in Palestinian refugee communities and in the near future I would love to get involved with the Palestine medical school in Jerusalem/Nablus, teaching general practice to the medical students

Competing interests: No competing interests

25 July 2007
Ben Alofs
GP Principal
Gaerwen LL60 6AH, Ynys Mon, North Wales, UK
Meddygfa Star Surgery