A dose of Israel’s own (academic) medicine might help the message sink in
Stuart Littlewood argues that an academic boycott of Israel is now urgent in the light of an Israeli High Court ruling that the Israel occupation forces acted within their rights when they abducted, blindfolded, handcuffed and dumped in Gaza 21-year-old Palestinian student Berlanty Azzam just weeks before she was due to complete her degree at Bethlehem University in the occupied West Bank.
Poor Berlanty. What did she do to deserve this crushing blow to her hopes and life chances?
The Israeli High Court has denied Berlanty Azzam justice – again – and prevented her returning to Bethlehem University for the final few weeks to complete her degree.
On 28 October this Christian student at the Vatican-sponsored Bethlehem University was abducted by the “Israel Defence Forces”, "the world's most moral army”, after attending a job interview in Ramallah, then blindfolded and handcuffed and dumped in Gaza. She had lived in the West Bank since 2005 after being granted a permit.
There was only one kind of permit available in 2005 – an entry permit to Israel. But the Israeli state claimed that this permit was insufficient and Berlanty should have obtained some other permit, even though the state admits that none existed at the time.
State representatives took her permit, a key piece of evidence, and never produced it to the court. After six weeks of double-talk the court accepted the state's claim that Berlanty entered the West Bank illegally. We hear a lot about how independent Israel’s justice system is. Here’s proof, if any were needed, that it is simply a tool of the military.
To avoid accusations that her residence was not Bethlehem, Berlanty had for the last four years resisted the temptation to return to Gaza and visit her folks. She and her parents submitted numerous applications to change the Gaza address recorded on her identity card to her actual place of residence, Bethlehem, but to no avail. Israel controls the Palestinian population registry and refuses to register changes in address from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank – another example of how Gazans are effectively imprisoned.
This, of course, is in breach of her human rights. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are internationally recognized as one integral territory and under international law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within a single territory. In 1999 Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) signed an agreement establishing a 28-mile road corridor giving Palestinians safe passage between the two parts of Palestine – yet another empty gesture.
“We are disappointed that the Israeli military and High Court have interfered with the Church’s educational mission at Bethlehem University by denying Berlanty to be brought back to Bethlehem to complete her studies,” said Brother Peter Bray, the vice chancellor, on hearing the court ruling. “We realize that Berlanty is one of the many people in Gaza who suffer so unjustly.”
Indeed. Since 2000 Israel has implemented a sweeping ban, preventing youngsters from Gaza from studying at Palestinian universities in the West Bank. A 2007 High Court decision determined that students from Gaza wishing to study in the West Bank should be allowed to do so “in cases that would have positive humanitarian implications”.
However, to the best of her legal team’s knowledge, since that judgment was handed down Israel hasn’t issued a single entry permit. Only last summer 12 students from Gaza were refused permits to study at Bethlehem University. Back in the late 1990s, about 1,000 students from Gaza studied in the West Bank, most of them in disciplines that are not offered in the Gaza Strip.
Like Berlanty, an estimated 25,000 people currently living in the West Bank have been declared "illegal" by Israel solely because the address on their identity card is in the Gaza Strip. Some of them have lived in the West Bank for decades but Israel simply does not recognize their right to be there. They are extremely limited in their daily movements and live in fear of being detained and “deported”, just as Berlanty was. Consequently they have very limited opportunities for employment, business and studies. This policy not only breaches Israel’s obligations under international to treat the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a “single territorial entity”, but it also chokes any prospect of healthy development in Palestinian society.
It is no use pretending that things will change – unless other countries give Israel a dose of its own medicine. How does the Berlanty case and the thousands like it sit with the great and the good who piously reject the idea of an academic boycott against Israel?
All political parties fight against such a boycott for muddle-headed reasons. The recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme uncovered the influence of the Israel lobby and its money on the Conservative Party. Another particularly obnoxious group that’s hopelessly out of touch with reality is the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI). At their party's conference they tabled a motion squashing an academic boycott, saying that "Israeli universities are centres of free debate and discussion and that the universities contain Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israelis and Palestinians. Furthermore, a boycott does nothing to resolve a negotiated solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and is indeed counter-productive as it discourages dialogue." This motion against the boycott was passed with an overwhelming majority.
The aim of the Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel is to “maximize support for the State of Israel within the party and Parliament” and “encourage a broad understanding of Israel’s unique political position as the only democracy in the Middle East”.
Their stated purpose is:
- To influence the party’s Middle East policy so it places a high priority on Israel's right to peace and security.
- To provide parliamentarians with briefing material for parliamentary debates, questions to ministers and public appearances.
- To rebut attacks on Israel in the media, Parliament and the party.
- To liaise with Israeli politicians and government.
- To arrange and accompany LDFI delegations to Israel.
- To keep in regular contact with the embassy of Israel.
In other words, they act as a prop within the British Parliament for this racist military regime.
Such blind allegiance and bizarre conduct contribute to the tragedy of Berlanty and countless other Palestinian youngsters. Without these beacons of misplaced support across the Western world lawless Israel would be sunk.