Israel bombed all universities in Gaza. Academic boycott now

Israel bombed all universities in Gaza. We need an academic boycott now.
7 min read

Samar Saeed

08 February, 2024
Israel's 'scholasticide' is central to its colonial project, because education is at the heart of Palestinian resistance and liberation, writes Samar Saeed.
Now is the time for academic institutions and scholars to urge their universities to sever ties with Israeli institutions implicated in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, writes Samar Saeed. [Getty]

Last month, hundreds of millions of students around the world returned to their universities and schools after winter break. This was not the case for Palestinians in Gaza.

Over the past 125 days, Israel has bombed every single university in Gaza and 370 schools. On 6 November 2023, Gaza’s Ministry of Education suspended the 2023-2024 school year due to Israel’s aggression and indiscriminate bombing of schools and other facilities.

This is not the first time that Israel robs Palestinian in Gaza of their right to learn by destroying sites of knowledge and assassinating educators and students.

Palestinian scholar and Oxford University professor Karma Nabulsi coined the term “scholasticide” in reference to Israel’s intentional and systematic destruction of Palestinian educational infrastructure.

“Now in Gaza," she said, "we see the policy more clearly than ever – this 'scholasticide'. The Israelis…know how important education is to the Palestinian tradition and the Palestinian revolution. They cannot abide by it and have to destroy it." Professor Nabulsi said this in 2009.

Today, 15 years later, images and videos emerging from Gaza documenting obliterated universities and assassinated professors and students by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have shocked witnesses across the globe.

Despite the current unparalleled magnitude of death and destruction, the assault on Palestinian education, which encompasses universities, colleges, libraries, and archives, has always been central to Israel's colonial project in Palestine.

Over several decades, Palestinians in Gaza have experienced a systematic erosion of their educational institutions. Through such acts of destruction, Israel not only physically demolishes sites of Palestinian knowledge and community building but also seeks to erase our history and undermine our future and aspirations for freedom and liberation.

Education holds a pivotal role for Palestinians in asserting, documenting, and analysing our history. It is in classrooms that Palestinians envision a liberated Palestine, develop our political awareness, and challenge Zionist narratives.

Historically, educational spaces have functioned as the engine of revolutionary struggle. Teachers used these spaces to educate students about the perils of imperialism, capitalism, and colonialism on a global scale, not just within Palestine.

Classrooms, whether in school or university, opened new political horizons and possibilities for Palestinians who were processing the colonisation of their land in 1948 and again in 1967.

Refaat Alareer, assassinated by Israel on 7 December 2023, did exactly that. He inspired and liberated his students' political imagination. He told his students that they were active shapers of history, reclaimers of the Palestinian narrative, supported them to speak up and challenge distorted and dehumanising Western narratives about Palestine and Palestinians.

His last message to his students and the world was, “If I must die, you must live to tell my story,” urging them to continue narrating our stories.

This ongoing targeting of Palestinian knowledge production sites by Israel reflects a recognition that Palestinian education and thought pose a continuous threat to its colonial project. It serves as a stark reminder that Palestinians exist and will persist in our resistance. That we are a people with rich history, culture, poetry, and art that feeds into Palestinians revolutionary love for liberating our land.

In 2009, by the end of Israel’s 23-day attack on Gaza, 14 out of Gaza’s 15 institutions of higher education were damaged. Three colleges and six universities were completely destroyed. The IOF targeted both the Islamic University, the largest and most prominent university in Gaza, and Al-Azhar University, Gaza’s second largest university.

In 2014, the IOF also bombed the Islamic University and a branch of Al-Quds University, killing 22 Palestinians. By the end of Israel’s assault on Gaza, which lasted for 50 days, 407 students were killed.

Similarly, during Israel's latest bombardment on Gaza, the education system has not been spared. Israel’s systemic attacks started on 9 October 2023 with the bombing and destruction of the Islamic University of Gaza (The IOF would go on to assassinate  the university’s president, world-renowned scientist Dr. Sufyan Tayeh, alongside his family on 2 December).

This attack was followed by the bombing of University College of Applied Sciences and Technology on 19 October 2023, Al-Azhar University on 6 November 2023, Al-Quds Open University on 15 November 2023, and Gaza University on 4 December 2023.

More recently, on 17 January 2024, the IOF obliterated Al-Israa University, the last remaining university in Gaza. Israel has killed 231 educators, 4237 students, and 90,000 Palestinian university students cannot attend university in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s attack on Palestinian education is not limited to the Gaza Strip. According to Birzeit University Professor Samia Al-Botmeh, “Since 1982, more than 2,000 students from Birzeit University have been imprisoned by IOF. Currently, more than 124 students, 2 academics, and 2 staff members are in Israeli prisons, 57 of whom were arrested after 7 October and 5 of them are under administrative detention. 30 Birzeit students were murdered by IOF.”

Al-Botmeh explains Israel's systematic violence against education in the Gaza and the West Bank as, “not just targeting a service for Palestinians. It is targeting a mechanism of resistance and survival.”

In the West, numerous scholars and students have voiced their condemnation of Israel’s actions against Palestinian academics. However, despite widespread criticism, concrete actions to isolate Israel and hold it accountable for its aggression on Gaza have been absent.

In fact, universities across the Western world have done the opposite, taking severe measures to censor, silence and punish students speaking out against Israel's genocide.

It is imperative that, at this critical juncture, when the death toll of Palestinians has reached 27,500 and 66,663 injured, organisations such as the Association of Asian American Studies, the American Student Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, Middle East Studies Association, and the American Anthropology Association take concrete steps to advance the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), a call they have all endorsed.

According to Professor Fida Adely, over  seventy-five chapters of Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine have been formed in the past few months in the US and BDS is one of their main tenets. Scholars Against the War on Palestine (SAWP), a transnational coalition which brings together faculty, research, and graduate students to end the war on Palestine has also been recently formed.

Heeding the Palestinian call for “the academic world to take urgent action to stop Israel’s genocide in Gaza”, SAWP is making the following demands: immediate, unconditional, and permanent ceasefire; end the siege on Gaza; defend Palestinian right to education; end the military occupation of all Palestinian lands; dismantle the apartheid system; and implement the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, including the right of self-determination without external interference, national independence and sovereignty, and return to the homes and property from which Palestinians had been displaced. They have also just published an important tool kit with internal actions against scholasticide.

These faculty and staff efforts should be supported by larger academic associations and institutions. Israeli universities have been enabling Israel's colonial project in Palestine since its inception.


Tel Aviv University, for example, has  established partnership with Elbit Systems, a company that provides arms and technology that Israel deploys in surveilling and killing Palestinians. The Institute for National Security Studies, a think-tank affiliated with Tel Aviv University developed the “Dahiya Doctrine.

Named after Israel’s indiscriminate bombings military and civilian infrastructure of Beirut’s southern neighbourhoods in 2006, it authorises the “disproportionate force” to “cause great damage and destruction” to “civilian areas” considered by Israel as “military bases.”

This tactic has been used in Gaza leading to a catastrophic civilian loss and the total devastation of Gaza’s infrastructure including that of education. University of Haifa, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Reichman University have been supporting Israel’s current genocide in Gaza.

True solidarity demands more than mere rhetoric; it requires decisive actions. Now is the time for academic institutions and scholars to organise efforts to urge their universities to sever ties with Israeli institutions implicated in the ongoing violence and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, which has been broadcasted live for the world to witness.

Samar Saeed is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Georgetown University.

Follow her on Twitter (X): @Samarsaeed

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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