In light of news that Cornell University has engaged in a joint bid with Israel’s Technion Israel Institute of Technology to build a campus of applied science and technology on New York’s Roosevelt Island, we, the students and volunteers at Birzeit University’s Right to Education campaign, support the initiative of New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT).
Cornell University’s students, professors and partners alike will be implicated in Israel’s colonial project in Palestine through the University’s decision to work in collaboration with the Technion, an institution that has long been, and remains deeply complicit in the design, implementation and justification of Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
By furnishing the state of Israel with the scientific basis to expand and solidify its technology of oppression (Tadamon, 2010) throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, the Technion directly participates in Israel’s assault on Palestinians’ civil liberties, human rights and academic freedom.
The Technion has strong links with Elbit Systems Ltd., an Israeli company that develops and supplies Israel’s military with surveillance and security equipment. Fundamental to the operation of the Apartheid Wall, their products directly facilitate the restrictions placed on Palestinians’ liberty of movement by the Israeli military. The policies authorising the crossing through gates in the Wall discriminate against Palestinians and yet allow Israeli citizens and foreigners to pass through freely. John Dugard, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, has commented that this system bears strong similarities to the South African Apartheid “Pass Laws” (Al Haq, 2012). The racist nature of these policies violates Article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that “[e]veryone lawfully in the State shall, within that territory, has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his residence” (Al Haq, 2012). The construction of the Wall itself was ruled illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice.
The Apartheid Wall does not adhere to the 1949 Armistice Line (Green Line) but rather deviates into Palestinan land in order to annex it and seize natural resources. The area between the Wall and the Green Line is known as the ‘Seam Zone’, an area in which approximately 6,500 Palestinians reside (OCHA, 2010). Few education services exist for Palestinians living in this zone, and a system of permits restricts their access to educational facilities in the West Bank. The effects of this are borne particularly severely by residents in East Jerusalem, who must cross through checkpoints in order to reach their universities or schools. An estimated 25 per cent of students at Birzeit University do this journey each day (Electronic Intifada, 2012). According to a survey conducted by UNRWA’s Barrier Monitoring Unit, 47.9 per cent of households in East Jerusalem had noted a moderate to severe deterioration in the educational performance of their children, while their emotional well-being had deteriorated in 91.9 per cent of cases (OCHA, 2010).
As a way of reinforcing the appropriation of Palestinian land around the Apartheid Wall, Israel’s military demolishes Palestinian houses, schools and other infrastructure essential for the fulfillment of the basic rights of the Palestinians. However, this practice extends beyond the limits of the Wall’s regime, and is commonly used across the West Bank and Gaza.
In addition, the Technion’s students and staff are directly implicated in Israel’s denial of Palestinians’ human rights through their development of the remote-controlled Caterpillar D9 bulldozer. The D9 has been widely used in house demolitions; over 27,000 houses have been demolished by the Israeli military since 1967 (ICAHD, 2012). The destruction of private property is prohibited under Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “[a]ny destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations” (Al Haq, 2012).
In 2011 a total of 1,094 people were forcibly displaced, an almost two-fold increase on the number for 2010 (ICAHD 2012). The forcible transfer of Palestinians under occupation is specifically prohibited under Article 49(1) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “[i]ndividual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive” (Al Haq, 2012).
Children are affected disproportionately by this policy of dispossession and displacement (UNISPAL, 2010). As well as experiencing physical impediments to accessing education, the post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety commonly inflicted upon them by going through this ordeal also markedly impacts their potential to achieve at school and in the long-term. The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (Al Haq, 2012).
Whilst institutions of higher education around the globe strive to foster a tolerant and inclusive space for meticulous, critical and balanced academic enquiry, the Technion’s role in denying the Palestinians of their right to education violates its obligation as a university to follow suit and uphold the same egalitarian values and practices.
The Technion’s institutionalised discrimination against Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel on its own campus further runs contrary to this obligation and reinforces the apartheid nature of Israel.
The Technion commonly curtails the freedom of speech and expression of its Arab-Palestinian students, who are prevented from forming an Arab students union and voicing opposition to the Israeli state’s prejudiced and apartheid policies.
The stifling of political discussion by attacking freedom of speech at the Technion needs to be placed in the broader context of the Israeli state’s brutal campaign to stamp out dissenting voices. At universities in the West Bank, simply belonging to a student organisation, attending a student meeting or distributing flyers are activities that can lead to one’s arrest, interrogation and detention under Israeli military law (Addameer, 2012). Israel’s military courts pay scant regard for the formalities of due process, denying defendants the right to interpretation and translation, the presumption of innocence, and the right to prepare an effective defence (ibid). As a result, at least 90 per cent of children plead guilty (DCI-Palestine, 2012) regardless of whether or not they actually committed an offence and approximately 99.74 per cent of all those who are charged are convicted(Addameer, 2012). During incarceration, it is forbidden for Palestinian political prisoners to pursue their education remotely. Education is conditional on security requirements, limited to approved subjects, and essential materials are priced extortionately (ibid). Israel’s widespread use of torture and mental and physical violence (CAABU, 2012) within its military prisons adds yet another layer of blatant indifference to the international statutes it itself ratified in the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Although effectuated at a lower level along the spectrum, the Technion’s violation of Palestinian’s civil liberties reveals a worrying identification with the Orwellian methods deployed by state agents of the Zionist agenda. Along with its other deep ties to the Israeli military and related violations of international law, as detailed above, the Technion cannot be regarded as an institution independent of the state.
By providing both technical expertise and scientific equipment to Israel’s military, the Technion has actively facilitated Israel’s grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Grave breaches are considered to be war crimes according to the International Criminal Court; and Israel’s actions have been labelled as “an affront to humanity” by Resolution 41/63 of the UN General Assembly (Al Haq, 2012).
Unless an underlying aim to maintain Israel’s structure of oppression is shared, it should not be in the interest of otherwise balanced academic institutions, such as Cornell University, to associate, and therefore render itself complicit with the partisan politics of the Technion. To do such would sully its own reputation as a spokesperson for universal academic freedom, as embodied in its motto “any person any study.”
Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention obliges its signatories to take action against parties who commit war crimes. It is the duty of the Mayor of New York City and the President of Cornell University to refuse to collaborate with the Technion until Israel: 1) ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantles the Wall; 2) recognises the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3) respects, protects, and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, 2012. Eyes on Israeli Military Court: A collection of impressions.
Al Haq, 2012.The annexation wall and its associated regime. The wall campaign ten years too long, Al Haq.
A. Nieuwhof, J. Handmaker, 2005. The Wall – an obstacle to educating Palestinian youth, Electronic Intifada.
CAABU, 2012. Palestinian detainees: no security in justice.
DCI Palestine, 2012. Alone Palestinian children in Israeli Detention system.
The Israeli Committee against house Demolition, 2012. Introduction: The facts.
Jewish Federation of North America, 2012.
OCHA, 2010. Sharp Increase in Demolition and Displacement in the West Bank, United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory.
OCHA, 2011. Barrier Update Seven years after the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Barrier: The Impact of the Barrier in the Jerusalem area, United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory. Tadamon, 2010. Structures of Oppression: Why McGill and Concordia Universities must sever their links with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.