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Letter to the Editor / Canadian post-secondary institutions and Palestine/Israel

Letter to the Editor / Canadian post-secondary institutions and Palestine/Israel

By Muhannad Ayyash

In a statement dated November 29, 2023, fifteen Palestinian universities called on the international community to boycott Israeli academic institutions to protect Palestinian lives and post-secondary institutions.

They state that the universities in the Gaza Strip “have been totally paralyzed.” Since it launched its genocidal operation in October, the Israeli state has deliberately bombed and destroyed universities in the Gaza Strip where academic knowledge and research is conducted and stored, and killed hundreds of Palestinian faculty members, students and university administrators. Libraries, archives, heritage sites and cultural sites have also been destroyed. Years of research and documentation have been stolen and eradicated.

Among the many stories of death and destruction, there is the killing of the President of the Islamic University of Gaza, Professor Sufian Tayeh, along with his whole family. This is the Strip’s leading academic institution, and Professor Tayeh was an internationally recognized and esteemed researcher. Another example is the killing of Dr. Refaat Alareer, a professor of English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, and a co-founder of We Are Not Numbers.

The devastation of Palestinian knowledge, knowledge producers, and knowledge-producing institutions is nothing short of epistemicide, which is the killing, silencing, annihilation or devaluing of a knowledge system.

The situation is also dire in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where students and faculty continue to face attacks on their academic freedom. The Israeli military routinely raids university campuses, enforces the closure of universities, and conducts mass arrests of students and faculty. There are also extreme restrictions on the number of Palestinian students and faculty who can travel abroad to participate in conferences, develop their research networks, and advance their academic careers.

We have also seen an attack on the academic freedom of university academic staff within Israeli universities, such as the case of Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian. The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) makes clear that Israeli academic institutions play an active a role in Israeli apartheid, and in silencing Palestinian speech, ideas and knowledge.

As stated by Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, “Palestinian universities have been increasingly isolated by Israeli policies limiting their international collaboration, undercutting their autonomy and restricting Palestinian access to circuits of intellectual and academic exchange.”

This is not an issue that is simply “happening over there.” Canadian post-secondary institutions have at least 60 agreements with Israeli institutions. By working with Israeli institutions that are complicit in, and/or practicing, epistemicide, Canadian institutions are clearly not living up to CAUT’s policy statements on academic freedom and commitment to social justice.

If Canadian institutions do not support a call for boycott, then they are supporting a status quo in which Palestinian universities, faculty and students will continue to be attacked and destroyed.

Heeding the call from Palestinian universities and PFUUPE would mean that university and college administrations, as well as faculty associations and unions across Canada and CAUT, will:

  • Divest from companies that (a) supply weapons to the Israeli state, and (b) enable apartheid and genocide against the Palestinian people;
  • Cut ties and end all agreements with Israeli academic institutions.

Without action that places real pressure on Israeli institutions, the Israeli state will continue to act with impunity and destroy Palestinian lives, institutions and society.

Muhannad Ayyash Professor of Sociology, Mount Royal University


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