Birzeit – Palestine
Office of the President
Phone: +972-2-298 2008; Fax: +972-2-281 0656
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.birzeit.edu
February 22, 2004
A Statement by Birzeit University
On the Scientific Cooperation Agreement between the European Community and Israel
Birzeit University has learned that the European Parliament's Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy will be considering a proposal to conclude an Agreement on Scientific and Technical Cooperation between the European Community and Israel. In view of its positive and productive relations with the EU, Birzeit University wishes to share its concerns about this Agreement. It is hoped that the envisioned Agreement with Israel would be assessed, not only within the merits of normal agreements, but also within the context of Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territories
The persistent Israeli government policy of closures, curfews, construction of illegal settlements and building of the Apartheid Wall has resulted in the division of the Palestinian territories, thoroughly isolating villages, towns and refugee camps and prohibiting thousands of Palestinians from reaching their places of work, educational and health services. It is a grave violation of human rights. In accordance with international law and the Geneva Conventions, the occupying power has specific responsibilities towards the people under occupation. It is also the responsibility of governments who are signatories of the Geneva Convention to censure, rather than cooperate, with any other government that violates the human rights of people under occupation.
Birzeit University, as well as all Palestinian civil society organizations, has been greatly affected by the prolonged Israeli occupation and its harsh measures that include State-led violence and terror. The Israeli justification of these measures is that they are a response to Palestinian violence and terror. The Palestinian Authority, while trying to curb violence to the maximum possible level within its capability, had repeatedly condemned violence by any side for whatever reason it is. But saying that, one should be aware that the occupation was entrenched on the ground long before the Palestinian violence started and that this violence is really the unfortunate response to an occupation that has been lingering and refusing to abate for decades. One should also remember that after the Oslo agreements – a landmark in a possible end of the conflict - the Palestinian population faced the Israeli soldiers not with stones, but with olive branches – a symbol of peace and a great gesture of reaching out for the occupier. The response was more expansion of settlements and more confiscation of lands! It is against this backdrop of relentless occupation that violence and counter violence emerged. The only solution rests on the understanding by Israel that military occupation must end. That is what occupiers over the course of history have learnt – unfortunately after some procrastination. No matter how “emotional” the situation could be for the occupier and no matter how much the occupier is used to the “glory” and spoils of occupation, the best recourse is to end the occupation. With an end to occupation, a solution to the conflict becomes feasible or at least closer to its doorsteps.
Israel has continued to assert that an end of the conflict could only be achieved through a negotiated settlement. This is a statement that sounds good on the face of it. But with Israel having a superior military power compared to the Palestinians, a negotiated settlement has not been achieved. Israel has vetoed any solution that it has not liked. That is why no solution has been possible so far. A fair way would be to leave the matter up to a third impartial party, such as the UN or the EU who could have their experts mediate and suggest the borders along legal terms – rather than leave such a matter to be decided according to the balance of power. It is having this balance of power in favor of Israel that has made the resolution of the conflict unattainable. Had Israel accepted the intervention of the international community in a positive manner, then the solution would have been forthcoming and the lives and agonies of so many Palestinians and Israelis would have been spared.
As a result of the political situation, Palestinian educational institutions and specifically Palestinian universities have not functioned normally under military occupation. At different times, Palestinian universities have been either closed or access to them has been denied, academics and students have been harassed, humiliated and even imprisoned for attempting to continue their work and studies.
Unfortunately, the Israeli academic establishment has remained largely silent in the face of the ongoing occupation, and no Israeli university body or professional association has dissociated itself from the occupation and its practices. On the contrary, several of the Israeli academy's illustrious members have served--and without censure from their colleagues--in high-profile positions as advisors to the military government, or as consultants to the intelligence services and the government. At the same time, whenever individual Israeli academics have attempted to strongly state their opposition to the on-going occupation, they have been discredited and shunned by their peers.
As such, ratification of the proposed Agreement between the European Community and Israel will only be looked upon as further support to Israel and could possibly encourage Israel further in its continued military occupation and its violations of human rights. One might wish to remember now the international boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa how this boycott helped in the realization of an equitable resolution of the conflict in that country.
In the meantime, it might be unintentionally assumed that such an agreement, if ratified, will also benefit Palestinian universities indirectly through their possible cooperation with Israeli universities. However, it needs to be pointed out that cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian Universities is either not possible or is at the absolute minimum. That lack of cooperation is a direct result of the political situation and it is hoped that the international community would understand the dynamics of the relations between the occupier and those who are under occupation. Within these dynamics, cooperation is neither encouraged nor welcomed. This is not bigotry or prejudice, but a position dictated by the severe realities of military occupation. It is not a position that is taken uniquely by the Palestinians. During most, if not all military occupations, people under occupation steered away from cooperating with the occupier or its institutions – whether they are civil or governmental. It is within this context that Birzeit University and most other Palestinian universities do not find it appropriate to cooperate with Israeli institutions.
It is against a landscape of political strangulation that this open letter is being written. But for those who do not know Birzeit University, it is relevant to point out that the University has been a leader in the development of pioneering academic programs that promote human rights, the rule of law, and women's rights. It is internationally acknowledged as an institution dedicated to democratic values, pluralism and the free exchange of ideas, as well as playing a fundamental role in providing community service. It has several cooperation agreements with international institutions and bodies. Such cooperation has been instrumental in expanding the vision of Birzeit and its community. The disruption of Birzeit University’s capacity to function normally negatively affects the development of a healthy and sustainable Palestinian society and polity, as well as the possibility of future peace and reconciliation. While looking forward to foster its international cooperation agreements, the University looks forward for the end of the conflict so that cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli institutions would also become a normal activity.
The political problems in this area are grave and unfortunately have global ramifications that continue to disrupt stability in the region unless a just and fair solution is sought. It is within this context that Birzeit University wishes to express its concern about the envisioned Agreement and how such an agreement could unwittingly push this political solution further away. In the meantime, the University welcomes any member of the European Parliament or educational leader in Europe to visit Birzeit and witness its pioneering work in promoting a liberal and open education, an education that would hopefully be a cornerstone for peace and prosperity in the future.
Dr. H. Nasir, President