By Charles Abelsohn
The Israel hating crowd in South Africa now desire to boycott Israel`s academic institutions and Israeli academicians due to the “treatment” of Palestinian universities.
Let`s ask some questions. Are there universities in the West Bank and Gaza? If so, who established the universities and when. How are Palestinian universities ranked as compared with their Arab counterparts.
The Ottoman Empire, actually Turkey, a Moslem State, occupied Palestine from 1513 until 1917. Since Charles William Eliot, the president of Harvard University, who visited the country in 1867, and described the Galilee as a place of emptiness and misery and in his famous book “Innocents Abroad,” Mark Twain recalls not seeing a living soul throughout his journey, unsurprisingly, there were no Arab universities. The Jews, however, established the world famous Technion in Haifa in 1912.
The British controlled Palestine between 1917 and 1948. The Jews immediately established another university, the world famous Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1918. The Arabs? Nothing, as in: no Arab university.
Jordan, an Arab country, illegally occupied Judea and Samaria between 1948 and 1967, renaming this area the West Bank.
During this period, the Jordanians were careful and shrewd enough to forbid and prevent the establishment of any university in the West Bank. Yes, in 1967, when Israel regained Judea and Samaria, there were no universities in the West Bank. NOT ONE! Did anyone academically criticize or boycott Jordan? Of course not. When it comes to Israel, double standards are the order of the day.
Israel recovered Judea and Samaria in 1967. In 1970, Deputy Israeli Premier Yigal Allon, who was then Minister of Education, announced that he had approved the establishment of the first university in Ramallah in principle when approached by West Bank Arab leaders, including Dr. Salem Nashef, Dean of the Tulkarem Agricultural School.
Paradoxically, it was the Arab Jordanians who still attempted to prevent the establishment of the first university on the West Bank. In April 1971, Sheikh Mohammad Ali Jaabari, the Mayor of Hebron, even needed to warn the Jordanian government not to interfere with plans by West Bank Arab leaders to establish an Arab university on the West Bank. Jaabari spoke in reply to a charge made by the Jordanian Education Minister in Amman that “all those who take part in planning the university are traitors and collaborators with the Israelis.” Eventually, under the Israeli administration, in 1971 the foundation of the Hebron University was laid and forty-three students joined from different parts of the West Bank and Gaza.
The universities in the West Bank enjoyed the cooperation of the Israeli universities without which they could not have been developed. In 1973, Dr. Nashef, as a guest of Tel Aviv University’s “Shiloah” Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, reported that Arab education on the West Bank had expanded under the Israeli administration since 1967. According to Dr. Nashef, 90 percent of children between 6-15 were receiving an elementary education, a much higher percentage than under the Jordanian regime. He further said that by 1973 the number of matriculants under Israeli administration had risen from 3,500 to 14,500.
Stupid matriculants. Were they not aware that they were supposed to boycott Israeli administered education?
What exactly are the boycotters boycotting? Thanks only to Israel, a second university, Birzeit University, was established in 1975. Under Israeli guidance, by 1993, when the Oslo Agreement establishing the Palestinian Authority was signed, there were 14 universities, 18 colleges and 20 community colleges in the West Bank and Gaza.
Current Palestinian tertiary student enrolment is 214,000, of which roughly 54 per cent are women and 46 per cent are men. This compares favorably with Israel’s tertiary sector where from a larger population enrolment is approximately 307,000 and the gender balance among undergraduates is 56 per cent women and 44 per cent men. The remarkably high participation rate reflects both the commendable importance Palestinians attach to the universities (and formal education more generally) for strengthening both their economy and their national identity and, importantly in the context of the proposed “academic boycott”, the absence of any impediment by Israel. There is no legitimate reason for any “academic boycott” except hate for Israel.
With Al-Najah National University of Nablus ranked in 20th place of the top 300 ranked Arab universities and Birzeit university of Ramallah in 27th place, it is clear that the Palestinian universities are among the best in the Arab world and do not suffer discrimination or oppression by Israel.
If the boycotters, like the Jordanians, had their way, there would today still not have been any academic institutions in the West Bank. Israel`s positive contribution to the Palestinians generally and Israel`s contribution to the establishment of higher education specifically continues to be ignored by the Israel haters, best described as the new obstructionist Jordanians, who themselves contribute nothing to the Palestinians.
Israel`s positive contribution to the Palestinian higher education may be compared to the “contribution” by UCT, Stellenbosch and other South African universities` professors and students specifically and South Africa generally to the Palestinians – which is nothing. The anti-Israel noise by some South Africans may be emotionally satisfying to these few boycotters but the constructive support continues to be provided by Israel. By their actions, in attempting to prevent Israeli support of Palestinian institutions, these few boycotters may best be described as anti-Palestinian rather than anti-Israel, much like the Ottoman Empire (the Turks), British and Jordanians pre-1967.
Israel is now to be “punished” by a boycott for permitting the establishment of universities in the West Bank and Gaza, against the opposition of Arab governments such as Jordan. Until 1967 the world was silent which means the world at that time consented to the Arab opposition to universities in the West Bank. The criticism of Israel and its academics and the boycotting of Israeli academics is simply living proof that no good deed goes unpunished.
Kafka? Orwellian? I doubt whether these Israeli haters even know who these guys are.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charles Abelsohn, a co-founder of Truth be Told, retired several years ago as the legal manager of one of the most well–known entities in Israel. He is a graduate of three universities (Cape Town, Stellenbosch and U. of South Africa) in South Africa in Law, Transportation Economics and Finance. His interests, even as a young student, were Judaism, Israel, Economics and Finance.
Feature picture credit: Yaser Wakid