unions condemn threats against West Bank universities
January 14, 2003
An international coalition of teaching unions today condemned Israel
for reportedly ordering the closure of three Palestinian universities
as part of a series of measures in reponse to Sunday's suicide attacks
on Tel Aviv.
Raanan Gissin, an advisor to the Israeli president, Ariel Sharon,
said the security cabinet had decided "in principle" to
shut down three Palestinian universities, it was reported in the
Washington Times today.
There was some confusion over which of the 12 universities on the
West Bank are expected to close. An Najah, the largest, and Birzeit,
the most prestigious, were named, but a spokesperson from Birzeit
denied that it had been ordered to close.
Mr Gissin said that more evidence would be collected before a final
decision was made. However, the Israeli government said that the
universities that would close would be accused of "inciting
terrorism", the BBC reported.
A spokesperson for Birzeit told EducationGuardian.co.uk: "There
have been ongoing threats to close us down, with army vehicles driving
in and stating that they have orders to close us down. But this
semester is still running, and we are only two weeks over schedule
compared with two months last semester."
She continued: "I believe that other colleges and in particular
the Islamic colleges have been ordered to close down, but we are
not on this list."
The European Higher Education Committee - part of the international
coalition of education unions, Education International, which represents
26 million teaching staff worldwide - passed a motion at a meeting
in Paris last weekend condemning the suicide bombings and the closure
of any universities in the occupied territories.
Paul Bennett, chair of the committee and an official of the lecturers'
union Natfhe, said the motion opposed "collective punishment"
against universities or other civilian targets in response to the
"Building a civil society in Palestine is a vital precursor
to any lasting peace, and education is a clear part of that civil
society," he said.
The motion was passed by the 25 delegates present with only two
abstentions, one on a technical count and the other from a French
union that wanted the motion to include a move towards an academic
boycott of Israel. The motion will now go forward to Education International
member unions around the world.