Below is an open letter drafted by MLA Members for Justice in Palestine and signed by over 450 MLA members. Signatures were added to this letter from January 2016 until January 2017.
As members of the Modern Language Association and scholars of literature and language, we express our dismay at the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding on a daily basis in the territories controlled by Israel. Given the long-term failure of diplomacy alone to resolve the deteriorating situation, we feel compelled to identify the injustices, speak out against them, and support the Palestinian appeal for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel. The BDS movement is the largest non-violent grassroots movement in the world seeking significant redress for Palestinians in what is, for them, a situation that continues to deteriorate by the day. It has been endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations and in the past dozen years has increasingly gained the support of global individuals and organizations concerned with justice and human rights. In the face of Israel’s ongoing violations of international law and of the basic human and political rights of the Palestinian people, we feel compelled to add our voices to this growing movement for justice.
The pervasive and ongoing flouting of international law by the Israeli government includes :
- Occupation and confiscation of Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and dispossession of other Palestinians in the Naqab (Negev);
- Illegal settlement building;
- Blockade and siege of Gaza;
- Detentions without trial, torture and war crimes, and use of deadly force by the Israeli military against non-violent protesters;
- Construction of walls and fences around Palestinian population centers;
- Curtailment of freedom of movement and education for Palestinians in the occupied territories;
- Israeli denial of the Palestinian refugees’ right of return since 1948;
- Punitive house demolitions that constitute acts of collective punishment.
As academics, we are also specifically distressed by the ongoing repression of Palestinian academics and educational institutions. Al Quds University near Jerusalem, the Arab American University in Jenin, Birzeit University near Ramallah, and the Islamic University in Gaza have all recently been subjected to Israeli military incursions. We also note Israeli state discrimination against Palestinian students and faculty members in the form of restrictions on movement, restrictions of freedom of speech and assembly, confiscations of archives, and destruction of research centers.
We are no less concerned about the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar Ilan University, Haifa University, the Technion University, and Ben Gurion University have all been extensively involved in research and development of weapons and surveillance technology that is used to enforce Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its discriminatory policies against Palestinians. For example, the Technion University has developed a remote-controlled ‘D9’ bulldozer used to demolish Palestinian homes. Bar Ilan University has participated in joint research with the Israeli army to develop artificial intelligence for unmanned combat vehicles deployed in Israel’s various assaults against the Gaza Strip, and private weapons technology firms, such as Elbit, are involved in co-advising Israeli PhD students studying in science and engineering. Tel Aviv University is directly implicated, through its Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in developing the Dahiya Doctrine, adopted by the Israeli military in its assaults on Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza today, which advocates extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure and “intense suffering” among civilians as an “effective” deterrence.
(All factual claims in this statement are extensively documented in the Statement of Evidence submitted to MLA’s Delegate Assembly, which can be consulted on the MLA Commons site of MLA Members for Justice in Palestine: http://commons.mla.org/groups/mla-members-for-justice-in-palestine/documents/)
We stand in solidarity with those Israeli academics who have protested against their government’s policies and as a result face disciplinary measures from their own universities. We moreover support the Palestinian call, endorsed by the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), to boycott Israeli academic institutions. This call responds to the long-standing appeal from Palestinian civil society organizations for the comprehensive implementation of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) of Israel. As the published guidelines make explicit, the boycott is directed toward Israeli institutions and not toward academics as individuals.
Decades of interaction, cooperation and collaboration with Israeli institutions have not resulted in mutual understanding or stopped the military occupation and its violations. In the light of the recent Israeli elections, the prospect of any alteration of present conditions from within Israel itself is bleak, and the need for external pressure from the international community is urgent. American academics should be particularly concerned, as it is US tax dollars and diplomatic power that have been vital to sustain and advance Israeli state policies. We believe therefore that this reasonable and non-violent stance has become necessary. As the boycott of South Africa proved, such gestures of international disapprobation have a more than merely symbolic impact. Our endorsement of this boycott conveys our conviction that Israel must be brought to act to promote a just peace as stipulated by international law.
Specifically, we call on the State of Israel to:
- End the siege and blockade of Gaza, end the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967, and dismantle the illegal settlements and the walls;
- Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and the Naqab (Negev) Bedouins to full equality; and
- Honor the right of Palestinian refugees to return as has been stipulated numerous times since UN Resolution 194.
We call upon our colleagues in the MLA and other scholars of literature and languages to join us in endorsing the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions.