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Committee on Academic Freedom: Letters Concerning Professor Musa Budeiri and Gaza Students' Right to Study in the West Bank

[Image from MESA website.] [Image from MESA website.]

[The following letters were written by the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). The first, regarding Professor Musa Budeiri, is addressed to Khalil Hindi, the President of Birzeit University. The second, regarding Gaza students' right to study in the West Bank, was sent to top-ranking members of the Israeli government, among others.]

Prof. Khalil Hindi
President, Birzeit University
Office of the President

Dear President Hindi,

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), we write to voice our dismay at the way the administration of Birzeit University has addressed the controversy surrounding the caricatures Professor Musa Budeiri placed on his office door. Indeed, the actions of the university administration to date risk establishing a dangerous precedent that privileges those who resort to intimidation and violence to contest the freedom of expression.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa – the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, we are very concerned about the recent developments at Birzeit University. In spite of the insurmountable challenges BZU has confronted in recent decades, it has heretofore served as an exemplary model of free academic exchange, not only for Palestine, but for the region as a whole. The vibrant political and social debates that have taken place at Birzeit University have shaped several generations.

We are disappointed that the BZU administration has not been unequivocal in its support of Professor Budeiri. For example, the administration has insisted that Professor Budeiri should issue a personal apology as a way to diffuse tension, and to date, the students responsible for the incitement against Musa Budeiri, including making threats to his life and demanding that he be fired, have not been disciplined. The university’s statement condemning the incitement does nothing to fulfill its obligation as an academic institution to guarantee the security of all its members. More important, the actions of the university administration to date have done nothing to protect the members of the university – students, faculty, and staff alike – from the excessive demands of an extremist group. Such threats, regardless of the political affiliation of the perpetrators, need to be guarded against if the academic principle of free inquiry and expression is to be upheld.

We are also concerned about the request by the university administration that Professor Budeiri take an unpaid leave of absence so as to protect himself. Such a course of action establishes a dangerous precedent, one that is sure to embolden extremist elements who believe they can influence university policy (and force people out) by threats and intimidation.

We realize that as a retired faculty member who continues to teach, Professor Budeiri’s contract is renewed on an annual basis. Even though his contract for the coming year has not been formally renewed, his classes are already listed in the course schedule. To refuse to renew his contract now would therefore be a clear capitulation to the students contesting Professor Budeiri’s freedom of expression. To change the courses that he is listed to teach in the future to elective courses, in order to be able to say that students objecting to his opinions need not enroll in his courses, is yet another capitulation to unreasonable demands – even if the latter are buttressed by threats of boycotts by the students now expressing their own opinions in such a violent manner. The university administration needs to reconsider the reasoning behind these possible decisions with a careful view to the consequences they will have for the future of academic freedom at BZU.

Professor Budeiri has served Palestinian academe for over 27 years, 19 of them at Birzeit University. His expressions of political and social criticism have never been limited to religion. Those opposed to his freedom of expression should be reminded of this and his important contributions. Although the members of CAFMENA understand that some people might object to the cartoons Professor Budeiri posted on his door, we are convinced that it is the duty of an academic institution to help its members learn how to disagree with opinions they dislike in reasonable, constructive ways. We hope that in this instance, as in so many others BZU has faced in the past, it and its administrators will live up to this higher principle.

Looking forward to your reply, on behalf of the CAF, I am

Yours sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago


 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Minister of Defense Ehud Barak
Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar
H.E. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the US

Dear Sirs,

We write this letter on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA). We remain deeply concerned about the Israeli Government’s ongoing violations against Palestinian education and its denial of Gaza students’ right to study in the West Bank. We understand that the Israeli Supreme Court has asked the Government of Israel to reconsider its refusal to allow four students to complete their programs at Birzeit University. Thus, in accordance with both international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL), we ask that you allow these students to pursue their education at Birzeit University and end the general ban prohibiting Palestinian students from Gaza from studying in the West Bank.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa – the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, we have written in the past to express dismay about Israeli travel restrictions and their impact on Palestinian students and educational institutions. We are disheartened that these violations persist. We are also disappointed that the Israeli Government has yet to adopt the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling to establish a mechanism to evaluate individual requests by Gaza students, and to allow students who are likely to have “a positive humanitarian impact” on society to study in the West Bank.

The case under consideration illustrates the magnitude and pointlessness of these sweeping restrictions. It includes four women – Aza Kfarna, Andlib Sahada, Suheir Saqa, and Amal Abu Aisha – who seek to finish the studies they were forced to discontinue in 2000 when Israel revoked the travel permits of all students from Gaza studying in the West Bank. Pending Israeli government approval, these four petitioners – who are all in their 30s and 40s – seek to resume and complete their MA degrees in gender, democracy, and law at Birzeit University. All have established positions with different NGOs in Gaza, and contribute positively to Palestinian society. A fifth petitioner, Lujain Zaim, is a recent high school graduate, who earned matriculation scores of 97.8 percent – putting her among the strongest students in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Lujain was accepted to the law program at Birzeit University where she hopes to pursue her law degree. Unlike the four other petitioners, Lujain’s case was not included in the Supreme Court’s request. There are no security claims against Lujain, but her request is denied because of the comprehensive ban. We ask that the Government of Israel also allow this talented young woman the opportunity to pursue studies in the Palestinian territories’ top law school.

The blockade on the Gaza Strip has left institutions of higher education severely lacking personnel and basic resources such as books, equipment, and laboratory instruments. Moreover, educational programs vital to the well-being of any society, such as dentistry, physical and occupational therapy, and medical engineering are not available in the Gaza Strip. As you are well aware, the right to education is enshrined in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Articles 13 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The current policies preventing students from Gaza from studying in the West Bank constitute blatant discrimination based on national origin since they apply only to one community, the Palestinians, and violate the right to equality enshrined in the very human rights conventions to which Israel is a party.

For these reasons, we call on the Government of Israel to revoke its ban against the right of Gaza students to study in the West Bank, and honor the Supreme Court’s request to allow these four women to finish their MA studies at Birzeit University, as well as to permit Lujain Zaim to begin university studies there.

We look forward to your response.

On behalf of the CAF,

Sincerely yours,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

3 comments for "Committee on Academic Freedom: Letters Concerning Professor Musa Budeiri and Gaza Students' Right to Study in the West Bank"

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As one who has been providing scholarship to students in need at Bir Zeit University I am sad to see the University Administration succumb to unlawful pressure to curb an academic's freedom of speech, rather than taking to task the students responsible for such gross indiscipline.

M A Qavi wrote on July 07, 2012 at 10:57 AM
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response of Birzeit to MESA

http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/pdf/Palestine20120702_Response.pdf

Magid Shihade wrote on July 08, 2012 at 04:01 PM
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As a proud MESA member and a BZU alumni, I tend to agree with Hindi's final words. MESA instead of snobbishly stretching its arms across the Atlantic and reprimand Palestinian higher education, I believe it should extend its arms to help them fight occupation which does also infiltrate local Universities and entice extremism.. "Finally, please rest assured that we will do our level best to defend academic freedom. We so cherish it that we are willing, albeit grudgingly, to be lectured on it by colleagues living under more fortunate circumstances."

jenin wrote on July 09, 2012 at 06:41 PM

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