January 17, 2003

Students React to Palestinian School Closings

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A week after the second-deadliest suicide bombing in the area since September 2000, Israeli officials locked the gates on two Palestinian universities Tuesday night.

In a nine-page report, the Israeli Defense Force rationalized the decision to shut down Hebron University and Palestine Polytechnic University by saying they “are a fertile ground for terrorism and a hothouse for breeding terrorists and suicide bombers.” According to the Washington Post, the shutdown is currently in effect for two weeks, but may be extended for up to six months. The university shutdowns are the first since the uprisings against Israeli control in the West Bank and Gaza began 27 months ago.

Many Cornellians question the wisdom of the decision.

“I don’t think the universities are breeding ground for terrorists, and I doubt they have any real evidence to back up the closings. I’m quite skeptical of the Israeli government’s actions,” said Ben Edelman ’03.

Matthew Cohen ’03, president of the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee, however, argued that there is history to back up the decision.

“It’s a fact that the universities are very politically active. Political factions like Hamas do well with student government organizations,” Cohen said.

Step Back

Yutan Getzler grad, a member of the Progressive Jewish Voice (PJV), suggested that closing universities may inhibit any chance there is of peace.

“Sharon is less interested in peace. The universities are a place where people can talk about not glamorizing death and not bombing within the ’67 borders. It’s one of the places where there was maybe the greatest potential for peace,” Getzler said.

Some worry the closings may in fact worsen the situation.

“They’re throwing [the students] out on the streets and effectively saying, ‘Why don’t you pick up some rocks?'” said Fred Werner grad, a member of the PJV.

“Those students will join the hundreds and thousands of unemployed Palestinians. This will breed extremism. With no hope, no job, no future, they will blame their misery on the power that is insisting on maintaining the situation. That will breed more violence and terrorism,” said Prof. Munther Younes, Near Eastern Studies, a native Palestinian.

He added that the closings are actually a small part of a much larger picture.

“Since its establishment, Israel has wanted the land of Palestine, but not the people. That’s why Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, but not annexed them for 35 years. Israeli occupation forces have tried to make life for the Palestinian people as hard as possible,” Younes said.

Werner argued that the shut downs may technically be the first, but many students have recently found it all but impossible to attend school.

“Sometimes the Israelis insist it’s not really a shutdown, but they set up roadblocks or search students during exams. It can take Palestinian students two years to finish one semester,” he said.

Because universities are traditionally such prestigious institutions, the closings also bring into question exactly what the Israeli government’s motives are.

“When you take away the upper end of a society, like the kind of people who would attend a university, you can push that society further into poverty. It’s exactly what [America] used to do to black people — they weren’t allowed into college and were thus forced into low-level jobs. It’s a pretty good technique for subjugating people,” Edelman said.

Palestinians also question the Israeli decision.

“The Palestinians think it is a blow at Palestinian culture and any expression of Palestinian nationalism or aspiration,” Younes said.

Others argue such logic is flawed. Cohen said that there have been instances of university students building models of places that suicide bombers have attacked and then reenacting the bombings in celebration.

“If they’re closing down universities, it’s not an attack on Palestinian culture, but action against incitement and celebration of terrorism,” Cohen said.

How the Palestinian students and faculty will react to the closing of their universities remains to be seen.

Archived article by Freda Ready