Celebrating Tel Aviv While Gaza Burns! Open Letter to the Director and Principal of SOAS, University of London
At a time when the Israeli government is unleashing the full force of its military might in an all-out war against an essentially defenceless population in the occupied Gaza Strip, celebrating Tel Aviv while Gaza burns is morally repulsive. It is an indefensible position for an academic institution to take while a population, over half of whom are children, are subject to daily attacks that are widely recognized as violating international humanitarian law and basic human rights.
Tel Aviv is not a ‘White City on the Dunes’ promising a ‘Mediterranean Dream’ as the titles of two lectures in the Lecture Series would have us believe. Rather, as the seat of Israeli political and economic power, Tel Aviv houses the masterminds of Israel’s longstanding policies of ethnic cleansing, racial discrimination and military subjugation. It is hence more emblematic of apartheid and colonial rule than any other Israeli city.
Tel Aviv is a city in colonial denial. Its very existence and expansion are products of the Zionist project of erasing the physical presence of the Palestinians, their culture, heritage and memory. The adjacent Palestinian city of Jaffa and numerous villages were emptied of their indigenous inhabitants to make way for the ‘White City’. This fact is conspicuously absent from the Special Lecture Series and thus renders the lectures no better than political propaganda on behalf of Israel and its ongoing project of colonial dispossession.
It may be claimed that as an academic institution, Tel Aviv University stands apart from all this. But it is important to stress that the university was built on the lands of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwannis, a village largely destroyed in 1948 and its inhabitants ethnically cleansed and forced to flee for their lives. The “Green House”, the former home of the head of the village, is one of the few original buildings of the village that remains and currently serves as a restaurant for university faculty. The President of Tel Aviv University refused to acknowledge its history and objected to the posting of a sign on the “Green House” that would explain its origin. The campaign to pressure the university to recognize its history has been led by the Israeli organization Zochrot. 
The university not only refuses to recognize its past, but is also an integral part of Israel’s brutal occupation and apartheid regime imposed on the Palestinians, including the current savage bombardment of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. Typical is the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), an external institute of Tel Aviv University, which boasts in its mission statement of its “strong association with the political and military establishment”. Advising governmental decision makers and public leaders on important “strategic issues”, it is no stretch of the imagination to suppose that the INSS has played a direct or indirect role in the current Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
In common with all other Israeli academic bodies and institutions, Tel Aviv University has never taken a public stand against the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or criticized the closure of Palestinian universities which are part of a longstanding assault on Palestinian education. Unsurprisingly then, no voice was heard from Tel Aviv or any other academic institution in Israel condemning the bombing of the campus of the Islamic University in Gaza on December 28th, 2008. In addition to Palestinian academics, we know that a significant number of their international and UK colleagues are shocked at the deafening silence emanating from the Israeli academy. As the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees asked in their recent statement , are Israeli universities willing to call for an end to the occupation? Are Israeli academics going to speak out in support of freedom of education and call for an end to their government’s assault on Palestinian education? Are they going to cut their organic and deep-rooted ties with the military-security establishment? Or are the members of the academy dutifully preparing for the reserve call-up just approved by their government, ready to serve in the death squads committing what international human rights organisations have described as war crimes?
While some may claim that an academic institution such as SOAS, should remain above ‘political frays’ and provide instead a neutral forum for the open exchange of ideas, hosting such an event, and particularly as Gaza is being decimated by Israel, is to support and acquiesce in Israel’s vicious and illegal actions. We urge the administration of SOAS to cancel the Special Lecture Series to avoid being held complicit in whitewashing Israel’s grave violations of international law, to take a minimal stand in solidarity with your Palestinian colleagues, and in response to the call issued by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, BNC, urging international civil society "not just to protest and condemn in diverse forms Israel‘s massacre in Gaza, but also to join and intensify the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel to end its impunity and to hold it accountable for its persistent violation of international law and Palestinian rights.” We agree with the statement’s conclusion that “without sustained, effective pressure by people of conscience the world over, Israel will continue with its gradual, rolling acts of genocide against the Palestinians, burying any prospects for a just peace under the blood and rubble of Gaza, Nablus and Jerusalem.”
SOAS has the opportunity to uphold ethical principles and the universality of human rights by cancelling this ill-conceived propaganda exercise, thereby contributing to bringing about the conditions for a just and lasting peace for Palestine and the entire region.