Palestinian Scholarly Organizations Urge CERN to Move Physics School from Apartheid Israel

CERN recently suspended Russia over its illegal invasion of Ukraine. CERN must end its hypocrisy and hold Israel accountable to the same standards. Relocating its High Energy Physics School would be a modest first step in this direction.

Earlier this year, the Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology (PalAST) and the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) sent the following letter to the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR). The Palestinian scholarly organizations urged them to relocate the European School of High-Energy Physics, now planned for November 30 - December 13, 2022, away from apartheid Israel due to Israel’s well-documented decades-long denial of Palestinian rights, including the right to education.

The reply that the Palestinian organizations received failed to address their concerns at all. It instead touted a belief in “science as a common goal” to bring people together and the school’s mission of “fostering dialogue” and being “as inclusive as possible,” alluding to the frequently used justification for inaction that science is above politics.

Since sending that reply, CERN has suspended Russia’s observer status and all collaborations over its illegal invasion of Ukraine, stating that “the aggression of one country by another runs against the values for which the Organization stands.”
CERN has shown that it is prepared to take accountability measures in the case of international law violations, however in a hypocritical, selective manner. CERN must end its hypocrisy and hold Israel accountable to the same standards. Relocating its High Energy Physics School would be a modest first step in this direction.

Background

Scientists in Palestine pursue their scholarly work amidst nontrivial contextual challenges and hardship, most of which derive from Israel’s prolonged, sustained military occupation of their homeland: closures, travel and inward and outward mobility restrictions, incursions as well as a range of disruptive measures that create a climate of precarious uncertainty and vulnerability. 

Over time, Israel’s measures have taken their toll on Palestinian higher education and scientific research. It has deprived our universities and university communities from their defining features of being beacons of multicultural diversity and universality. In the 18 Palestinian universities, which count a student body of over quarter of a million, you can hardly find any foreign student or faculty member due to Israeli restrictions.  This has been quite impoverishing in more ways than one. A multicultural environment is a priori enriching, engaging and challenging, allowing students to widen their perspectives and to appreciate alternative ways of being and living. Being deprived of such an experience is missing on a very precious.

Israel’s impediments have led a huge number of Palestinian academics and technologists to reside and pursue their careers abroad, resulting in a significant brain drain. 

This has made it even more imperative for us to vigorously pursue international scientific outreach and collaboration. To do so, we have worked hard to organize and consolidate science in Palestine through the formation of disciplinary and multidisciplinary scientific societies and clusters which will have the critical mass to undertake effective scientific activities and to reach out to its counterparts around the world: societies in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, Agriculture and Environment, ICT, … and more have been established. 

Despite the challenges of Israel’s military occupation, we have also pursued the establishment of science bridges between Palestine and other countries: Germany, Canada, Czechia, France, and Russia. These bridges have created opportunities for student and faculty mobility and exchange, collaborative research and more. 

We have been reaching out to those Palestinians scientists forced to pursue their careers abroad hoping to engage them effectively in our efforts towards the advancement of learning and research in their homeland: through summer and winter schools, short visits, scientific consulting work and more. 

Our Message

We are writing from the Palestinian Academy for Science and Technology and the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), as fellow scientists and scholars, to urge the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JINR) to relocate the European School of High-Energy Physics, planned for May 18-31, 2022 [Update: The HEP School is now planned for Novermber 30 - December 13, 2022], away from apartheid Israel.

We do not use the term apartheid lightly. Palestinian scholars have for decades documented how Israel’s regime of racial dominaton and systematic oppression of Palestinians constitutes a regime of apartheid as defined under international law. Earlier this year, the notable international organization Human Rights Watch and Israel’s most prominent human rights organization B’Tselem both issued detailed reports concluding that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.

Most recently, in February 2022, the Israeli government published a new ‘Procedure for entry and residence of foreigners in the Judea and Samaria area’, Israel’s term for the occupied Palestinian West Bank. This new Israeli settler regulation gives Israel the absolute right to select which international academics and students may be present at Palestinian universities, as well as to set arbitrary criteria on which fields of study are permissible and what qualifications are acceptable. Israel’s sweeping draconian measures attack Palestinians’ right to education and academic freedom, and the autonomy of Palestinian universities. Birzeit University's statement calls on all academics and academic organizations to join in their struggle against this proposed procedure, and for their sovereign right to be an autonomous university.  

As Palestinian scholars and scientists, we are often confronted with calls not to mix politics and science. However, there is no separating the two for us as we live, teach and carry out research under Israeli apartheid and colonial rule. We trust that you will recognize that holding the CERN and JINR European School of High-Energy Physics in apartheid Israel and partnering with complicit Israeli institutions despite Israel’s ongoing oppression of millions of Palestinians are profoundly political choices. They directly harm us, our academic work, and our people’s struggle for freedom and self-determination.

We call on CERN and JINR to relocate the HEP school from apartheid Israel and refrain from organizing future events there until Israel ends its decades-long denial of fundamental Palestinian human rights and its blatant disregard for international law.

We urge students who have been accepted to renounce their participation unless CERN and JINR relocate the HEP school, thereby complying with their respective mission and charter to “push the frontiers of science and technology, for the benefit of all” and to use research “for peaceful purposes for the benefit of the whole mankind.”

Our Recommendation

Fellow scientists, it is our sincere hope that your deliberations will come up with innovative ways to carve a science bridge between Palestine and fellow scientists all over the world. Building a science bridge when other bridges are being undermined may be just the right answer. Such a bridge will be a visionary long-term investment in young talent and hope when hope has become a scarce commodity. 

Kind regards,

Signatories: 

  1. The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), representing more than 6,000 Palestinian university staff at 13 institutions of higher education in the occupied Palestinian territory.
  2. Palestine Academy for Science and Technology (PALAST), a national institution that functions as an umbrella for a number of projects and innovations aiming at the advancement of science, technology and innovation in Palestine, including:
  • Palestinian Mathematical Society
  • Palestinian Physics Society (PPS)
  • Palestinian Chemical Society
  • Palestinian Biological Society
  • Palestinian Plant Production and Protection Society
  • Palestinian Communications and Informatics Society
  • OWSD- Palestine National Chapter
  • Palestine Young Academy (PYA)

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