October 20, 2014

Commentary | September 24, 2012
64 bullets from McGill to Tel Aviv
Condemning McGill’s recent institutional partnerships
Written by | Visual by Amina Batyreva | The McGill Daily

Last Friday, the McGill website announced: “McGill to partner with Israeli research institutions.” The announcement concerned McGill’s new Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with Tel Aviv University (TAU), Bar-Ilan University, and a renewal of their MoU with the Weizmann Institute of Science. The announcement comes at the end of the Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s “economic mission” to Israel, which took place from September 8 through 14. One of McGill’s own administrators, Dr. Rose Goldstein, Vice-Principal (Research and International Relations), accompanied the Mayor on his mission.

This “economic mission” has been used to turn attention away from Israel’s record of human rights violations, oppression of the Palestinian people, and establishment of apartheid structures, and instead focus attention on the economic successes of Israel.

Over the past two years, I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the West Bank, working as a human rights observer. I’ve also spent time in Israel, around Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, all over. When I was in Jerusalem this summer, a friend spoke to me about weapons design and development that takes place at Israeli institutions. When I saw McGill’s announcement, I thought I would do some research on the military involvement of the largest university in Israel, TAU. Some of the facts in this article were compiled by students in the School of Oriental and African Studies, at the University of London.

Tel Aviv University has provided support, research, and development for various technologies that are employed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) today. TAU’s former president, Zvi Galil, has spoken about the importance of TAU’s contribution to the Israeli security sector by saying, “I myself am awed by the magnitude and scientific creativity of the work being done behind the scenes at TAU that enhances the country’s civilian defense capabilities and military edge.” Many things about McGill’s MoU with TAU are problematic: not only was the decision to forge an agreement made by the senior administration without community consultation, but the decision sends a distinct political message.

Numerous academics from TAU have been directly involved with the development of Israeli military ethics and sciences. Professor of Pragmatics and Ethics Asa Kasher has been involved in providing rationale for the Israel’s use of assassination, torture, and anti-personnel munitions. Kasher also played a part in composing the IDF’s code of ethics, known as the “Doctrine of Just War.”

Kasher is only one of various TAU academics involved in military support and research and development – others include the Professor and General Yitzhak Ben-Israel, the former director of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT). In 2007, he chaired an event called “Electro-optics in the Battlefield of the Future,” which examined the role of military technologies in Lebanon’s 2006 war, and how they took “Lebanon back twenty years by striking its vital infrastructure.” Furthermore, TAU departments and faculties that explicitly take part in military operations include the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), the Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI), the Tel Aviv Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, and others.

TAU plays a significant role in the longest military occupation in history – all done in the name of security, but a security responsible for maintaining a kill ratio of twenty Palestinians to one Israeli over the past 64 years. Furthermore, the announcement of the McGill-TAU MoU was published the weekend before the anniversary of the Sabra and Shatila massacres, during which thousands of Palestinian refugees were slaughtered; our university should realize the insensitive tone this message sends to its Arab and Palestinian counterparts.

Part of Tremblay’s economic mission included a visit to the West Bank – a sugar-coated attempt at portraying situations in the area as optimistic. In an article in Canadian Jewish News, Jonathan Kalles, a staff member at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), commented on the economic mission, “They [the Palestinians] gave us an overview of the economy and business practices, and of the difficulties and their perception of who is at fault: Israel.” Kalles’ comment overlooks the reality of the occupation (and that Israel is, in fact, at fault). He adds, “They [the Palestinians] were pleasantly surprised to see that, while the economic situation is difficult, it looks like there is a lot of growth, a lot of building. It’s a different perception from what they [the Palestinians] get in the media.” Along with the strong Orientalist tone used by Kalles, came lies of “economic growth” in Palestine, and not one reference neither by him, nor any other member of the delegation of the illegal occupation: the root cause of the West Bank’s depressed economic situation.

Throughout the “economic mission,” there was absolutely no mention of Gaza, the open-air prison that lays southwest of Tel-Aviv and remains under blockade. Furthermore, in all the announcements and media reports I’ve read, it appears as though Israel and the West Bank were continuously referred to as distinct entities, distinct economies. Thus, this mission has been unable to understand the intra-territorial nature of the conflict, how these economies are very much interlinked, and how Israel and the West Bank function as one state (with the exclusion of Gaza, of course). Take Israeli-Arabs: they are forced to either integrate and become a secular, anti-radical, pro-Israeli Arab – or they’ll be put on the other side of the wall, the side with soldiers and guns and tanks.

What Tremblay doesn’t understand is that any other country would’ve been sanctioned as a result of violating international law and human rights declarations. This unequivocal support of Israel, an ally of the US, should cease in order to ensure the right of self-determination and representation for the Palestinian people.

If the argument for partnerships with Israeli institutions is that of creativity and excellence in research, then Palestine should not be excluded – and neither should Palestinian institutions in their current state. Historic works in Palestinian academia have been heavily excluded from praise and recognition due to one simple reality: the cultural theft Israel committed in its ethnic cleansing of 1948. The Great Book Robbery, a documentary shown on Al Jazeera, outlined that very cultural theft, explaining how 70,000 Palestinian-authored books were robbed, some of which were handwritten and dated back hundreds of years. Many of these works were stolen from the upper-class neighbourhoods of Jerusalem (Al Quds), 7aifa (Haifa, the anglicized Arabic way of writing it), Tel Al-Rabee’ (Tel Aviv, in Arabic, means the Hill of Spring), and other cities. The stolen works are now locked up in the Israeli National Library. Rather than indirectly fuelling the death of Palestinian academia, McGill’s partnerships should be a driving force for the growth and development of afflicted institutions.

A professor recently told me that in order to innovate, one needs a little bit of talent and a lot of luck. We need to provide the children of Palestine with that luck, those opportunities. Partnering with “world class” institutions may have its incentives for McGill. But the incentives of extracting bright creative minds, from oppressed communities in Palestine, should be on the top of our university’s agenda. McGill remembered South Africans thirty years ago, but forgot about the Palestinians. We will never forget. The people of Palestine will never forget.

Moe Nasr is a human rights observer in Hebron, West Bank and currently serves as a Science Senator at McGill. He can be reached at sciencesenator2@ssmu.mcgill.ca

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