NYU Study Abroad in an apartheid state

Dina Mikdadi (Tuesday, March 31, 2009) – Last summer, Israel denied Palestinian Fulbright scholars in Gaza the right to travel abroad to pursue their studies. After some intervention on behalf of Condoleezza Rice, Israel allowed a few (but not all) to leave the Gaza Strip. Such absurd restrictions on Palestinian daily life are not uncommon. Gisha, an Israeli NGO, has reported on the difficulties Palestinians in Gaza encounter when attempting to study abroad. Gisha estimates that there are hundreds of students who were accepted by universities abroad and have valid visas. But Israel does not permit them to leave the Gaza Strip. Gisha also reports that there are similar cases in the West Bank, where students are barred by the Israeli army from attending universities in Israel. Nearly 700 checkpoints, a slew of Jewish-only roads and settlements, a complex system of travel permits, and an ominous separation barrier all stand in the way of Palestinians as they commute to school every day. Some wait for hours on a daily basis. Others are turned away entirely.

Palestinian citizens of Israel (both Christian and Muslim) also face obstacles, albeit of a different kind. Israeli law has made them third-class citizens in a state that continues to define itself as Jewish. There have been repeated calls for the mass transfer, or ethnic cleansing, of Palestinians by members of Israel”s legislative body. Palestinians are also thought to be a demographic threat. According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), Israel practices “systematic and institutionalized discrimination in all areas, such as land dispossession and allocation, education, language, economics, culture and political participation.” Adalah has also identified over 20 laws that directly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The combined experiences of Palestinian citizens of Israel and those of the West Bank and Gaza reflect a policy of separation and racism. It is precisely this type of discrimination that has led many to the conclusion that Israel is, in fact, an apartheid state. The Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1976 defines apartheid as “similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa” that have “the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them, in particular by means such as segregation, expropriation of land, and denial of the right to leave and return to their country, the right to a nationality and the right to freedom of movement and residence.”

This is official Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Jewish-only settlements continue to be built on Palestinian land, Palestinian refugees are disbarred from returning to their homes, and Palestinian citizens of Israel are continually discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity.

In light of this and Israel”s gruesome military campaign in Gaza, we must ask ourselves how NYU, in the spirit of academic freedom, can send students to study abroad in Israel. Would a study abroad program in Apartheid South Africa have been any more acceptable?

Dina Mikdadi is a student in the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. E-mail responses to opinion [at] nyunews.com.

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