Leader: Academia has key role in Middle East peace

January 10, 2003

Last Sunday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv was an act of undeniable atrocity, and Israel's response might have been swift and terrible. Instead, it banned Palestinian diplomats from travelling to the London peace conference and placed travel restrictions on Palestinians under 35. It also indicated that three West Bank universities would close. As in the 1987-92 uprising, Israel sees the universities as incubators of terrorism, and there is evidence of a link. One threatened university has produced at least eight suicide bombers.

Strong universities are a precondition for a viable Palestinian state, an idea that has gained sustained international support. But they need a free society to thrive. Only an end to the prospect of social disintegration can counter the appeal of radicals. Unless Israel reconsiders, closures will strengthen support for an academic boycott of Israel, heightening the divisiveness that that flawed call has created on campuses across Europe. It is time to heed the advice of Koïchiro Matsuura, director-general of Unesco, that dialogue between academic communities is sometimes the last bond between people divided by war and the first stage towards reconciliation.

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