Israel strives to keep business as usual

May 17, 2002

Israel's university campuses are reflecting the political upheaval created by Palestinian suicide bombers and Israeli army incursions into towns across the West Bank.

Issues of freedom of speech and whether individuals have the right to refuse to serve in the army are being discussed on campuses.

While life in the universities is as close to normal as possible - classes are held and research continues - security is heightened.

Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said:

"Students are very concerned (about the situation). The university's Rothberg International School, which runs a one-year programme for students from universities abroad, has seen a drop in (the enrolment of) students from 700 to 120.

"We are committed to keeping the programme running. However it is a financial burden to run it with a limited number of students. It means it is being subsidised by the university.

"Fifteen hundred students were called up recently during 'Defense Wall' into fighting units of the Israel Defense Forces," Professor Magidor said.

The university is also offering students who served in the IDF financial aid of up to 1,500 shekels (£230) to help them with the expenses involved in photocopying notes and other ways of making up their work time.

A group of Israeli professors who signed a petition supporting the "refuseniks" - students who refuse to serve in the army in the West Bank - has offered to help them when they return from prison.

Others, such as Yitzhak Parnass, director of the Hebrew University's Otto Loewy Minerva Centre for Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, who runs the Belmonte Science Laboratories for Jewish and Arab schoolchildren, have offered students private tutorials to make up for lost time.

"People who went to the reserves - some, even though they didn't believe in it - none of them did anything that was illegal. They should get all the help they need."

As for security, "it's impossible to prevent someone coming in with a bomb. You can only discourage them. So, security measures include stopping taxis, and checking the bags of every person coming into the campus," Professor Parnass said.

Professor Magidor expressed anger at suggestions for an academic boycott of Israel by British and other European academics. He described the idea as "outrageous, even though I'm not the greatest fan of Israeli policies". "To boycott Israeli academics and scientists would be totally out of proportion."

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