Why I ...believe academic sanctions should be taken against Israel

August 16, 2002

Living in Ramallah where the sight of Israeli tanks has become commonplace and leaving the city by car an impossibility, it is almost a compliment to learn that the rest of the world considers you a participant in the international war on terrorism. Since March 28 when Israeli tanks invaded the city, normal life has been impossible. The entire Palestinian society has been the victim of a merciless economic warfare waged by the Israeli government. Close to one out of ten Palestinian children has acute malnutrition; the economy has been destroyed. It has become an act of heroism for students and faculty to get to their universities.

When I was growing up, wars in the Middle East were no less frequent than they are now. I experienced two before I turned 16 - the Suez war and the war of 1967 between Israel and the Arab countries that Israel calls the six days war. Bearing in mind Israeli policies over the past 30 years, it is not difficult to discern the path Israel is determined to pursue in its latest war with the Palestinians. It is the preservation of the settlements established in the occupied territories after 1967.

It is not untypical for Israel to place its struggle with the Palestinians in the context of whoever is the current international villain. When the communists had that honour, Israel presented its war with them as part of the US war against the Great Evil. When Israeli tanks fired at buildings all around my mother's house during the April invasion, Israel claimed it was rooting out terrorists. The names of the ever-more lethal offensives may become more catchy, but the Israeli objective remains constant. Regardless of political party, successive Israeli governments have been unwavering in their pursuit of the objective of expanding the borders of their country through the inclusion of territories occupied in 1967.

Over the past 30 years, the Palestinians have tried various ways of liberating themselves from occupation. The Palestinian Liberation Organisation fought Israel from outside the occupied territories. Palestinians under occupation waged human rights campaigns against Israel; non-violence was tried. Nothing seemed to work. When the PLO embraced diplomacy it ended up signing a peace accord in Oslo that allowed Israel to continue with its settlement programme, which it pursued with added vigour, doubling the number of settlers in the occupied territories.

It is clear the Palestinians cannot win their war of independence against Israel. The international community is legally obliged to enforce respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is in this context that the question of academic or other sanctions should be placed: the European Union, for example, has an obligation to review its scientific and technical cooperation agreements with Israel and take measures - such as freezing them - until international humanitarian law is respected.

But international solidarity will not materialise unless the facts are clearly understood. Palestinians have never been blessed with good leadership, which further confuses the basic facts. For example, the fact that while most Palestinians would settle for a Palestinian state in the occupied territories side by side with Israel, Israel continues to make the claim that its war against the Palestinians is a war of survival. Israel's survival is not at stake, the Palestinian nation's certainly is.

Yet even the most glaring facts do not speak for themselves. If not, how could Israel have convinced the world that by fighting to preserve the illegal settlements built in territories occupied in the course of a belligerent war it is helping the world get rid of terrorism.

Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine by Raja Shehadeh is published by Profile Books this week, price £9.99.

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