NEW ESSAY BY DAVID LLOYD / JANUARY 7, 2009


The Assault on Memory

Yesterday’s Israeli strike on a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, which killed at least 30 Palestinians, has been roundly and rightly condemned by the United Nations, by governments and citizens the world over. So too have the strikes on the Islamic University and the destruction of the American International School (http://www.juancole.com/2009/01/israel-destroys-american-school-in-gaza.html). Palestinian rocket attacks that have hit schools and other civilian targets in Israel should also be forthrightly condemned, though there is no comparison possible between those random strikes and the systematic, deliberate and extensive destruction of Palestinian educational institutions by the massive firepower of the Israeli Defense Force. For any teacher, there is something peculiarly appalling about violence deliberately directed at educational institutions, at students and teachers, at the means of research and instruction, and at the lines of communication that tie the networks of thought and inquiry together across the world.

But in this moment of humanitarian crisis, of moral and political outrage, at a time of grief and anger, we would do well not to forget that these recent military assaults on Palestinian educational institutions belong in a pattern of Israeli efforts to disrupt and destroy schools and universities in the West Bank and Gaza. As always, Israel claims that schools and universities have been targeted because of rockets launched from them or because, like universities everywhere in the world, they contribute to military research. But for months, the siege of Gaza has seriously depleted supplies of educational materials, books, pens and paper; not to mention the lack of power and water that have made it impossible for schools and universities to function properly or continuously. The Israeli government recently denied Fulbright scholars the right to leave Gaza for the United States to take up the coveted scholarships they had earned even under the most adverse conditions. Over and over again, schools and universities on the West Bank have been subject to closure, sometimes for months on end, as a means of collective punishment for the crime of resistance to occupation. (<http://www.nearinternational.org/alert-detail.asp?alertid=386> <http://www.wrmea.com/backissues/0596/9605008.htm>
<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article1048.shtml>)


Routinely, the hundreds of checkpoints that hinder the movement of Palestinian civilians through the occupied territories prevent schoolchildren and students from reaching their schools and campuses. <http://www.birzeit.edu/news/16314/news> Past military assaults have deliberately targeted Palestinian records and archives (http://www.pitt.edu/~ttwiss/irtf/resolutions.palestinianlibs.html), including the Palestinian Research Center in West Beirut during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Clearly these assaults on the educational and research institutions of the Palestinian people long preceded the end of the truce in Gaza or even the election of Hamas. They have been going on for decades and constitute an attack directed at both the history and the future of the Palestinians. A people claimed by Golda Meir not to exist, which yet persists in resisting its destruction and in affirming its historical and legitimate claim to sovereignty in Palestine, has to be deprived both of its material records and of its capacity for intellectual and cultural reproduction. It must be denied contact with the world of learning and reduced to ignorance and isolation. Far better that Palestinian schools be maligned for teaching hate, for teaching from maps that continue to use the historical Arabic names of towns and cities that have been settled and renamed by Israelis, that retain the names and locations of Palestinian villages destroyed and paved over, than that Palestinians should participate in the international community of scholars and disseminate their knowledge and their perspectives freely. It is, as Mahmoud Darwish so eloquently recorded in Memory for Forgetfulness, a war over memory as much as it is a war over territory. Indeed, the two are inextricable.

As teachers, it is right that we should protest, loudly and non-violently, the recent destruction of Palestinian institutions, the deaths of schoolchildren and students, teachers and watchmen, in Israel’s assault on Gaza. The Director of UNESCO condemned a proposal to boycott Israeli academics, arguing that “places of learning--schools, universities, laboratories, and research centres--are the seedbeds of a culture of peace" (http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article1048.shtml). Surely we must condemn all the more loudly not the mere boycott, but the destruction of places of learning in Gaza.

But we cannot stop there. Even as Daphna Golan of Hebrew University calls for a “peace strike” by Israeli academics (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1053426.html), teachers in the United States—whose tax dollars fund the Israeli military and security infrastructure, its economy and its illegal settlements to the tune of billions per year—must strike in our own ways. We should consider a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel’s assault and stranglehold on Gaza ceases; we should begin to implement a call for divestment and for an end to the US’s uncritical and unconditional material and political support of Israel. We must demand that our university presidents condemn as unequivocally Israeli assaults on and closures of Palestinian places of learning as they condemned the boycott of Israeli academics. We must organize teach-ins and courses that provide our students with an even-handed account of the history of Palestine and Israel and refuse to be harassed by the tired and worn-out accusations of anti-semitism or extremism that will inevitably follow. We must use our resources to support film series and cultural events that record the diversity and richness of the cultures of Palestine and the Levant. We must endeavor to establish exchanges between US and Palestinian Universities and, above all at this moment, find ways to assist their shattered institutions with material support. As teachers, we must commit ourselves to ensuring the memory and the future of the Palestinian people.

David Lloyd
Los Angeles, 1/7/09