Boycott Biochemical Congress in Jerusalem – demand 89 scholars

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PALESTINIAN, Israeli and international academics are urging colleagues to boycott the 2017 congress of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies in Jerusalem next month.

‘Some attendees will be unaware of Israel’s direct attacks on Palestinians’ right to education, including the bombing of schools and universities, and the obstruction of access to educational sites,’ the scientists and academics write in a letter that has been sent to all conference speakers.

‘The restrictions Israel places on the teaching and research of our Palestinian colleagues have severe consequences not only on research and educational opportunities, but also on Palestinians’ health.’

The 89 scholars calling for the boycott include researchers from leading institutions across Europe and North America. Even though no country recognises Israel’s claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem, the Federation of European Biochemical Societies conference website prominently advertises its location as ‘Jerusalem, Israel.’ It also locates the occupied Golan Heights – Syrian territory – as part of ‘Israel.’

Whether intentional or not, this makes the academic body a direct participant in Israel’s efforts to legitimise its violent occupation, annexation and colonisation of these territories in violation of international law.

The conference is sponsored by several Israeli universities that are directly complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, including weapons development, support for Israel’s attacks on Gaza and helping recruitment for Israel’s secret police.

Israeli universities are also directly involved in efforts to undermine international solidarity for Palestinian rights. The Association of University Heads of Israel, for instance, is known to help the Israeli government’s efforts to censor teaching about Palestine in universities in other countries and to try to thwart the global Palestinian rights movement.

One of the themes of the conference is the biochemistry of cancer. Rates of cancer are rising, particularly for Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip. But as the scholars point out, Israel actively obstructs life-saving treatment: ‘The five-year survival rate for breast cancer is as low as 30 per cent in Gaza, which Israel has besieged for the past 10 years, as compared to 86 per cent in Israel. In 2016, only 44 per cent of Gaza patients who requested access to Israeli hospitals were admitted; more than half of those refused entry were cancer patients.’

Meanwhile, the health system in Gaza is at the brink of collapse due to Israel’s severe reductions in the energy supply to the territory. Anticipating typical arguments against the boycott, the scholars state: ‘To be clear, the academic boycott of Israel that Palestinians have called for respects the universal principle of academic freedom as it is only directed at Israeli institutions, not individual academics. Despite the differences, it is inspired by the academic boycott of South Africa, which was called for in 1965 by 496 academics from 34 universities in the United Kingdom.’

Last year, after a similar appeal, several scholars pulled out of a conference on genocide hosted by Hebrew University. Israeli university leaders have said that they are being hit hard by a ‘silent boycott,’ where many academics stay away from Israeli institutions but do not make any public statement. Leading Israel lobby groups have also acknowledged the growing impact of the so-called silent boycott.

The scholars note that the Federation of European Biochemical Societies has itself been sensitive to political concerns regarding the location of its conferences. In 2016, the body expressed ‘solidarity with the Turkish scientific community’ facing curtailment of academic freedoms in Turkey, and subsequently cancelled its conference scheduled to take place there.

‘By organising its congress in Jerusalem, the FEBS participates consciously or unconsciously in whitewashing Israel’s violent repression of Palestinian human rights,’ said Ahmed Abbes, research director at France’s CNRS scientific institute, and secretary of AURDIP, an academic group that supports Palestinians rights. We hope that our colleagues will take the opportunity of consulting their consciences, listen to the voice of Palestinian civil society, and decline to cross this picket line.’

• Israeli forces detained eight Palestinians in overnight raids across the West Bank in the small hours of Monday morning. Multiple predawn raids were carried out across the occupied West Bank. In the northernmost district of Jenin, one Palestinian was detained in the village of Arraba and another was detained in the village of Bir al-Basha.

In the central occupied West Bank district of Ramallah, one Palestinian was detained in Deir Abu Mashal, one was detained in al-Jalazun refugee camp, and another was detained in the town of Silwad.

The Israeli army spokesperson reported two detentions in the southern occupied West Bank, one in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp, and one in the town of Surif north of Hebron city. Israeli raids in Palestinian towns, villages, and refugee camps are a daily occurrence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with a biweekly average of 85 search and detention raids carried thus far in 2017, according to UN documentation.

According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, 6,128 Palestinians were detained by Israel as of July, 320 of whom were children. The group has estimated that some 40 per cent of Palestinian men will be detained by Israel at some point in their lives.

• Israeli settlers reportedly levelled Palestinian land west of Salfit city in the central occupied West Bank on Sunday. Arab 48 news site quoted witnesses as saying that bulldozers levelled farmlands and pastures, some of which was planted with olive orchards. According to the report, the land is owned by the Islamic Endowment.

Villagers in the Salfit district told Arab 48 that the bulldozers levelled lands in an area known locally as Khallat al-Jami, part of which has already been developed by Israeli settlers to build a factory in the Ariel Industrial Zone, part of the illegal Israeli settlement bloc of Ariel – one of the largest settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The report quoted Khalid Maali, a researcher of settlement activity, as saying that lands razed on Sunday were an area considered by the Israeli state to be part of the industrial zone. A spokesperson for COGAT, the body responsible for imposing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.

Israeli bulldozers razed some 20 dunams (five acres) of Palestinian land to expand the industrial zone in March, and that Israeli authorities uprooted more than a dozen olive trees and levelled lands nearby in April. Palestinian villages in the area, including Kafr al-Dik, Deir Ballut, Rafat, Sarta, and al-Zawiya, have seen vast tracts of land confiscated for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the western outskirts of the Salfit district over the years.

According to the Bethlehem-based Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ), at least 17 illegal Israeli settlements and four Israeli industrial zones have been constructed on Palestinian lands in Salfit.

As of last year, ARIJ reported that 700 hectares (1,730 acres) of land in Salfit have been confiscated for the construction of Israeli bypass roads – roads which connect Israel’s illegal settlements to Jerusalem and Israel – and agricultural roads, including a new bypass road currently being built to connect the Ariel settlement to Road 60 cutting through the Palestinian district of Nablus and into Jerusalem.