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  • Writer's pictureThe Gaudie

Open Letter to Prof Boyne on Palestine

Updated: Mar 19

The University must stand on the side of the Palestinian people, a collaborative group of staff and students have written



Dear Professor Boyne,


On Wednesday 17 January, the last remaining university in Gaza was destroyed by Israeli

mines. This is just the latest act of cultural destruction by the Israeli government, which has been ordered by the International Court of Justice to act to prevent genocidal violence in

Gaza as well as punishing incitements to this crime.


The conduct of the Israeli Defence

Forces has been condemned by a litany of human rights’ organisations including Amnesty

International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem. Despite appeals from the Palestinian

university sector for support from academics and institutions around the world, the University of Aberdeen remains quiet.


We write as Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and secular members of the University community to insist that the University bears an urgent responsibility to speak in solidarity with the

Palestinian people, and to express its opposition to the ongoing Israeli military campaign.


We recognise that civilians in both the Palestinian and the Israeli populations have suffered from many years of successive wars, and we urge the University to act in support of a ceasefire in Gaza. We note that the University acted decisively in support of Ukrainians

fleeing the Russian invasion, and are dismayed that similar efforts have not been expended

for Palestinians.


The World Health Organisation has described the humanitarian situation of Gaza as

catastrophic’.


The January issue of Occupied Palestinian Territory Emergency Situation Update of the WHO reports over 23,000 fatalities in the Gaza strip since the 7th of October 2023, 70% being women and children.


The WHO also warns that the number of dead is likely to further escalate as a result of the spread of disease and starvation, amid Israel’s

blockade against medical and food aid.


This further wave of death is set to disproportionately affect ‘children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and older people.’


As a Higher Education institution, we have a duty to provide information and education to all.

This responsibility is significantly heavier in this case, given that the University of Aberdeen has made a commitment to decolonise and aspires to become ‘an antiracist university’.


To proclaim institutional support for decolonisation (including a recognition that ‘decolonisation is not a metaphor’ but is ‘about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life’), while addressing the violence in Israel-Palestine as a time for ‘mutual care and compassion for all’ - without further action or detail - is deeply hypocritical.


The only way to begin an honest discussion on the issue is with a recognition that Israel is a

state founded through a colonial war of dispossession (described by Palestinians as the Nakba), that Israel has engaged in a long-running and forcible occupation of Palestinian land in violation of international law, that successive Israeli governments have enforced policies of racial discrimination targeting Palestinians and others, and that the present bombardment represents a historic acceleration of this colonising process.


Decolonisation cannot happen without ending Israeli apartheid, ending the forcible occupation of Palestinian land, and respecting the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

There is a clear double standard being applied here. The University’s response to the

Russian invasion of Ukraine was far less hesitant and ambiguous.


Even despite a massive rise in hate crime against Russian people in the UK after the invasion, the University spoke publicly against Russia’s act of aggression and initiated programmes of support for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict.


Concern for the University’s Russian community did not, in this case, trump support for a population victimised by war. The starkly different approach adopted on Palestine has raised important questions about the institution’s priorities and commitments, and is risking real damage to its reputation.


Among the questions being asked by members of the University community are: is the University reluctant to put its institutional weight behind issues that do not align with UK

government policy, even when such policy represents a minority position on the global stage, as evident in the UN General Assembly’s support for a ceasefire?


Is the University less concerned with supporting populations endangered by overwhelming military violence when they are not European?

And has the University sought to prioritise appeasement of supporters of Netanyahu’s bombardment - which is regarded by much of the world as a genocide, and is being treated plausibly as such by the ICJ - over recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people?


The mere fact that such questions are being asked by many in our community indicates that

the University has displayed a disappointing double standard over recent months.


Even setting aside the University’s responsibility to the Palestinian people - and especially to the thousands of students, and dozens of professors, who have been killed by Israeli bombs - this issue has become a major source of concern about academic freedom and freedom of speech in the UK.


The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies has had to issue a statement on the escalating threat to academic freedom since 7 October, l as both scholarly and public discussion of the issue have been subjected to censure.


Events featuring pro-Palestinian

speakers have been cancelled by University administrations, students involved in pro-Palestine activism have been suspended from study, and there have been widespread calls for an apology from a student rector at St. Andrews after they described Israel’s bombing as a genocide.


Perhaps most concerningly, Michelle Donelan, a government minister, has successfully intervened in the UK research community, writing a complaint to the UKRI against members of its EDI committee for their issuance of pro-Palestine messages on Twitter/X.


This followed on from an effort by then-frontbench MP Suella Braverman to criminalise pro-Palestine protest.


Already, similar protests have been

criminalised in Germany and France, and recently in Scotland a pro-Palestine activist has

been arrested after expressing his support for the Palestinian people’s right to resist the

military occupation of their land.


A key role is being played by university administrations in the present atmosphere of political repression. It has proven especially challenging for those who are in the UK on visas, many of whom are too concerned about possible threats to their immigration status to speak their mind freely on the Palestine issue.


These problems are not remote from Aberdeen; all of these fears are affecting staff and students at this institution. Numerous students have reported, for instance, that they were advised by staff against researching, writing about, or speaking up for Palestine, for fear of possible damage to students’ careers or even threats to their student visas.


Meanwhile, staff are acutely aware that speaking out of line on this issue

may adversely affect their careers, especially given dark news about planned redundancies.


Such an atmosphere of fear cannot be permitted to prevail.


It is incumbent on the University to reassure its staff and students that it provides a safe place, where information and views on the situation in the Middle East can be circulated without censorship and censure.


The University should issue an assurance that no detriment - whether in the form of PREVENT

reports, administrative sanctions, or threats to job security - will be inflicted on members of

its community for voicing support for Palestinian freedom.


We also insist that, given the continued violence against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with the assistance of theBritish state and British industry, the University issues a further statement, clarifying its opposition to the ongoing massacre and its interest in supporting Palestinians affected by the crisis.


Regards,


The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign at the University of Aberdeen

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