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US and Europe bear direct blame for Israel's war on Palestinian education

Devastation of the territory's academic infrastructure is an integral part of the ongoing genocide
Displaced Palestinian children attend a class recently opened in a school used as a temporary shelter in Beit Lahya in the northern Gaza Strip on 4 May, 2024 (AFP)

While the world’s attention is rightly focused on a massive student uprising in the US and to a smaller scale in Europe, triggered by Columbia University students in New York, there has been less focus on the ongoing devastation of the Palestinian educational system, a process known as “scholasticide”.   

The vicious onslaught that Israel has staged for the whole world to see in Gaza, with the enthusiastic participation of the US and Europe, has a particularly sinister aspect in the destruction of the education, learning, culture, humanity and civilisation at the heart of the Palestinian national liberation movement.  

Israel’s targeting of Palestinian educational infrastructure is not accidental. It has hit institutions, students, parents and teachers, along with the very air they breathe and the food they need, as part of an attempt to eradicate Palestinians and destroy their resistance. While this plot is ultimately futile, the immediate results are cataclysmic.  

To be sure, the US currently faces scholasticide of a different sort, where notorious opportunist politicians are busy seeking to debone the critical apparatuses of American university campuses.  

As seats of higher learning, American universities are under systematic assault by reactionary politicians, who are deeply troubled by the crescendo of critical judgment definitive to an entire generation of scholars and their students that is exposing the unabashed savagery at the roots of American and European history.  

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From Native American and African American studies, to queer studies, to intersectional feminism, to postcolonial studies and more, politicians and their Zionist donors are up in arms to put an end to it all. They are too late.    

Scholasticide can assume many forms. At least since the publication of the late American historian Richard Hofstadter’s classic book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, and long before that, the critical assessment of Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, the unabashed charlatanism at the foundation of American politics has feared any sign of critical intelligence in this country.  

'Grave concern'

The ongoing scholasticide in Palestine, however, is of an entirely different vintage. Independent UN human rights authorities have warned of the “systematic destruction” of the Palestinian education system in the Gaza Strip. The very word “Palestine” frightens genocidal Zionists.

“The persistent, callous attacks on educational infrastructure in Gaza have a devastating long-term impact on the fundamental rights of people to learn and freely express themselves, depriving yet another generation of Palestinians of their future,” the UN warned last month. 

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Israel cannot seem to fathom a future for itself as a settler colony without simultaneously exuding a diabolical urge to destroy the very existence of Palestine. It is even scared of images of watermelon slices.

Israel aims to permanently maim and kill an entire nation, body and soul, history and memory

UN experts have “expressed grave concern” over the recent pattern of Israeli attacks on schools, universities, teachers and students in the Gaza Strip, noting that with more than 80 percent of schools in Gaza damaged or destroyed, “it may be reasonable to ask if there is an intentional effort to comprehensively destroy the Palestinian education system, an action known as ‘scholasticide’”.  

Meanwhile, in the US and Europe, state and university authorities are terrorising those protesting such atrocities by calling them “antisemites”. The message they are sending to the world is this: sit there and watch as Israel slaughters an entire nation, killing people in their tens of thousands, their bodies and souls, their minds and their very collective existence, with astounding savagery - and don’t you dare utter a word in protest, or we will label you an antisemite. 

Many Jews are themselves at the forefront of the fight against this malicious Zionist savagery. The frenzy of US legislators to silence and criminalise protests against Israel’s barbarism in Gaza has even prompted criticism from some right-wing Christian fundamentalists

Historical pattern

The term “scholasticide” was reportedly coined by Oxford professor Karma Nabulsi in the context of the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza, while also referencing the historical pattern of Israeli attacks on the Palestinian educational system dating back to the Nakba.

Back in 2009, the Guardian reported: “In the current offensive, Israel began attacking Gaza’s educational institutions immediately … [causing] severe damage in direct strikes on Gaza’s Islamic University. The main buildings were devastated, destroying administrative records, and, of course, ending studies. The Ministry of Education has been hit twice by direct hits from the air.” 

This time around, the Israelis have outdone themselves. All of Gaza’s 12 universities and more than 370 schools have been damaged or destroyed, while the education ministry has reported the deaths of more than 4,300 students, 230 teachers and 90 professors. In addition, cultural heritage sites such as libraries, archives and museums have been hit.

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The world has not been entirely silent in face of this Israeli barbarism. Hundreds of academics in the US and around the world have condemned the ongoing scholasticide in Palestine. But Israel appears deaf and blind to any such objections.

The world must hold the genocidal Zionists in their garrison state, and their enablers in the US and Europe, accountable. Provisions must be made for all major universities in Europe, the US, Canada and Australia to build campuses in Gaza and lend their resources to these institutions, which must be run, staffed and administered by and for Palestinians.  

Scholars from around the globe must be allowed to go to Gaza and spend sabbatical leave there. Palestinian scholars and students must be invited to spend time in North American and western European universities. Meanwhile, the academic boycott of Israeli universities must continue until they open their doors to Palestinian students and scholars from the entirety of the Palestinian homeland.

Israeli scholasticide in Palestine is deeply intertwined with the genocide of the Palestinian people. Israel aims to permanently maim and kill an entire nation, body and soul, history and memory. The US and Europe bear direct responsibility for these vicious actions, which are integral to the Zionist project of dehumanising Palestinians in order to destroy them en masse. 

The world at large is watching this savagery with open eyes. The era of Zionist chicanery is over.  

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in the City of New York, where he teaches Comparative Literature, World Cinema, and Postcolonial Theory. His latest books include The Future of Two Illusions: Islam after the West (2022); The Last Muslim Intellectual: The Life and Legacy of Jalal Al-e Ahmad (2021); Reversing the Colonial Gaze: Persian Travelers Abroad (2020), and The Emperor is Naked: On the Inevitable Demise of the Nation-State (2020). His books and essays have been translated into many languages.
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