Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity – Paul Frosh, Hebrew University, Jerusalem Added by David Hirsh – 3 November 2006

Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity - Paul Frosh, Hebrew University, JerusalemThe Glamour of the Boycott

One of the chief attractions of the boycott position is its apparently radical call to arms. This offers union members and activists three main benefits:

1) It gives people with apparently little ability to influence the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or energy to devote to developing such influence, a clear course of action. Rather than just issuing verbal condemnations, they can actually do something – and something that isn’t particularly complicated, time-consuming or difficult.

2) While not being especially difficult or complicated, boycotting carries overtones of both moral opprobrium and fitting punishment. It seems appropriate to the severity of the actions of which Israel is accused; or more accurately, by calling for a boycott, Israel’s actions are made to seem singularly odious enough to deserve the kind of international isolation and shunning that a boycott involves. If writing letters and going on demonstrations seems pathetic given the scale of media coverage of the conflict, then there is always the boycott. And if a boycott is being seriously proposed, then Israel’s behaviour must be uniquely ‘beyond the pale’, and each Israeli must be held accountable for it.

3) Just as it expresses moral opprobrium, so the boycott bestows on those calling for it the de facto status of moral arbiters and moral celebrities. The more severe the judgment and action against Israel, the more enhanced is the boycotters’ status. This is because one boycotts in order to be seen to be boycotting. Paradoxically for an action that is designed to shut down dialogue, to boycott is to make a conspicuous, almost theatrical public statement. Boycotts are glamorous gestures: they confer instant radical chic. Irrespective of how little actual solidarity work those proposing them undertook in their pre-boycott days, they suddenly become respected figures, eminences at the barricades of academia, unimpeachable judges of what constitutes a fitting response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the only loyal and real friends of the Palestinian people. That is why they can arrogantly demand of Israelis, including many who have been actively involved in peace and solidarity activities for decades: prove that you meet the moral and political standards we have set for you; we’ll be the judges of whether or not you’ve done enough to combat the occupation.

So, proponents of the academic boycott offer a clear and easy course of action free of ethical complexities, a form of punishment which seems to fit the crime of which Israel is judged to be uniquely guilty, topped with enhanced moral authority and political renown. In short – vote to boycott and you can emerge with a clear conscience and superior status, all in return for almost no actual work. Is it therefore so surprising that boycotting Israel has become the nip-and-tuck, the quick fix, and the instant meal-ticket of current political thinking?

Modest Activism and Quiet Solidarity
There are however some honourable alternatives to the self-righteous, self-serving posturing at the heart of the boycotters’ position. This paper highlights some of them by giving politically unglamorous examples of real academic cooperation and solidarity with Palestinians, undertaken by just one Israeli university – the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The examples, and the people behind them, embody a principle of modest activism, grounded in collaborative bilateral research which either explicitly aims at fostering the conditions for a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, or which – at the very least – brings about dialogue and intimacy as a key bi-product of traditional scientific research between peers. Such solidarity, supported and funded by international institutions such as UNESCO, the European Union, USAID, and the aid agencies, research foundations and governments of European and other countries, is based not on media circuses and self-aggrandizing bluster, but on the quiet and patient cultivation of trust and respect under the most difficult of circumstances. It is this modest activism and quiet solidarity that will be crushed by the boycotters’ bandwagon.

Such modest activism is at the heart of recent expressions of solidarity between Israeli universities and Palestinian academics and students. These include:

* pressure successfully brought to bear by Israeli universities on former Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz to cancel plans to route the controversial ‘security wall’ right through the centre of Al-Quds University in Bethlehem, thereby threatening to split the campus in half and effectively destroying the university.
* a joint letter sent to Minister of Defence Amir Peretz calling upon the government to cancel the blanket ban on Palestinian students from entering Israel to study. This was in support of the legal and media campaign organized by Gisha, an organization devoted to the achievement of freedom of movement for Palestinians which was founded and is run by Israeli academics and lawyers. With characteristic arrogance some boycotters have recently claimed that this solidarity was only undertaken because of the boycott threat: i.e. they are trying to take credit for the hard work and ongoing commitment of those whom the boycott threatens, while cynically belittling their motives.

The Oslo Precedent
It’s also worth recalling that the trust that is quietly created by international academic cooperation proved central to a historic breakthrough in Israel-Palestinian relations: the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. These were signed following secret talks between Israeli academics and senior PLO officials. The Israelis were Yair Hirschfeld, from the Department of the History of the Middle East at Haifa University, and Ron Pundak, who – having completed his Ph.D. in Middle East Political History at SOAS – had become a Fellow of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The Palestinians were Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), Hassan Asfour, and Maher al-Kurd, all close associates of Yasser Arafat. Their talks in Oslo were made possible by the contacts maintained with both sides by Terje Larsen, a Norwegian social scientist with Norwegian Foreign Office contacts who at the time headed FAFO, a European peace research institute, and who had been studying the living conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories (he subsequently because UN special coordinator to the Middle East negotiations). It was also made possible by the fact that while Hirschfeld and Pundak were academics, they had strong links with a former academic from Tel Aviv University, Yossi Beilin, then Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister (and currently leader of the Meretz Party). These two factors – the trust created by open academic networks, and the links between those networks and progressive political figures – were among the conditions that allowed the Oslo process to take place and gave it such significance.

Now imagine that it is 1993 and that Terje Larsen, by no means a friend of the Israeli occupation and loathed by the Israeli right, is a member of an academic trade union that has decided to sever all contacts with Israeli academics unless they first submit themselves to a political acceptability test. Would he have been able to fulfill such a pivotal role in enabling peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians (remember – Israelis talking to the PLO were at this time committing a criminal offence under Israeli law, while moderate PLO officials who talked to Israelis risked assassination by Palestinian extremists)? Would anyone in Israel have taken him remotely seriously as someone they could work with, as someone who had proved through hard work, detailed research and persistent dialogue – without giving up any ground on principles – that they could be trusted with such a heavy responsibility? Would Palestinians have turned to him as someone who could get the Israelis to the negotiating table without selling them out? Can you imagine Stephen Rose or his ilk ever being able to fulfill such a role, away from the lure of the podium and the letters page? The idea would be laughable, if the reality wasn’t so sickening: that in writing off Israeli academics as inherently collaborationist with the supposed forces of evil they may be smothering the sparks of a future just peace. And, of course, along the way condemning British academics to utter and undeserved irrelevance.

Cooperation Between The Hebrew University and Palestinian Academics

Following, then, are some examples of recent and current collaborative projects undertaken by Hebrew University and Palestinian academics. Most of these are concerned with bilateral research, though some are joint academic programs for Israeli and Palestinian students. I have left out the many more projects with academics from neighbouring Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt. Further details of these and other projects are available from the Research and Development Authority of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Peace Process and Conflict Resolution
The Hebrew University’s involvement in these projects is principally through the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace.

Israeli-Palestinian Public Opinion Polls
These joint public opinion polls are designed to measure what Israelis and Palestinians think, in real time, about subjects pertaining to peace prospects—and what the alternatives mean. The project began in July 2000, in the wake of the failed Camp David summit. Since then, the Truman Institute and the Bethlehem-based Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research have conducted six other polls, asking samples of the Palestinian and Israeli populations what they think of the prospects for peace, the impact of terrorism, how they view each other, and their views on the Geneva initiative. By making available to each side trends in both their own and in their ‘enemy’s’ opinions, this project makes a practical contribution to growing public awareness of the potential for compromise. This in turn increases the pressure on politicians to initiate strategies for negotiation: if, for instance, polls consistently show that a majority of Palestinians support a negotiated settlement, Israeli politicians find it harder to claim that there is no Palestinian ‘partner’ for peace.

Palestinian and Israeli Textbooks
How do history and civics textbooks in Israeli and Palestinian schools treat Arab-Jewish relations in the region in the last hundred years? How can they be written so as to reduce stereotyping and hatred of the other side? Following an in-depth analysis of the textbooks used in the educational systems of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian and Israeli researchers are preparing new model textbooks to be used in early schooling, along with instructions to the teachers. This reflects an attempt to educate towards a more constructive and less prejudiced future.

Jerusalem: Points of Friction and Possible Solutions
The status of the city of Jerusalem, claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital city, is one of the thorniest and most intractable questions facing negotiators of a final peace settlement. Three teams of Palestinians and Israelis have written a book exploring solutions for such issues as the sharing of Holy Places, sovereignty, and a master plan for the city. The book is being distributed as a problem-solving resource for negotiators.

The “Enemy,” as Portrayed in the Israeli and Palestinian Media
How did the Palestinian media portray to its people of the devastating Passover bombing in Netanya? How did the Israeli media cover the Israeli offensive in Jenin in 2002? In other words, how is the “enemy” depicted by each side’s mass media? This study analyzes how the news that Israelis and Palestinians read and see is constructed. Given what is known about media behaviour during such conflicts there can be little doubt that the mass media play a considerable role in reinforcing and even exacerbating negative images of the enemy. It is critical to examine the professional norms and routines that perpetuate this destructive process.

An Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue on Shared History
It has been a truism of Arab-Israeli dialogue and peacemaking efforts that the past must be avoided in order to deal with the present and create a peaceful future. However, despite the current violence, knowledge of the other side’s view of its own past is essential to creating understanding. In this project, 14 papers were written (7 by Israelis, 7 by Palestinians) on aspects of Israeli-Palestinian history between 1882-1950. A series of transcribed sessions discussed the conclusions of the papers and a publication is forthcoming.

Teaching about the Religion of the Other
The religious aspect of the Israeli-Arab conflict has become increasingly prominent in the last 50 years, and religious figures and movements are among the most intransigent on both sides. This project aims at developing educational mate¬rials for the teaching of the religion of the “other” by concentrating on common themes in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.

The Status of Religious Freedom in Palestinian and Israeli Societies: Current Situation and Normative Options
This project has generated research reports by a Palestinian and an Israeli scholar in an introspective analysis of the existing conditions of religious freedom with a view towards suggesting alternative legislation to ensure long-term progress in this area. The common threads include the legacy of a common Ottoman legislation; the fact that there are strong groups within the respective political systems interested in promoting a religious agenda; that both societies have a clearly dominant religious presence; and that the dominant religion contains a code including comprehensive laws of social and political order.

The Common Heritage of Arabs and Jews
Arabs and Jews have more than a millennium of shared experience – though that point is often forgotten today. This project has as its primary goal the development of university and high school curricula that promote understanding of how the ‘Children of Abraham’ – Jews, Christians and Muslims – have enriched one another’s civilizations, as well as to raise general public awareness of our common heritage, based on language, history, literature, religion and philosophy. These positive historical experiences and encounters between Arabs and Jews can serve as models for future cooperation within the framework of independent states.

Trilateral Land Exchange between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt:
A Solution for Promoting Peace between Israel and the PA

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been broiling for a century and has become insufferable for both sides. The last four years alone have seen over 1,000 Israelis and 3,000 Palestinians dead in the intifada, and tens of thousands injured. This project proposes an innovative – and heretofore-untried – approach to local and regional peace: a three-way exchange of territory between the Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt. The plan could help trigger a breakthrough in the peace process and facilitate the quest for a permanent solution to the conflict. Egypt’s involvement would lend regional “muscle” and spawn other steps toward the attainment of peace in the Middle East. And, in fact, there is a precedent of a land exchange agreement in the neighborhood: Jordan and Saudi Arabia signed such an agreement in 1965, charting anew thousands of square kilometers on both sides of their shared border.

Peace Education in Violent Conflict: A Critical Appraisal and Re-evaluation of Israeli-Palestinian Peace Education Activities
Recent years have seen a wide array of peace education activities between Israelis and Palestinians, even in the most difficult times, ranging from early childhood to adult education, dialogue groups to training courses. This research aims to provide a critical appraisal and re-evaluation of these activities, contributing to a better understanding of the intricate psycho-social, cultural and political issues that peace education in violent conflict must confront if it is to become an effective tool in conflict resolution. It will suggest improved strategies for the planning and implementation of peace education interventions during ongoing conflict so as to maximize their potential impact.

The Economic Ties between Israel and the Palestinians: A Chance for a Better Future?
Economic interactions between Israelis and Palestinians have always been, and will continue to be, heavily influenced by what economists call “non-market institutions.” Such institutions include political and social arrangements, as well as various kinds of violent and non-violent exchanges, and these inevitably impact on market activity. This project explores past and present economic interactions between Israel and the Palestinians (specifically incorporating non-market institutions into the analysis) as tool for policy-makers and practitioners in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Social and Economic Distress among Palestinian Citizens of Israel
This project focuses on the more deprived sectors of the Palestinian citizens of Israel, based on figures gathered by the Central Bureau of Statistics as well as on extensive fieldwork and interviews. It covers such areas as poverty, health, education, the “unrecognized” Arab villages, and the Bedouin sector, and will examine the social services received by the Arab minority who need them. This study fills a major gap in understanding the social and economic grievances of Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Joint Palestinian-Israeli MA in Social Sciences and Humanitarian Affairs
This MA, currently in its second year, is based on the ‘Declaration of Principles of Palestinian-Israeli International Cooperation in Scientific and Academic Affairs’ signed in 2004 under the auspices of the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ by the Rectors and Presidents of Israeli academic institutions (Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Weizman Institute of Science) and the Rectors and Presidents of Palestinian academic institutions (Al-Quds University, Bethlehem University, Hebron University and the Palestine Polytechnic Institute). Sponsored by UNESCO, and held at Palestinian and Israeli host institutions as well as at “La Sapienza”, the MA programme brings together 20 Israeli and 20 Palestinian students to study in areas that will prepare them for future work in public policy development and implementation with an emphasis on bilateral cooperation.

Health and Medicine

Dental Medicine
A collaborative programme between the Hebrew University’s faculty of Dental Medicine and that of Al-Quds University was inaugurated in March 2006. Under the new program graduate students from Al-Quds will undertake their advanced specialist training at the Hebrew University, and summer research programs are being developed in which Al Quds and Hebrew University students conduct research together.

Cooperative Project on Leishmaniasis in Israel and the West Bank
This is a multi-disciplinary, long-term, comprehensive collaborative study of leishmaniasis linking Hebrew University and Al-Quds Researchers with colleagues from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Caused by parasites initially carried by certain types of sand flies, leishmaniasis develops in infected humans into a cutaneous form which is self-curing but leaves crater-like scars, and into a more serious visceral form which, if untreated, attacks the bone marrow, spleen and liver, and is generally fatal. Treatment is both toxic and expensive. Among the projects being jointly conducted by Israeli and Palestinian scientists is the establishment of a leishmaniasis databank for the West bank. The overall project has to date resulted in fifty four peer-reviewed publications, of which twenty-one were jointly authored.

Individualized DNA-based Therapy of Bladder Cancer
Bladder carcinoma (TCC) is one of the most prevalent cancers worldwide, including in Germany and Middle Eastern countries. Available therapies include surgery and chemotherapy, which are limited in efficacy by recurrences of tumors and systemic spread of invasive cancers. Molecular markers are therefore needed to enable early prognosis and for improved therapeutic treatment. An ongoing trilateral research project aims to develop gene therapy for treatment of TCC. Supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG) it involves researchers from the Hebrew University, Makassed Hospital, East Jerusalem and German scientists. Known as “Individualized DNA based therapy of bladder cancer”, the joint Israeli-German-Palestinian study will contribute to ongoing research towards development of molecular markers for TCC prognosis and of a DNA-based gene therapy which will improve early diagnosis – thereby greatly improving chances of successful treatment.

Urogenital Cancer Diagnosis and Therapy
Researchers from Makassed Hospital, East Jerusalem, The Hebrew University and Germany jointly participate in remote diagnosis through the analysis of photomicrographic images of cancer cells transmitted over the internet in ‘real-time’.

Meditteranean Anemia
In a UNESCO-funded project Hebrew University and Bethlehem University geneticists are working together to map the molecular-genetic basis of beta-thalassemia (Meditteranean Anemia) – a hereditary blood disease – among Palestinians, identifying its local concentrations, educating the medical community in order to improve screening, diagnosis and prevention, and working towards the establishment of a permanent laboratory and diagnostic centre for the Palestinian population.

Water and Environmental Projects

Environmental Protection of the Israeli-Palestinian Shared Aquifer
The West Bank aquifer comprises a complex, pollution-prone system. The mountain ridge area, where Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and other cities produce large quantities of residential and industrial waste, is particularly sensitive. This project brings two scientists from the Hebrew University’s Division of Environmental Sciences together with four scientists from the Palestinian Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ). The researchers inventoried all pollution sources – such as sewage, industrial waste, insecticides, fertilizers, sewage irrigation, garbage dumps, and gasoline stations – and then examined the nature, amount and location of the pollutants and finally, created projections for future pollutant production and concentration. The data was used to prepare a master plan for disposal of pollutants and a land-use proposal for the mountain aquifer region which identifies the least vulnerable sites for garbage dumps. Areas which could be safely irrigated with treated wastewater have been identified. An additional goal is to identify `hot spots’ where untreated industrial waste is being dumped into dry riverbeds.

Impact of Urbanization on Groundwater Flow, Drainage and Flooding
On undeveloped land, about 90 percent of rainfall seeps down through the soil into the water supply while 10 percent remains as surface water requiring drainage or causing flooding. However, in urban areas, only 10 percent of rainwater filters into the underground water supply, while 90 percent remains on the surface. The natural recharging of the aquifers is reduced and the problem of surface flooding is increased; the quality of the water deteriorates since it runs through city streets, collecting oil, dust, and dirt; and, because less rainwater reaches them, deeper pumping from the underground aquifers is required. In a project funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG), a team of researchers from the Hebrew University, the Palestinian Hydrology Group and the University of Freiburg (Germany) are examining the effect of urban growth on water resources and drainage in the city of Ramallah. They aim to develop a model that can accurately predict the impact of urbanization on groundwater recharge, surface flooding, and groundwater and surface water quality.

Transportation Planning for Israel and the West Bank
In a project funded by DFG, researchers from the Hebrew University’s Geography Department is working with German academics and a Palestinian group from ARIJ (Bethlehem) devising tools to analyze transportation and land-use scenarios and their environmental impact in an area that includes Israel’s central region and the West Bank. An analytical model¬ produced using GIS software¬ which includes most-used routes, number and kinds of vehicles, air emissions, and other variables, allows the researchers to inves¬tigate the environmental impact of a spectrum of hypothetical case studies. This data will be made available to the planning authorities in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.


Pest Control
Hebrew University and researchers and scientists from Hebron University have joined forces in a that project aims to control the development of the armyworm, a voracious pest that poses a serious threat to regional crops such as cotton, corn and tomatoes. Techniques include disrupting the armyworm’s mating cycle through the use of synthetic pheronomones in the local environment.

Weed Science
Another project based on collaboration between Hebron University and Hebrew University researchers seeks to reduce the environmental impact of herbicides – chemical weed killers. The basic science aspect of the research investigates how certain herbicides act: why, for example, do the roots of a weed respond to the herbicide first even if it is applied to the leaves, and vice-versa. The practical application of this project is to collect weed populations from various places in the West Bank and, using techniques of molecular biology, to correlate the history of herbicide use with the weeds’ development of resistance to the herbicides. This project has established the first weed-science laboratory in the Palestinian Authority at Hebron University.

Waste-Water Recycling for Irrigation
With funding from the government of Belgium and the European Community, Hebrew University and Al-Quds University scientists are studying the safe use of recycled sewage water for agriculture. Israel already uses such water for irrigating non-edible crops such as cotton, but it can also be used for field and fodder crops. The larger question, however, is how to use recycled sewage water for food crops without danger to human health. At the Al-Quds campus, chickpeas and other legumes that are typically raised for human consumption by Palestinian farmers are now being grown experimentally with recycled waste-water using underground trickle-system irrigation, which reduces the risk of bacterial contamination.

Introducing Agricultural Innovations
In a project funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG), Hebrew University, German, and Palestinian teams are studying traditional Palestinian farming practices – specifically how agricultural information reaches farmers, what sources of information farmers use, and how they make their decisions about which farming methods to use – to determine ways in which innovative methods could be integrated into the recommendations of agricultural researchers and disseminated by extension services.


A physical chemist and plant geneticist from the Hebrew University have joined together with a material engineer at Al-Quds University in a project on SP1. SP1 is an extremely stable ring-like protein complex which can be engineered to bind gold nanoparticles on both sides of the ring. These SP1-nanoparticles hybrids may serve as building blocks for various nanostructures in a ‘lego-like’ fashion. Long wires of alternating SPl protein rings and nanoparticles can be formed, and the electrical properties of the wires may be manipulated by genetic engineering and used for nanoelectronics and memory applications. The project was presented at the international UNESCO meeting in Budapest, November 2005. Among the researchers aims is to contribute to the building of the first Palestinian nanoscience and nanotechnology lab and to assist in training its members.


This partial list of collaborative activities between only one Israeli university and Palestinian academics should put to shame the self-serving cynicism and moral absolutism of those who would impose a political-acceptability test on Israeli academics. However, on one key point the boycotters may actually have got it right – actions often do speak louder than words. The modest, dedicated, and patently useful collaborative projects outlined above provide the clearest statement of where Israeli academics stand with respect to their Palestinian colleagues, and, by way of contrast, how the bombast of solidarity spouted by the boycotters is little more than a hollow sham. UCU members now have to decide whether to perpetuate and promulgate this sham, or whether to engage in the real hard work of solidarity that open academic connections make possible. They have to decide, once and for all, whether UCU is part of the problem or part of the solution.

Paul Frosh
Hebrew University, Jerusalem

2 Responses to “Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity – Paul Frosh, Hebrew University, Jerusalem Added by David Hirsh – 3 November 2006”

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    […] Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity – Paul Frosh, Hebrew University…(Nov 06) […]

  2. Boycotts of Israel in US Academe: David Hirsh and Claire Potter | Engage Says:

    […] Israeli Universities, Israel-Palestinian Peace and Real Solidarity – Paul Frosh, Hebrew University…(Nov 06) […]

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