Education International
Education International

Basic Academic Freedoms and Rights Violated in Israel and Palestinian Territories

published 7 January 2010 updated 7 January 2010

The academic freedom and professional rights of higher education teaching personnel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are increasingly under assault as a result of the continuing political conflict in the region, according to a report released today by Education International and the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

“Both Israeli and Palestinian academics are facing greater pressure from outside political influences and from within the academy itself,” says David Robinson, associate executive director of CAUT and author of the report. “There are clear and consistent violations of internationally recognized academic rights as detailed in UNESCO’s 1997 Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel.”

The study, The Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, found that the strong polarization of opinions within Israel over the political conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has generated several prominent academic freedom controversies in recent years. In addition, proposed changes to the governance of Israeli universities threaten to weaken institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

However, it is in the Palestinian territories that the report finds the most serious violations of basic academic freedoms and rights.

“Many of the violations of academic freedom in the West Bank and Gaza are a result of the Israeli occupation,” says Robinson. “Israel unquestionably has legitimate security concerns and has a right and responsibility to defend its citizens. However, as documented in the report, the near complete blockade of the Gaza Strip and the tight travel restrictions imposed on residents within the West Bank go beyond what can be reasonably justified and have seriously disrupted the work of Palestinian scholars.”

Limits imposed on freedom of movement within the Palestinian territories make it difficult and in many cases impossible for Palestinian academics and students to attend conferences or study abroad, and have forced local universities to shut down early and to close entirely for extended periods. There are bans on the import of certain research equipment and materials needed to pursue scholarly activities, and many academics face arbitrary arrest and detention by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

The report argues that the restrictions on academic freedom are undermining the democratic development of the West Bank and Gaza and are frustrating the peace process.

“Israeli and Palestinian universities and colleges have a critical role to play in helping find peaceful solutions to the conflict,” says Monique Fouilhoux, deputy general secretary of Education International. “But they can only do this if their scholars are free to express their views and debate controversial matters without fear of recrimination.”

The report recommends ways that higher education associations and unions worldwide can provide expertise and support to Israeli and Palestinian colleagues to help improve their conditions of employment and assert their professional rights as recognized by the UNESCO Recommendation.

Education International is the global union federation representing more than 30 million teachers and education workers in 172 countries and territories.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers represents more than 67,000 academic and general staff at colleges and universities across Canada.

Download the full report here: The Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza

For more information:

Monique Fouilhoux, Deputy General Secretary, EI: +32 2 224 06 11 Kerry Pither, Communications Officer, CAUT: +1.613.820.2270 x. 186