By Riccardo BOCCO, Professor of Political Sociology at the Graduate Institute, Geneva
My comment on the situation these days in Palestine/Israel, is inspired by the microcosm where I live in Geneva, i.e. The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (where I teach) and its students.
Three weeks ago, more than half of the Graduate Institute’s Student Association (GISA) voted in favor of two initiatives for supporting ‘Apartheid Free Zones’ and the BDS. The overall students’ body approximate 1000 individuals, two thirds of them enrolled in the master programs and one third in the doctoral programs. The Graduate Institute hosts students from all over the world: 50% from Europe and North America, and the rest from Africa, Asia and South America.
Beside the Question of Palestine, the vote shows a mobilization of students of different continents and academic backgrounds around a certainly symbolic cause, but which reflects as well the plea of other social, ethnic and national groups in our world and their quest for freedom and justice against discrimination and oppression.
The GISA has become even more worried by the events in Israel/Palestine since it discovered that one of our doctoral students, Khaled Anabtawi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel whom I supervise for his thesis, has been incarcerated for having participated into a peaceful manifestation in Israel. Khaled is the second student of the Institute who has experienced the Israeli jails. Tareq Abu Mattar, who was living in the Occupied West Bank, was prevented from coming to the Institute in September 2018, and put in administrative detention for more than two years, a period during which he was severely tortured. Few months ago, he was sentenced to a 4-year prison term and came to the military court in a wheel chair….
As a professor teaching political sociology at the Graduate Institute, I am proud to see how a young generation in academia, trained in the critical thinking of the social sciences, is mobilizing around issues of racism, colonization, discrimination, islamophobia, apartheid, social inequalities, antisemitism…
If, as always, the youth is a hope if not a promise, I would like to conclude on the necessary cooperation among the older generation (to which I belong) in seeking justice, each of us in her/his own role and professional position. As a European citizen, I am also fed up of knowing that part of my taxes goes to fund the humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. Actually, we are indirectly funding the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territory, because it is Israel that has the duty to assist the population under its military occupation. Though being a signatory of the 4th Geneva Convention, Israel doesn’t assume its duties and continues to affirm that it dwells on ‘disputed lands’. An interpretation of international law recognized only by the successive Israeli governments.
Several Jewish and Israeli politicians, intellectuals, journalists and artists – from Abba Eban to Rony Brauman, Charles Enderlin, Eyal Sivan, Ariella Azoulay, Maxime Rodinson, Jean Stern… to quote just a few – have warned that over time that the colonization would become the cancer of Israeli society: the specter of the former victim turned into the new ‘Sabra’, that has become the new perpetrator against the Palestinians…
If the Israeli State and its society deserve to be saved against their own internal drive towards implosion, it should also be with a clearer engagement by the political decisionmakers from the European Union and the US.
An engagement which should not be silent and closing the eyes on what is happening on the ground, but rather reaffirming the principles of international law, asking the Israeli government to stop the colonization of the Palestinian Territories and its apartheid laws and policies. Until the Israeli governments will keep convinced that they are above international law, peace cannot be reached in Palestine.
Last but not least, as researchers in social and human sciences we often provide contributions that are not only important at the conceptual or theoretical level in our disciplines. The knowledge we produce is often policy relevant as well and we should ask the political decisionmakers to be accountable towards what we produce. Like them, we are paid and funded on public money and the critical knowledge we produce should not be simply used when it comforts or legitimizes the decisions they are taking…