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World’s higher education institutions need to react to the mass atrocities committed by the IDF in Gaza


Students’ protests and encampments at various universities in the US and other States around the world have brought renewed necessary attention to international academic cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli higher education institutions (HEIs). These on and off-campus protests are based on negative developments concerning basic human rights for Palestinians, including the right to education, that have been steadily deteriorating over decades in occupied Palestine, but whose violations by Israeli authorities have escalated after the indiscriminate Hamas attacks of 7 October 2023. The catastrophic effects of this 7-month escalation, resulting in major loss of lives and injuries and material destruction in Gaza, are well-documented by the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories OCHA/oPt. The hostile reaction of certain university authorities, and of local and national authorities, to these protests, including their violent repression through heavy-handed treatment by the police of protestors is a stain on these educational institutions. The students’ right of peaceful protest must be respected, in line with general human rights and General Comment 37 of the UN Human Rights Committee on the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21 of the ICCPR).[1]

This blogpost first provides a brief context to the current humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt or Palestine) as covered by international institutions and human rights mechanisms; then, presents the situation of HEIs in Gaza and the oPt more generally, including the systematic institutional repression by Israeli authorities of Palestinian HEIs and Palestinian scholars and students; finally, it provides some recommendations for various HEIs to adopt on cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli HEIs. International cooperation among HEIs in teaching and research is important. Such cooperation is furthered through institutional cooperation across two or more States, based on institutional affinities and initiatives and supported by specific national and regional programs and funding. Many HEIs have international academic cooperation with Israeli and Palestinian universities.

Some brief context to the dire situation in the occupied Palestinian territories

State leaders across the world have condemned the indiscriminate attacks of Hamas of 7 October 2023, resulting in about 1200 Israelis killed and about 250 taken hostage, around 130 of whom remain in captivity. About 5400 Israelis have since been reported injured. In the meanwhile, during the last about seven months, over 34 thousand Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, among whom more than 9,500 women and 14,500 children, and almost 78 thousand have been injured.[2] About 1,7 million Palestinians are internally displaced (about 75% of the population) and about 1,1 million Palestinians (half of the population of Gaza) are facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 5). UN human rights experts have repeatedly warned about preventing genocide in Gaza,[3] and in late March 2024, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine has confirmed that there are reasonable grounds to believe that genocide has happened.[4] In January and March 2024, the International Court of Justice ordered provisional measures against Israel to prevent, among others, genocide through killing and starvation.[5] The International Criminal Court is investigating crimes committed in Palestine, including genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity since June 2014.[6] On 25 March 2024, the UN Security Council demanded an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan in its binding resolution 2728 (2024), which Israel did not comply with.[7] On 18 April 2024, UN human rights experts expressed deep concerns about “scholasticide” in Gaza, a concern that refers to the ongoing systemic obliteration of education through the arrest, detention or killing of Palestinian teachers, students and staff, and the destruction of educational infrastructure.[8] The serious violations of human rights by Israel in the oPt over decades have been well-documented by various independent UN human rights inquiry commissions.[9] This is part of the general context in Gaza against which the students’ protests erupted in various universities in the US and other States.

Targeted attacks and large-scale destruction of higher education institutions in Gaza

In Gaza there are 625,000 students with no access to education due to the escalation of the conflict and no Gaza student has been able to attend school since 6 November  2023, when the Ministry of Education suspended the 2023-2024 school year due to the indiscriminate targeting of residential areas, including offices and schools. The OCHA/oPt, based on information from the Ministry of Education in Gaza, notes that as of 30 April 2024, 6,425 students and 297 educational staff have been killed. About 75% (408 out of 563) of school buildings were directly hit or damaged, of which about 30% were UNRWA schools. About 60% (320 out of 563) of school buildings have served as IDP shelters in Gaza, of which about 65% were directly hit or damaged. The 2015 Safe Schools Declaration developed through a process led by Argentina and Norway aims at avoiding military use of schools and strengthen protection of children and education in conflict. Palestine has endorsed this Declaration, but not Israel. Still, as the ICRC has pointed out, international humanitarian law requires warring parties to refrain from attacking teachers, students, and their schools. Many relevant publications on the effect of armed conflicts on education, including about Palestine, have been prepared by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).

While one would be tempted to think that this tragic situation is due only to the 7 October 2023 conflict escalation that is not the case. Various reports confirm that the Israeli authorities have been targeting Palestinian universities, scholars, and students over many years. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) has counted Palestine among the countries most heavily affected by attacks on education in recent years, whereby between 2015 and 2019, over 4,000 Palestinian school and university students and educators were reportedly harmed by attacks on education – the highest number worldwide during this five-year period.[10] Other reports confirm the large-scale damage caused to educational institutions in Gaza over the last few months.[11] The continued intentional targeting and destruction of Palestinian higher education infrastructure, the killing and injuring of academic staff and students has been called scholasticide.[12] This large-scale damage, including through targeted attacks on university buildings and their controlled demolitions, posted on social media by IDF soldiers, cannot be considered otherwise than a brazen public attack on the future of Palestine.[13]

Overall repression by Israeli authorities of Palestinian HEIs and Palestinian scholars and students

Palestinian HEIs and Palestinian scholars and students are subject to serious interference by Israeli authorities which negatively affect their mission and daily work. This interference has been ongoing for decades, but has been intensifying in more recent years. A November 2023 report by Scholars at Risk noted that a new law is under consideration in Israel that would deny recognition of degrees earned in Palestinian universities, thereby undermining the academic freedom of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, among others, to choose to study at Palestinian universities.[14] The government of Israel has long imposed on Palestinian scholars and students an array of policies that restrict their movement. These include long-standing restrictions, such as checkpoints and travel permits, imposed on all Palestinians, not just scholars, as well as targeted pressures that impact the global academic community.

Against broad and worldwide international criticism, the Israeli authorities issued “Procedures for Entry and Residency of Foreigners in Judea and Samaria Region”. These procedures, issued in March 2023 and effective as of May 2023, restrict the academic freedom of Palestinian educational institutions. Israel has long denied foreigners the visas necessary to legally work or study in the West Bank; the new rules make it even more difficult limiting the categories of people who can obtain an entry permit for the West Bank and requiring academics and students to apply for an entry permit from abroad , while previously it had been possible to obtain an entry permit at the border. Through these procedures, Israeli authorities control, inter alia, the entry of foreign nationals, including academic faculty and students, who wish to enter the West Bank to serve or participate in activities in Palestinian academic institutions. The procedures openly restrict this to researchers or academics who teach in fields that the Israeli government considers essential. The procedures stipulate that entry will be permitted “after they have proven to our satisfaction that the lecturer will make a significant contribution to academic education, to the regional economy, or to the promotion of regional cooperation and peace.” Additionally, an annual quota of 100 lectures and researchers is allowed into Palestinian academic institutions all over the West Bank. The procedures also limit the number of international students who visit Palestinian academic institutions to 150 per year. According to these procedures, only COGAT (the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) gets to approve the entry of international scholars to the West Bank.

For Palestinian scholars and students in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, checkpoints, roadblocks, the separation wall, and the opaque and lengthy processing of travel permits continue to restrict their travel within the oPt, into Israel, and abroad, constricting their ability to study, teach, research, and exchange ideas with colleagues within and outside Palestine. Israel’s border restrictions also impede the import of equipment, books, and school materials that quality higher education requires. Moreover, Palestinian academics and students are also routinely arrested by Israeli forces and frequently held for prolonged periods of time without charge or trial, a procedure known as “administrative detention”.[15] The use of torture on Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons is well documented, and according to Amnesty International, this practice has intensified since October 2023.[16] I have witnessed these obstructions by the Israeli authorities myself in a project, where seven African participants did not get their visas to attend a course in oPt in spring 2023, despite following the procedures and providing the necessary documents to the relevant Israeli authorities.

Concluding remarks

HEIs across the world need to take a principled stand on their engagement with Israeli and Palestinian HEIs, based on the following related grounds, namely:

  • The almost 57 years long Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories (Gaza, West Bank, and East Jerusalem), by far the longest in recent history, and the systematic denial of the Palestinian people’s right of self-determination;
  • the deliberate targeting of Palestinian scholars and students and the large-scale destruction of Palestinian HEIs and schools in Gaza and intrusions in other parts of the oPt, which has escalated after 7 October 2023;
  • the serious and unlawful institutional restrictions which are imposed not only on Palestinian HEIs, scholars, and students by the Israeli authorities, but also on international scholars and institutions, which adversely affect cooperation by world’s HEIs with Palestinian HEIs;  
  • the international, regional, and national human rights obligations which should guide the activity of any HEI, including not rendering support to the illegal decades-long military occupation by Israel of Palestine and the serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that this occupation entails.

In view of the ongoing serious violations by Israeli authorities of international human rights and humanitarian law to which Israel is a party, including the right to education, the principled stand HEIs around the world need to take is at a minimum the freezing of any institutional cooperation with Israeli HEIs and divesting from companies complicit in maintaining the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. At the same time, all HEIs need to do their best to enhance institutional cooperation with Palestinian HEIs and scholars. This principled stand needs to be upheld until the Israeli authorities recognize the Palestinian peoples’ right to self-determination, and remove all legal and administrative restrictions imposed on the academic freedom and enjoyment of the right to education for Palestinian scholars and students. This will send a clear and unambiguous message to the Israeli authorities that after almost 57 years of occupation of Palestinian territories, and 76 years of denial of Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and discriminatory laws and practices imposed on Palestinian HEIs, scholars, and students, Palestinians must be treated as equals. Failure to take a stand cannot continue to be shrugged off by HEIs around the world as normal and part of a policy of neutrality. Israeli authorities’ oppressive policies vis-à-vis our Palestinian colleagues should come with a price, the freezing of institutional relations with Israeli HEIs, until the Israeli authorities’ destruction and oppression of Palestinian HEIs, scholars and students ceases. HEIs as institutions, and we as scholars and students, and as an academic community, cannot continue to be a bystander to the decimation of our Palestinian colleagues and the institutional denial of their most basic human rights.

[1] For the full text of General Comment 37, see

[2] For the latest update on the number of Palestinians killed and injured and the destruction of Gaza see UN OCHA at

[3] See ‘UN experts call on international community to prevent genocide against the Palestinian people’, 16 November 2023, available at; ‘Over one hundred days into the war, Israel destroying Gaza’s food system and weaponizing food, say UN human rights experts’, 16 January 2024, available at

[4] See Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Francesca Albanese, ‘Anatomy of a Genocide’, UN Doc. A/HRC/55/73, 25 March 2024, para. 93, available at

[5] The International Court of Justice issued its first order on 26 January (the Gaza plausible genocide order); the second on 16 February 2024 (the Gaza Rafah impending attack order); and the third on 28 March 2024 (the Gaza famine onset order). These Court orders are binding for Israel and are available at

[6] See for more information on the Palestine situation, see the ICC website at

[7] Eirik Bjorge, ‘Resolution 2728 (2024) is a Binding Council Resolution’, 26 April 2024, at

[8] For the full text see

[9] For the reports and findings of these independent international inquiry commissions (2009, 2012, 2014, 2018, and 2021) see See also the reports and statements of the UN Special Rapporteur on oPt, at

[10] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack in partnership with the oPt Education Cluster, ‘Measuring the impact of attacks on education in Palestine’, p. 3, available at

[11] Global Education Cluster, Verification of damages to schools based on proximity to damaged sites, Gaza, Occupied Palestinian Territory, 10 February 2024, available at More information and reports at

[12] Chandni Desai, The war in Gaza is wiping out Palestine’s education and knowledge systems, 8 February 2024, available at

[13] For reports on demolitions and impact of the attacks on staff, students, and infrastructure, see among others, Nour Naim, Israel’s War on the Education Sector in the Gaza Strip, 20 March 2024 at; Al Jazeera, How Israel has destroyed Gaza’s schools and universities, 24 January 2024, available at; Chandni Desai, The war in Gaza is wiping out Palestine’s education and knowledge systems, 8 February 2024, available at

[14] See Report of the Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, Free to Think, 2023, available at

[15] For more information on this procedure, see The UN Human Rights Committee has asked Israel to stop using these procedures in Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of Israel, UN Doc. CCPR/C/ISR/CO/5 (5 May 2022), para. 35.

[16] See information by Amnesty International at

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