Universities call for ‘roots’ of crisis to be addressed

As the Israel-Palestine military conflict intensifies, a Palestinian university has called on the international community to help in addressing the root causes of the situation while another has urged Palestinians to submit evidence of potential war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Palestine Ahliya University issued a statement on 16 October in which it said: “As responsible academic leaders, we cannot stand idle while watching the Israeli war machine savagely bombarding and flattening houses and entire city blocks, indiscriminately killing innocent civilians living peacefully in their homes.”

The statement continued: “As this brutal war is breeding war crimes, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, we call upon all the political and academic leaders in the whole world to condemn this futile war and spare no effort to force Israel to put an end to it.

“This war is also disrupting the educational life at universities and schools, which adds to the educational loss that the Palestinian students faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We, academic conscientious leaders, urge the international governments and agencies to address the roots of the Palestinian cause/problem instead of turning a blind eye to the long-lasting sufferings of the Palestinian people.”

The appeal was followed by a statement two days later from Al-Azhar University, the chief centre of Islamic and Arabic learning, urging the world to rally behind Palestine in the wake of the explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, which the health ministry in Gaza said has killed over 500 people.

According to news reports, the health ministry in Gaza said the blast at the hospital was caused by an Israeli air raid. However, the Israel Defense Forces has released drone footage and photographs, along with information on intelligence intercepts, which it said show that the explosion was the result of a misfired rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). The PIJ has denied the allegation.

In a statement posted on its social media account, Al-Azhar University asked the Arab and Islamic community to reevaluate its trust in the United States and Europe.

“The Islamic world must stand in solidarity with Palestine and its oppressed people, who are confronting an enemy that has seemingly lost its conscience, feelings and emotions,” Al-Azhar’s statement read.

Damage to universities

Al-Quds Open University posted photographs on 16 October on social media of what it claimed was the destruction of a university building at the North Gaza branch of the university.

It follows the bombing a week ago of the Islamic University of Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces, which claimed the university was serving as an important operational and military centre for Hamas, and an airstrike on the Al-Azhar University as reported by the Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and Research on 11 October.

On the same day Al-Quds Open University issued a statement calling on the international community, human rights and humanitarian institutions and bodies to “intervene urgently, to stop the barbaric policy of aggression [of Israel], in its clear and dangerous violation of higher education institutions”.

According to the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor the Israeli strikes had damaged 56 schools and roughly 30 kindergartens and there had been “direct and severe attacks on universities”.

Death toll

Meanwhile, the death toll among Palestinian students and academics is rising.

All Palestinian universities are participating in a comprehensive strike today, 18 October, which involves the suspension of all work, including online work to mourn the Palestinians who have been killed during the current conflict.

In solidarity with Palestine, student unions from countries such as Tunisia and Morocco have called for a strikes in their own countries.

In addition to the reported deaths of three postgraduate students from Malaysian universities, two students at Gaza-based universities, three at occupied West Bank universities and the deaths of at least 10 Nepalese students, Bethlehem University has announced the death of Khaled Al-Muhtaseb, a third-year student at the Institute of Hotel and Tourism Management in Jerusalem.

Gaza University also announced the death of a student from the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, Rajab Al-Naqeeb, and his family.

Calls to submit evidence of crimes

Al-Istiqlal University, the first and only governmental Palestinian university that deals with security, military and police education, has called on Palestinians to make use of the electronic platform (OTPLink), hosted by the International Criminal Court, to submit complaints against those considered to have committed war crimes against them.

“It is important to exploit this platform to send materials, photos and videos about the serious occupation crimes committed against our Palestinian people in this aggression, which are classified as serious international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, which fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to put pressure on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court,” the university’s statement notes.

ICC Prosecutor Karim AA Khan KC announced the launch of the OTPLink in May this year. He said it would “provide a clear, single-access point” for the receipt of information and evidence.

Under the Rome Statute of the ICC, the Office of the Protector (OTP) may “analyse information on alleged crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression), submitted to it from any source”, according to the ICC website.

Khan told Reuters on 12 October that the ICC has jurisdiction over potential war crimes carried out by Hamas militants in Israel and Israelis in the Gaza Strip, even though Israel is not a member state.

“If there is evidence that Palestinians, whether they’re Hamas or Al-Quds Brigades or the armed wing of Hamas or any other person or any other national of any other state party, has committed crimes. Yes, we have jurisdiction wherever they’re committed, including on the territory of Israel,” Khan is reported to have said.

Meanwhile, the Al-Quds Open University has also called on the academic community to work to expose the crimes of the occupation.

“The Quds Open University affirms its right to protect its academic institutions and to communicate with all human rights institutions and international organizations in this regard, and the university calls on its family to work to expose the crimes of the occupation along with corresponding with their counterparts in universities and expose the falsity of the Israeli narrative,” it said in a statement on 16 October.

Academic responsibilities

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a professor in global thought and comparative philosophies at SOAS, University of London, told University World News that universities “continue to be the citadels of truth-seeking”.

He added: “Accordingly, documenting war crimes for history and potential legal requirements is not only a pivotal scholarly task, but a moral responsibility towards future generations.”

In addition to the ongoing investigation into the situation in Palestine launched by the ICC in 2021, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel, a body designated to probe international law violations in the Palestinian Territories, released a 10 October statement confirming its comprehensive efforts in gathering and safeguarding evidence of war crimes from both sides since 7 October.

Professor Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua from the School of Law at the University of Ghana told University World News the Palestine-Israel conflict should be of concern to universities and academics worldwide.

“As universities are responsible for conducting research and for the production and application of knowledge to resolve societal problems, the unfolding conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which is impacting on over two million Palestinians should, therefore, be of concern to universities and academics worldwide, including those in Israel and Palestine,” he said.

“The conflict touches on public international law, international criminal law, humanitarian law, human rights law, refugee law and laws relating to internal displacement, among others,” he explained.

“Academics have been involved in the development of these laws and we know the rules on responsibility of states and other international actors for internationally wrongful acts.

“We are, therefore, best placed to give unbiased, objective and neutral assessment of the situation after gathering and investigating war crime evidence on the ground in Palestine, irrespective of whether we are Israelis or Palestinians and whether we are direct or indirect victims,” he said.

Shelter and counselling

Palestinian universities are also providing physical shelter and psychological services to communities affected by the conflict.

Al-Istiqlal University, for example, opened its doors on the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to “about 350 of our people in Gaza working inside the occupied territories”.

Situated in the West Bank town of Jericho, the university was made available to people “to secure their supplies and needs, provide all services, and provide the necessary care and support to them in coordination and partnership with official and private institutions, and reduce the extent and burden of the suffering inflicted on them”.

The University of Bethlehem’s Deanship of Student Affairs and Guidance Office, in cooperation with the Department of Social Sciences, also held five online group psychological counselling sessions for students, according to a university statement.

The counselling sessions aimed to provide a platform for students to express their concerns, receive support, and provide guidance to students on how to deal with psychological stress in times of war.

The Guidance Office in the Deanship of Student Affairs will continue to hold these meetings in the coming weeks, which will be announced soon.