A group of around 165 Israeli university lecturers have signed a petition stating that they would not participate in any academic activity in the University Center of Samaria situated in the large West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The petition states that since Ariel is not under Israeli sovereignty, the signatories cannot be compelled to teach or take part in any activity in the premises. The move is professedly inspired by conscience and public responsibility and decries the creation of settlements in Ariel as promoting apartheid in the West Bank region. Ariel, a flourishing West Bank area housing close to 20,000 settlers, is located just a few kilometers away from villages and refugee camps where Palestinians live in the most abject of conditions without even the most basic of amenities such as clean drinking water.
The latest move by the university lecturers marks the perpetuation of a growing divide within Israel over the continuing construction of Jewish homes and structures in settlements in parts of the disputed West Bank that was seized by Israel, but is claimed by Palestinians as rightfully belonging to them.The construction activity by the state of Israel is also in significant part responsible for the ongoing impasse in peace talks between the nations. Many Israeli academics, too, have opposed the building of homes for Jewish settlers in captured territory. Ariel has been noted by the petitioning academics as an illegal settlement.
The region has seen several volatile debates in the recent past over the participation of a certain section of Israeli academia in intellectual activities in the settlement. In August 2010, a group among them had said that they will no longer lecture or work in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, supporting the decision by a group of actors and others not to take part in activity in a new cultural center in Ariel. Earlier, a group of academics had also signed a petition opposing the upgrading of the Ariel College to university status.
However, the move of the academics has come in for criticism from several quarters not just restricted to the Israeli right wing, who allege that such boycotts are antithetical to the concept of academic freedom and would harm the entire student body in the University that includes several hundreds of Israeli Arabs. The Chairman of the College's executive committee has been quoted as saying that the co-operation between the University Centre and hundreds of universities in Israel is indicative of the fact that the heads of these universities are not in agreement with the call for a boycott or what it represents. Israel's education minister himself has dismissed the boycott as being bereft of practical significance since those who were party to it anyway did not partipate in any capacity in the Center's activity and were neither expected to be asked to.