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Teaching unions condemn threats against West Bank universities

Polly Curtis
The Guardian
January 14, 2003

An international coalition of teaching unions today condemned Israel for reportedly ordering the closure of three Palestinian universities as part of a series of measures in reponse to Sunday's suicide attacks on Tel Aviv.

Raanan Gissin, an advisor to the Israeli president, Ariel Sharon, said the security cabinet had decided "in principle" to shut down three Palestinian universities, it was reported in the Washington Times today.

There was some confusion over which of the 12 universities on the West Bank are expected to close. An Najah, the largest, and Birzeit, the most prestigious, were named, but a spokesperson from Birzeit denied that it had been ordered to close.

Mr Gissin said that more evidence would be collected before a final decision was made. However, the Israeli government said that the universities that would close would be accused of "inciting terrorism", the BBC reported.

A spokesperson for Birzeit told "There have been ongoing threats to close us down, with army vehicles driving in and stating that they have orders to close us down. But this semester is still running, and we are only two weeks over schedule compared with two months last semester."

She continued: "I believe that other colleges and in particular the Islamic colleges have been ordered to close down, but we are not on this list."

The European Higher Education Committee - part of the international coalition of education unions, Education International, which represents 26 million teaching staff worldwide - passed a motion at a meeting in Paris last weekend condemning the suicide bombings and the closure of any universities in the occupied territories.

Paul Bennett, chair of the committee and an official of the lecturers' union Natfhe, said the motion opposed "collective punishment" against universities or other civilian targets in response to the suicide bombings.

"Building a civil society in Palestine is a vital precursor to any lasting peace, and education is a clear part of that civil society," he said.

The motion was passed by the 25 delegates present with only two abstentions, one on a technical count and the other from a French union that wanted the motion to include a move towards an academic boycott of Israel. The motion will now go forward to Education International member unions around the world.