/ 17 March 2011

Activists highlight links between Ben Gurion, military

Activists campaigning for the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to cut ties with Israel’s Ben Gurion University have compiled a report on the latter’s links with the Israeli military claiming that it gave scholarships and extra tuition to students who served in Operation Cast Lead, the controversial 2008 invasion of Gaza.

On Wednesday next week the UJ senate meets to decide whether to sever all ties with Ben Gurion, ending decades of research collaboration.

In September, the senate listed a number of conditions that Ben Gurion would have to meet within six months or face the cutting of ties. The probationary period closes at the end of this month.

The conditions include a call for UJ and Ben Gurion to partner with a Palestinian university and that the Israeli institution should have no direct links with the military or provide indirect support for military activities.

Last year about 250 South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and poets Antjie Krog and Breyten Breyenbach called on UJ to sever ties.

The report, compiled by the UJ Petition Committee, says it found “detailed, factual evidence and information regarding Ben Gurion’s direct and indirect role in further entrenching the violations of human rights and international law by the Israeli state”.

It says that during Operation Cast Lead, in which 1 400 Palestinians were killed, Ben Gurion “offered scholarships and extra tuition to students who served in active combat units” and “offered a special grant for each day of service to students who went on reserve duty”.

In addition, Ben Gurion “aids and provides academic scholarships and has official protocols for providing support to army reservist students”. It had also initiated the idea of, and tendered for, a military medicine school designed specifically to train medical staff for the Israeli armed forces.

The report says that Ben Gurion is participating in a project supported by the government involving the construction of a park that would house the intelligence, communications and training bases of the Israeli Defence Force.

The university was also a feeder institution for Israel’s nuclear research programme, the report says, with graduates serving as interns in the Israeli government’s nuclear plant in Dimona “suspected of being engaged in the production of nuclear weapons, including material for thermo-nuclear warheads”.

The report says that the university’s Ariel College is situated in the settlement of Ariel in Palestinian territory, and that settlements have been deemed illegal in international law. This college has been a flashpoint in Israel, with more than 150 academics pledging to subject it to a boycott.

UJ is also part of a joint water project with Ben Gurion, which looks into reusing waste water. In so doing, the South African institution had partnered with Mekorot, the Israeli water authority responsible for implementing controversial water policies seen as discriminated against Palestinians.

‘Comprehensive boycott’
The report says that another partner in the water project is the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which controls vast properties belonging to millions of Palestinians, developing them exclusively for persons of “Jewish nationality”.

“Recently, the JNF and the Israeli Land Authority demolished the Palestinian Bedouin village of Al-Araqib in the Negev to utilise the land for forestation and the building of future Jewish settlements,” it says.

The report says that Ben Gurion has not met UJ’s condition that it find a Palestinian partner. It adds that Palestinian universities “are unanimous in their principled support of the call for a comprehensive boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign of Israel”.

UJ lecturer Salim Vally said that Ben Gurion has made “absolutely no attempt” to meet the senate’s conditions.

Reacting, Brenda Stern of the non-profit organisation Friends of Ben Gurion, said on Thursday that “all 46 pages of the report are a blatant lie”.

Ben Gurion had found a Palestinian partner, with whom it had yet to sign an agreement, Stern said.

“Ben Gurion has done everything it can to meet the conditions,” she said. “We’re not getting into the details of the report levelled against the Israeli state using UJ as a proxy. This is not an academic campaign, it’s a political campaign.”