Arab students speak about apartheid in Israel

An open letter from a student at LSE

Open letter from a student at LSE, written in 2005 against the AUT boycott

Dear Friend,

My name is Amir Kneifiss and I am an Israeli Druze currently studying towards an MSc. in Governance at the LSE. I am writing as a former student at Haifa University, the institute you decided to boycott a few weeks ago and the place where I spent the best years of my life studying history and politics.

Haifa is a university in which one of every five students is Arab; in which loud but civilised political debates take place regularly; and one in which nobody was ever denied his/her freedom of expression. In my opinion, it is a hotbed of peace and dialogue that should be studied as a model for coexistence and not the opposite. Nevertheless, misled by a frustrated lecturer, you decided to boycott this amazing and diverse institute.

Israel is much more complicated than a newspaper headline. As with many ethnic or national minorities around the world, there are difficulties in integrating Israeli-Arabs and other minorities into the mainstream society. Much more needs to be done in these aspects. Yet, I am a firm believer that change can be made through engagement in the many facets of Israeli democracy and I reject the false allegations portraying Israel as an apartheid and racist state. Not only it is wrong and deceptive, but it will do little to help us in the Middle East confront the real problems and promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The misleading arguments about Haifa University are only one example. More disturbing is the one-sided depiction of Israel, portrayed by some extremists who have never really intended to understand the complexities. Nobody, for instance, mentioned that in Ariel College there are currently 300 Arab students and that only last week, three Israeli-Arab Mayors publicly supported the College for its contribution to reducing inequalities. Yes, the occupied territories should be used to establish a viable Palestinian State. Nevertheless, instead of boycotting Israeli institutions, it is much more helpful to explore the various mechanisms capable of satisfying the interests of both sides (e.g. land swap).

An end to the occupation will not come from a blunt boycott, but from pragmatic solutions accommodating both sides ‘ desires. Only political negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians – and not the imposition of sanctions from the outside – will help to create a better future for us all. Therefore, although I am only in my twenties, I believe spreading hatred is the most ineffective way of promoting these goals. We need to bridge the gap, not extend it.

If you oppose discrimination and believe in peace, open dialogue and constructive debate, you should see why this boycott must be overturned. It helps none of us and shows one-sided hostility to Israel more than a love of peace.

Please do write to me if you are interested in hearing more about my point of view, and please defend dialogue, for the benefit of all of us.

Yours sincerely,

Amir Kniefiss Government Department London School of Economics

An article about a Jewish college on the West Bank

Extracts from an article By Shira Philosof – Haaretz June 22, 2005 about a Jewish college on the West Bank

When Ala Fakhory told his parents that he intended to study at the College of Judea & Samaria in Ariel, they were deeply opposed. It was not ideology that caused them to question his decision – it was fear that he would be surrounded by settlers who roam the college armed with pistols. Fakhory, who is one of 250 Arab students who attend the college, insisted. Near the end of his third year of study for a degree in electronic engineering, Fakhory says he experienced no racism on the part of students or faculty. In fact, he says, “Everyone treated me well.”

No Racism

Tall, slender, 24-year-old Fakhory was born and lives in the Arab community of Issawiyeh in East Jerusalem. Before beginning his studies at Ariel, he completed two years toward his degree in electronic engineering at the Ort College and he has worked for four years in the East Jerusalem Electric Company.

Despite that, even Fakhory was pleasantly surprised. “There is undisclosed racism everywhere. I don’t even feel that kind of hidden racism here. Until now, I haven’t felt that anyone treated me poorly. Not the faculty or the students.”

In order to lend weight to these statements, Fakhory says that about two weeks after he began his studies, he entered a class expecting to see, “a lecturer with a skullcap and a personal weapon. But the professor was really nice. The first month of study was difficult, but there were professors who helped me until I was integrated. One of them is Eliyahu Farber.”

Other Arab students also feel comfortable at the college. When Mahmoud Amash, 22, from Jisr al-Zarqa, wants to describe his satisfaction with the college, he says he often stays here on weekends. When asked if he had a problem settling into an academic institution located in the territories, with a majority of Jewish students, he says no. He had Jewish friends, from Binyamina and Hadera, when he was a high school student in the village, he says. Moreover, he has more Jewish friends than Arab friends in the college.

Amash is an outgoing, smiling second-year student seeking a degree in criminology. He learned of the college through ads published in the media and lives in the dormitories. In his opinion, one of the reasons Arab students study here is because, “criminology is not taught at every university. It is easier to be accepted here, despite the fact that the courses are difficult. Assistance and tutoring is available, which makes it easier to be integrated.”

The College is certainly a melting pot for Israel. We have religious students and secular students, and 1,000 new immigrants – Russians, Ethiopians and from a few other countries. We also have the second highest number of Ethiopian students (in total numbers) among all other universities and colleges.

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