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Maya Wind: Destruction of Gaza’s Universities Part of Broader Israeli Project to Destroy Palestinian Liberation

Web ExclusiveMarch 15, 2024
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Israeli scholar Maya Wind joins us for Part 2 of her interview about her new book, Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom. She discusses Israel’s destruction of Gaza’s universities; the coalescing of Israeli university administrations with the Israeli far right; the move to repress Palestinian organizing on U.S. campuses, including of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace; and how archaeology, law, Middle East studies and other forms of knowledge production have subordinated their research agendas to the requirements of the Israeli state.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We continue now with Part 2 of our conversation with Maya Wind, author of the new book, Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom. Maya is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.

This week, around a hundred leading European academics signed a petition titled “Annihilation of Gaza Education: Israel is systematically erasing the entire educational system,” they wrote. They protested the Israeli military’s destruction of six universities in the Gaza Strip since October 7th: Islamic University, Al-Israa University, Rabat University, Al-Azhar University, Al-Aqsa University and Al-Quds Open University.

The Intercept recently reported that within the first 100 days of Israel’s assault on Gaza, the Israeli military destroyed every single university in the Gaza Strip. Nearly a hundred university deans and professors and three university presidents in Gaza have been killed in the Israeli assault. Over 4,300 students, more than 230 professors, teachers, administrators have been killed.

Maya Wind, we thank you for staying with us to talk about the significance of what has taken place right now in the Gaza Strip to academia, to the students.

MAYA WIND: Yeah. University education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has been under siege, by the Israeli state, by the Israeli military, for decades, including in Gaza. Gazan universities have been subject to a debilitating illegal siege for over 17 years, subject to repeated aerial bombardment. And now, most recently, every single one, as you said, has been destroyed by either controlled detonation or aerial bombardment. This is very intentional. This is part of a broader project by the Israeli state to destroy Palestinian education as a means to destroy the Palestinian liberation movement.

AMY GOODMAN: When you raise these issues as a Jewish scholar, as an Israeli student and academic, how are you responded to?

MAYA WIND: What we are seeing now, especially over the last two decades, is a coalescing of Israeli university administrations with the Israeli far right, with other forces to continually foreclose and limit what is permissible to research, to debate, to speak to, to protest on Israeli campuses. And we’re seeing that really manifest for some time. But in particular, over the last five months, this repression has grown. Palestinian students were asked to evacuate their dorm rooms, given 24-hour notice. Palestinian and critical Jewish Israeli students and scholars have been summoned to disciplinary committees and have been suspended for speaking out against this genocide, for conducting research about the Nakba, which is the mass expulsion of over two-thirds of the Palestinian population that enabled the founding of the Israeli state. And so, we are seeing this is a broad project of repressing critical research and debate, which is really the bedrock of higher education. But this is disallowed in the Israeli university system.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we interviewed Tal Mitnick, who I think was the first refusenik, young person to refuse, in this latest assault to serve in the Israeli military and was repeatedly jailed. You did this 15 years ago. What was it like to be in an Israeli jail then for you, and then also the difference between what happened to you and the thousands of Palestinians who’ve been imprisoned?

MAYA WIND: Yeah, so, it is important to speak to how imprisonment and incarceration and detention is really a tool, a central tool, of the Israeli state to destroy the Palestinian liberation movement. And we see this particularly play out on Palestinian campuses across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian universities are routinely raided by the Israeli military. Student activists and organizers in over 411 Palestinian student groups and associations that have been declared unlawful by the Israeli state are routinely abducted from their campus, from their homes in the middle of the night. They are subjected to torture. They are held in administrative detention without charge or trial for months. And so, what we’re really seeing is a systemic attack of the Israeli military and the Israeli military government on Palestinian higher education, and particularly on Palestinian campuses as sites of organizing for Palestinian liberation.

AMY GOODMAN: Maya, you are here in New York right now, and you’re going to be speaking in different areas, including at Columbia University. I wanted to turn to a lawsuit that has just been filed by New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal against Columbia University for suspending two pro-Palestine student groups. That’s Students for Justice in Palestine, SJP, and Jewish Voice for Peace, suspended last November after organizing peaceful protests against the Israeli occupation and the assault on Gaza. Can you talk about the significance of these kinds of suspensions? And it’s not only happening at Columbia and Barnard.

MAYA WIND: Yes, absolutely. So, I myself was an active member of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine over a decade ago. And it was really hard to organize on that campus then, and it is impossible now, with Columbia University suspending both Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. And students who are mobilizing for Palestinian liberation on campus are facing all forms of harassment, including by Columbia faculty and the administration.

And this move to repress Palestinian organizing on U.S. campuses is very clearly a response to a generational gap. What we are seeing is that young people across the United States recognize Israel for what it is. They know apartheid when they see it. They know genocide when they see it. And in response, they are not only being repressed by university campus administrations, but the state is increasingly moving in to criminalize the BDS movement, because it is gaining such wide traction, especially among young people and students in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: As you go around the country to talk about Towers of Ivory and Steel, your new book, talk about why you called it that.

MAYA WIND: Again, it sort of speaks to the misconception in the Western academic community about Israeli universities. For too long, Jewish Israeli scholars have been allowed to gatekeep and to narrate to the West what their universities are, and this despite, again, over two decades of mobilization and critical research by Palestinian scholars and civil society organizations about the nature of Israeli universities and their deep embeddedness in the apparatuses of violence of the Israeli state.

And so, in my book, I really take this critique seriously and did an in-depth investigation, using archival materials, observing campus protests and classrooms across Israel’s eight major public universities, speaking with Palestinian student organizers, Palestinian and Jewish Israeli faculty and students. And what I really saw and learned in the course of this research is the vast and multifaceted nature of this embeddedness with the project of the oppression of Palestinians.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the Israeli Jewish professors, scholars, students who resist, like yourself — I mean, you, yourself, of course, you were jailed for your refusing to serve in the Israeli military, but then have gone on to be deeply critical — and those that express solidarity, for example, with professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who has been suspended by Hebrew University? Those protests out there, as she pointed out, were Jewish and Palestinian students, Jewish and Palestinian professors.

MAYA WIND: There is an important move, certainly, to resist and to conduct critical research, to protest, to insist on academic freedom on Israeli university campuses by primarily, really led by, Palestinian students and faculty, and sometimes joined by a small contingent of Jewish Israelis. But what this book speaks to is really the structure. This is a structural problem. This is about the very nature of the institutions of Israeli universities, from where they are built — they are built as land grab institutions to further Palestinian dispossession and expand Judaization, which is the continual shrinking of Palestinian land ownership and Palestinian land contiguity and the expansion of Jewish Israeli settlement and population distribution — to the ways in which these universities produce knowledge, expertise and help in the development of weapons, used against Palestinians and then sold abroad as battle-tested. And so, we’re really seeing this vast apparatus and a structural problem of universities subordinating themselves to the requirements and the needs of the Israeli state and Israeli apartheid. And that is what is at stake here.

AMY GOODMAN: Maya Wind, you’re a postdoctoral fellow in anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In your book, Towers of Ivory and Steel, you examine the role of archaeology, law and Middle East studies. Can you talk about this?

MAYA WIND: Certainly. So, in one of the chapters of the book, I really trace the ways that knowledge production and dominant paradigms in entire disciplines of the Israeli academy have subordinated their research agendas to the requirements of the Israeli state to aid the Israeli state in differentially ruling not only Palestinian and Jewish citizens, but also Palestinian subjects under military governance.

And we’re seeing that play out in multiple disciplines, as you mentioned. So, in archaeology, for instance, Israeli archaeology, institutes and departments are producing knowledge to aid in the dispossession of Palestinians and the expansion of Jewish settlement, using archeological research as a pretext and creating narratives that justify the Jewish — not only Jewish presence, but Jewish exclusive claims to the entirety of the land.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the other way around —

MAYA WIND: This is true in Middle East studies —

AMY GOODMAN: — in archaeology? Is finding whole Palestinian communities, evidence of, artifacts of?

MAYA WIND: Yes. So, absolutely, there is. Israeli archaeological research has been repeatedly critiqued by Palestinian scholars and others for not only violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, but also conducting unsound and unscientific research by explicitly and intentionally removing Palestinian artifacts and artifacts of the Islamic periods in order to substantiate Israeli state narratives.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to this questioning in January at the U.S. State Department, the Associated Press, Matt Lee, questioning State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller about Israel’s demolition of Al-Israa University in Gaza.

MATT LEE: I mean, it looks like a controlled demolition. It looks like what we do here in this country when we’re taking down an old hotel or a stadium. And you have nothing to say? You have nothing to say about this?


MATT LEE: I mean, to do that kind of an explosion, you need to be in there. You have to put the explosives down, and it takes a lot of planning and preparation to do. And if there was a threat from this particular facility, they wouldn’t have been able to do it.

MATTHEW MILLER: So, I have seen the video. I can tell you that it is something we are raising with the government of Israel, as we do — often do, when we see —

MATT LEE: Well, “raising” is what? Like —

MATTHEW MILLER: When we see — to ask questions and find out what the underlying situation is, as we often do when we see reports of this nature. But I’m not able to characterize the actual facts on the ground before hearing that response.

MATT LEE: Yeah, but you saw the video.

MATTHEW MILLER: I did see the video. I don’t — I don’t know — I don’t know —

MATT LEE: I mean, it looks like people —

MATTHEW MILLER: I don’t know what was —

MATT LEE: It looks like, you know, a bridge being imploded or something.

MATTHEW MILLER: I don’t know what was under that — I don’t know what was under that building. I don’t know what was inside —

MATT LEE: Well, yeah, but —

MATTHEW MILLER: — inside that building.

MATT LEE: But it doesn’t matter what was under the building, because they obviously got in there to put the explosives down to do it in the way that they did.

MATTHEW MILLER: So, again, I’m glad you have factual certainty, but I just — I just don’t.

MATT LEE: I don’t.

MATTHEW MILLER: I just don’t.

MATT LEE: All have is what I saw on the video, right?

MATTHEW MILLER: I — I just don’t. But I can say say —

MATT LEE: And I think you guys saw it, too.

MATTHEW MILLER: We did see it. I can say that we have raised it with the government of Israel.

MATT LEE: And it’s not troubling to you?

MATTHEW MILLER: We are always troubled by the — by any degradation of civilian infrastructure in Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Matthew Miller, the State Department spokesperson, responding to a question by the AP reporter Matt Lee. Maya Wind, he’s talking about the demolition of Al-Israa University in Gaza City, one of a number of universities that were blown up by the Israeli military. Why don’t we end with that point and your response to it?

MAYA WIND: What is really devastating is not only the destruction of Palestinian universities, all of them in Gaza, but also the absolute failure of any of the Israeli universities, that are in fact directly facilitating this destruction, to speak out against it. Where is the defense of Palestinian academic freedom?

AMY GOODMAN: Maya Wind, I want to thank you for being with us, author of the new book, Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom. To see Part 1 of our conversation, you can go to Maya Wind grew up in Israel, was a refusenik 15 years ago, served time in Israeli military jail for refusing to serve in the Israeli military. This is Democracy Now!, She’s currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia in anthropology. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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