If the world hasn’t yet grasped that Palestinians aren’t interested in peace, it’s certainly not because Palestinians haven’t been working hard to make it clear. Mahmoud Abbas’s “genocide” speech at the UN last week did get momentary attention, being too public to ignore completely. But an even more telling incident has been almost completely overlooked: the expulsion of Haaretz reporter Amira Hass–a woman who has spent decades promoting the Palestinian cause–from a conference at Birzeit University near Ramallah, solely because she is an Israeli Jew.
Nobody, in Israel or outside it, is more pro-Palestinian than Hass. To the best of my knowledge, she’s the only Israeli reporter so dedicated to the Palestinians that she has made her home among them for decades, first in Gaza and then in Ramallah. She reports relentlessly on Palestinian suffering under the “occupation regime” and is a tireless apologist for unattractive Palestinian habits such as stone-throwing. Her latest op-ed, for instance, was an apologia for Abbas’s genocide speech, and her report on her expulsion from Birzeit was similarly forgiving of the bigoted policy that bans all Israeli Jews–though not Israeli Arabs–from the campus simply because they are Israeli Jews. So if students and faculty at Birzeit, the Palestinians’ flagship university, can’t even tolerate having Hass on their campus, what does that say about Palestinian readiness to make peace with the Israeli majority, which doesn’t share her belief that their own country is evil and all justice is on the Palestinians’ side?
After all, universities are where the next generation of leaders is nurtured; this makes Birzeit’s position far more important than that of the 79-year-old Abbas, now in the tenth year of his four-year term. Abbas will soon be gone. But Birzeit’s students and graduates will be an influential force in Palestinian society for decades to come.
So how is peace possible when Birzeit is educating these future Palestinian leaders to believe all Israeli Jews should be shunned simply because they are Israeli Jews? And how is peace possible when these future leaders won’t even listen to any view of the conflict that contradicts their own, such as an Israeli Jew (though not Hass) might provide?
Needless to say, this is the polar opposite of how Israeli universities act: Their faculties overwhelmingly favor a two-state solution and educate accordingly, and Palestinian students are welcome regardless of their views. Even Omar Barghouti, leader of the BDS movement, famously (and hypocritically) obtained his master’s degree from Tel Aviv University and is now pursuing his doctorate there in between trips abroad to urge others to boycott the institution.
Under pressure from her many influential fans–including Germany’s Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which sponsored the conference she was expelled from–Birzeit later said it would make an exception to its rule for “supporters of the Palestinian struggle” like Hass. But that doesn’t fundamentally alter either its bigoted policy or its unwillingness to listen to anyone who might challenge the Palestinian narrative.
Nor is Birzeit exceptional in this regard. In June, for instance, Prof. Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi was forced to resign from another leading Palestinian institution, Al-Quds University, for having dared to take some of his students to Auschwitz to teach them about the Holocaust. If a leading Palestinian university won’t even let its students learn about the Holocaust because it might increase their empathy for Israeli Jews, what does that say about prospects for peace?
As Haaretz blogger Matthew Kalman perceptively noted, peace isn’t the only victim of Birzeit’s behavior: Palestinian universities’ unwillingness to confront students with any perspective that might challenge their preexisting views has also hindered Palestinian economic development, because students aren’t developing the critical thinking skills necessary for success in today’s high-tech economy. But that’s the Palestinians’ problem.
Birzeit’s education to hatred and prejudice, in contrast, ought to be the problem of anyone who claims to care about Israeli-Palestinian peace. Unfortunately, most of the world would rather look the other way.
Originally published in Commentary