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Islamic World News ( 3 Jan 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Taliban’s new dictum: Marry daughters to militants or else!

PAKISTAN: Militants announce ban on girls’ education in Swat

Premarital sex rising in Iran

The Woman the Mullahs Fear

The Myth of Israeli Retaliation by Dan Freeman-Maloy

Iran Nobel laureate accused of Israeli bias-activist

Washington: Somalia - Will 2009 Bring More Violence or Peace? By Joe de capua

UNCASVILLE: Muslim inmate files suit over lack of halal meat

Gaza: Targeting Islamic University (Gaza) by NEVE GORDON and JEFF HALPER

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau



Taliban’s new dictum: Marry daughters to militants or else!

Agencies Posted: Jan 02, 2009 at 1427 hrs IST


The new force-marriage campaign is being run in most of the areas in the Pakistan's troubled NWFP.The new force-marriage campaign is being run in most of the areas in the Pakistan's troubled NWFP.


The new forced-marriage campaign is being run in most of the areas in the Pakistan's troubled NWFP.


Islamabad: On the heels of their crusade against girls going to schools, the Taliban have now issued new dictum in the areas under their sway asking parents of the grown up daughters to marry them to militants or ‘face dire consequences’.


This new force-marriage campaign is being run in most of the areas in the Pakistan's troubled NWFP through regular announcements made in mosques to congregations.


Such instances have come to light recently through some of the affected women daring to go to authorities for justice rather than meekly surrender to the militants dictates.


Salma, who teaches in a primary school in Peshawar, told the influential ‘Dawn’ newspaper that Taliban have told families to declare in mosques if they have unmarried girls so that their hand could be given in marriage, most probably to militants.


If they did not do so, the girls would be forcibly married off; the newspaper quoted the 30-year-old widow as saying.


She also said the Taliban in the Swat valley of NWFP have threatened women with dire punishment, if they are found outside their homes without identity cards and a male relative accompanying them.


Couples should also carry 'Nikah Nama' or marriage certificates with them when they venture out of home or they will be in trouble, she said.


"I have heard that Taliban have announced that if a girl above the age of seven is found outside her house, she would be slaughtered," Salma said.


Once an avid listener of Pakistani Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah's FM radio station, Salma doesn't tune in to the channel any more.


"Usually there is only dreadful news on the radio, so I stopped listening to it," said Salma, who has three sons.


Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio for the fiery sermons he broadcasts on his illegal FM station, leads a campaign by Taliban militants to enforce Shariat or Islamic law in Swat.


Fazlullah's followers have blown up or torched over 100 girls' schools in Swat and barred women from going to markets.


The Taliban's recent decision to completely ban girls' education from January 15 has upset Salma and her colleagues because most of them are the sole bread-winners of their families.


"My colleagues were crying when they heard this bad news. Some have aged and handicapped parents while others have lost their male members in the ongoing conflict," she said.


"Our principal has said that all female teachers should write down the domestic problems forcing them to work so that they could be forwarded to Taliban, who would be requested to review their policy about women's education," Salma said.


Women who go out for work, especially social work, are tagged as immoral and eliminated by militants controlling the area, he said.


Bakht Zeba, a 45-year-old woman councillor who was a staunch supporter of girls' education, was murdered on November 25. She was first threatened by Taliban to stop her activities or face dire consequences. When she did not pay heed to the warnings, the Taliban shot her dead in her house.


PAKISTAN: Militants announce ban on girls’ education in Swat


SWAT, 1 January 2009 (IRIN) - “They [Taliban] are savages and we’re like a helpless herd, with no one to protect us,” said Sikander Ali, father of four girls, speaking to IRIN on the phone from Swat valley.


He was reacting to news that militants had ordered a ban on girls’ education from 15 January.

Swat valley (in the North West Frontier Province), which has a population of 1.8 million and lies some 150km northeast of Peshawar, has been a hotbed of Islamist militancy for the past two years.

Ali, a government official, had heard the recent warning by Shah Dauran, deputy leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of Maulana Fazalullah on a clandestine FM radio station.


“He said we must take our daughters out of all schools - private or public - by 15 January 2009 at the latest. Failing this, he said the schools will be bombed and violators would face death. He also said they will throw acid into the faces of our daughters if we don’t comply, like their counterparts did in Afghanistan some months back.”


“It is feared that the extremists will carry out their threats,” said Ibrash Pasha, provincial coordinator of the Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE).

If this happens an estimated 40,000 girls will be kept out of school, said Dawn newspaper.

For now the schools are on winter vacation until February.


However, following the TTP threats, the private school Ali’s daughter goes to has re-opened and resumed classes for Grade 12 “so that they can complete as much coursework as they can by 15 January, as they have to sit for their board examination in April,” the father said.


Against Western education

“We have nothing against girls going to school,” said Muslim Khan, a spokesman of the TTP, speaking to IRIN from an undisclosed location in Swat.


“What we are saying is that the education being given to our daughters in these schools is Western and not in keeping with the teachings of Islam. It is only making us wayward,” said Khan, who studied till 12th grade and confessed to having no Koranic teaching.


“Before they become engineers and teachers and doctors, these young people must be trained for jihad,” said the 54-year-old TTP spokesperson.

“We have never bombed schools and never threatened to kill girls who defy our orders. We have also said that primary schools can remain open as long as the girls and female teachers observe `purdah’ [cover their bodies].”

“He is lying; it’s double-speak,” said Hazir Gul, who runs Swat Participatory Council, a health NGO. “Their leaders have often given interviews to the media celebrating the bombing of schools.”

“If they are allowing girls to study in primary schools, this is a new development; it seems this is a U-turn,” said Ali.



An appeal by the Private School Owner’s Association appeared in local newspaper Shumaal on 29 December asking the TTP to reconsider their ban.


It said the association had in the past always cooperated with all the demands of the TTP regarding `purdah’. It had segregated male and female students, changed boys uniforms from trousers and shirt to `shalwar kameeze’, and made changes in the curriculum in keeping with Islamic teachings.


“Convincing parents to send their children, especially the girl-child, to school was already an uphill task. Years of hard work put into mobilising rural communities to educate their girls has come to nought. This fear will give them an excuse to keep their girls at home or make them work in the fields or for cattle-rearing,” said the PCE’s Pasha.



Ali said the whole community is scared stiff: “They just kill you on the slightest pretext, and make an example of you. No one dares disobey them,” said Ali.


He said neither the police nor the army intervenes or protects them; people feel completely isolated and unprotected.


In the past year education has been severely disrupted in the valley. There have been unannounced curfews, schools have been blown up or set on fire. The worst example was the attack on Sangota Public School in October.


Herald, a monthly newsmagazine, reported in August 2008 that there were 566 girls’ schools in Swat, including four government higher secondary schools, 22 high schools, 51 middle schools and 489 primary schools. Of these, 131 have either been set alight or closed, rendering 17,200 girls school-less.

In the past year over 150 schools (most of them girls’ schools), were destroyed - albeit when the pupils were absent.



Premarital sex rising in Iran

Robert Tait, Agencies

London, December 30, 2008


Rising numbers of Iranians are spurning marriage and having sex illegally outside wedlock, Iran’s state-run body for youth affairs has said.


A survey by the national youth organisation found that more than one in four men aged 19 to 29 had experienced sex before marriage. About 13% of such cases resulted in unwanted pregnancies that led to abortions. Sex outside marriage and abortion are outlawed under Iran’s Islamic legal code.


The survey also revealed that the average marrying age had risen to 40 for men and 35 for women, a blow to the government’s goal of promoting marriage to shore up society’s Islamic foundations.


The statistics were disclosed by the national youth organisation’s social-cultural deputy, Ali Alkbar Asarnia, at a conference celebrating family values. Asarnia said Iran had around 15 million single young people and that 1.5 million more were becoming eligible for marriage each year. Seven million were already past the government’s recommended marrying guideline age of 29. The trend was producing the “unpleasant and dangerous social side effects” of premarital sex, Asarnia said.


The government has already tried to boost the marriage rate, which had an unprecedented 1.2% decline in 2005. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has introduced a $1.1bn “Reza love fund” — named after one of Shia Islam’s 12 imams — to provide marriage loans. Plans have been announced to establish marriage bureaux to help people find partners.


Many blame economic circumstances for their failure to marry, citing high inflation, unemployment and a housing shortage along with cultural traditions that expect brides’ families to provide dowries and husbands to commit themselves to mehrieh, an agreed cash gift.


The Woman the Mullahs Fear

January 1, 2009

Men hold all of the meaningful levers of political power in Iran, but it is a woman they fear. If not, why is the mullah-led government trying to shut down the operations of Shirin Ebadi?

Ms. Ebadi, a lawyer and her country’s leading human rights activist, is the first Muslim woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. On Monday, the authorities stormed her private office, seizing her computers and her clients’ documents. A week earlier, they closed her Centre for Defenders of Human Rights, a coalition of human rights groups and other activists whose members had planned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


When she was awarded the peace prize in 2003, the Nobel committee called Ms. Ebadi “a courageous person” for standing up against Iran’s bullying government. In the years since, she has endured repeated death threats from radical groups and regular government intimidation. That courage has never faltered.

With presidential elections scheduled for June, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies apparently decided they could not risk letting Ms. Ebadi continue the work she has done with distinction (and without pay) for the past 15 years — exposing government violations of human rights and defending human rights and democracy activists.


No doubt the authorities were unhappy with a report produced by her centre that was cited recently by the United Nations’ secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, when the General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution condemning Iran’s human rights record. But we suspect their ambitions go far beyond trying to suppress one report. They are clearly hoping to intimidate Ms. Ebadi and all other independent voices in Iran. That must not be allowed to happen.

We condemn Tehran’s mistreatment of this woman of extraordinary honour and courage. We urge the United States, Europe and other major powers to keep pressure on Iran to ensure that no further harm comes to Ms. Ebadi and that she remains free to do her essential work.

If Tehran wants relief from international criticism about its human rights record, it must start by adhering to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and respecting the rights of all of its citizens.



The Myth of Israeli Retaliation

Dan Freeman-Maloy, December 31, 2008


With the Palestinian death toll from Israel's latest air and naval assault on Gaza passed 350 and steadily climbing (an estimated 1500 more have been wounded), diplomats, advocates and journalists the world over appear prepared to continue facilitating the massacre.

Noting that "success or failure of the media effort can affect the window which the IDF has to fulfil its operational objectives," the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday quoted former Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman expressing his satisfaction on the diplomatic front. "We haven't seen dramatic condemnations [from world leaders], only the expected and generic calls for calm and ceasefire." (Though UN General Assembly president Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann has been a laudable exception to this rule.) While the Post attributed "this welcome window" to "a new culture of coordination among the agencies responsible for managing Israel's media message in times of crisis," it is far too charitable to downplay the culpability of Western political classes by taking their feigned ignorance at face value.

Meanwhile, within the Israeli political system, the prospect of an escalating slaughter of Palestinians is meeting scattered opposition, mostly on logistical and diplomatic grounds. Still, the logic of the Israeli elections cycle is pushing in the direction of greater violence, and war planners are reportedly incorporating into their calculations strong calls from the Hebrew press for Israeli forces to abandon "restraint" and broaden operations. Indeed, one needn't look further than the liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz to encounter crass appreciation of the violence. Yoel Marcus writes unapologetically that "I will not conceal my enjoyment of the flames and smoke rising from Gaza that have poured from our television screens. The time has finally come for their bellies to quiver and for them to understand that there is a price from their bloody provocations against Israel."

"Their bloody provocations against Israel." Because once again, Israel has been provoked, and is within its rights to retaliate.

If it were not for its endless, mindless repetition, this nonsense wouldn't deserve a moment's attention. But the farce of "Palestinian provocation/Israeli retaliation" presently frames not only mainstream news coverage, but also the official diplomatic statements emanating from the United States, the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada. Such historical amnesia cannot possibly be genuine.

Under these circumstances, it is worth recalling some very basic information about Gaza and the timeline of the conflict surrounding it.

Consider the description provided by the late Canadian Lt.-Gen. E.L.M. Burns, chief of staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization from 1954-1956, who in this capacity was responsible for monitoring Israel's oft-violated armistice arrangements with adjacent countries. Burns, hardly a political activist or anti-colonial figure, was a professional soldier appointed by a Canadian diplomat quite friendly towards Israel, Lester B. Pearson. Published in 1962, his account of his service includes the following description of Gaza:

"The Strip is about forty kilometres long, and averages eight and a quarter kilometres in width; thus it contains about 330 square kilometres [360 is currently the accepted figure]. There are about 310,000 Arab residents in the Strip, 210,000 of them refugees from the southern parts of Palestine now occupied by Israel. Thus there are about 1500 persons to the square kilometre of arable soil -- about 3900 to the square mile...

"One does not see people starving or dying of disease in the streets; nevertheless the Gaza Strip resembles a vast concentration camp, shut off by the sea, the border between Palestine and the Sinai near Rafah, which the Egyptians will not permit them to cross, and the Armistice Demarcation Line which they cross in peril of being shot by Israelis or imprisoned by the Egyptians. They can look east and see wide fields, once Arab land, cultivated extensively by a few Israelis, with a chain of kibbutzim guarding the heights or the areas beyond. It is not surprising that they look with hatred on those who have dispossessed them."[1]

Five years after this was published, in 1967, Israel invaded Gaza and subjected it to direct military rule. Decades later, Hamas emerged, and decades later still, fired some rockets at such cities as Ashkelon -- an Israeli city which just incidentally had supplanted the Palestinian community of Majdal, the last of whose inhabitants were ethnically cleansed by Zionist forces in 1950, its former residents mostly driven into Gaza. And now, "retaliating" against suggestions that Hamas might use its limited military leverage to open crossings from the Gaza Strip and achieve a broadened ceasefire including the West Bank, Israel is hammering at Gaza from the skies and the sea with advanced military equipment, while Israeli ground forces assemble amidst threats of a broadened assault.

For all their disingenuous diplomatic rhetoric, Israeli planners know full well that the future they are offering Palestinians in Gaza -- one of peaceful, acquiescent starvation -- is simply not viable. Indeed, the point was made recently at the Weinberg Founders Conference (organized by the AIPAC-affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy) by Maj. Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland, former head of the Strategic Planning Branch and the Operations Branch of the IDF. Eiland observed that "Gaza is an extremely small piece of land, 300 square kilometres, in which today there are 1.5 million people who live there. In the year 2020 there will be 2.5 million people. Does anyone really believe that those 2.5 million people who will live in Gaza in 12 years will live happily only because there is a peace agreement?" Even taken alongside his proposed solution (enlarge Gaza into Egypt, establish a regional security framework which would operate independent of and over Palestinians, etc.), Eiland's comments point to the extremely dangerous future facing Palestinians in Gaza.

In the short term, it remains unclear for how long Israel will subject this densely populated prison to air strikes and naval bombardment, whether a massive ground invasion will materialize (or perhaps the "localized cleansing operations" advocated by the Marcus article cited above), and just how suffocating a ceasefire arrangement Israel will receive international license to pursue. But the idea that a shift from slaughter back to mere economic suffocation would be a reasonable Israeli concession needs to be forcefully wiped away, or the prospects for the coming period will be horrifically bleak.

In the meantime, as the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel (the remnant from the ethnic cleansing of 1948) commit the heresy of asserting the humanity of Israel's Palestinian victims, the politics of Israeli racism are turning inward in accord with longstanding trends. In her speech to the Knesset on Monday, Israeli foreign minister and Kadima candidate for Prime Minister Tzipi Livni declared that the Gaza massacres were "a test of the leadership of the Arab public in Israel. You are leading the Arab population here on a thin rope. The thin line between what is allowed and what is forbidden must not be crossed -- between legitimate and illegitimate, between right and wrong. Each of you must choose a side, and the choice is between Arab and Jew."[2] Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu promised that if elected, he would know how to deal with "Hamas' supporters from within -- with an iron fist," referring to demonstrations in predominantly Arab communities against the ongoing assault.  Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right Israel Beiteinu and an avid advocate of racism against Palestinian citizens, called for Arab parliamentarians in Israel (who are voicing principled criticism of the Gaza slaughter) to be "exiled," alleging they form part of a "fifth column" responsible for "acts of treason at a time of war".

At this point, shifting blame to Hamas or other Palestinians for these Israeli atrocities is not just a mistake, it is an alibi. And the fact that it's a common one shouldn't make it any more tolerable.


[1] E.L.M. Burns, Between Arab and Israeli. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1962. (pp. 69-70)

[2] "Israeli foreign minister addresses Knesset, justifies Gaza operation," December 30 2008, BBC Monitoring Middle East. Article no. 50162 sent on 31-dec-2008 12:51 ECT




Iran Nobel laureate accused of Israeli bias

2 January 2009


Tehran - Some 150 protesters stood outside the home and office of Iranian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi on Thursday accusing her of sympathy for Israel, the Islamic state’s foe, a member of her human rights group said.


Abdulreza Tajik, of the Human Rights Defenders Centre led by Ebadi, said he believed they were student members of the Basij religious militia. The crowd tore down a sign of Ebadi’s law practice and trampled on it, he told Reuters.

Israel commits crime, Ebadi supports (it),” Tajik quoted the protesters as shouting in reference to the Jewish state’s attacks in Gaza. He said they dispersed after police intervened. It was not clear on what grounds they made the accusation.


Tajik said Ebadi’s rights watchdog centre had condemned violence against Palestinians in the Gaza strip and called for international action to stop the Israeli campaign.

A Basij leader at an Iranian medical university, Alireza Keighobadi, told the ISNA news agency that members of his organisation had gathered outside Ebadi’s office, which is in the same Tehran building as her home.


“Considering that Shirin Ebadi received her Nobel Peace Prize for the defence of children we came together in front of her office to ask whether the children of Gaza are not children (to be defended),” Keighobadi said.

The incident came a day after the French Foreign Ministry said France, acting in the name of the European Union, had summoned Iran’s ambassador to Paris to protest about the treatment of Ebadi.

The Iranian government raided Ebadi’s law office in Tehran earlier this week less than 10 days after closing the headquarters of her human rights centre, a rights advocacy group in the United States said on Tuesday.

Ebadi has repeatedly criticised Iran’s human rights record, saying the country had the highest number of executions per capita in 2007 and a growing number of political prisoners.

Iran’s judiciary said last week the closure of her centre on Dec. 21 was a temporary measure, adding that the office could be reopened “if the group obtained the necessary legal permit” for its activities.

Iran’s government rejects accusations that it violates human rights and accuses its Western foes of hypocrisy.

Over the years, Ebadi’s advocacy of human rights has earned her a spell in jail and a stream of threatening letters and telephone calls. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.



Somalia - Will 2009 Bring More Violence or Peace?

By Joe de capua / Alisha Ryu

Washington D.C / Nairobi, 31 December 2008

In 2008, Somalia became the scene of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises and observers say it’s unclear what 2009 will bring to the country. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu is closely following developments there. From Nairobi, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua.

“It was a very, very turbulent year for Somalia in every respect.

There was a lot of hope in the beginning that Somalia might try to become a lot more stable this year (2008). There was a great deal of effort on (the part of) the United Nations and the international community to try to kick start peace talks between the moderate faction of the Islamist group and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). The (peace) process known as the Djibouti Agreement was finally inked in June. It was hoped that that would be able to solve the insurgency problem that has been raging in Somalia for the past two years. Unfortunately, it did not. It created a lot more problems than it intended because the Islamist movement itself began fracturing. The Transitional Federal Government itself was in complete disarray because of infighting between the president and prime minister. The president, Abdullahi Yusuf, has just resigned as a result of all the problems that had occurred within the TFG, which made it very ineffectual,” she says.


Looking ahead to 2009, Ryu says, “A lot more uncertainty in Somalia because right now the situation is very fluid in terms of what’s going to happen with the Islamist opposition. They’re already starting to fight amongst themselves for this power vacuum that is supposed to be arising from the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops out of Somalia. And if they leave, will the Islamists themselves – hardliners in the Islamist movement and somewhat of the moderates – will they start slugging it out amongst themselves? And then what happens to the Transitional Federal Government? The president is no longer there. The speaker of parliament is going to be taking over for a while, but then they need to establish a new president so that they can have a functioning government of some kind that can negotiate with the moderate Islamists…and perhaps create a new unity government. But none of that is certain. Somalia is one big question mark.”

s Ethiopia leaving Somalia having accomplished its security mission there or has it learned some hard lessons dealing with the insurgency? Ryu says, “I think it’s leaving Somalia with a degree of frustration and I may even say a bit of resentment towards the West. I think Ethiopia when it intervened militarily in Somalia in 2006; it was under the impression that it was going to be there for a very short time. It did get US support to do that in order to go in and take out the hard-line Islamist group called the Shabaab that was taking over the Islamist movement that was in power in Somalia for six months in 2006. Ethiopia, I think, felt that it was going to be a quick military strike and that the TFG would be able to gain control of the situation and to bring some stability to the country. And then troops from the African Union would then come in and add more stability. Well, none of that happened. As soon as the Ethiopians came in the insurgency began, fighting increased, creating a terrible humanitarian situation, which is one of the worst in the world, if not the worst in the world. Thousands of people dead, up to three million in dire need of food aid now.”


Ryu says Ethiopia may have felt it was left alone to bear the burden of Somalia and the insurgency. “Ethiopia neither had the will nor the power to do that and so I think it decided, well, we have to leave.”


2008 was the year of the pirate off the Somali and Kenya coastlines. The international community has responded to the threat to both cargo and passenger ships alike, but it is difficult to patrol the entire Gulf of Aden and beyond.

“The pirates certainly have done very, very well in 2008, no doubt about it. The piracy situation -- probably starting February is when

it started garnering some attention and then has steadily escalated throughout 2008 until to a point in September when something like five or six vessels were being hijacked in one single day. And it shocked everybody in the international community. They just didn’t believe that the Somalis would have that kind of sophistication or try to go after these big large vessels…. And when they became successful, then it started making headlines,” she says.


Ships from over 12 countries are now patrolling the waters prowled by Somali pirates, trying to protect shipping routes. But it’s been a lucrative year. Ryu says, “The pirates have garnered something like $120 million or more and that is a tremendous amount for a country that barely can feed itself…. So maybe a thousand pirates are making a tremendous amount of money.”

The VOA correspondent says it’s unclear who’s receiving the money besides the pirates. Observers say some Somali politicians may be involved, as well as Islamist groups. Ryu adds, “It’s the ordinary Somalis themselves who are being left out of this whole process and they are not getting anything.”



Muslim inmate files suit over lack of halal meat

December 31, 2008

UNCASVILLE, Conn. - A Muslim inmate in a Connecticut prison has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging he has been denied meals that conform to his religious standards.

Ricardo Collins says officials are denying his right to freedom of religion by failing to provide meat that is "halal," slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law.


The 27-year-old inmate, who is being held at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Centre, filed his lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Dec. 23.

Prison officials declined to comment, citing department policy on pending litigation.

A spokesman says meals served to Muslim prisoners comply with their religious standards, even if they do not contain halal meat.

Collins recently won an appellate court decision granting him a new trial on a murder charge. He had been convicted in Superior Court of killing a man in Bridgeport in 2002.



Targeting Islamic University

Where's the Academic Outrage Over the Bombing of a University in Gaza?


December 31, 2008


Not one of the nearly 450 presidents of American colleges and universities who prominently denounced an effort by British academics to boycott Israeli universities in September 2007 have raised their voice in opposition to Israel’s bombardment of the Islamic University of Gaza earlier this week. Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University, who organized the petition, has been silent, as have his co-signatories from Princeton, North-western, and Cornell Universities, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Most others who signed similar petitions, like the 11,000 professors from nearly 1,000 universities around the world, have also refrained from expressing their outrage at Israel’s attack on the leading university in Gaza. The artfully named Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, which organized the latter appeal, has said nothing about the assault.


While the extent of the damage to the Islamic University, which was hit in six separate air strikes, is still unknown, recent reports indicate that at least two major buildings were targeted, a science laboratory and the Ladies’ Building, where female students attended classes. There were no casualties, as the university was evacuated when the Israeli assault began on Saturday.


Virtually all the commentators agree that the Islamic University was attacked, in part, because it is a cultural symbol of Hamas, the ruling party in the elected Palestinian government, which Israel has targeted in its continuing attacks in Gaza. Mysteriously, hardly any of the news coverage has emphasized the educational significance of the university, which far exceeds its cultural or political symbolism.


Established in 1978 by the founder of Hamas — with the approval of Israeli authorities — the Islamic University is the first and most important institution of higher education in Gaza, serving more than 20,000 students, 60 percent of whom are women. It comprises 10 faculties — education, religion, art, commerce, Shariah law, science, engineering, information technology, medicine, and nursing — and awards a variety of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Taking into account that Palestinian universities have been regionalized because Palestinian students from Gaza are barred by Israel from studying either in the West Bank or abroad, the educational significance of the Islamic University becomes even more apparent.


Those restrictions became international news last summer when Israel refused to grant exit permits to seven carefully vetted students from Gaza who had been awarded Fulbright fellowships by the State Department to study in the United States. After top State Department officials intervened, the students’ scholarships were restored — though Israel allowed only four of the seven to leave, even after appeals by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It is a welcome victory — for the students," opined The New York Times, and "for Israel, which should want to see more of Gaza’s young people follow a path of hope and education rather than hopelessness and martyrdom; and for the United States, whose image in the Middle East badly needs burnishing."


Notwithstanding the importance of the Islamic University, Israel has tried to justify the bombing. An army spokeswoman told The Chronicle that the targeted buildings were used as "a research and development centre for Hamas weapons, including Qassam rockets. … One of the structures struck housed explosives laboratories that were an inseparable part of Hamas’s research-and-development program, as well as places that served as storage facilities for the organization. The development of these weapons took place under the auspices of senior lecturers who are activists in Hamas."


Islamic University officials deny the Israeli allegations. Yet even if there is some merit in them, it is common knowledge that practically all major American and Israeli universities are engaged in research and development of military applications and receive money from the Pentagon and defence corporations. Weapon development and even manufacturing have, unfortunately, become major projects at universities worldwide — a fact that does not justify bombing them.


By launching an attack on Gaza, the Israeli government has once again chosen to adopt strategies of violence that are tragically akin to the ones deployed by Hamas — only the Israeli tactics are much more lethal. How should academics respond to this assault on an institution of higher education? Regardless of one’s stand on the proposed boycott of Israeli universities, anyone so concerned about academic freedom as to put one’s name on a petition should be no less outraged when Israel bombs a Palestinian university. The question, then, is whether the university presidents and professors who signed the various petitions denouncing efforts to boycott Israel will speak out against the destruction of the Islamic University.

Neve Gordon is chair of the department of politics and government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and author of Israel’s Occupation (University of California Press, 2008).


Jeff Halper Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and author of An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (Pluto Press, 2008). He can be reached at