News

The Destruction of Education in Gaza

January 25, 2024

As we return to classes in North America, we do so in grief and outrage knowing that the fabric of education in Gaza has been torn by death and destruction. According to a January report, the Israeli army has killed at least 94 university professors, 4,327 students, and 231 teachers and administrators since October. Schools and universities have become barracks and detention centers. 

In a recent visit to Gaza, Phillippe Lazzarini, Commissioner General for UNRWA, declared, “I’m afraid that we’re running the risk here of losing a generation of children” made up of more than half a million children in the primary and secondary school system. Education is at the heart of society, and this is especially true for a population as young as Gaza’s, in which about half of the population are children. Destroying precious institutions like schools, universities, libraries, museums, and after-school programs constitutes a massive and catastrophic educational loss for the future that will have consequences for decades to come. The destruction of educational systems is also analyzed as part of South Africa’s accusation of genocide against Israel at the International Court of Justice. 

According to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, in this war, schools have become shelters and Israeli detention and torture centers. On December 30, UN OCHA reported that 90% of schools were being used as shelters, and many had sustained damage. According to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Israel has “systematically destroyed every university in the Gaza Strip in stages over the course of the more than 100-day attack.” Early in the war, on October 9, Israel bombed the Islamic University, the largest university in Gaza, and Al-Azhar University. On December 10, Israel destroyed the medical school of the Islamic University. Israel blew up Al-Israa University in Gaza on January 18, 2024, after having used it as a military base and detention center. According to the South African petition, 74% of schools in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. This live UNICEF dashboard reports and maps that as of January 22, 272 public schools and 106 UNRWA schools have been damaged throughout the Gaza Strip.

Many amongst the more than 25,000 tragically killed since October 7th have been prominent university leaders, teachers, educators, and public intellectuals deeply dedicated to keeping alive the right of Palestinians in Gaza to knowledge and educational resources while they are living under siege. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor writes, “the Israeli army has targeted academic, scientific, and intellectual figures in the Strip in deliberate and specific air raids on their homes without prior notice.” 

Among those killed was Islamic University English professor and poet, Refaat Alareer, who, anticipating imminent death, wrote a poem urging, “If I must die / let it bring hope / let it be a tale”. He was a co-founder of the We Are Not Numbers project, a youth-led initiative to go beyond numbers of deaths and casualties in writing about Gaza. Alareer’s poetry and life have inspired protests, readings, and kite-flying solidarity and mourning events all around the world.

Also killed was Professor Sufian Tayeh, president of the Islamic University, who was killed with his family in an Israeli airstrike on his home in the Jabalia refugee camp on December 2. A leading researcher in physics and applied mathematics, he had been appointed UNESCO chair for Physical and Astrophysical sciences in Palestine. Tayeh was born in Jabalia and educated in UNRWA schools, and he received his BA, MA, and PhD degrees in physics from the Islamic University.

A past president of the Islamic University, Mohammed Shabir, was also killed in an air strike with his family, on November 14. He was a microbiologist, and in 2007 had been regarded as the next potential prime minister for a unity government. Israeli soldiers also shot and killed ​​Dr. Ahmed Hamdi Abo Absa, Dean of the Software Engineering Department at the University of Palestine, after Israeli soldiers released him from three days of enforced disappearance at the Muqaddasa (Holy) Family School.

We heed the call of Birzeit University to the global academic community: “Do Not Be Silent about Genocide.” We recognize and appreciate the statement of the Middle East Studies Association in November addressing the destruction of the educational system in Gaza. We invite people to learn from Insaniyyat’s Voices from Gaza project. We remind people of the academic boycott, supported by a growing number of institutions as a nonviolent way to call out how Israel has threatened Palestinian academic freedom in manifold ways over many decades, as well as of Israeli academia’s institutional complicity with Israeli apartheid. We hope as educators that we can somehow support the rebuilding of Palestinian systems of learning in Gaza when this becomes a possibility. In the meantime, we hope that faculty members will share this letter with colleagues, students, and administrators to underscore the truth of these atrocious crimes, in particular in the US due to US diplomatic, military, and political support that makes Israel’s war possible. 

As educators committed to opposing such brutal violence, the Middle East Section Board calls for an immediate ceasefire and provision of adequate humanitarian aid for Gaza’s Palestinians. We recognize the right to education as asserted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments. We call out the irreparable harm done when systems of education are destroyed. We see education as one way in which societies build their own futures, and we assert the right of Palestinians to sovereignty, self-determination, and thriving. 

Middle East Section Board

This statement represents the view of the board of the Middle East Section. It should not be construed as representing the American Anthropological Association as a whole. The American Anthropological Association is a voluntary, non-profit, scholarly association. Membership is worldwide. It has diverse sections representing specialized interests within the field.

Resolution on Palestine at AAA Meeting 2023

Please bring the following resolution to the floor at your section meeting, and join us at the business meeting on Friday November 17, 6:15-7:30 pm at TMCC (Hall F) to call for the AAA to adopt it.

Resolution on Palestine

Whereas the people of Gaza have been subjected to widespread and indiscriminate bombardment and assault since October 7, 2023;

Whereas Israeli government and military leaders have expressed genocidal intent in Gaza and have engaged in direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

Whereas as of November 12, 2023, over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, including over 5,000 children, and over 28,000 have been injured by Israeli attacks, while over 3,000 Palestinians remain missing under the rubble;

Whereas the Israeli bombardment of Gaza has destroyed over 185 educational facilities, including dozens of UNRWA schools and the three major universities in Gaza: the Islamic University, Al Azhar University, and Al-Aqsa University;

Whereas more than 80 Palestinian university faculty and staff and 2000 university students have been killed by the bombardment;

Whereas army and settler violence has also increased against Palestinians in the West Bank, resulting in over 170 deaths, including the deaths of 45 children, and displacement of entire communities;

Whereas academic freedom and personal safety is in dire risk for Palestinian and Jewish Israeli critics, students and faculty alike, in Israeli universities.

Whereas in institutions of higher education across North America there is increasing repression of speech and advocacy on Palestine, and Palestinian, Muslim, Arab and allied students and faculty are under threat;

Whereas the AAA’s resolution for the boycott of complicit Israeli institutions passed by the overwhelming majority of voting members in July 2023;

Whereas the AAA has made a statement calling for an end to violence and acknowledging anthropological literature that has addressed structural and everyday violence imposed by the Israeli government;

We call upon AAA to:

  1. Stand in solidarity with Palestinian university students, faculty and staff.
  1. Issue a strong statement of condemnation of Israel’s ongoing illegal assault on and siege of Gaza and join the international call for an immediate ceasefire. 
  1. Condemn the ongoing violence against and displacement of Palestinians across the Occupied Palestinian Territory and within Israel. 
  1. Issue a letter to presidents of universities, research centers, and other academic institutions across North America calling on university administrations to provide explicit support and protection of Palestinian students, faculty, and staff and their allies against harassment, anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia, demonization and silencing in line with the principles of academic freedom. 
  1. Issue a strong statement condemning the violation of the academic freedom of Palestinian and critical faculty, students and staff at Israeli universities, currently facing harassment and threats of violence, disciplinary hearings, and termination and expulsion for exercising their academic freedom.

Also posted on AnthroBoycott.

Upcoming events at the 2023 AAA Meeting

SPECIAL EVENTS:

Middle East Section Business Meeting, Friday, Nov. 17, 8-9:30 pm, Metro Toronto Convention Center 501B, with refreshments ** In addition to usual MES business, we will have an open space for sharing experiences of how reaction to events since Oct. 7 has shaped our campuses and for sharing ideas on responding to this new chapter in Palestinian Nakba.


Two Decades On: Teaching the US Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Middle East Section Teaching Workshop
Saturday, Nov. 18 12:30 PM- 2:00 PM TMCC – 712

PANELS:

2-850 War in Sudan: An Anthropological Perspective
Thursday, Nov. 16, 8:00-9:45 PM TMCC – 801 B

2-730 Art Anthropology: how art shapes anthropologies of space, Time, crisis, economies, ecologies, multispecies relations, the unfinished, becomings, uprisings, and imaginations
Thursday, 4:15 PM – 6:00 PM TMCC – 715 B

3-580 The Boycott of Israeli Institutions, Academic Freedom, and the Question of Palestine
Friday, Nov. 17, 2-3:45 TMCC – 718 B

4-480 Pushing the transitional to reciprocal ends: creating and enlivening reciprocal spaces
Saturday, Nov. 18, 2:00 PM – 3:45 PM TMCC – 718 A

ON PALESTINE:

We are also coordinating actions directly related to Gaza and Palestine at the 2023 AAA Annual Meeting; please find more information on the AnthroBoycott website.

2023 Prize winners!

The Middle East Section (MES) is pleased to announce this year’s winners for our Book Award, Student Paper Prize, and Photography Prize!

MES Book Award

Winner: Nomi Stone, Pinelandia: An Anthropology and Field Poetics of War and Empire (University of California Press, 2022)

MES Student Paper Prize

Winner: Hazal Aydın, “Open Body, Theatrical Intimacy and Sexual Harassment: Understanding Gendered Embodiments Through Turkey’s Theatre Industry.”

Honorable mention: Tony J. Chamoun, “Violent Histories in a Diasporic Register: Between Bodily Durabilities, Sacrificial Others, and Racialized Strangers”

MES Photography Prize

Winner: Çağla Ay

Honorable Mentions: Peter Habib, Rita Reis

Congratulations to our winners! Please join us for our business meeting (Friday, November 17, from 8 to 9.30 pm) at the American Anthropological Association conference in Toronto this year, where we will also celebrate the prize winners.

MES/AMEA Joint Statement on the Ongoing War Against Gaza (October 2023)

Jointly issued by the Middle East Section (MES) of the American Anthropological Association and the Association of Middle East Anthropology (AMEA) of the Middle East Studies Association (see here).

October 20, 2023

As anthropologists of the Middle East, we come together in grief and shock over Palestinian and Israeli lives lost. We bear witness to the destruction of homes, neighborhoods, and cities. We mourn the deaths that have occurred, and we fear for the death that is coming. We stand for justice, safety, and dignity for the more than two million Palestinians living in Gaza, and for all Palestinians and Israelis. We stand against the ongoing Israeli assault on Palestinians in Gaza that is being supported financially, militarily, and discursively by Western governments, and in particular the United States, where both of our organizations are based.

As we write, Israel has cemented a siege of Gaza that has existed in various forms for the past 16 years. This includes an unprecedented bombing campaign resulting in mass civilian casualties. Since Friday, October 13, Israel has ordered the forced displacement of half of the population of over two million to the already densely populated southern part of Gaza. More Palestinians are displaced today than became refugees during the Nakba of 1948. A large majority of Gazans are refugees whose families were dispossessed at that time.

Israel has cut off access to food, electricity, water and fuel, and a humanitarian catastrophe is well underway. These actions were preceded by the dehumanizing rhetoric of Israeli government officials, who have openly advocated for the collective punishment of the population—a war crime, according to international humanitarian law. Gaza’s already fragile health care system is at a breaking point, exacerbated by Israel’s bombing of multiple medical facilities. Prominent human rights groups, activist organizations, and scholars warn of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Racialized and militarized violence against Palestinians is escalating in multiple locations. Settlers and soldiers have killed dozens of Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7, building on a season of violence that had already seen the dispossession of four Palestinian Bedouin communities. Inside Israel’s 1948 territories, Palestinian citizens of Israel fear renewed violence similar to that they experienced in 2021. These violences all evince how Israel operates as what major human rights organizations have established to be an apartheid state.

In the United States and Europe, this is also a time of rising Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian bigotry, and of official warmongering and misinformation. We see the marginalization of Muslim journalists. The overwhelming framing of this event by US media organizations has been in terms of an Israeli narrative that started on October 7, despite the fact that Gaza has been under siege since 2007 and the occupation ongoing since 1967. We have already seen how European governments have banned or attempted to ban protests in support of Palestine, including in France, Germany, and the UK. Despite this, we have seen large marches in worldwide solidarity with Palestinians and against ethnic cleansing.

We recognize US college campuses as crucial yet vulnerable spaces for all students to process, grieve, and learn. We are deeply concerned that while college presidents and administrations have mobilized quickly to denounce and mourn violence against Israeli and Jewish communities, they have often done so at the expense of their Arab and Muslim communities. Once again, we see attacks on and calls for removal of critical professors; we see nuanced statements distorted. Arab and Muslim students are also threatened by outside organizations, as are others who speak about the violence that Palestinians face. Effectively, campus populations are being told that whatever they want to say, do, and organize must be vetted by donors and groups that see only one side of the issue. This mirrors longstanding practices of stifling criticism of the actions of the state of Israel.

As Middle East anthropologists, we reiterate calls made by leading scholarly organizations like MESA and BRISMES. We urge our colleagues to find ways to contribute to conversations on these crucial issues. We have the skills and knowledge to provide much-needed and sorely-lacking social and historical context and analysis, including perspectives on the tolls of militarism for its immediate victims, perpetrators, and non-human beings and the environment; the weight and richness of collective memory; the logics and violence of settler colonialism; the dangers of ethno-nationalism; the dynamic challenges and rewards of solidarity work; and dimensions of resistance across contexts. As anthropologists we can also teach about radical empathy and listening across difference. Finally, we must amplify the perspectives of our peers and peer institutions in the region. We can work together to promote academic freedom and spaces of learning, and we must stand against this ongoing, intensified Nabka and do all we can to support life and dignity.  

Suggested organizations for support:
Palestine Children’s Relief Fund
ANERA
Medical Aid for Palestinians
Gaza Mental Health Foundation
UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)

Resources on understanding Palestine/Israel:
Decolonize Palestine Reading List
Journal of Palestine Studies, Collection of Articles and Essays (16 October 2023)
Black Women Radicals Reading/Resource List
Zinn Education Project: Teaching about the Violence in Gaza and Israel

Call for Submissions: 2023 MES Student Paper Prize!

The Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association invites submissions for our Student Paper Prize. Both undergraduate and graduate students (who have not defended at time of submission) are eligible. The winner will receive a prize of $500, plus a chance to summarize the award-winning paper at the 2023 AAA meeting in Toronto and in Anthropology News, a publication of the AAA that goes to all members of the association. Papers should be no longer than 10,000 words (not including notes and bibliography) and must have been completed no earlier than January 1, 2022. Chapters from a thesis are welcome and should be able to stand alone (and can be revised to do so). Papers should not be published or accepted for publication. The paper should include a cover page with the name of the professor and class for which the paper was written (if applicable) and email addresses for both the student and professor. 

Student paper award submissions should be emailed to the committee chair, Dr Kali Rubaii (kali.rubaii@gmail.com). The subject line must say “MES Student Prize.” 

The deadline is August 30, 2023.

Call for submissions for MES’ photo contest!

The Middle East Section (MES) of the AAA is having a photo contest to celebrate our vantages on the MENA region and to support our website!

Photographs should speak broadly to the idea of “Transitions,” the theme of the 2023 AAA conference.

Each submission can include up to 5 photos each with a caption (50-100 words) that explains the date, location, context, and the process through which the photograph was taken. Photos may be submitted as stand-alone images or a short image series meant to be viewed together (please specify). Submissions should be in jpg or tiff.

We encourage submissions from anthropologists and anthropologists-in-the-making, especially from the MENA region. Each person is limited to one submission of five photographs. We ask that those submitting be members of the Middle East Section, except for students, non-tenure track faculty or scholars in the Global South if membership imposes a significant hardship.

The winners will each receive a modest cash prize ($100). Their photos will be used on the website and social media and will be credited each time they are used.

Please make your submission here by Thursday, August 31st: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSciok_9JNet4CzQyCFdtS0DIk4TmJD75kJ_1uEM3hNVFVo2bQ/viewform

MES Distinguished Scholar Award 2022

We are thrilled to announce the recipient of the 2022 MES Distinguished Scholar Award: Dr. Farha Ghannam (Swarthmore College).

We will be talking more about her important research and commitment to teaching and mentorship at our business meeting – please join us!

The business meeting will be held on Zoom on November 4th at 3:00-4:15 pm EST, link is forthcoming or available through our AAA communities platform. Come to hear more from the prize committee and celebrate Prof. Ghannam with us!