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Portsmouth stands in solidarity with Gaza

In an open letter, University of Portsmouth staff, students and alumni make nine demands calling for a Gaza ceasefire, academic freedom and an end to ‘educide’

WE the undersigned, are University of Portsmouth (UoP) staff members, students and alumni who are deeply concerned about the actions of the Israeli state in Gaza and its increased violence and repression in the West Bank, particularly with regard to the systematic destruction of Gaza’s education system and professions to which we belong.

On this matter, we are aligned with global public opinion and the January 26 2024 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court. The ICJ cited ample evidence of genocidal intent on the part of Israel, and its actions are openly aimed at eliminating the foundations of civil society in Gaza.

The ruling obligates all states party to the Genocide Convention to immediately implement the ICJ’s measures to prevent a possible genocide in Gaza and the Occupied Territories. Moreover, third-state institutions are compelled to make all efforts to uphold international law by avoiding complicity in acts of genocide.

At the time of writing, Israel’s carpet-bombing of Gaza has killed over 28,000 Palestinians, including over 13,000 children, with reports of over 67,000 injured and over 1.9 million displaced within Gaza (Euro-Med Monitor, 2024). Over 300 healthcare workers, 124 journalists and over 31 writers and artists have been killed.

Over 300 universities and schools have been completely destroyed in what has been called an Israeli “educide” of academia in Gaza (Times Higher Education, January 29 2024). Israeli forces have killed at least 94 university lecturers, deans and presidents, leading Palestinian scholars, hundreds of other academic professionals, and thousands of students.

One hundred and ninety-nine heritage sites, including libraries and archives, and some of the most ancient mosques and churches in the world, have been bombed. The loss of institutions and talent of this magnitude makes it difficult to foresee the survival of education, healthcare and cultural life in Gaza.

We the undersigned believe that education is a fundamental human right, enshrined in international law and crucial to a people denied their inalienable right to self-determination, and the preservation of their identity, heritage and civic life. We have a responsibility to oppose the educide in Gaza and prevent possible genocide.

Universities such as ours must therefore acknowledge this situation and cut ties with any other institutions, companies or organisations who are aiding and abetting Israel’s actions in Gaza. A number of universities in the British Isles have already done so, including Birkbeck College, London, and the University of Galway. UoP should also show moral and academic leadership in this regard.

We urge the university to express solidarity with surviving academics and students in Gaza and the West Bank, particularly given UoP’s very different response to the Ukraine-Russia war, which took a clear line about the morality of that conflict: “The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces is rightly facing widespread condemnation.”

UoP has also since partnered with Odesa Polytechnic National University, and formed military and intelligence liaisons with Ukraine. Additionally, while the university has actively encouraged aid to Ukraine, it has not done so for Gaza despite the far greater destruction of civilian life and property.

This is a double standard which erodes the university’s policies around equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI). Many staff and students feel let down by the University’s apparent official acquiescence to this ongoing horror, as proven by responses to a survey we conducted in November 2023 completed by over 200 staff and students.

We therefore call upon UoP to act according to its own objective, ie, “with integrity for the greater good” and help to uphold international law by doing the following:
 

  • Call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
     
  • Issue an updated statement in the wake of the ICJ interim ruling acknowledging the atrocities and intentional destruction of Palestinians in Gaza.
     
  • Update policy to safeguard academic freedom of speech within the law and oppose the silencing of academics who have legally expressed support for Palestine and anti-zionism, the latter being a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.
     
  • Regardless of external pressures, continue to uphold academic freedom and freedom of speech by allowing the organisation of respectful campus-based protests and open discussions that highlight the Palestinian struggle for self-determination.
     
  • Review UoP’s liaisons with its partner institutions, organisations and companies to ensure they are not supporting or enabling Israel’s actions in Gaza. We should divest from and sever relations with any partners who are.
     
  • Allocate funds for Palestinian students who might require financial support and develop initiatives to aid the academic community in Gaza. This could include establishing a platform to provide educational resources and training tools designed specifically to support academics in Gaza.
     
  • Collaborate with Portsmouth City Council — who have passed a ceasefire motion which includes twinning Portsmouth with a Gazan city — to build academic links with Palestinian universities and academics. These could include exchanges, joint projects, scholarship programmes, academic fellowships and partnerships that contribute positively to the Palestinian educational sector.
     
  • Respond to student and staff testimonials of their experiences with UoP since October 2023, in light of the university’s equality, diversity and inclusivity policies.
     
  • Begin a dialogue with the UoP community to address these growing concerns.

 
This letter has been signed by 165 staff, students and alumni. We hope for a response to it from UoP management and urge them to do the right thing in these dark times.

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