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        <h1 id="reader-title">Speaking of Palestine and academic freedom
          <br>
        </h1>
        <div id="reader-credits" class="credits">Steven Salaita - April
          24, 2017<br>
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              <p class="sizeable">In the past few years, I’ve become
                something of a counselor.  I have no formal credentials
                and a bad track record at the very thing I’m supposed to
                help others avoid.  How can I be critical of Israel,
                friends and strangers ask, without losing my job or
                getting into trouble?  I’m flattered to be approached in
                this way, I am.  But I can’t help but think:  me?
                 You’re asking <em>me</em> how to manage a career in
                academe while being critical of Israel?  I’ve lost two
                jobs in the past three years because of my sharp
                criticism of Israel and I’m a month away from being
                unemployed again.  I mean, I’ll try, but if you want to
                ask me about how to get into trouble in academe, I’m on
                better footing.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">I recall one such inquiry from a
                colleague last month.  It was a routine, even banal,
                question, nothing that would normally require a halting
                answer.  And yet, as is often the case with ordinary
                things, the question was filled with a world of
                complexity.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">My colleague wanted to know if she
                should join a delegation of scholars to Palestine.  A
                well-respected <a href="http://parc-us-pal.org/"
                  class="sizeable">organization</a> offers a development
                seminar on Palestine for US professors, including a
                short visit to the country.  It’s a nice opportunity:
                 participants get a trip to the Mediterranean, where
                they will be treated to visual beauty, warm hospitality,
                and wonderful cuisine.  They will have an opportunity to
                interact with sharp intellectuals and activists and to
                visit the holy sites so grandiose in humanity’s
                imagination.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">This kind of trip is common for
                scholars, who visit places around the world with
                sponsorship from research groups or universities.  There
                is only one instance where the question “should I go?”
                needs to be raised:  in relation to Palestine.  My
                friend wasn’t concerned about safety or other
                fantastical perils, but about the possibility of being
                condemned by Zionist groups and damaging her chances at
                tenure.  She was right to be worried.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">We had a long conversation weighing
                the benefits of the trip against its potential
                pratfalls.  It’s a fun adventure.  You’ll come back with
                plenty to write about.  This is important to your
                research.  The networking possibilities are attractive.
                 But.  A number of organizations torment anyone who goes
                to Palestine unless it’s to serve in the IDF.
                 Incorporating Palestine into a program of radical
                scholarship has potential to tip the balance from “I’m
                wary of her” to “she’s gotta go.”  Universities are
                filled with individual faculty who relish punishing
                colleagues who don’t express adequate fealty to Israel.
                 They certainly exist on your campus.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">I had no easy answer.  Palestine has a
                way of reaffirming a person’s most empathetic
                sensibilities, so I was confident my friend would come
                back invigorated.  But I wasn’t certain she would remain
                unscathed.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">“Just go,” I finally declared.  Then I
                felt guilty for the next two days.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">It was an exemplary moment of
                existential silliness.  After all, why is it even a
                question if somebody should go to Palestine?  It’s a
                terrific place to visit.  Overzealous Israeli
                authorities are the only real threat to visitors.
                 Travel, however, isn’t neutral.  It’s always a
                political choice even when it has hedonistic ambitions.
                 The question, then, isn’t rhetorical.  Understanding
                why going to Palestine is inadvisable allows us to
                discard the silly notion that we’re free to do as we
                please because of pluck or protocol.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">The episode illuminates the special
                status to which Palestine is subject in US academe.
                 Professors will be lauded and rewarded for visiting
                certain places, but Palestine isn’t one of those places.
                 It doesn’t offer the sort of war porn that titillates
                the political imagination.  How countries and regions
                come to be understood as worthy of adulation or sympathy
                depends on a constellation of policy conventions,
                institutional cultures, power dynamics, narrative
                orthodoxies, and economic interests, all of them
                variously in concert and at odds with one another.  That
                the possibility of visiting Palestine evokes
                consternation suggests we have a case where those
                phenomena are largely aligned.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">It also illuminates the depth of
                pressure certain students and faculty experience on
                campus.  Two years ago, a joint <a
                  href="https://ccrjustice.org/the-palestine-exception"
                  class="sizeable">report</a> by Palestine Legal and the
                Center for Constitutional Rights found nearly 300 cases
                in which speech or activism around Palestine was
                suppressed.  Those cases included disciplinary action
                for campus activists, the suspension of student groups,
                employment termination, and the cancellation of course
                sections.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">This suppression goes beyond campus,
                too, though its tentacles manage to slither into our
                well-manicured spaces.  Numerous states have introduced
                <a href="http://palestinelegal.org/righttoboycott/"
                  class="sizeable">legislation</a> criminalizing
                Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions [BDS], a highly
                effective, nonviolent strategy for opposing the Israeli
                occupation.  Whatever one makes of BDS, it is
                indubitably a form of protected speech, as affirmed by
                dozens of court rulings.  That so many politicians and
                legislative bodies are willing to make it illegal
                shouldn’t be understood simply as constitutional
                negligence, but as evidence of a political culture that
                values power over mobilization.  Countries such as <a
href="http://www.france24.com/en/20160120-france-boycott-israel-bds-law-free-speech-antisemitism"
                  class="sizeable">France</a> and the <a
href="https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/israel-quietly-pushed-anti-bds-legislation-us-uk"
                  class="sizeable">UK</a>, not to mention <a
href="http://www.acri.org.il/en/2011/07/17/the-anti-boycott-law-questions-and-answers/"
                  class="sizeable">Israel</a> itself, have pushed to
                criminalize BDS.  Suppressing Palestine is a
                transnational industry.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">We need academic freedom to criticize
                Israel, but it takes more than academic freedom to
                contest the sites of power invested in protecting Israel
                from criticism.  Most commentators, however, are too
                scared to name Zionism as a problem.  People spend
                considerable time these days arguing about speech and
                disruption on campus, yet Palestine is shockingly absent
                from the conversation.  Exploring the repression of
                ideas at universities while ignoring Palestine is like
                discussing LeBron James without mentioning basketball.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Palestine isn’t the totality, or the
                crux, of today’s debates about speech and resistance on
                campus.  There’s too much repression preceding
                Palestine, and now in existence alongside it, for that
                to be true.  But Palestine deeply informs the substance
                of those debates, and by recovering this sunken reality
                we can better understand the disputes around free speech
                and academic freedom that generate so much attention.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">*****</p>
              <p class="sizeable">It is impossible to speak, or be
                heard, with a set of impartial senses.  Free speech, in
                both philosophy and practice, is attached to structures
                of power (seen and unseen, discernible and oblique,
                steady and unstable).  Despite the state’s professions
                of fairness and benevolence, free speech is never fixed
                or disinterested.  It is prosecuted according to
                circumstance.  It is reified based on the needs of the
                audience.  And it is conditioned by race, gender,
                nationality, class, religion, ideology, culture,
                sexuality, and so forth.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Take UC-Berkeley, a longtime testing
                ground for these matters.  Its administrators proclaimed
                that nothing short of a near-riot would <a
href="http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/01/26/chancellor-statement-on-yiannopoulos/"
                  class="sizeable">compel them to cancel</a> a recent
                lecture by right wing provocateur Milo Yianopoulis.  Yet
                last semester the same university shut down a <a
href="https://academeblog.org/2016/09/15/berkeley-bans-a-palestine-class/"
                  class="sizeable">legitimate course</a> about Israeli
                settler colonization offered by a Palestinian
                instructor.  In the end, Milo’s lecture was disrupted
                and the course was allowed to proceed.  It wasn’t the
                infallibility of a concept that changed the outcome of
                each situation, but an organized shift in relationships
                of power.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Free speech, in short, is a limited
                commodity pretending to be a universal ideal.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">We can’t understand the importance of
                free speech in civic or academic settings unless we also
                engage the politics that precede its invocation.
                 Rallying around free speech is easy, which is why
                arguing about it never solves any problems.  Nobody
                opposes free speech as an ideal.  The term is often a
                slogan or shaming device that can be summoned in order
                to safeguard a viewpoint or ideology without having to
                confront its ethical anatomies and material
                consequences.  Free speech isn’t the actual site of
                contestation in our cantankerous debates.  What we talk
                about matters more.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Here we can pivot back to academic
                freedom because its function on campus mirrors free
                speech in US society more broadly.  The preservation of
                academic freedom as an end in itself isn’t the best
                allocation of intellectual energy.  We still have to
                discuss, and, ideally, resolve, the issues that generate
                controversy because they supersede academic freedom.
                 Given the serious problems now facing
                academe—corporatization, receding faculty governance,
                donor influence, decreased public funding,
                administrative bloat, systemic racism, obscene student
                debt, sexual violence—our campuses won’t survive current
                trends if we refuse to analyze the structural conditions
                that often get reduced to frames of ahistorical
                disagreement.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Suppose we desire any of the
                following:  to liberate Black people, decolonize North
                America, destroy a neo-Nazi resurgence, get some
                economic justice, free Palestine.  If we treat those
                desires merely as rights to be practiced in controlled
                environments, then academic freedom becomes a pretext to
                normalize conventional politics.  It has potential to
                supplement transformative writing and organizing, but
                that potential must be created.  Academic freedom isn’t
                inherently radical.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">*****</p>
              <p class="sizeable">For Palestinians, any type of freedom,
                including the academic variety, is acutely unavailable.
                 Living under military occupation in the Gaza Strip and
                West Bank and as <a
href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/israel/2016-06-08/israel-s-second-class-citizens"
                  class="sizeable">second-class citizens</a> inside
                Israel, their lives are controlled by an unequal legal
                system that proffers rights according to religion (as
                defined by the state).  Palestinians suffer <a
href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/09/israel-opt-pattern-of-unlawful-killings-reveals-shocking-disregard-for-human-life/"
                  class="sizeable">extrajudicial assassination</a>, <a
href="https://www.afsc.org/resource/restricted-movement-occupied-palestinian-territory"
                  class="sizeable">limited movement</a>, arbitrary
                arrest and <a
                  href="http://www.btselem.org/topic/administrative_detention"
                  class="sizeable">indefinite detention</a>, <a
                  href="http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.763331"
                  class="sizeable">home demolition</a>, restricted <a
href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/07/israel-narrowing-space-freedom-expression-160720073126511.html"
                  class="sizeable">speech rights</a>, harassment and <a
href="http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.773115"
                  class="sizeable">torture</a>, <a
                  href="http://www.btselem.org/settlements/land_takeover"
                  class="sizeable">land expropriation</a>, and <a
href="http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Netanyahu-on-Palestinian-right-of-return-There-is-no-room-for-maneuver-338329"
                  class="sizeable">forced exile</a>.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">There are currently 6300 Palestinian
                political <a href="http://www.addameer.org/statistics"
                  class="sizeable">prisoners</a>.  700 of them just
                began a <a
href="http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/palestinian-prisoners-launch-mass-hunger-strike-170416173501861.html"
                  class="sizeable">hunger strike</a>, in fact.  300 of
                them are children.  The <a
                  href="http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.657712"
                  class="sizeable">unemployment rate</a> in the Gaza
                Strip is nearly fifty percent, the <a
                  href="http://gisha.org/updates/4388" class="sizeable">highest
                  in the world</a>.  Real per capita income is <a
href="https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/emergency-reports/gaza-situation-report-94"
                  class="sizeable">$970</a>.  Eighty percent of the
                population receives some sort of social assistance.
                 Almost forty percent live below the <a
href="http://www.ps.undp.org/content/dam/papp/docs/Publications/UNDP-papp-research-PHDR2015Poverty.pdf"
                  class="sizeable">poverty line</a>.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Gaza has been under a land, air, and
                sea blockade for ten years, which has <a
href="https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/maureen-clare-murphy/tens-thousands-still-displaced-gaza"
                  class="sizeable">reduced its GDP</a> by half:  Israel,
                in cooperation with Egypt, determines what comes in and
                what goes out.  Israeli politicians speak of <a
href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/17/israeli-military-calorie-limit-gaza"
                  class="sizeable">“putting Gaza on a diet,”</a> that
                is, allocating a certain amount of foodstuff for the
                territory based on minimal caloric requirements.  At
                other times, those politicians speak of <a
href="http://www.alternet.org/noam-chomsky-real-reason-israel-mows-lawn-gaza"
                  class="sizeable">“mowing the lawn”</a> in Gaza, which
                means exactly what it sounds like.  The cancer rate is <a
href="http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/03/cancer-rates-soar-gaza-war.html"
                  class="sizeable">unusually high</a>.  Life expectancy
                is <a
href="https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/adri-nieuwhof/ten-year-gap-between-palestinian-and-israeli-life-expectancy-report"
                  class="sizeable">dismal</a>.  Fishing boats, one of
                the lifelines of the economy, are sometimes <a
href="https://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/airstrikes-destroying-gazas-fishing-industry"
                  class="sizeable">destroyed</a>, or their occupants are
                shot at.  Citizens deal with extended <a
href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/gaza-strip-power-cut-crisis-electric-palestinian-territories-israel-electricity-a7533086.html"
                  class="sizeable">power cuts</a>.  Schools and
                hospitals are <a
href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/01/gaza-cancer-patients-dying-slowly-170115120725304.html"
                  class="sizeable">undersupplied</a>.  According to both
                local and international doctors, the psychological
                damage from the blockade and Israel’s periodic war
                crimes has been extraordinary.  The children of the
                territory suffer abnormal levels of <a
                  href="http://www.sciencedomain.org/abstract/10267"
                  class="sizeable">trauma and anxiety</a>.  There is no
                developed medical apparatus to mitigate these problems.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Narrowing the focus to academe,
                Palestinian students and professors experience forms of
                institutional repression that on US campuses are
                virtually unimaginable.  For decades, universities in
                the West Bank and Gaza Strip have been <a
href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israel-gaza-conflict-university-hit-as-palestinians-endure-more-than-200-strikes-in-24-hours-9644243.html"
                  class="sizeable">bombed</a>, invaded, <a
                  href="http://mondoweiss.net/2014/11/israeli-university-academic/"
                  class="sizeable">looted</a>, and <a
                  href="http://www.chronicle.com/article/Closure-of-Palestinian/88058"
                  class="sizeable">closed</a> for extended periods.
                 Students, staff, and professors often can’t make it to
                campus because of checkpoints and unexpected curfews.
                 Their political activity is closely monitored.
                 Professors sometimes meet class in their living rooms.
                 It is difficult to get permission to travel abroad for
                conferences and research symposia.  And when students
                graduate, they enter into an economy devoid of skilled
                jobs.  (In this, at least, the comparison to US academe
                is striking.)  Compounding this problem, Palestinian
                citizens of Israel face <a
                  href="http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.550152"
                  class="sizeable">significant discrimination</a> in the
                labor market.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">I studied at Birzeit University, near
                Ramallah, in the summer of 2000.  My best friend there
                was from Gaza, but didn’t have permission to study in
                the West Bank.  Both territories, mind you, are said to
                comprise the same country.  As an “illegal” student, he
                couldn’t travel to Ramallah, just down the road.  The
                Israelis sometimes erected a mobile checkpoint between
                the two towns.  In turn, he was stuck in the hamlet of
                Birzeit.  Getting home to Gaza, fewer than a hundred
                miles away as the crow flies, would have required
                illegally crossing three borders, as he did to get to
                Birzeit in the first place.  Many of the students from
                Gaza faced the same hardships.  Plenty of students from
                the West Bank couldn’t travel abroad, or even to nearby
                Jerusalem.  Those with Western passports were free to
                explore.  The foreigner had greater rights than the
                native, a condition to which Palestinians were
                accustomed.  Strangers, after all, have transformed
                their lives into a simulation of existence, where one
                merely bides time, with no place to go, while
                impatiently narrating the dream of actually existing.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">These brutal realities inhabit campus
                speech and they are blithely minimized when scholars
                make Palestine contingent on Western sensibilities.  In
                short, we shouldn’t compromise the seriousness, or the
                severity, of our investment in certain political sites,
                both geographical and imaginative, in order to
                accommodate the strictures of academic freedom as a
                self-contained phenomenon.  Doing so actually limits the
                effectiveness of academic freedom by providing it a kind
                of philosophical autonomy that restricts its immersion
                into material politics.  Academic freedom is only
                meaningful in relation to the sites of contestation that
                necessitate its presence.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">When we think about the difficulties
                that Palestinians face in academe, then, it’s crucial to
                orient critique around the hostile conditions of
                repression rather than merely safeguarding ourselves
                against hostility.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">*****</p>
              <p class="sizeable">My maternal grandmother died last
                year.  She was my connection to Palestine, having lived
                through the nakba, the mass expulsion of Palestinians in
                1948, and the messy histories that followed.  Her
                family’s home in Palestine was forever lost to Israeli
                settlers and she wouldn’t return to the country for four
                more decades, this time on a tourist visa.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">She could be a difficult woman:
                 stubborn and blunt and imperious.  She wasn’t one for
                shows of affection, but from my childhood I remember
                very well the protective and efficient quality of her
                supervision.  Neither I nor my cousins dared to disobey
                her, but we relished the fact that in her care nobody
                would dare to cause us harm.  When I was in high school,
                she regularly visited us in rural Appalachia, a place
                ill-suited to her cosmopolitan predilections.  We never
                spoke much, though she was delighted when I became
                competent enough in Arabic to hold a conversation.  She
                adamantly disapproved of my fledgling attempts at facial
                hair and nagged my mother to buy me proper clothes.</p>
              <p class="sizeable">Like all memories of this variety,
                they’ve evolved from moments of annoyance to subjects of
                affection.  The original sentiment of one memory,
                however, has only intensified with time.  I had driven
                my mom and grandmother to the grocery store.  My
                grandmother unexpectedly opted to wait with me in the
                car.  “My daughter talks too much,” she explained after
                my mom had left, a tacit condemnation of small-town
                culture.  My fingers tapping the steering wheel provided
                the soundtrack for our tense silence.  Then, out of
                nowhere, she began talking about Palestine.  About 1948.
                 About her village.  About her displacement.  About the
                pain that had never gone away.  “These things, I never
                forget,” she concluded matter-of-factly.  “No.  I never
                forget.”</p>
              <p class="sizeable">I was a kid in that moment, sixteen
                and preoccupied with teenage drama, but I understood
                exactly what she was telling me:  that I could never
                forget, either.  Academic freedom doesn’t preserve this
                memory.  But it damn sure gives me the right to
                remember.</p>
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