January 9, 2011 - 1:00am

Over 150 senior Israeli university lecturers and researchers have signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of the Ariel University Center, located in the largest Israeli town in the central West Bank.

The petition, initiated by Nir Gov with the Weizmann Institute, stated that the college was built on occupied land "only a few kilometers away from Palestinians living in villages and refugee camps under unbearably harsh conditions and without basic human rights," local daily Ha'aretz reported.

"Not only do they (the Palestinians) not have access to higher education, some do not even have running water. These are two different realities that create a policy of apartheid," said the signatories.

The petition calls Ariel an illegal settlement whose existence was in defiance of international law and the Geneva Convention, and claim it "was established for the sole purpose of preventing the Palestinians from creating an independent state and thus preventing us, citizens of Israel, from having the chance to ever live in peace in this region."

Three of the signatories are recipients of the Israel Prize, which is usually awarded for distinguished achievements in the arts and sciences.

International academic circles, mainly in Britain, have made numerous attempts in recent years to boycott all of Israeli academia over what they consider a "policy of apartheid" towards the Palestinians by the Jewish state.

The petition issued by the Israeli academics states that "Ariel is not part of the sovereign state of Israel, and therefore it's impossible to require us to appear there."

Ron Na'aman, a researcher at Weizmann Institute who added his name to the petition, explained that allowing the West Bank college to operate hurts Israel.

In an interview with the Army Radio on Sunday, Na'aman said the petition was aimed at making a distinction between academics working at Ariel to those in the rest of Israel. The petition, he noted, would help counter the de-legitimization of Israeli academia around the world.

The petition is not the first of its kind to focus attention on Ariel. In late August, around 150 Israeli theater actors stirred up a public brouhaha when they published an almost identical petition stating that they would not perform at a new cultural center inaugurated in the town.

The Israeli artists claimed Ariel, like all other Jewish settlements in the West Bank, was built on land confiscated from the Palestinians and that performing there would lend legitimacy to continuing the Israeli occupation. They cited their personal conscience as the reason behind their decision to boycott the new cultural venue.

The actors' petition drew harsh criticism, mainly from within the government, with some ministers threatening to withhold state funding for the theater groups that represent them. In a show of solidarity, more than 150 renowned American actors and playwrights signed a letter of support for their Israeli counterparts.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017