OLIVE Project statement of support to the Gaza Encampment at the University of Helsinki

Gaza encampment at the University of Helsinki

We, the undersigned professors, teachers, researchers, and members of staff within the OLIVE project, partly based at the University of Helsinki, express our support for Students and Researchers for Palestine, who have started an encampment in solidarity with Palestine at the City Center Campus.

Within the OLIVE project, our goal is to work collaboratively with our Palestinian colleagues to contribute to the development and transformation of teacher education in Palestinian universities. One of our partner universities, Al-Azhar University in Gaza, was razed to the ground in three successive airstrikes between October and November 2023. Our other partner, Birzeit University in Ramallah in the West Bank, has also been the target of several raids and arrests of Palestinian students by the Israeli army. Most recently, on May 15th, 2024, Ayser Muhammad Safi, a second-year student at the Faculty of Education, was shot and killed by Israeli forces. This led to the university closing for a few days in order for students and staff to mourn their loss. A few days later, on May 19th, 2024, the occupation forces arrested Mahmoud Abdul Gawad Angas, a third year student in the Computer Science programme at Birzeit University, prompting the institution to demand his immediate release as well as that of all political prisoners detained in Israeli prisons.

The OLIVE project has built strong relations of mutual respect and trust with Palestinian colleagues in Gaza and Ramallah. We mourn the loss of lives of Palestinian students, researchers and teachers in Gaza and the West Bank. We are alarmed by the situation of our colleagues and their families in Gaza, trying to escape death and suffering. We are concerned by the fact that there are currently no universities left in Gaza. We support the right to education of all Palestinians and condemn the attacks on Palestinians and their education system. We believe that education is the most powerful tool to build democratic and just societies. This is why we support the demands of the encampment and call for the University of Helsinki to follow its own Ethical Guidelines and — in line with its commitment to promote universal human rights and defend academic freedom — join the academic boycott of Israeli universities called by Palestinian civil society. Hence, the University of Helsinki must immediately:

1) Revoke its exchange agreements with Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ);

2) Stop collaborating with Israeli universities and state institutions in research projects. These include centrally the research projects funded by the EU. Through the Horizon 2020 and the Horizon Europe programmes, the University of Helsinki collaborates at least with TAU, HUJ, the Weizmann Institute, Technion, and Ben-Gurion University;

3) Provide full disclosure of the University’s financial investments in companies that profit from Israel’s apartheid regime and the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

At the OLIVE project, we believe in peace education, antiracism, equality, and global responsibility in education, which aligns with these demands. It is worth reminding that the academic boycott targets only institutional connections to complicit Israeli universities, not individuals working at the Israeli universities. Indeed, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movements’ guidelines for the academic boycott stipulate that it “rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion” since it is “anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights.” Israeli universities, however, should be boycotted as they are “profoundly implicated in supporting and perpetuating Israel’s systematic denial of Palestinian rights” and academic freedom. This strategy is not new nor specific to Palestine. Indeed, divestment was a powerful and successful strategy that helped to end South African apartheid, which university students were influential in instigating.

The University of Helsinki’s collaborations with Israeli academic institutions are particularly problematic as TAU and HUJ financially support their students who participate in the unfolding genocide in Gaza; cooperate with Israeli arms companies in developing weaponry used by Israel’s military; host elite military degree programs in weapons development and intelligence; help the state of Israel and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to justify the killing and repression of Palestinians; participate in the ongoing colonization and violent occupation of Palestinian neighbourhoods (see Issawiyeh); and seriously and repeatedly curtail and fail to protect the academic freedom of critical Palestinian and Jewish scholars.

In addition, we, the undersigned, encourage the leadership of the University of Helsinki and its faculty to engage in active dialogue with the students and researchers at the Palestine solidarity encampment and to show appreciation for their courageous action as active members of the academic community. We emphasize the responsibility of the whole academic community to actively counter any form of racism — including antisemitism and islamophobia — as a precondition for dialogue. We demand that the University leadership respects and protects students’ and researchers’ right to protest. This includes the permission to use University premises for peaceful protesting.

We take note of the University of Helsinki’s recent decision to suspend its exchange agreements with Israeli universities. While this temporary suspension and the decision to carry out an ethical review of the agreements is to be welcomed, students and scholars at the encampment have decided to continue to push for a permanent termination of the exchange agreements. This is because, as demonstrated above, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University clearly and systematically violate the ethical principles of the University of Helsinki. Moreover, the university’s decision is insufficient as the university has decided to continue its collaborations with Israeli universities which are complicit in apartheid, military violence and genocide. The undersigned therefore reiterate the three demands made by the students and encourage the academic and student community at the University of Helsinki to stand by the students and researchers at the encampment to uphold the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza.

 OLIVE project signatories:

Mariam Aljabaly, PhD researcher in HEI-ICI OLIVE project, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

Anaïs Duong-Pedica, technical assistant in HEI-ICI OLIVE project, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

Talal Elsaghir, PhD, Training and Development Expert in HEI-ICI OLIVE project, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

Hille Janhonen-Abruquah, Research director, coordinator for HEI-ICI OLIVE Project, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

Kaisu Österinen, MF, MEd, MTh, Teacher, HEI-ICI OLIVE project, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

Marianna Vivitsou, project planner for HEI-ICI OLIVE project,  post-doctoral researcher, Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki

Leave a Reply