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Resisting Scholasticide

Adapted from the “Scholasticide Tool Kit”

May 1, 2024

This essay is adapted from the “Scholasticide Tool Kit” available on Scholars Against the War on Palestine website.1“Scholasticide Tool Kit,” Scholars Against the War on Palestine, n.d.

AT THE TIME THIS ESSAY was drafted in early March 2024, the scale of Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza is obvious to anyone who bothers to look. The Gaza health ministry estimates more than thirty thousand Palestinians have died at the hands of the Israeli military. This does not count the possibly thousands of dead buried under the rubble of buildings destroyed in bombing raids and tank assaults.

In addition, more than seventy thousand people have sustained injuries, and at least 1.7 million people have been displaced. Combined with the reality of malnutrition and disease—the direct result of Israeli blockades of food, fuel, medicine, and their destruction of the entire healthcare system in Gaza—the death toll is likely to rise even higher as the assault continues.

While the sheer scale of the immediate death and destruction has shifted world public opinion against the Zionist state, the long-term effects on Palestinian society are equally horrifying. We are seeing the unfolding of what Karma Nabulsi, an Oxford don and Palestinian expert on the laws of war, called scholasticide. Originally formulated in the wake of the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2009, the term has also been applied to the recurrent pattern in Zionist colonial attacks on Palestinian scholars, students, and educational institutions going back to the establishment of the Israeli state.

During the first Nakba of 1948, which saw the forcible displacement of more than seven hundred thousand Palestinians, Zionist forces looted seventy thousand books from Palestinian homes, libraries, and schools. After seizing the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israeli authorities routinely censored reading materials, shut down literature festivals, and closed universities. Restrictions on Palestinian education ramped up with the establishment of Birzeit, the first Palestinian university in 1972. All curriculum materials were subject to censorship, and faculty, students, and administrators were routinely harassed. Such harassment even included the deportation of the university’s first president, Hanna Nasir, to Lebanon.

Between 1988 and 1992, all Palestinians universities remained closed. Since 1992, Birzeit and other universities reopened, but Palestinian students found their access blocked because of Israeli curfews, closures, and checkpoints on the West Bank. During the Second Intifada in 2000, at least eight universities and more than three hundred schools were targeted by the Israeli military.2Marcy Newman, “Academic Institutions in the West Can No Longer Remain Silent on Gaza,” Truthout, March 3, 2024.

Nabulsi used scholasticide to describe the “systematic destruction of Palestinian education by Israel” to counter a tradition of Palestinian learning. That tradition, Nabulsi observed, reflected the enormous “role and power of education in an occupied society” in which freedom of thought “posits possibilities, open horizons,” contrasting sharply with “the apartheid wall, the shackling checkpoints, [and] the choking prisons.” Recognizing “how important education is to the Palestinian tradition and the Palestinian revolution,” Nabulsi noted that Israeli colonial policymakers “cannot abide it and have to destroy it.”

Scholasticide has intensified on an unprecedented scale. Israeli colonial policy in Gaza has now shifted from a focus on systematic destruction to total annihilation of education.

During the latest Israeli genocidal war on Gaza, scholasticide has intensified on an unprecedented scale. Israeli colonial policy in Gaza has now shifted from a focus on systematic destruction to total annihilation of education. According to Abdel Razzaq Takriti,3Raba Ali, “‘Scholasticide’: How Israel Is Systematically Destroying Palestinian Education in Gaza,” AA, February 12, 2024.  who holds the Arab–American Educational Foundation Chair in Arab Studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas, Israel has:

  • Bombed all of the enclave’s eleven universities since October 7, 2023: Islamic University of Gaza, Al-Azhar University, Al-Quds Open University, University College of Applied Sciences, University of Palestine, Israa University, University of Gaza, Al-Aqsa University, Palestine Technical College, Palestine College of Nursing, and Arab College of Applied Sciences;
  • Rendered some ninety thousand Palestinian students unable to continue their university education;
  • Damaged or destroyed approximately 370 schools, leaving more than 620,000 students out of schools;
  • Killed 231 educators and academics, with at least another 707 injured;
  • Murdered at least 4,237 students and wounded more than 7,800 others;
  • Destroyed or damaged eight dedicated libraries and four university libraries;
  • Used the remaining school as barracks and military stations for their armed forces.

For the schools that remain, which are providing shelters for thousands in Gaza, their future is bleak. The US’s and most western powers’ defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on dubious claims that a dozen of its employees collaborated in the October 7 military action, threatens not only the immediate survival of the people of Gaza but will permanently cripple education for Palestinians.4 Peter Beinart, “The Campaign to Abolish UNRWA,” Jewish Currents, February 13, 2024.

Israel is attempting to make Gaza uninhabitable, says Takriti, not merely “by killing the person, but also killing the knowledge that they contain within them.” He added that Israel is killing all the years that went into the academic training, “which in their totality would be basically thousands of years’ worth of knowledge, because each one of these hundreds of people that have been killed has worked at least ten years to get a PhD, if not longer.”

The destruction risks erasing Gaza’s past. For instance, one university that was blasted housed a national museum containing rare artifacts. Whether those artifacts were destroyed or, as the West Bank’s Birzeit University is accusing, stolen by Israel, they are lost to Palestinians. With archives and architecture destroyed, it’s as if Palestinians never lived there. This is a particularly severe blow to the Palestinians, who are among the best educated populations in the world. Despite continuous closures and cuts to educational funding, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have a more than 97 percent literacy rate for those over the age of fifteen.5Diana Alghoul, “Defying Odds: Palestine Has One of the Highest Literacy Rates in the World,” The New Arab, September 6, 2018.

So far, only a handful of courageous Israeli academics have protested the scholasticide in Gaza, placing their own livelihood and personal safety on the line. The vast majority either remain silent or actively support the destruction of the Palestinian educational system in Gaza. In the US and elsewhere, academics have begun to organize in solidarity with their Palestinian comrades. More than three thousand scholars from around the world have signed onto the Scholars Against the War in Palestine campaign. Along with SAWP, groups like Educators for Palestine, Librarians and Archivists with Palestine, and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel are educating people about the extent of the scholasticide, and are organizing for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) targeting the Zionist state.

On February 11, 2024, protesters targeted the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum because their boards of trustees “directly fund the Zionist occupation via arms manufacturing, lobbying, and corporate investment.” Likewise, students at Brown University went on an eight-day hunger strike as they agitated for their institution to divest from corporations that support settler colonialism in Palestine.

Faculty at the University of Michigan have voted to divest from Israel. Students at Pitzer College passed a student senate resolution to cancel its study abroad program with the University of Haifa. And most recently, University of California–Davis students voted to divest from Israel. Such solidarity will be essential to stop scholasticide and to help Palestinians rebuild their educational institutions and preserve their cultural and intellectual traditions of resistance and struggle. ×

  1. “Scholasticide Tool Kit,” Scholars Against the War on Palestine, n.d.
  2. Marcy Newman, “Academic Institutions in the West Can No Longer Remain Silent on Gaza,” Truthout, March 3, 2024.
  3. Raba Ali, “‘Scholasticide’: How Israel Is Systematically Destroying Palestinian Education in Gaza,” AA, February 12, 2024.
  4. Peter Beinart, “The Campaign to Abolish UNRWA,” Jewish Currents, February 13, 2024.
  5. Diana Alghoul, “Defying Odds: Palestine Has One of the Highest Literacy Rates in the World,” The New Arab, September 6, 2018.
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