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Sunday Summary: Commemorating Nakba Day and a breakdown of UM’s ties with Israeli or Israeli-based institutions

This past week included the anniversary and remembrance of Nakba Day halfway through the establishment of Rafah’s Garden, also known as Maastricht’s solidarity encampment. This Sunday Summary will reflect on the historical significance of Nakba Day as well as relay the particular partnerships Maastricht University (UM) has in Israel. Further specifying on how these Israeli or Israeli-based higher level  institutions' are compliant with the human rights violations rampant in Gaza or, because of their commercial establishments within Israel, leave them liable and subject to boycott.


Nakba Day


Nakba Day, taking place on May 15, is recognized as marking the beginning of the Arab-Israeli War in 1948. Commemorated by Palestianians and individuals across the globe, Nakba Day remembers the 750,000 Palestinians that were displaced and forced to take refugee status between 1947 and 1949. Following an influx of Jewish migrants, first from persecution in the 1930s and later from the atrocities of the Holocaust, the declaration of Israeli independence on May 14, 1948 directly catapulted the region into a civil war. Nakba, meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic, holds greater historical pretext in light of the current events in Gaza.


Over the past week and a half, 450,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah, a city in the southern part of the Gaza Strip and current focus of operations for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).  According to the United Nations, 85 percent of Gaza’s total population, equating to 1.9 million civilians, have been displaced since the Hamas-led attacks on October 7. More than 1.5 million Palestinians have been forced into Rafah as a consequence of Israeli attack patterns.


The United Nations also reports, as of January 2024, that approximately 126,000 Israelis have been displaced within the State of Israel (internally)  since October 7. 


Specifics on the Israeli academic institutions


As rooted in the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement, the demands issued by students responsible for Rafah’s Garden, the solidarity encampment, include the severing of financial relations  between Maastricht University and Israeli academic institutions as well as the disclosing of any private partnerships based, tied, or collaborative with the State of Israel. The four main institutions and a summary of their enterprises are as follows: 


Find the full list of demands from the Maastricht solidarity encampment here.


Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Maastricht University’s Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience (FPN) has exchange programs with approximately 200 higher level institutions including universities and other academic institutions. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is one partnership that has seen the production of 1 shared research output in 2021. 


The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was founded in 1918 for the purpose of “establishing an exceptional institution of higher learning in Israel - Well before statehood was assured,” according to the Hebrew University’s mission statement. Further research allows for the university’s establishment to be understood as advances in Israel’s territorial objectives in Palestine. Domination over land, a characteristic of settler colonialism, was pursued in accordance with the stated mission of the Zionist movement; aimed at setting up a Jewish majority, therefore grounds for a Jewish state. In establishing Hebrew University’s West and East Jerusalem campuses, in the Palestinian town of Sheikh Badr and the Palestinian neighborhood of Al-Issawiya, Palestinian land was occupied and employed by the State of Israel. In the Hebrew University’s collaboration with the Havatzalot intelligence training program, students are provided with the “knowledge, intellectual skills, and values required to excel in their future positions” within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).


Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe, formally known as Horizon 2020, is a research and innovation funding program lasting until the year 2027. Its aims include facilitating collaboration, strengthening innovation, and “supporting and implementing EU policies while tackling global challenges.” The program is in direct partnership with the oldest university in Israel, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. Established in 1912, Technion is credited with founding and shaping the scientific and technological development of Israel.  


In a recent book by Maya Wind, Towers of Ivory and Steel: How Israeli Universities Deny Palestinian Freedom, it is stated that Technion, along with The Hebrew University and Weizmann Institute all participated in the Nakba through their collaboration with the Haganah, a Zionist paramilitary group. Rooted in a military-industrial complex, Technion now tests and produces surveillance technology as well as developed the D9 remote-controlled bulldozer. The D9 alone has been used to demolish approximately 25,000 Palestinian homes, acclaimed for its ability to withstand guerrilla fire without jeopardizing the lives of soldiers (as it is unmanned). Two of the largest Israeli defense and weapons manufacturers, Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, are in direct collaboration with Technion. Elbit Systems in partnership with Technion has led to the creation of electronic detection devices (used on the wall of the West Bank) and together supplied drones to the Israeli Army for combat in both the West Bank and Gaza


Valley programs

Internships in the Valley is an internship program for master and PhD students, responsible for connecting academics to partner companies in the United States. One of these partner companies is Applied Materials (AM), a manufacturing company based in Santa Clara, California. AM specializes in the production of semiconductor chips for electronics and flat panel displays for handheld electronics, televisions, and solar products. The Israeli company, Enlight Renewable Energy Ltd. (TLV:ENLT) signed a 15-year corporate power purchase agreement (PPA) with Applied Materials Israel. This agreement will supply renewable energy to the advancements of the US company, Applied Materials, in Israel. The second internship partner is International Flavors & Fragrances Inc, better known as IFF, a chemical manufacturer and a leading creator of food, beverage, health, biosciences, and sensorial experiences used in a wide variety of consumer products. The company, based in New York City, New York has 10 physical operations throughout the State of Israel.


IFF and Applied Materials are listed on the Standard and Poor’s 500 (S&P 500), a stock market index tracking the stock performance of the largest 500 companies listed on US stock exchanges. IFF and Applied Material’s investors include all of the ‘Big Three’ index fund managers: The Vanguard Group, BlackRock, and State Street. The commercial pursuits of these companies in Israel remain steadfast. 


Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE)

An alliance coordinated by Maastricht University, Young Universities for the Future of Europe (YUFE), contains ten ‘young research-intensive’ universities and two non-academic partners. One of these non-academic partners, The Adecco Group, is a business company aimed at helping “businesses optimize their talent, transform their workforces, and build the employability of people.” The company, with employees across 60 countries, has a purpose of “making the future work for everyone.” Although on the company's main website, the “Israel-The Adecco Group” page results in a 404 Error appearing, there is a separate website for Adecco Israel (part of The Adecco Group). Adecco Israel allows for Israeli businesses to expand their company on a global scale, even in places with no legal entity, and foreign companies to develop their businesses within Israel.


The company issued a past statement on expediting employment opportunities for Ukrainian refugees, with the chief Executive Officer, Alain Dehaze, stating, “For more than a decade, we have worked to enable people displaced by conflict to re-enter the world of work in their host countries.” The company also released a statement affirming their support and directive amid the 2021 humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. No statement has been made by The Adecco Group, nor Adecco Israel, on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.


Concerns with the demands


As included in the most recent university update, update seven, the University Council emphasized that some concerns and discussions maturing within the community are “varied, multifaceted, and sometimes contradictory.” According to the university, these conversations are developing from all areas including the Maastricht encampment, students and staff across all faculties, and members of the Jewish community at UM. The university has not elaborated on any particular contraindications. 


As implied in both the University Council and student meeting that occurred on Wednesday, May 15, and in a recent update released by Maastricht University: the initiatives taken by individual students wanting to collaborate and further their knowledge with international partners, will never be compromised.


The BDS movement 

Specific controversy is present within the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement. In addressing college pro-Palestine protests happening in the United States, the BDS movement has been criticized and accused by some as being anti semitic. The BDS movement denies these allegations and labels this accusation as an attempt to conflate antisemitism with anti-Zionism.


Further


As of May 17, the University of Ghent in Belgium is the most recent university to cut ties with (3) Israeli institutions. Roughly 100 student activists at the university, who had established a solidarity encampment in the University Forum (UFO) building demanded not only that the university cut ties with Israel but also confer and promote a more transparent climate initiative.

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