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Opposing a UWC in Israel

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Dear International Board of the United World Colleges,

As students, faculty, and alumni of the United World Colleges, we are writing to express our deep concern regarding the Eastern Mediterranean school planned in Israel. We call for you to continue to uphold the UWC values we cherish and reject the school's request for recognition and accreditation as a new UWC institution.

As the citizens of the world that UWC has taught us to be, we are distressed that the UWC movement should choose to accredit a school which will serve to perturb, rather than promote, a just peace settlement in the region; to conceal the Israeli policies of aggression and violent dispossession, rather than work for their immediate cessation. The EMUWC project, funded partially by the Israeli government and partially by political foundations, is intended to divert attention from Israeli violations of international law which take place daily only twenty kilometers from the planned site of the school. The initiative aims to improve Israel's image in the world through its association with the UWC movement as part of a larger effort to re-brand Israel, and shields Israel's continued negligence of its obligations under international law.

Many of us have been at college when our Palestinian colleagues' families and friends came under attack; when their relatives were killed, maimed, arrested, prevented from accessing their land or reaching educational and health institutions, and discriminated in their own country as citizens of Israel. We are deeply disturbed that our UWC values will be used as a means to continue these atrocities, as an excuse to ignore the pleas from the international community to solve what our President, Mr. Nelson Mandela, has called "the greatest moral issue of our times." We take as a point of pride that the UWC movement stood at the forefront of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, and takes part in ongoing efforts for reconciliation and conflict transformation in the Balkans. The Waterford Kamhlaba college in Swaziland, a beacon of human rights and equality in the face of cruel discrimination, has helped foster an alternative future and provided education to the children of anti-Apartheid leaders; The UWC in Mostar provided a vital arena for equal and free expression and participation that is able to break through the ethnic barriers. Such alternatives cannot exist under the regime of racial segregation which governs Israeli policies in the region. Today's Israel constructs segregated roads for Jews and Palestinians; builds Jewish-only settlements on illegally expropriated Palestinian land; outlaws a free academic discourse of the the Palestinian narrative; and dispatched its military force against unarmed Palestinian civilians. We do not want to see a UWC legitimizing Israel's policies in occupied Palestine, policies which Archbishop Desmund Tutu has called "painfully similar to South African Apartheid."

The steering committee of the EMUWC initiative claims this school will "help promote peace in the region in a concrete manner through education and community interaction" and will "serve as a beacon of light and an example of peaceful coexistence." This claim is in part based upon the anticipated participation of Palestinians and citizens of other Arab and Muslim countries. To reach the area slated to be the home of EMUWC, Palestinians from the West Bank will be the subject of secret service interrogations, checkpoints, and invasive bureaucratic policies and physical searches that violate their freedom of movement. Palestinians from the Gaza Strip remain barred from entering Israel, and only rarely succeed at obtaining permits under extreme circumstances and following a tenuous process. Clearly, the steering committee places its anticipation on a claim unfounded in reality as it will be met by the Israeli government's intent on constraining the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Additionally, the steering committee suggests that Israel provides visas to and regularly accepts visitors from most Muslim countries, with the exception of Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Should the UWC movement support the establishments of the only school in the Middle East intent on fostering dialogue in a country that categorically precludes the citizens of the these countries, especially in light of the fact that millions of Palestinian refugees reside in Lebanon and Syria? Moreover, while the Israeli state may legally permit foreign Arabs and Muslims to enter, this is a rare occurrence, and is usually accompanied by racial profiling, harassment and intimidation.

When the steering committee claims this to be an opportunity to "send students to a conflict region but in a safe and stable country," do they include the right of Palestinians and Muslims from other countries, and other international solidarity activists to feel secure? Israeli institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians, both citizens and non-citizens, has grown to alarming extents. In addition to state violence in the form of harassment in public spaces that Palestinians and Arabs undergo, spontaneous hate crimes against them have recently erupted in Israeli cities. These acts of violence have not been properly addressed by the Israeli legal system, much like the rampant "price tag" attacks of Israeli settlers in the West Bank are not persecuted or contained by the Israeli authorities. Such an environment is not a safe one for Arab and Muslim students, who comprise the majority of the population of the Middle East that the only UWC in the region should serve.

We also find it highly problematic that the steering committee considers solidarity with the Palestinian and Israeli people working for justice "radical," and claims that the establishment of EMUWC will not likely affect the "majority of the more moderate and distant Muslim countries." Underlying this statement is the assumption that support of Israeli government policy is an appropriate decisive factor for the types of students and nations involved in the UWC movement. Moreover, we find it offensive that this project is justified by providing scholarships to "unreachable populations" in Israel including Bedouins and Druze, and to Muslim and Arab women, enabling "many more more to participate in UWC." This is a cynical use of racist and Orientalist conceptions of Arab and Muslim countries as oppressive to women, and presents Israel as an environment where such women can feel safe and thrive. It also serves to obfuscate the structural oppressions of these populations by a state that by definition cannot accommodate them because they are not Jewish. This is the type of rhetoric frequently employed by the Israeli state to obscure its oppression of the Palestinian people and to market itself as a democratic and progressive country. Oded Rose, Israeli UWC alumnus and founder of the EMUWC project, admitted that he hopes to "gain many new ambassadors for Israel from around the world" through the school. Is the mission of UWC not to educate global ambassadors that uphold and advocate for human rights for all?

We wish to voice our support for the Palestinian alumni network letter to the International Board objecting the school's accreditation; We furthermore recognize the Palestinian civil society unified call that asks international actors to refrain from lending support for the Israeli policies of aggression. The EMUWC will alienate many Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, Israeli and international current and prospective UWC students. As a community of committed citizens of the world working for justice and equality for all peoples, we call on the UWC International Board to stand behind its core values of educating for peace, and to deny EMUWC accreditation. We hope that you will consider accrediting a UWC school in the Middle East and North Africa at another location, and support the UWC alumni, students and faculty working for justice.

Sincerely,

The undersigned

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