Ariel College: Q & A

Sue Blackwell | BRICUP | 14 décembre 2012 | Q. When is a university not a university? A. When it is in a West Bank settlement. Let’s call it Ariel….

Sue Blackwell | BRICUP | 14 décembre 2012 |

Q. When is a university not a university?

A. When it is in a West Bank settlement.

Let’s call it Ariel College for now. The Israelis used
to call it the College of Judea and Samaria, which
nicely obscures the fact that it is based in the
second-largest settlement in the occupied West
Bank. The town of Ariel, founded in 1978, now
houses some 20,000 settlers, whose wastewater is
discharged untreated into the Al-Matwi valley,
polluting the main source of drinking water for
Salfeet and other Palestinian villages with heavy

The College was founded in 1982. It has about
10,000 students, mostly drawn from central Israel
with 15% coming from settlements. A glowing
article in the Jerusalem Report in August 2000 noted
that at that time there were 150 « Israeli Arabs » in the
student body, though no « Palestinians ». The report
continues cheerfully:

“Nine of every 10 students at the college
live in sovereign Israel. They cross the
1967 Green Line every day, uninterrupted,
without ideological inhibitions and with
no qualms of conscience. Many of them
say they chose the college because it is
close to home thanks to the convenient
access highway, because of the high level
of studies or due to the pleasant social
atmosphere. In conversations with
students, the terms ‘occupation’, ‘occupied
territory’ or even ‘territories’ were rarely
mentioned. None of the students had any
doubts about the future of the college,
none of them raised any questions.”

Most academics in the UK were probably unaware
of the College until the Association of University
Teachers voted at its 2005 Council meeting « To call
on all AUT members to boycott Bar-Ilan University
until it severs all academic links with the College of
Judea and Samaria and with any other college
located in an illegal settlement in the Occupied
Territories. » Bar-Ilan University had been
instrumental in founding the College and continued
to have strong links with it.

One of the documents which persuaded AUT
delegates to support the motion was an Open Letter
from Gush Shalom to Prof. Moshe Kaveh:

« In all of this the Bar Ilan University, of
which you are president, made itself a
major partner – indeed, since a violation of
international law is involved, the term
‘accomplice’ may well be used. The ‘Judea
and Samaria College’ which you and your
colleagues established and nurtured has a
central role in the settlement of Ariel,
increasing its population and its economic
clout. The college’s faculty and students
are prime users of the ‘Trans-Samaria
Road’, the four-lane highway which was
created on confiscated Palestinian land in
order to provide quick transportation to
Ariel. The Palestinian villagers on whose
land this highway was built are excluded
from using it. They are relegated to a
rugged, bumpy mountain trail. … It is you
and your colleagues, Professor Kaveh,
who started mixing academics with
politics. »

The response of the Israeli government to the AUT
boycott was predictable and immediate: the Cabinet
voted by 13-7 to declare the College a university.
The initiative apparently came from the then
Minister of Education, Limor Livnat, who wanted
something in return for agreeing to Sharon’s « Gaza
disengagement plan ». Perhaps the intention was to
get Bar-Ilan off the hook by cutting its creation
loose. However, the move was not at all popular
with mainstream Israeli academia, who saw it as a
threat to the funding and status of their own existing

Prof. Shlomo Sand of Tel Aviv University, who left
no doubt about his opposition to the AUT boycott in
general, took a more principled position of opposing
the settlements. He warned in Ha’aretz that:

« the government of Israel’s upgrading of
the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel
into a university might encourage a spread
of the boycott to other European countries.
Ariel’s university must be considered an
illegal outpost … The fact that an Israeli
university like Bar-Ilan is giving
sponsorship to this college is a mark of
shame on the Israeli academic world. Any
other cooperation, open or sub rosa, by
Israel’s universities with this college is
illegitimate, and sabotages the status of
Israeli academia in the world. To silence
the British, the lecturers’ organizations in
Israel as well as the heads of the
universities must make every possible
effort to prevent the Council for Higher
Education from upgrading the status of the
College of Judea and Samaria, until such
time as it is relocated inside the territory
of the State of Israel. »

Sand called for Israeli academics to boycott the
College along with all other settlement activities.

The plans rumbled on, and surfaced again in January
2010 when Defence Minister Ehud Barak accorded
University status to the College, this time apparently
at the request of Avigdor Lieberman. Why, one
might ask, was this a decision for the Minister of
Defence? Uri Avery answers the question:

« Ariel is occupied territory. In the
occupied territories, the army is the
sovereign power. Barak is in charge of the
army. The directive to upgrade the Ariel
College was given by Barak to the
commanding officer. As Yossi Sarid, a
former Minister of Education, pointed out,
the ‘Ariel University Center’ is the only
civil university in the democratic world set
up by the army. »

However, the decision was not accepted by the
Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHE), for all
the wrong reasons. The CHE was still opposing it
when in July this year the Judea and Samaria
Council for Higher Education voted 11-2 to
recognise what was by now known as Ariel
University Center as a fully-fledged university
(Unsurprisingly the meeting was held at Bar-Ilan).
Despite vocal protests from the Israeli so-called
« left », the decision was immediately welcomed by
the Finance Minister and by Gideon Sa’ar the
Education minister, in apparent conflict with his
other role as chair of the CHE.

All of this raises interesting questions for those of us
outside Israel who support BDS, including academic
boycott. It is tempting to give way to feelings of
schadenfreude and sit back as Israeli academics and
politicians fight each other and agonise over whether
a college in « the territories » is of sufficient academic
merit to deserve an upgrade. It is equally tempting
to exploit the divisions and support those Israeli
academics calling for a boycott of Ariel College,
along with the actors boycotting the Ariel Regional
Center for the Performing Arts. I believe, however,
that the only principled position is to continue to
support a boycott of all Israeli academic and cultural
institutions, and to point out that just as Ariel
« University » would never have existed without the
involvement of Bar-Ilan, all Israeli universities are
complicit in the occupation, whichever side of the
Green Line they happen to lie on. That does not
prevent us, though, from drawing attention to the
peculiar absurdities and ironies of the ongoing Ariel
College saga.


« You brought the boycott upon yourselves » – Gush
Shalom letter to Bar Ilan University, April 26, 2005
reproduced in:

« Boycott Ariel College » by Shlomo Sand in Ha’aretz, 4th
May 2005.

« The Liebarak », Uri Avnery, 23rd January 2010.

Ariel official website in English:

« Ariel academic center recognized as first Israeli
university beyond Green Line », Ha’aretz 17th July 2012:

Sue Blackwell