Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Jimmy Johnson, the International Coordinator for the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. For more about the recent Shministim letter, visit their Facebook page.
This morning the Israeli Air Force bombed the Islamic University of Gaza. Why? What threat do schools of a stateless people lacking even a single tank pose to the army of a nuclear power? Quite a big one as it turns out. Students in all parts of the world are in the space between parental control and absorption into the reigning power system. This space is can lead to recklessness, but it’s also what makes students so dangerous to the powers that be. “What if they won’t inherit our practices, our crimes?” This is the threat of high-schoolers and university students. Many might not be old enough to vote, others simply don’t have that right, but they can threaten unjust systems by refusing to participate in them; delegitimizing them by refusing cooperate and creating their own. Students organized against the Czar Nicholas I in Lithuania leading to the university being closed in 1832. They revolted in Mexico City, Paris, Karachi, New York and others places in 1968. South Korea’s students in 1987 forced the government to make constitutional changes and free political prisoners. There are several examples from around the Mediterranean in just the last month. Students in Cairo won the right to have campuses free of Egyptian security personnel through demonstrations and legal challenges. Barcelona two weeks ago saw coordinated actions aimed at preventing a university reorganization that could threaten the arts and humanities departments and the youth and students largely organize the ongoing actions in Greece as part of a reaction the killing of another student.

Palestinians students have used this freedom as much as their peers abroad. The student organizing during the first Intifada at Birzeit University was so effective that in an attempt to keep the Occupation, Israel closed it entirely for four years. Between 1979 and 1992, in fact, Birzeit was kept closed by the army 60% of the time. The breathing space and lack of dependable authorities to control students has made them a continual threat to the status quo of Occupation. The Islamic University of Gaza (I.U.G.) was founded in 1978 and saw a lot of growth throughout the 1980’s as Israel allowed the nascent Hamas movement to organize throughout the West Bank and Gaza in an attempt to weaken the Palestinians’ ties to the exiled secular leadership of the P.L.O.. But the lesson that students cannot be controlled, even if academic institutions can, was proved again with the grassroots movements that sprung up in Gaza during the first Intifada and that have continued since.
A group of young Israeli Jews called the Shministim (Seniors) too is rejecting a system they were born into. They’re refusing to be a part of the Occupation; refusing to play a role in the system of Israeli militarism their predecessors installed. The first shministim organized in 1982, largely against the invasion of Lebanon. Their letter was re-written five years ago by a new generation of Israeli youth who envision Israel as part of the Middle East, instead of Europe, and refuse to be enemies with Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and others. They’re imagining and building a future where Israel isn’t simply an American-sponsored European construct in the Middle East, but one with organic relationships forged with its neighbors. Why, after all, should Damascus, only 230 kilometers from Jerusalem, be “further” than Paris (3350km away)? And for this they are ostracized, imprisoned and denied the benefits and opportunities, social and economic, which come with serving in the military and serving the Occupation. They are a threat to the militarism and nationalism that help keep the Occupation going.
The students at the I.U.G. are a bigger threat to the Israeli siege of Gaza than the Qassam rockets that have peppered the nearby areas for some time. So it’s no surprise to find that the Air Force destroyed the I.U.G.. In doing so Israel made clear its desire for the status quo, one of perpetual Occupation and, arguably, Hamas rule in Gaza. Without the breathing room at the university it’s almost impossible for the younger generation to envision their own future as different than their predecessors’; with only Occupation, Fatah & Hamas to draw from. It’s up to all of us to ensure that Palestinian students have the right to study, meet and determine their own future out from under Israeli Occupation. It’s especially the responsibility of student movements throughout the world to stand and organize in solidarity with their peers at I.U.G. who are being bombed and killed and with the Shministim high-schoolers who are being imprisoned and ostracized. The power of student and youth movements has been seen time and time again, and they can lead the way in ending the attacks on Gaza, the Occupation and bringing about justice in Israel, Palestine, Greece, all around the Mediterranean and throughout the world. Refusing to cooperate with the unjust systems of today gives us the opportunity for a better tomorrow.