A wall of oppression

President Bruininks should respond to a letter calling for a public statement defending oppressed Palestinian students.

Likely, youâÄôve listened to pundits place blame about the crisis in the Middle East. The Israeli ground attack against Hamas captured a substantial amount of attention from media entities around the world. The situation is intriguing to discuss because it is incredibly complicated and easy to justify actions of both Israel and Palestine. Hamas, an Islamist terror group, hides its fighters behind women and children and fires rockets into southern Israel, while Israel has been the occupying nation inside of Gaza since the Six-Day War in 1967 . The Israeli military controls the borders leading out of Palestine, the airspace, access to the Mediterranean Sea and has turned Gaza into an eerie ghetto for its oppressed citizens. In order to accurately represent the causes and effects of this religious struggle for power, land and freedom, one must step back and view the entire situation for what it is: an ongoing nightmare for Palestinian citizens. The Israeli government has escaped accountability for the killing of at least 700 Palestinian civilians . Estimates from Palestinian hospitals confirm that more than one-third of those killed were children. Imagining these large casualty estimates is not difficult, however, considering that poor conditions driven by border restrictions have forced the median age in Gaza down to 17 years old. More than 44 percent of the population is 14 years of age or younger, which is alarming considering the struggles and difficulties in receiving a quality education within the borders of the Gaza strip. Palestinian students from Gaza are barred by Israel from studying in the West Bank and abroad, which severely restricts the opportunity for students to receive a diverse and quality education. In May 2008, the U.S. State Department revoked Fulbright scholarships from seven Palestinian students because Israel would not grant the students permission to leave Gaza. Israeli defense ministry officials made it their policy to âÄúnot recognize higher education as a humanitarian concern.âÄù The studentsâÄô scholarships were eventually restored following intervention from the State Department âÄî although Israel allowed only four of the seven to leave. Border restriction of students creates pressure on Palestinian universities. The Islamic University of Gaza is the largest university in the strip, and was partially destroyed by rocket and mortar fire during the recent siege. The university was the first established in Gaza and the most important institution of higher education, serving more than 20,000 students âÄî 60 percent of whom are women. The bombing of the University has sparked outrage in academia and has inspired faculty from universities around the country to speak out in opposition of the oppression. Bruce Braun , University of Minnesota geography professor âÄî and charter member of the organization Teachers Against Occupation âÄî was among the 150 professors and graduate students who sent a letter to University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks calling for a public statement defending Palestinian students. The letter urged Bruininks âÄî who in August 2007 joined several hundred presidents of higher education institutes in publishing a full-page ad in the New York Times rejecting an academic boycott of Israeli universities âÄî to discontinue his silence and defend the oppressed students in Palestine. University spokesman Dan Wolter said that Bruininks has not had an opportunity to view the letter. It is understandable that the University would be hesitant to make a stand on a complicated and controversial issue. Nevertheless, Braun feels that the oppression of Palestinian citizens and students is too profound to ignore, and that the University is putting its credibility on the line by not making a statement. âÄúIf we donâÄôt [speak out about this] and if we censor certain topics, we begin to lose credibility as a university,âÄù Braun said. âÄúIf we say, âÄòWe canâÄôt have that discussion,âÄô then the whole topic of defending higher education becomes an issue.âÄù Ragui Assaad, a professor specializing in international economic development at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, reasoned that releasing the border restrictions into Egypt and Israel is necessary in order to create an environment of peace. âÄúThey need to allow food and medicine to pass without allowing weapons,âÄù Assad said. âÄúYou essentially have over a million and a half people living in an open-air prison. You cannot punish the citizens of the country over the actions of a few people.âÄù When Israel became the occupying force in Gaza, they knew that they would have to encounter and administer force onto some sort of resistance. Forcing 1.5 million people who live in a meager stretch of land barely twice the size of Washington D.C., will do that. ItâÄôs time for Israel to lift restrictions on Palestinian students, as well as grant the citizens of Gaza a chance to live a life of opportunity. Bruininks has an opportunity to make a statement to the academic community in support of the rights of Islamic students in the same way he stood up against a boycott of Israeli universities in 2007. âÄúI think what is disturbing at times is the assumption that the deaths [of Palestinian citizens] donâÄôt matter,âÄù Braun said. âÄúHistorically, the ability to kill with impunity has been meted out against minorities and occupied people. Just because it is not unique does not mean that we look away.âÄù Robert Downs welcomes comments at [email protected]