Opinion guest column

Palestinian academics share the tragic reality of life under occupation

Students, scientists, and doctors demonstrate resilience in the face of violence

The following are a compilation of testimonials by Palestinian academics living in historic Palestine today. These testimonials were compiled by Scientists for Palestine, an international organization created by and for scientists to promote science and support the integration of the occupied Palestinian territories in the international scientific community.

“I could smell tear gas while writing this message,” writes Majd AbuAlrub, an intern doctor at the Jenin Governmental Hospital in the West Bank. “Each weekend, the Israeli forces regularly hit the village with tear gases and sound bombs. I wake up almost every week at 2 a.m. to the sounds of the Israeli troops.” With the recent escalation of violence in the West Bank, AbuAlrub has faced heightened challenges. “Just yesterday, as an intern doctor, I was in an ambulance to transfer an 81-year-old patient to a larger hospital. The ambulance was hit by the stones of the settlers and stopped many times by the Israeli troops.”

This is the reality for AbuAlrub and other Palestinians living in the West Bank, where over 700 road obstacles — including 140 armed checkpoints — limit their mobility. These roadblocks, along with the continuously expanding Israeli settlements that are illegal under international law, mean that AbuAlrub can’t get to work or visit his family without being humiliated as he passes through crowded checkpoints controlled by heavily armed soldiers

The situation is no better for Palestinians elsewhere. “Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs!” These were the shouts that Jewish citizens of Israel directed at Suhail Matar, a graduate student in psychology at New York University who attended the Technion in Haifa, Israel from 2004 to 2011. “During this time,” Matar says, “Israel carried out three wars: the 2006 war on Lebanon, 2008–2009 war on Gaza, and 2010 attack on the flotilla headed for Gaza.” Each of these wars left devastating effects on Gaza, killing altogether more than 3800 Palestinians, including 700 children. “Every single time, across the street there were… huge Israeli flags, enraged Zionists jumping up and down yelling.” These were no strangers to Matar. “[Among them was] my physical chemistry professor, for example. He used to show up to lectures in full settler regalia. Imagine a U.S. professor showing up to class in Proud Boys or KKK regalia.”

Israeli law discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel in the provision of housing, employment, education, and most other aspects of their lives. Under the “Jewish nation-state” law, “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” This, along with the regular confiscation and destruction of Palestinian homes and land in Israel, is what led the Human Rights Watch to conclude that Israel's actions “amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

“On May 10th, the aggressive attacks on Gaza began,” explains Noor Zaki Al-kilani, an architecture student at the University of Palestine. “These attacks felt different and more aggressive than those in the past, targeting our roads and infrastructure for communication and electricity.” Attacks on media buildings, banks, outlet malls, learning centers, and roads to hospitals in Gaza are all meant to cripple the economic and social life of Palestinians even after a ceasefire is reached. Al-kilani was in her last semester when the attacks began. “While I should be focusing on my final master’s research, due to be delivered in August, the deaths of so many people and children have had such a large impact on me that it is hard to work.”

“When the bombing of Gaza began… there was no thinking of anything else.” Salah Ibrahim Eleyan is a bachelor’s student in physics from the Islamic University of Gaza, which was also targeted and destroyed by Israel in the latest bombardments. “All we could do was follow the news about the massacres and victims all around us. As the bombings continued, no house in Gaza was safe.” Eleyan adds, “For a moment, I sat there thinking only of the other victims my age, who also had big dreams of the future. I wondered if I would be next.” 

One such student was Shaima Abu Aloof, a talented third-year student at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. She was studying to be a dentist, with the goal of pursuing her dream career in Gaza. She was described by her professors and friends as “hardworking, understanding, and determined to reach her goals.” She was recently engaged and in the process of planning her wedding party right after the end of Ramadan this year. On May 16th, Israeli airstrikes targeted and killed Shaima and her entire family.

The United States has repeatedly defended these egregious attacks and blatant violations of international law as Israel’s “right to self-defense.” American funding of these crimes amounts to $3.8 billion in military aid each year. Israel’s ability to commit war crimes with impunity not only shows a neglect for human rights, but also a clear motive to destroy Palestinians psychologically and physically. The latest Israeli airstrikes killed 65 children. That is enough children to fill three U.S. primary school classrooms — children who could have grown up to become artists, scientists, writers, and engineers.

Despite Israel’s goal of destroying the hope of Palestinians, however, their hearts remain strong. “The Israeli occupation tried for 70 years to limit our education and research and prevent us from building our country,” AbuAlrub says. “However, Palestinians are still alive. And we will send this message to every corner on Earth until we achieve freedom. We will prove to the whole world the type of scientists and doctors we are, those who could help humanity!”

Amro Alshareef is a member of the MIT Class of 2020.