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The slaughter of Palestinian scholars in Gaza is a deliberate Israeli tactic

May 25, 2024 at 4:46 pm

Israeli soldiers set fire Aqsa University’s library in Gaza City and took pictures of themselves in front of the flames. [@ytirawi/Twitter/X]

Throughout the 229 days of the ongoing Israeli genocide in Gaza, the Israeli occupation has deliberately targeted and assassinated dozens of Palestinian scholars, scientists, academics and researchers along with their families. All were targeted while at home with their families or seeking refuge with relatives. This week, the Gaza media office released a list containing the names of 100 Palestinian researchers who the Israeli occupation has killed, including scientists, university professors and doctors.

I had personally met a number of the now-slain, highly qualified academics and scientists before their assassinations, including Dr Khitam Elwasifi, Dr Refaat Alareer and Dr Sufyan Tayeh, all elegant and clever people whose work had very positive impacts on our society.

Dr Elwasifi was a physics professor and the deputy dean of the Faculty of Science at the Islamic University of Gaza. She authored some 50 published research papers on subjects such as the effect of mobile radiation on living tissue, slab waveguides and non-linear optics, among others. Dr Elwasifi was assassinated along with her husband, Dr Mahmoud Abu Daf, former dean of the Faculty of Education at the Islamic University, after an Israeli airstrike hit her home in Gaza City on 1 December, 2023.

Another loss for Palestine was Dr Alareer, a poet, writer and English literature professor at the Islamic University. An inspiring figure and teacher for many young people in Gaza, he co-founded several programmes and initiatives to train and support young activists and writers to express themselves and convey their stories to the world as oppressed people living under occupation, blockade and siege.

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Dr Alareer was also a social media influencer and often received threats online and by phone from Israeli accounts for his efforts to expose Israeli crimes against the Palestinians. On 6 December, 2023, Dr Alareer was assassinated in a massacre along with his brother, sister and her three children in an Israeli airstrike that targeted his sister’s apartment in northern Gaza.

Dr Tayeh, a world-renowned physicist, was ranked in the top two per cent of scientific researchers worldwide in 2021 by Stanford University in the US. He held a PhD in theoretical physics and applied mathematics. He was appointed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) chair for physics and space sciences in Palestine in 2023. On 2 December, 2023, Israeli warplanes intentionally flattened Dr Tayeh’s home in the Al-Faluja neighbourhood of the Jabalia refugee camp in north Gaza, where he was born and raised, murdering him and his family.

The occupation pursues systematic assassinations of Palestinian scholars and intellectual figures to impact the structure of the social fabric, as they make up the cornerstone of developing Palestinian society and shaping its future. Often, these academic elite figures positively influence members of society, who will be affected by their absence. The occupation’s tactic of deliberate assassination of scholars is intended to terrorise and demoralise the population, simultaneously creating pressure on people to immigrate out of the Gaza Strip. For decades, the occupation has systematically been striving to produce uninhabitable conditions in the Gaza Strip, according to many political analysts and human rights organisations. The intentional targeting and killing of academics, scholars and researchers whose work enhances life in Gaza is one of the many methods the occupation uses to degrade life in Gaza. The immensity of the loss of over one hundred scholars and academics, as well as the destruction of universities and educational institutions, will have long-lasting effects on the Palestinian people.

According to the Geneva-based human rights organisation Euro-Med Monitor: “Given the systematic and widespread destruction by Israeli forces of cultural buildings, including institutions of great historical significance, it is highly likely that Israel is intentionally targeting every aspect of life in Gaza.”

The rights group also warned: “The attacks are creating an environment devoid of basic services and necessities and may eventually force the Strip’s population to emigrate.”

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Occupation forces have not only decimated Gaza’s academic community but have also blown up its physical educational infrastructure. All of Gaza’s universities and colleges lie in ruins, partially or totally, by direct Israeli assaults. Some universities were turned into military barracks and detention centres, such as Al-Esraa University, which was blown up after 70 days of occupying it and converting it into an army base. The Israeli soldiers also shared their infringements against the universities, releasing an image on social media showing an Israeli soldier in front of a pile of burning books at Al-Aqsa University library in Gaza City.

The assassination of Palestine’s intellectual community is a longstanding historical practice by the Israeli occupation, even one of international pursuit, executing Palestinian scientists and scholars outside of Palestine. Thirty-five-year-old Palestinian scientist Fadi Al-Batsh was assassinated by Mossad in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in 2018. Al-Batsh studied electrical engineering in Gaza and then travelled to Malaysia to earn his PhD. He specialised in power systems and energy saving and had published several scientific papers on the subject.

According to other reports, Mossad has also been involved in the assassination and persecution of Iraqi scholars, according to revelations in 2003 by a retired French general to a French channel, who stated that the Israelis, working under the cover of the US Marines, had sent a special assassination squad to Iraq to eliminate 500 scientists who worked in Iraq in biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programmes. Shortly after the US occupation of Iraq, Iraqi scientists began to be subjected to a comprehensive liquidation campaign. Between the years 2003 and 2008, 350 Iraqi nuclear scientists and 200 academics were killed, while roughly 17,000 specialists migrated to the US and other countries.

The historical record demonstrates that Israel’s current attack on Palestinian educational and cultural institutions and the assassination of the scholars is not in retaliation to the Palestinian resistance attack on 7 October. In addition to a documented history of assaults on academic and scientific communities and infrastructure in Palestine and around the world, the Israeli occupation has a long record of attacking Palestinians physically and spiritually in every Israeli offensive.

The commitment by the Palestinian people in Gaza to the continuity and excellence of their education in the face of the 17-year-long siege, the ongoing Israeli offensives and the reconstruction of educational infrastructure in the aftermath of every Israeli aggression on Gaza, including the many educational initiatives and projects in the sheltering zones where people are currently displaced by the ongoing Israeli violence, shows that the Palestinian spirit is unbreakable.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.