Open Letter: Call To Action To Aotearoa New Zealand's Universities To Stand In Solidarity With Palestine
Kia ora Vice-Chancellors Dawn Freshwater, Toeolesulusulu Damon Salesa, Neil Quigley, Jan Thomas, Nic Smith, Cheryl de la Rey, Grant Edwards and Helen Nicholson,
We, the students, staff, and alumni of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Universities, urge you to release a joint statement on behalf of our Universities standing in solidarity with Palestine. We call for this statement to condemn Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians and call for an immediate ceasefire and end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.
To understand why this joint statement from our Universities is urgently needed, it is important that you acknowledge that Palestine has been subject to Israel’s settler-colonial violence for the past 75 years. As an independent UN expert reported last year, for 55 of these years, “the Israeli military occupation has prevented the realisation of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people, violating each component of that right and wilfully pursuing the ‘de-Palestinianisation’ of the occupied territory.” This expert also affirmed that Israel's endeavours in Palestine are “illegal”, amount to “gross violations of international law, including racial segregation and subjugation” and are “indistinguishable from settler-colonialism.”
Similarly, a UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry into Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine concluded last year that “by continuing to occupy [Palestinian] territory by force, Israel incurs international responsibilities and remains accountable for violations of the rights of the Palestinians, both individually and as a people.”
On 7 October, Israel’s Prime
Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated
that the Palestinians of Gaza would pay an “immense
price” for the actions of Hamas fighters. Israel’s
president, Isaac Herzog, also stated
that the Israeli government holds the entire Palestinian
population of Gaza responsible for the actions of militant
groups, and should therefore be subject to collective
punishment and unrestricted use of force, saying: “It
is an entire nation out there that is
Since 7 October, Israel,
with the support of the United States, has killed
at least 9,061 people in Gaza, including at least 3,760
children as of 2 November. Israel’s attacks have also displaced
at least 1.4 million people in Gaza, with approximately
629,000 of them seeking refuge in 150 UN emergency shelters.
It is also estimated that at
least 2,200 people are currently buried under the rubble
of destroyed buildings in Gaza.
“We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide. The time for action is now. Israel’s allies also bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action. The Israeli airstrike on a residential complex in the Jabalia refugee camp is a brazen violation of international law – and a war crime. Attacking a camp sheltering civilians including women and children is a complete breach of the rules of proportionality and distinction between combatants and civilians.”
In terms of the reasons for Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians, international human rights lawyer Craig Mokhiber noted in his resignation letter from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that this “textbook case of genocide” is “rooted in an ethno-nationalist colonial-settler ideology” which “has entered its final phase, toward the expedited destruction of the last remnants of indigenous Palestinian life in Palestine.”
As a collective of Aotearoa New Zealand's University communities, we want to highlight that a key part of Israel’s genocide against Palestine is its epistemicide due its targeted attacks on Universities in Gaza. These attacks are not only murdering Palestine’s University communities, they are also systematically destroying the rich knowledges, histories and literatures of Palestine, without which our world, and our understanding of it, will forever be incomplete. To be clear, Universities that fail to condemn these attacks can no longer claim to be genuinely committed to the pursuit of knowledge and any meaningful vision of a local and global scholarly community.
In our Universities, we teach and learn about the genocidal violence that has occurred and is still occurring around the world - from the Holocaust against Jewish peoples in Europe to the Crown’s ongoing violence against Māori here in Aotearoa New Zealand. During these lessons, we often ask how so many people, including those with great influence and power, can enable such violence and stay silent when marginalised groups are being dehumanised and murdered.
Now, many of us no longer have to ask this question, as we are seeing this enabling and silence in real time around the world, including here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Not only is our country's media and government failing to condemn Israel’s genocidal violence, each of you, as the leaders of our Universities, are failing to do so as well. We note that some of you have released statements incorrectly framing this genocide as “escalating conflict in the Middle East”, and others among you are choosing to remain silent.
Some might say that it would not make any difference if our Universities in Aotearoa New Zealand stood in solidarity with Palestine. However, the reality is that our Universities play a crucial role as the “critic and conscience of society" which means your enabling statements and silences are helping to allow this genocide to continue by making it appear like we, as communities of learners, teachers, researchers and professionals, deem it acceptable.
We wholeheartedly believe that a joint statement from our Universities standing in solidarity with Palestine would make a difference by helping to persuade our government to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and support Palestinians in their fight for freedom from Israel's illegal occupation as per their right to resist an occupation under international law.
Furthermore, such a statement will help make our Palestinian students, staff and wider communities in Aotearoa New Zealand feel safer in our Universities, and therefore help to show us all that you take our Universities’ various commitments to promoting diversity, equity and freedom from discrimination seriously.
For these reasons, we issue the following two calls to action:
- We urge all Vice-Chancellors to release a joint statement in solidarity with Palestine that condemns Israel’s genocidal attacks on Palestinians and calls for an immediate ceasefire and end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. If all Vice-Chancellors cannot agree to make a joint statement, we urge those who do agree to issue a joint statement or separate statements;
- We call on all signatories of this open letter to include the following statement in the signature of their University and/or professional email addresses: “We, University students, staff and alumni of the Universities in Aotearoa New Zealand call on our Universities to stand in solidarity with Palestine and take a stand against Israel’s genocide of Palestinians.”