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Australian academics call on their universities to demand ceasefire, amid fears about famine, disease and scholasticide in Gaza

Introduction by Croakey: Leading public health experts are among more than 90 academics from universities in South Australia who have signed an open letter and petition urging their institutions to demand immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

They have also called on the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, and Flinders University to advocate for the Australian Government to urgently reinstate funding to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

The open letter (published in full below and sent to the universities yesterday), includes several calls to action, and says the Scholars Against the War on Palestine campaign has highlighted the scholasticide taking place in Palestine, “which has reached unprecedented levels in Gaza”.

Up to Day 125, Israel has bombed every university in Gaza, as well as 370 schools, and these attacks have resulted in the documented loss of 231 educators, 95 university professors and scientists, and 4,237 students, the letter says.In NSW, many health academics at UTS have signed an open letter, and “Statement of solidarity with Palestine and call to action from the University of Technology’s staff, students and alumni”.

“UTS claims that social justice is core to its values as an institution, and holds that its aim is to help create a more just and equitable society,” says the letter.

“We the undersigned, as academics, staff, students and alumni, believe that in order to uphold the values of our institution, UTS must condemn the actions of the Israeli government, which is actively committing genocide against the Palestinian people, occupying its homelands and obliterating its cultural heritage, including the destruction of every single university in the Gaza strip.”

“We call on UTS Leadership to release a clear statement condemning the mass atrocities Israel is and has been inflicting on Palestinians.” Academics at UTS are due to meet tomorrow to discuss actions arising from the letter.

Looming famine

Meanwhile, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Jagan Chapagain, warned today that about 80 percent of people in Gaza face emergency or catastrophic acute food insecurity.

The last time that UNRWA was able to deliver food aid to northern Gaza was on 23 January, the head of the agency, Philippe Lazzarini said yesterday, warning that the looming famine was “a man-made disaster”.

“In just over four months in Gaza there have been more children, more journalists, more medical personnel, and more UN staff killed than anywhere in the world during a conflict. Over 150 UNRWA premises have been hit by bombardment or shelling, killing over 390 people, and injuring over 1,300,” Lazzarini wrote in a letter to the President of the UN General Assembly on 22 February.

He warned in the letter that the UNRWA had reached breaking point, “with Israel’s repeated calls to dismantle UNRWA and the freezing of funding by donors at a time of unprecedented humanitarian needs in Gaza”.

The Elders and other groups continue to put pressure on Australia and other countries to resume funding for  UNRWA immediately. “No other organisation can meet the humanitarian needs of Gazans at the scale UNRWA can,” said The Elders on 23 February. “Defunding UNRWA and its vital services only adds to the collective punishment of all Gazans for the crimes of Hamas.”

UNICEF estimates that at least 90 percent of Gaza’s children under the age of five are affected by one or more infectious diseases, and has warned about the implications for children of an all-out Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than 610,000 children are trapped.

According to UNICEF, most of the children in Rafah have already been displaced multiple times by the fighting in Gaza, in direct contravention of international law.

“We know that as the war enters its 20th week many are injured, sick and malnourished and will struggle to find the wherewithal to move yet again. We estimate that at least 17,000 children in Gaza are now unaccompanied or have become separated from their families, a number that would surely increase in the event of further population displacement,” said UNICEF’s, executive director, Catherine Russell.

Meanwhile, in Australia the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) has launched a fundraising appeal as part of an international effort to support Palestinian journalists, through the Media Safety & Solidarity Fund. Donations will provide basic food and health supplies for journalists in Gaza and their families.

According to the International Federation of Journalists, the deaths of 102 journalists and media workers have been verified since the conflict began on October 7 last year, and dozens more have been injured or reported missing. Ninety-five of the dead journalists are Palestinians. Many died alongside their families while sheltering from bombing.

According to MEAA, more journalists have died in the first four months of this current conflict than the entire 10-year Vietnam War. By some estimates, 10 percent of the journalist workforce in Gaza has been killed.

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) said in a statement it had been contacted by members concerned about “the continuing violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and escalating conflict in the wider Middle East”.

While the PHAA said it supported calls for an immediate ceasefire, it did not express a position on Australian Government funding for UNRWA, saying: “We support any and all Australian Government efforts to pursue the goals set out below”, referring to statements by the World Federation of Public Health Associations and UN agencies.


Open letter

As concerned members of the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, and Flinders University, we are deeply committed to upholding human rights principles and write to urgently address the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza. As of February 19th, 29,092 people are reported killed and estimated 8,000 missing, presumably dead, under the rubble.

Sixty percent are women and children. Close to 70,000 people are reported to be injured.

The Scholars Against the War on Palestine (SAWP) campaign has highlighted the scholasticide taking place in Palestine, which has reached unprecedented levels in Gaza. Up to Day 125, Israel has bombed every university in Gaza, as well as 370 schools. These attacks have resulted in the documented loss of 231 educators, 95 University Professors and scientists, and 4,237 students.

Israel initiated its systematic retaliation attacks on October 9th, 2023, with the bombing and destruction of the Islamic University of Gaza. Tragically, the university’s president, renowned scientist Dr. Sufyan Tayeh, was killed along with his family on December 2nd following the bombing of his house. Subsequent attacks targeted the University College of Applied Sciences and Technology on October 19th, Al-Azhar University on November 6th, Al-Quds Open University on November 15th, and Gaza University on December 4th, 2023. On January 17th, 2024, the IOF destroyed Al-Israa University, marking the destruction of the last remaining university in Gaza. Over the period, 90% of schools and 60% of libraries have also been damaged or destroyed.

In addition, over 80% of people facing famine or catastrophic hunger worldwide are in Gaza.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) provides lifesaving aid to two million Palestinians, but it’s critical work cannot continue without sustained contributions from countries worldwide. However, based on a six-page dossier from the Israeli government that 12 out of 13,000 UNRWA workers were involved in the October 7th attacks, many countries including Australia, have paused critical funding. It has now come to light that this decision to pause funding was made without sighting any evidence of the allegations and a recent investigation by Channel 4 (UK) found no evidence for the Israeli allegations against UNRWA.

The International Court of Justice landmark ruling on January 26th 2024, has stated that Israel and all 153 state parties to the 1948 Genocide Convention must “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”. Australia’s decision to freeze UNRWA funding, based on unevidenced allegations, is not upholding the ICJ ruling and may be deemed as complicity in genocide.

Four Norwegian universities have suspended ties with Israeli universities. In October 2023, RMIT terminated its relationship with Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries.

Given the urgency of the situation, we call upon our universities to also take immediate action:

  1. Terminate all partnerships with Israeli academic institutions directly or indirectly involved in supporting or enabling acts of scholasticide.
  2. Affirm solidarity with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, demanding Israel take measures to prevent acts falling within the scope of the Genocide Convention.
  3. Cease all collaborative activities with Israeli partners contributing to such genocidal acts until the ICJ case is resolved.
  4. Issue a statement endorsing the Australian government’s plea for an immediate ceasefire.
  5. Advocate for the urgent reinstatement of UNRWA funding.
  6. Demand the immediate release of Israeli and foreign hostages currently detained in Gaza, along with all Palestinian hostages abducted from Gaza and arrested across Palestine, who are presently held under arbitrary detention in Israeli camps and prisons.
  7. Implement measures to safeguard the well-being of our students and staff affected, directly or indirectly, by the current situation.

Our universities must demonstrate leadership and endorse these critical actions, while urging the Australian government to reinstate funding to UNRWA without delay. The decision to freeze UNRWA funding based on unsubstantiated allegations undermines international law and may be construed as complicity in genocide.

As educators and researchers, we have a moral obligation to speak out against injustices and uphold principles of international law. We have a particular responsibility to address the scholasticide in Gaza and historic Palestine, advocating for the protection of educational and research institutions, as well as the students, staff, and faculty who are part of them.

The world is watching, and our institutions must take a stand against the mass suffering of Palestinians, particularly women and children. We urge our universities to act on this matter urgently and uphold principles of justice, human rights, and the rule of law.

• See the signatories here, and the petition here.


https://phmovement.org/access-healthcare-west-bank-palestine-and-after-7th-october-23


Previously at Croakey