Is the Government Afraid of Losing Control Due to Knowledge Creation?

Academic Freedom Constrained: Violations and Limitations of Academic Freedom in the Context of the Israeli-Palestinian Ongoing Conflict

By Anna Braido Lusso & Aurora Gastaldello, University of Trento

Academic Freedom refers to the principle that scholars, educators, and students should have the liberty to pursue knowledge, research, teaching and learning without undue interference, censorship, or restrictions. Academic Freedom plays a role in the pursuit of knowledge and it is fundamental for societal progress. However in the landscape of Palestine and Israel, academic freedom faces challenges due to historical, political and socio cultural factors. Education is a tool worldwide recognized for empowerment and progress. In Palestine, academic freedom is safeguarded by various legal and institutional provisions. In Israel, instead academic freedom is protected by the Basic Laws of Israel that do not contain a specific article for the constitutional protection of academic freedom, but protects the freedom of expression, which encompasses academic freedom. Unfortunately various obstacles hinder the pursuit of knowledge in these regions, including occupation, political tensions and ideological conflicts.

Credits: Michael Dziedzic, Unsplash

In Palestine, the desire for self determination persists despite decades of conflict and occupation. Academic freedom is closely linked to the struggle for liberation and statehood. Palestinians encounter barriers to education due to Israeli’s policies that restrict movement due to checkpoints and military incursions targeting educational institutions. These challenges limit the access to learning, teaching and also pose threats to the integrity of academic and research institutions.

Israel has historically and systematically targeted the Palestinian Higher Education system because of its role in the national struggle for Palestinian liberation. Attacks to the right to education have come in many forms, including military closures of multiple universities, military obstruction of access, arrests, and deportations, the killing and injuring of students and teachers, and attempts to criminalise the Palestinian educational process itself.
University autonomy is one of the most important rights of any higher education institution. It encompasses the right to fully exercise and practise academic freedom with regard to internal activities. Israel has significantly impacted Palestinian educational institutions on multiple occasions.
The attacks against Birzeit University in 1973 are a dark spot in the history of Palestinian academic freedom. In 1973 Israel closed the campus for two weeks by military order. This was the first of many repressive measures against the university community. Less than a year later, the Israeli military authorities deported the university president, Dr. Hanna Nasir, who remained in exile for nineteen years. Birzeit University was practically closed from 1988 to 1992 by Israel occupation authorities. Other universities also faced long-term closures. During this protracted period of closure, the university of Birzeit continued to operate with small study groups outside the campus. Under such conditions, many
students took more than the usual time to graduate.
The military blockade of Birzeit University in 2000 imposed travel restrictions on the Palestinian population, affecting students and staff. Checkpoints erected by Israeli forces affected students’ ability to attend classes, disrupted academic life, and impeded the university’s development by preventing equipment and book shipments.

Similarly, the bombing of Gaza’s Islamic University in 2009, supposedly targeting a Hamas cultural symbol, resulted in casualties and again restricted academic freedom. ‘I have exams coming soon in my university and I want to study but I can’t in this situation. So they affect my future, the future of all students here. […]’1 These events represent just a tiny amount of the challenges faced by Palestinian educational institutions due to Israeli interference, they highlight the urgent need for attention and advocacy.
In the previous decades, numerous policies have been introduced to restrict Palestinian higher education. The primary aim of these methods, starting from limiting the movement of students, censoring Palestinian professors and arriving at putting restrictions on subjects that could be taught, was to undermine Palestinian economic development and the distribution of knowledge, influencing intellectual self-determination within educational institutions. Knowledge is always viewed as something that scares the authorities, it could be used to mobilise younger Palestinian generations against colonial rules of Israel. The ways in which these rights are violated in the context of the Palestinian occupation are various and broad, mainly because they manifest themselves every time access to university and school is made more
difficult or obstructed in any way.

Israel is a society with a strong higher education system. Debates surrounding freedom often intersect with questions about national identity, security concerns and freedom of expression. While Israeli universities generally operate with autonomy, contentious issues related to government oversight, political interference or academic boycotts have sparked discussions, within both academic circles and society at large.

In 2016, Education Minister Naftali Bennett pushed for the implementation of an “ethics code” aimed at regulating the expression of political views among Israeli university professors. Bennett sought the approval of the Israeli State Council to implement this code across all educational institutes in Israel. In the official site of the government2 regularly detailed the proposal for the ethic code that would have represented a major reform in the Israel Civil Service3. Bennett clarified that his proposal wasn’t intended to restrict academic freedom but rather to prevent lectures from being dominated by political agendas. Despite Bennett’s assurances, numerous professors opposed the code, viewing it as a direct infringement of their academic liberties. They publicly rejected the proposed code, asserting that the government lacked the authority to dictate acceptable expressions within academia.
The new ‘ethics code’ proposed by the Israeli government formalizes what is often an implicit policy. The updated ethical code incorporates guidelines for professional conduct that reflect ethical norms and address contemporary needs and technological advancements. These guidelines aim to define the expected conduct for civil servants, both professionally and ethically, serving as a guiding compass to fulfill their intricate and vital responsibilities in office management. This proposal represents an evident assault to Israel’s academic freedom by the part of those who should safeguard it through legal and institutional provisions.

Credits: Joshua Hoehne, Unsplash

Given the circumstances it is essential to understand more about the aspects of academic freedom in Palestine and Israel, by comprehending historical injustices, power dynamics and conflicting narratives. This comprehensive examination helps us understand the challenges that scholars, students and institutions face while emphasizing the role of education in promoting dialogue, reconciliation and mutual understanding to achieve peace and justice. We worked to create a report that could spread awareness about the situation of academic freedom in these countries as everyone should be able to express and pursue their knowledge freely. Every person aware of the situation helps to get closer to equality and human rights for everyone in Israel and Palestine.

In order to achieve the goal of our research, we are gonna provide a few useful resources to stay updated and aware of the current situation. The following ‘Linktree’ contains different sources, including our group’s research and other reports from the past, that are going to portray the concrete situation and to investigate the status of academic freedom inside a geo-political and humanitarian delicate framework.

Aurora Gastaldello is a student from University of Trento, studying ‘International Studies – Cooperation and Development’ at the Faculty of Sociology and Social Research.
Anna Braido Lusso is a student from University of Trento, studying ‘Comparative European and International Legal Studies’ at the Faculty of Law.
The article was written in the scope of a student advocacy project in support and spread awareness about academic freedom in Israel and Palestine. The project was part of the Jean Monnet Course on ‘Academic Freedom and Human Rights: European and International Perspective’ at the University of Trento.

Baruch, Uzi. “Universities Will Pass Ethical Code.” Israel National News, Israel National News, 23 May 2018, Accessed 23 Nov. 2023.
Gordon, Neve. “Palestinian Universities Are Once Again under Attack.” Al Jazeera, 15 July 2022, Accessed 15 Feb. 2024.
Haaretz . “Over 300 Academics Vow to Boycott New “Ethics” Code.” University World News, 17 Dec. 2016, Accessed 23 Nov. 2023.
“Israeli Warplanes Bomb Islamic University in Gaza.” Right to Education, 29 Dec. 2008, Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.
Kadari-Ovadia, Shira. “Israel’s Education Council Is Working against Academic Freedom, Tel Aviv University President
Says.” Haaretz, 27 Feb. 2023,
edom-university-president-says/00000186-9236-d525-a9ef-96be3b740000. Accessed 20 Nov. 2023.
Murphy , Maureen Clare . “Israel Isolates Palestinian Universities.” The Electronic Intifada, 11 July 2019,
University, Birzeit . “History of Birzeit University | PAS.”,
“Urgent Appeal: End the Siege of Birzeit University.” Right to Education, 1 Oct. 2001, Accessed 14 Feb. 2024.

  1. Oscar Ibrahim, Rachel Shabi and Mira Nabulsi, Aljazeera, 5th January 2009, from the interview of Majed Badra, 23, Gaza City, cartoonist and student at the Islamic University. ↩︎
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La redazione de l'Universitario è composta perlopiù da studenti dell'Università di Trento

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