UBC collaborates with Israeli university in archaeological field study

Students express concern for UBC partnership with controversial Israeli university

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This is a photo of a large water fountain in the middle of a UBC courtyard. The fountain has the words “University of British Columbia” written around the outside. Students are walking around the courtyard.
PHOTO: Prerita Garg / The Peak

Editor’s Note: The Peak is in communication with UBC to include their statement in this article. A statement was not previously included due to a miscommunication between UBC and The Peak. Additionally, explicit attribution was added for Isber Sabrine’s comments in an Al Jazeera article.

By: Olivia Sherman, News Writer

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is leading an archaeological excavation in Israel during the summer of 2024, training students in field study methods and the history of the region. The program is in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI), which has received criticism for its treatment of Palestinian students, militarization of its campus, and retaliation against anti-zionist protests and sentiments. The summer program is led by Gregg Gardener, a UBC professor and alumni of HUJI. 

The Peak received a tip from an archaeology student enrolled at UBC, who discovered this program while browsing UBC’s field study courses. “I genuinely love going to school here,” the source said in an interview. They stated they are “disappointed but not surprised” with UBC’s involvement with HUJI.

“Given how much money and effort UBC has put into, at least on the surface, appearing to care about Indigenous rights and issues,” the student said it’s “egregious” how UBC is “failing to recognize the same systems of settler colonialism.” The student also noted how this “academic tourism” seems like “a really bad idea, that doesn’t seem safe for students, if nothing else. It’s an active warzone.” 

While Hamas, the militant organization that has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007, killed over 1,200 civilians and kidnapped another 240 — the Israeli government’s retaliation against the October 7 attacks have been condemned worldwide as a genocide against the Palestinian people. Over 25,000 civilians have been killed by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), with many more wounded or missing. Survivors of the recent conflict, reaching 117 days at time of writing, are subject to starvation, infection, and brutality from members of the IDF. On December 29, South African lawyers launched a case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) claiming the IDF is “genocidal in character” and that Israel’s actions breach the clauses of 1948’s Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Several more countries have since defended South Africa’s claims in the ICJ, such as Bolivia, Colombia, Jordan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Namibia, Pakistan, and Turkey. The ICJ ruled that Israel’s actions could amount to genocide, and issued measures to prevent such from happening. The court ruling did not officially call for a ceasefire. 

One genocidal act being internationally reprimanded is the destruction and targeting of Palestinian cultural sites, the oldest of which dates back to 10,000 years ago. Nearly 200 sites deemed archaeologically, historically, and culturally significant have been destroyed since October 7. South Africa references these attacks in its lawsuit against Israel in the ICJ, stating “Israel has damaged and destroyed numerous centres of Palestinian learning and culture,” such as religious sites, museums, libraries, and other places of historical importance. The 1954 Hague Convention, which Israel agreed to, was meant to protect these sites in times of war.

“What is happening now is a war crime. It goes against the first Hague convention,” said Isber Sabrine in an interview with Al Jazeera. Sabrine is the president of Heritage for Peace, an international non-governmental organization that documents cultural heritage. “Israel is trying to erase the connection of the people with their land. It’s very clear and intentional. Gaza’s heritage is part of its people, its history. and their connection.”

This erasure took place far before October 7. Bilal Toprak, a faculty member of Duzce University in Turkey, has highlighted Israel’s intent to erase Palestinian heritage through an archaeological lens, using “archaeology as a weapon of colonization, denial, and erasure.” Efforts to erase Palestine’s history spans from British colonial rule to the 1948 Nakba, to current date. 

The anonymous student also emphasized the significance of the area, noting the many different intersections of cultures in the Bronze age, such as the Greeks, Mesopotamians, and Romans. “Palestine has some of the most interesting archaeological history in the world,” they said. “It’s the sites that aren’t being explored, it’s the sites that are being destroyed that we, as an institution, should be looking at.

“The Palestinian people have systematically had their culture and their heritage erased,” the source said, noting that the sites being destroyed could have told them more about the Palestinian culture other than being “occupied, terrorized, and brutalized.”

HUJI as an institution has also been accused of excessive militarization of the campus and academic environment and anti-Palestinian sentiments. A prominent Palestinian professor at HUJI, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, faced termination after she signed a petition campaigning for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The petition was published on October 26, and on October 28 the president of HUJI reprimanded her, stating in a public letter that “It is most appropriate that you consider leaving your job.”

UBC has also seen acts of anti-Palestinian sentiment on campus. Hillel BC is an organization for Jewish students across multiple campuses in BC, meant to promote religious, ethnic, and community belonging. However, stickers saying “I [heart] Hamas” were found across UBC’s campus. Hillel BC claimed in a social media statement that an “independent contractor” had put up these stickers, and said this contractor has since been fired. However, the stickers were originally falsely linked to UBC’s Social Justice Centre (SJC). Members of the SJC were subjected to bullying, harassment, and threats over these false accusations. SJC claims Hillel BC has not apologized for the incident. 

“It’s not just knowledge that’s lost, it’s these people’s ancestors and their ways of living. It’s just such a tragedy, and it really sucks that UBC’s actual archaeology program is partnering with a university that perpetrates this,” the anonymous student said. “Our learning [is] coming at the expense of people’s lives and culture.” 

 

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