Open Letter: Trinity Chaplaincy, Boycott Israel

Ciarán O’Rourke of TCD for Palestine calls upon Trinity Chaplaincy to cancel their Peace Pilgrimage to Israel


“Dear Rev Dr. Hamilton,

I’m writing with regard to the proposed Peace Pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine, and specifically in relation to the press release for the trip published on the Chaplaincy’s website. I’m afraid I find the emphasis and apparent message of this advertisement problematic for a number of reasons.

Based on the anecdotes told at the beginning of the Pilgrimage itinerary (of the Palestinian farmer, counterbalanced by the Jewish schoolchildren,etc), the trip seems to be organised on the assumption that Israel and Palestine are equally at fault for (and their respective communities equal victims of) the violence experienced in the Occupied Territories and wider area. Yet, frankly, I do not see how the adoption such a position can provide a constructive perspective on the situation in Israel and Palestine.

Illegal Occupation

As was affirmed in the advisory ruling of the International Court of Justice in 2004, Israel’s building of the separation wall and construction of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land is in violation of international law. The continuing abuses against Palestinian communities in the Occupied Territories, and indeed within Israeli borders, are provocations that only highlight Israel’s farther-reaching regime of coercion and control in the region — the conflict between Israel and Palestine must be understood in this context.

The TCD Chaplaincy website nonetheless suggests that the scale and nature of the violence perpetrated by the Israeli Defence Forces (with the cooperation of other security and construction/demolition networks) is somehow morally and materially equal to attacks by militant Palestinian groups. Yet the fact remains that in almost all cases, these actions by Palestinian groups occur in response (with comparatively rudimentary military materials, it should be acknowledged) to Israel’s invariably violent curtailing of Palestinian rights. The systematic nature of this process is indicated by Israel’s programme of occupation; home raids and demolitions; extra-judicial killings and impunity for settlers and soldiers; village clearances; the trying of Palestinian children before military courts; labour market, educational and institutional discrimination; the rationing of basic goods, medical materials, electricity and water to Gaza (which has been described as “collective punishment” by Ban Ki Moon and “incremental genocide” by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé); and a range of measures documented by Amnesty International and other groups.

As even a cursory glance at the reports issued by organisations such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights or Jewish Voice for Peace might suggest – Israel’s policies of occupation and discrimination against the Palestinian people are the root cause of the violence between the two communities. More than this, the Israeli State is the main perpetrator of violence in the conflict: week after week, and by military, economic, and institutional means.

Bearing all of this in mind, it strikes me that —regardless of the intentions behind the Chaplaincy’s pilgrimage, which I’m sure has positive potential — the portrayal of Israel and Palestine as being equally culpable for the occupation of Palestinian land is ultimately to the benefit of the TCD authorities as well, at least in one respect. It allows the university to pretend to have a balanced perspective in its own institutional stance on the matter – organising trips to both communities – while still carrying on with academic business as usual. TCD has already taken a side in the conflict in the form of its recent research affiliations with Israeli scientific, academic and even security institutions such as The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, The Israeli Security and Counter-Terrorism Academy, Elbit Security Systems, and others.

Murder of Civilians

This was never clearer to me than in July 2014, during Israel’s full-scale bombardment of Gaza in which schools, homes, and hospitals were targeted and 2,200 people killed — mainly civilians, and including hundreds of children. Midway through that 50-day assault, I was shocked to read of TCD’s glamorously publicised co-hosting of an academic conference in Dublin with the Weizmann Institute of Science. I later learned that the Weizmann Institute has heavy research and funding ties to Israel’s military sector, and is listed by the monitor organisation Nuclear Threat Initiative as having an “operational” nuclear physics and development facility (which is also recorded in Avner Cohen’s investigation of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme, published by Columbia University Press). In the face of such devastation being wreaked on Gaza, such academic affiliations seemed utterly callous and removed from the reality of Israel’s aggression, which they were and still are.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has observed, in a campaign action also endorsed by over 200 South African academics in 2010:
“Israeli universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice…While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation.”

Boycott, Divest, Sanction

The fact is that TCD’s lucrative academic ties to Israeli institutions legitimate Israel’s systematic assault on Palestinian rights and freedoms – including academic freedoms – and should not be ignored or whitewashed away, especially under the pretense of adopting a balanced institutional position. Furthermore, these academic ties fly in the faceof Palestinian civil society’s call for boycott and divestment measures to be taken against Israel by the international community, and for the continuation of such measures until Israel’s policies of aggression and collective punishment against the Palestinian people are brought to a close.

BDS is a non-violent movement with peace as its goal and a respect for the rights and wishes of civil society groups in Palestine at its core. My concern is that the Chaplaincy’s pilgrimage — certainly as it is framed and described on the Chaplaincy website — will only deepen the misconceptions surrounding Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and will thus serve to further excuse the authorities in TCD from taking an effective moral stance for peace, justice, academic accountability and leadership.

Opposing apartheid

Incidentally, TCD took exactly this moral stance once before in the past in relation to apartheid South Africa, and did so not by recognising that “listening [to all sides of the story] is the only thing you can do”, but by effecting a full academic boycott against South African universities until equal rights were introduced and the abusive and discriminatory policies of the South African State were brought to an end, in compliance with international law. With the willpower of students, staff, and other members of the campus community – including the college Chaplains – TCD can and should make the same gesture again, this time for Palestine.

Yours sincerely,

Ciarán O’Rourke, a member of TCD for Palestine.”