Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Are Universities Valid Military Targets?

As I was reading through the news about the latest on the Gaza crisis, something that might not interest many caught my eye. Specifically, the decision by Israeli warplanes to bomb a university in Gaza.

To many this may not seem like that significant a deal, and I am sure that there can be numerous reasons for deciding to bomb a university. It is likely a hotbed of support for the Hamas militants, it provides a reasonable shelter and can likely be used for the construction of rockets, bombs or other such things.

The materials available to a normal university in the western world are quite significant and many are quite dangerous so it wouldn't surprise me if in the Gaza strip sympathetic professors or university staff would use the normal requisitioning of materials to obtain chemicals or tools that could be useful in the construction of rockets. Of course, this assumes that the Israeli blockade hasn't starved the university of any useful materials whatsoever.

However, there's something about bombing a university that just doesn't feel right. A university is to be a place of learning and education, where ideas can be freely discussed and exchanged without fear or repercussion. In many ways it is also a 'way out' for many young people; earning a degree provides the hope for a better job with better wages, or even the opportunity to travel abroad and continue their studies elsewhere.

Now, not having been to the university in Gaza I can't tell you for sure that that is what it was. But destroying it would be akin to destroying the hopes of thousands of young people and in the long term would only perpetuate the despair felt by many in the Gaza strip.

Even if peace were to come to the area it would require the investment of millions of dollars just to begin to rebuild the university. And even if the university is rebuilt, few professors would willingly put their research in a place where it might be obliterated by a bomb either and have their graduate students killed or maimed.

The decision to destroy a university has long term impacts that should be considered, and I hope the Israelis have done so.

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