Stephen Hawking letter: Some facts on Israel and Palestine

By 20 scientists (see list on letter page), 27 April 2013

[Back to the Letter Sent to Prof. Stephen Hawking]

In our letter to you we make reference to a range of aspects of Israel’s treatment of Palestine and the Palestinians. Our descriptions there are necessarily abbreviated, and this note provides a little more detail.

Discrimination against Palestinians

Israel systematically discriminates against the Palestinians who make up 20 per cent of its population in ways that would be illegal in Britain. Thus, for example, Jews anywhere in the world with no previous connections to Israel may freely settle there and bring their Jewish relatives with them. By contrast, Palestinian citizens of Israel may not sponsor the immigration of any relatives outside Israel, nor, if they marry a non-Israeli Palestinian or other Arab, can their spouse join them or even visit them in Israel.

This is typical of Israeli policy. A recent report of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, lists “more than 50 Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures.” ( A racially based system like this does not deserve to be called a democracy.

Systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law

In October 2007, Professor John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, found that the separation wall “violates norms of international humanitarian law and human rights law, according to the International Court of Justice”. He went on to say that “settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention; checkpoints violate the freedom of movement proclaimed in human rights conventions; house demolitions violate the Fourth Geneva Convention; the humanitarian crisis in the West Bank, brought about by Israel’s withholding of Palestinian tax money and other violations of international law, violates many of the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As in Gaza, Israel’s actions constitute an unlawful collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” (UN GA, A/62/275, para 42)

In April 2008, Dugard’s successor Professor Richard Falk compared the treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi record of collective atrocity, because of Israel’s collective punishment of the people of Gaza. (

In June 2010, Navi Pillay, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, said of the blockade of Gaza, which still continues, “International humanitarian law prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and…it is also prohibited to impose collective punishment on civilians. I have consistently reported to member states that the blockade is illegal and must be lifted.” (

Illegal settlement

Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – the 22 per cent of historic Palestine left to the Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948 – has inflicted further injustice upon the refugees who fled there. Since 1967, when the occupation began, Israel has systematically transferred Jewish settlers into these territories. The British government website states: “Our position on Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is clear: they are illegal under international law, an obstacle to peace and make a 2-state solution harder to achieve.” (

Israeli leaders have taken to calling these territories ‘disputed’ rather than ‘occupied’. They have placed large areas off-limits to Palestinians on the pretence that they are needed for Israeli military exercises. This leaves barely 8 per cent of historic Palestine under Palestinian control, and official Israeli maps now indicate that, aside from Gaza, all the occupied territories lie within Israel. In view of the fact that Israel has occupied them for nearly half a century and appropriated the land, water and other resources, they are to all intents and purposes a part of Israel. But Israeli officials refuse to confirm this, since to do so might oblige them to accord the inhabitants civil and political rights. Instead, they maintain a system akin to South African apartheid, with the Palestinians relegated to fragmented Bantustan-like communities and constrained by checkpoints and pass laws.

Access to higher education

It is hard enough for Palestinian citizens of Israel to gain access to higher education, on account of their economic disadvantage, the special treatment Israeli universities give to students who have completed their military training, a category that generally excludes ‘Israeli Arabs’, and other institutional obstacles. It is harder still for Palestinians within the occupied territories to gain access. Israeli authorities

  • repeatedly close Palestinian colleges and universities, sometimes for weeks at a time,
  • place roadblocks in the way of access,
  • refuse faculty and students permission to travel abroad,
  • deny foreign academics the right to visit or remain in teaching posts,
  • bar all exchange between West Bank and Gaza universities,
  • indirectly starve the Palestinian education system of funds by undermining the local economy and withholding tax revenues they collect on behalf of the occupied territories.

While Israeli universities go from strength to strength, Palestinian universities struggle on, under-funded and largely cut off from the wider academic world.

For more detail on these and other aspects of Israel’s policies:

The Palestine Information Center

Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel

International Solidarity Movement

Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum

B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories

Israeli Peace Bloc

Breaking the silence: Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories

Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

[Back to the Letter Sent to Prof. Stephen Hawking]

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