Call to Action for Finnish Higher Education Institutions, Scholars and Students Based in Finland

Disclaimer: This call to action was written by a group of scholars and students in Finland who wish to remain anonymous due to the academic repression of Israel’s critics in Europe. While it was not written by Raster, we thank them for publishing it.

SuomeksiPå svenskaبالعربية

”Conflicts happen because of real reasons and interests– political, economic and social reasons– and not because someone was born Jewish, or Muslim, or Christian. We should know this as the basis of scientific thinking and analysis.” – Leila Khaled

Following the recent events in Palestine, people around the world have been appalled and enraged about the crimes committed at the hands of the Israeli occupying power, and as a result, have taken to the streets to demand justice for Palestinians. Starting from May 2021, we have observed the forced displacements of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah by Israeli settler organisations working with the Israeli government, the violent raids inside Al-Aqsa mosque against unarmed Palestinian worshipers by Israeli occupation forces during Ramadan, Israel’s bombing in the densely populated Gaza, the colonial oppression of Palestinian citizens of Israel, as well as the demolishing of homes in Silwan.

As a result, people around the world have been marching in thousands to demand justice for Palestinians. In Finland, there have been protests in all major cities including Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and Oulu, with hundreds of protesters attending. The protests have made it clear that what is happening currently is nothing new nor unique, but that it is part of the systematic process of dispossession, displacement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people that has been ongoing for over 70 years since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and the apartheid regime it has imposed.  

As Rashid Khalidi (2020) puts forward, “the modern history of Palestine can best be understood in these terms: as a colonial war waged against the indigenous population, by a variety of parties, to force them to relinquish their homeland to another people against their will”. Therefore, the relationship between Israel and Palestine is characterized by settler colonialism: “a persistent social and political formation in which newcomers/colonizers/settlers come to a place, claim it as their own, and do whatever it takes to disappear Indigenous people that are there” (Arvin, Tuck & Morrill 2013, p.12). In Palestine, “the political embodiment of Zionist colonialism (namely, the Zionist settler-state of Israel) is characterised chiefly by three features: (1) its racial complexion and racist conduct pattern; (2) its addiction to violence; and (3) its expansionist stance” (Sayegh 2012, p. 215).

Protesters in Finland have demanded the Finnish government to stop the arms trade with Israel (see ICAHD Finland, 2010; Vasemmisto, 2020), to pressure the government of Israel to end its illegal occupation, and to recognise the state of Palestine. The protests have also reiterated the fact that in no way does a temporary ceasefire signifiy self-determination and liberation for the Palestinian people, but that the campaign must continue until we put an end to the brutal siege and colonialism.

As recently as last November, Finland celebrated 70 years of diplomatic relations with Israel, indicating also the ongoing character of the Nakba (or “the catastrophe”). For the occasion, the Embassy of Israel in Finland commissioned a video with Finnish celebrities exceptionalising Israel and whitewashing the colonial history and violence of the settler state. While pro-Palestine protests in Finland are not new, there has been a general complacency from Finnish media and institutions with regards to Palestinian struggle for liberation. This complacency paired with Finland’s recognition of and trade with Israel is akin to Finnish scholar Ulla Vuorela’s conception of “colonial complicity”. Indeed, she writes that: 

Even if we were not at the heart of the colonial conquests, there are several links that connect us at least with the kind of knowledge that arose in the context of, or even in support of, the colonial projects. Even if we were not colonial subjects, the argument can be made that our minds were ‘colonised’ into an acceptance of colonial projects, and we took on board the then ‘universally’ accepted regimes of truth” (Vuorela 2009, p.21).

In recognising and trading with Israel, Finland accepts and enables the settler colonial project that is Israel and the ethnic cleansing of Palestians that it requires.

Finnish universities and Israel

Thus far, with the exception of the Statement in Solidarity with the Palestinian People released by researchers, research groups and staff at Tampere University and signed by over 130 people thus far, Finnish universities, academic departments and a majority of scholars have been overwhelmingly silent on Palestine (a few scholars have signed the Free Palestine Call to Action for Finnish Art and Culture Institutions online but, to our knowledge, have not yet publicly mobilised their universities, departments, colleagues and students to support Palestine in their own fields). This general silence has prompted some to question the commitment of notably postcolonial, anti-racist and decolonial scholars to decolonization on Twitter:

Such critique makes visible that for these scholars, decolonization becomes an empty signifier, adopted superficially and made into a metaphor. In their popular essay “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor”, Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang (2012, p. 7) underline that “decolonization in the settler colonial context must involve the repatriation of land simultaneous to the recognition of how land and relations to land have always already been differently understood and enacted; that is, all of the land, and not just symbolically.”

Finnish universities, scholars and students may think that what goes on in Palestine does not concern them, although as we have previously shown, Finland is complicit in the occupation of Palestine by recognizing the state of Israel, trading, and being in diplomatic relations with it. Universities, including Finnish ones, are not innocent either. As Sami scholar Rauna Kuokkanen argues, having functioned as an instrument of colonisation and the displacement of Indigenous peoples historically, contemporary universities embody and reproduce “epistemic and intellectual traditions and practices of the West through discursive forms of colonialism” (Kuokkanen 2007: 14) This, in turn, controls the production of discourse within the boundaries of dominant discourses – i.e. “exclusively Western or Eurocentric canons, standards, and notions of knowledge and research that serve certain values and interests while excluding and marginalising others” (Kuokkanen 2007: 15).

In order to demonstrate the significance of Palestine for Finnish academia and the relevance of solidarity with Palestine for Finnish scholars and students, the authors of this call to action have researched some of the connections between Finnish higher education and Israel.There are various ways in which Finnish universities and scholars contribute to Israeli settler colonialism. Here is a non-exhaustive list:

Courses and curriculums: Offering courses on Israel, including Zionist literature on course curriculums, deliberately avoiding and ignoring Palestinian scholars’ academic contributions and reproducing the discourse that Israeli settler colonialism is a “two side” conflict rather than a violent system of domination perpetrated by Israel.

For example, Åbo Akademi offers four courses in English on Israel and the University of Helsinki offered a course entitled “Israel-Arab Conflict”. If, as Edward Said (1992) argues, “to call the place Palestine and not, say, Israel or Zion is already an act of political will”, the reverse is equally true. Having courses on “Israel” is a political act that subscribes and substantiates the existence of “Israel” and negates the existence and realitiy of Palestine and the Palestinian people.

  • Collaboration with Israeli universities in research projects and exchange programmes: The majority of Finnish universities have exchange partnerships with Israeli universities on stolen Palestinian land. For example, the University of Helsinki has bilateral agreements with two universities in Israel with student, researcher and teacher exchange agreements. The University of  Turku also has two active student exchange agreements and the University of Jyväskylä  recently announced the strengthening of their collaboration with Israeli universities.
  • Student and/or research visits to Israel: Sending students and researchers to Israel and/or Israeli universities as part of research projects and/or for pedagogical purposes. For example, in 2017, the Department of Theology at Abo Akademi sent 16 undergraduate students to Israel for a tour experience led by David Gurevich, a scholar who describes the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement as antisemitic and silences Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation. 
  • Researchers and teachers’ ignorance on Palestine and/or bias on Israel: Reproducing dominant (Zionist) discourses on Israel and Palestine through ignorance or active support of Israel. Researchers and teachers hold significant power when it comes to the knowledge(s) that circulate about Palestine and Israel. Therefore their position requires a responsibility to be informed and to use this power in ethical ways to move us towards freedom.

    For example, some scholars who teach in Finnish universities and ascribe to Zionism will silence any critique of Israel coming from students by calling it “anti-Semitic”. As international law and international relations scholar Richard Falk argues,  “to follow the Israel Lobby in “playing the anti-semitic card” to insulate Israeli policies and practicies from scrutiny is to do two serious disservices. Firstly, to deflect justifiable criticism of Israel despite its policies of long-term dispossession and oppression that have made Palestinians “strangers” in their own land, and secondly, to muddy the waters of anti-Semitism by confusing hatred of Jews with disapproval of Israel’s behavior” (Falk 2017, p. xvii). 
  • Collaboration and partnerships with Israeli businesses and/or businesses that support the occupation in Palestine: For example, the University of Helsinki had G4S, a company that supports occupation in Palestine, as its official security company responsible for guarding the university up until 2015. As Voima magazine noted, “security company G4S has supplied equipment and personnel to prisons in the West Bank and Israel where political prisoners are being tortured” (Voima, 2014).

Reading this call to action is a first step away from innocence and ignorance. Scholars and students should feel compelled to look up their universities’ connection to Israel and demand that their universities, colleagues and teachers divest from them. Universities, research centres, departments and faculties should write statements in support of Palestine, condemning Israeli occupation and do their utmost to not only disengage from any relations with Israel, but also actively seek to support Palestinian liberation, which includes Palestinian scholarship. We are notably compelled to ask how the ways in which we research (or don’t), teach (or don’t) Palestine in Finland contributes (or not) to the more than survival of Palestinians and to the working conditions of our colleagues in Palestine?

In his famous text “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Paulo Freire urges us to think about the relationship between knowledge and liberation for the oppressed:

Who are better prepared than the oppressed to understand the terrible significance of an oppressive society? Who suffer the effects of oppression more than the oppressed? Who can better understand the necessity of liberation? They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity” (Freire 1996, p. 27).

In light of all of the preceding information, we demand that academics in Finland sign the “Palestine and Praxis: Open Letter and Call to Action” and commit to the following:

“In the classroom and on campus, we commit to

  • Pressuring our academic institutions and organizations to respect the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel by instating measures that remove complicity and partnership with military, academic, and legal institutions involved in entrenching Israel’s policies. 
  • Supporting student activism on campus, including, but not limited to sponsoring joint events and holding our universities’ accountable for violations of academic freedom.
  • Highlighting Palestinian scholarship on Palestine in syllabi, our writing, and through invitation of  Palestinian scholars and community members to speak at departmental and university events.
  • Extending the above approach to any and all indigenous scholars within the university, and any Indigenous communities within the vicinity.
  • Centering Indigenous analyses in teaching and drawing links to intersectional oppression and transnational liberation movements. 

In our research, we will actively 

  • Include Palestine as a space and place worthy of substantive and historical integration into critical theory, not only as a case in a list of colonial examples.
  • Work to engage methods which highlight and elevate the voices and experiences of the places and moments we study over our own positions.

In places where we reside, we will 

  • Support community efforts and legislation to pressure our governments to end funding Israeli military aggression.”

“Nothing less than Palestinian self-determination will do” – Edward Said

Reference list

Arvin, Maile, Tuck, Eve, and Morrill, Angie. (2013). Decolonizing Feminism: Challenging Connections between Settler Colonialism and Heteropatriarchy. Feminist Formations 25(1), 8-24.

Falk, Richard, A. (2017). Preface. In William I. Robinson & Maryam S. Griffin (Eds), We Will Not Be Silenced: The Academic Repression of Israel’s Critics. London: Pluto Press, pp. xi-xviii.

Fanon, Frantz. (2001) The Wretched of the Earth. London: Penguin Books.

Freire, Paulo. (1996). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin Books.

Khalidi, Rashid. (2020). The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: A History of Settler Colonial Conquest and Resistance. London: Profile Books.

Kuokkanen, Rauna. (2007). Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes, and the Logic of the Gift. Vancouver and Toronto: UBC Press.

Said, Edward. (1992). The Question of Palestine. New York: Vintage Books.

Sayegh, Fayez. (2012). Zionist Colonialism in Palestine (1965). Settler Colonial Studies 2(1), 206-225.

Tuck, Eve and Yang, K. Wayne. (2012). Decolonization is Not a Metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society 1(1), pp. 1-40.

Voima. (2014, April 18). Näkökulma: Helsingin Yliopistonkatu vartiointifirma tukee miehitystä Palestiinassa. Voima. 

Vuorela, Ulla. (2009). Colonial Complicity: The ‘Postcolonial in a Nordic Context. In Suvi Keskinen, Salla Tuori, Sara Irni, and Diana Mulinari (Eds), Complying with Colonialism: Gender, Race and Ethnicity in the Nordic Region. Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 48-74.

Additional resources

Decolonize Palestine website

BDS student solidarity 

BDS – Five actions you can take against apartheid

Palestinian Feminist Collective’s pledge that Palestine is a feminist issue 

Kohl: a Journal for Body and Gender Research Teach-In “Palestine is a Feminist and Decolonial Issue!” (sound recording)

Gender Studies departments in solidarity with Palestine      

Queer Liberation and Palestine 

The Funambulist’s “Learning with Palestine” issue

Settler Colonial Studies special issue “Past is Present: Settler Colonialism in Palestine”

Haymarkets Books “Free Palestine!” A reading list

Pluto Press’ “Israel/Palestine” reading list

Verso’s “Palestine Must Be Free” reading list 

Noam Chomsky’s lecture “Israel and Palestine” at Clark University (USA) on April 12th, 2011

Steven Salaita’s lecture “BDS and the Modern University” at Trinity College Dublin on September 11th, 2017

Ahlam Muhtaseb’s lecture “Decolonizing Knowledge on Palestine” for TEDx on January 7th, 2021