Particles for Palestine: Physicists Call for Ceasefire Now!

To fellow physicists and other scientists around the world:

We write with utmost urgency to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and the dispatch of long-term humanitarian aid. We also write to express concern about attacks on the freedom to protest violence against Palestinians, as well as attacks on academic freedom of students and faculty expressing their concerns through speech, protest, and participation in the boycott, divest and sanction movement popularly known as BDS. Moreover, we want to highlight the visible absence of Palestinian physicists in our community and urge scientists to consider the reasons for this.

We believe that all life is sacred, and that the taking of life is a profound act that steals the future from an individual, their family, and their larger community. From the period marked by Palestinians as the Nakba and Israelis as its war for independence through the October 7 Hamas attack to the ongoing genocidal violence in Gaza and the West Bank, we mourn the enormous loss of life. We recognize that these deaths have not happened in a vacuum, but rather in a political environment where Jewish lives are typically more highly valued than Palestinian lives. We recognize also that Jews have experienced a long history of violent horrors, particularly in the context of Europe and its former settler colonies. Experiencing and witnessing violence is especially difficult for those of us who come from communities that have long been targeted by state and vigilante violence. We believe that violence deeply harms the perpetrator as well, and that lasting healing and justice cannot be obtained through further violence.

Ceasefire and Humanitarian Aid Now

It is in the context of this history that we have been horrified by the brutal and illegal targeting of the entire Palestinian population, ostensibly in retaliation for violence perpetrated by a small number of people. Palestinians have been subjected to large-scale forced migration, aerial destruction of entire neighborhoods including schools and essential food suppliers, deprivation of water and basic medical supplies, and doctors forced to operate on children without anesthetic. These actions are clear examples of collective punishment. Human Rights Watch states Israel is guilty of the human rights violation of persecution of Palestinians, and joins with Amnesty International and B’Tselem in finding the government of Israel responsible for the human rights violation of apartheid inside and outside its internationally-recognized borders. UN human rights experts have demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in order to prevent an incipient genocide, and we endorse this proposal.

We support the call for a ceasefire and demand that Israel and its allies immediately find a way to deliver humanitarian aid to the 2.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza strip, and that the ethnic cleansing of villages and military raids in the West Bank cease immediately.

Freedom of Protest and Academic Freedom For All Now

We have heard troubling stories about suppression and criminalization of anti-war protesters in Palestine, Israel, Germany, and France. We also know of at least one case where a Palestinian astrophysicist, Al-Quds University Professor Imad Barghouthi, was again arrested at home in the middle of the night and placed under six-month administrative detention, without charge. Barghouthi’s family reports that the soldiers who arrested him threatened to bulldoze their home if he resisted arrest.

This suppression of Palestinian science extends beyond the imprisonment of individuals, and impacts the entire population. Al-Azhar University and the University of Gaza, which train future scientists, have been severely damaged, and in at least one case likely entirely destroyed, disrupting learning opportunities for a generation and possibly beyond. The damage to these universities highlights for us a disparity in American science: the high number of partnerships between Israeli and American institutions while there are few similar relationships with Palestinian universities. The contrast is so stark that the American Physical Society executive sent out a letter co-addressed to members of the Israel Physical Society. No such message has gone out to our Palestinian colleagues. We call on our communities to think deeply about why most of us have few or no Palestinian colleagues, know few Palestinian researchers in our fields, and are not part of or employed by institutions with active partnerships with Palestinian academic organizations. In the past, Palestinian students in Gaza have also been repeatedly barred by Israel from attending physics summer schools organized in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, in the US students and professors are being harassed, doxxed, and fired for speech protected by academic freedom. For example, geneticist and UC Berkeley Professor Michael Eisen (who is Jewish) was fired from his role as editor-in-chief of an academic journal because of a satirical post on social media. These brazen attacks on academic freedom have a chilling effect on free exchange, with particular implications for Palestinian-descent students, as well as students of color for whom this violence is all too familiar and who may see their experiences as connected to Palestine through policing exchange programs. We reject the premise that criticisms of Israel – even of political Zionism – are always rooted in anti-semitism. We note that the Jewish diaspora is home to a variety of viewpoints and that internal debate within Israel is broad as well. We call on all institutions to respect this diversity of perspective from Jews and non-Jews alike.

We call on Israel and its allies, including leaders in the US and Europe, to respect the freedom of any individual or group to protest what they see as injustice, including through non-violent activities such as BDS.

Support Palestinian Scientists and Science Now

It is past time to ensure that Palestinians have access to the resources and opportunities needed to participate fully in the global scientific community, and we all have a role to play in advancing this change. This means ensuring that those working among us know that we value their lives and their communities, and it means that they have safe places to learn and work. Opposing genocidal violence and rhetoric is an important first step. Beyond that, educating ourselves about BDS – what it is and what it isn’t – is a valuable step toward supporting academic freedom. Our colleagues in the Palestine Academy for Science and Technology deserve our vocal support. Those wishing to get more directly involved can take the time to connect with the organization Scientists for Palestine, which actively works on strengthening connections and opportunities.

Therefore, we call on scientists around the world, as well our professional societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Canadian Association of Physicists, to take a strong position in support of: a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, Palestinian scientists and students, the right to non-violent protest, and academic freedom for critics of Israel. Concrete actions you can take in support of these aims include contacting elected representatives, organizing and participating in peaceful protests. We hope also that you will join us in opposing anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Jewish hatred at every turn. •

Particles for Palestine: Philip Argyres, Cyril Closset, Daniel Harlow, Seyda Ipek, Nabil Iqbal, Madalena Lemos, Mario Martone, Brian Nord, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Suvrat Raju, Carlo Rovelli, Nausheen Shah, Brian Shuve, Thomas Van Riet, Tien-Tien Yu.

Those who wish to join us in action can sign at Action Network. By signing at Action Network you give Particles for Palestine permission to share your name, as we have capacity to do so. We gratefully acknowledge Scientists for Palestine’s support in hosting the Action Network petition.

Despite global condemnation and outrage, the apocalyptic destruction of Gaza continues. Scientists for Palestine has been reaching out to all of our contacts in Palestine (both Gaza and the West Bank) and is working to build a large coalition to support the rebuild of the Palestinian academic community, currently in disarray.

Meanwhile, together with a number of courageous prominent physicists, we have launched out a petition calling all scholars, academics and scientists to support:

  1. An immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
  2. Defend academic freedom and the right to protest.
  3. As well as building collaboration with and a support network for our Palestinians colleagues (both faculties and students).

You can find the full text as well as the list of signatories here, sign the petition here and our social media posts are here and here.