Spain bans Ariel U. from int'l contest

Spain bans Ariel U. from

Citing "European Union political guidelines" regarding "occupied territories," the Spanish Housing Ministry has disqualified a group of Israeli academics from competing in a Solar Decathlon held every two years, because they are from the Ariel University Center of Samaria, located over the Green Line. Engineers, architects, solar experts and other students from universities around the world participate in the competition, which is organized by the US Department of Energy and has been held, until now, in Washington. Under a 2007 agreement between the US and Spain, however, the next decathlon is scheduled to take place next month in Madrid. The delegation from Ariel, which together with 20 other university selections has reached the competition's finals, worked for two years designing and building a self-sufficient house that employs solar power as its only source of energy, and uses half the energy needed to operate a regular house. The team was even given a grant of €100,000 to subsidize their project, called the "Stretch House" and said to be inspired by the "tent of Abraham," because it can expand to meet its owner's wishes. But despite all the hard work, the university received a letter from the Spanish government on Friday, disqualifying its team. "We would like you to know that an Israeli university would always be welcome to participate in this competition," the letter from the Spanish ministry read. "However, the fact that your center is actually located in the occupied territories, and being obliged to respect the European Union position in relation to this matter, we are forced to inform you that the continuation of your center in this competition will not be possible as from this date on." "As much as we regret this situation, we have no alternative but to observe the European Union political guidelines as far as occupied territories are concerned," the letter concluded. Additionally, a group called Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, which supported the Israeli team's disqualification, said it had done so as part of the academic boycott against Israel led by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign - an umbrella campaign aimed at "building and strengthening a global BDS movement." The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign said in a statement that it would continue to intensify its boycott of Israel and its institutions, including all of its universities, "until the occupation ends and Israel enables the fulfillment of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their original homes." Ariel University issued a sharp response denouncing the Spanish decision. "We reject with contempt the one-sided announcement that was received in our office from the Spanish Housing Ministry on the eve of the Rosh Hashana holiday, regarding the cancellation of our participation in the final stage of the Solar Decathlon 2010," the response read. "This anti-academic decision harms some 10,000 students who study at the university, including the 500 Arab students who study here, and particularly the Jewish and Arab students of the School of Architecture. "This decision, which is an expression of an illegitimate political struggle, blatantly violates international law and charters regarding academic freedom, which are being violated by this one-sided decision. The Ariel University Center, together with the Foreign Ministry, will use all means at our disposal to put an end to this spectacle." The university did receive one unlikely supporter - Prof. Pascal Rollet from France's École nationale supérieure d'architecture de Grenoble - who sent a letter to Ariel's staff in which he expressed support for the institution. "I want you to know that I personally disagree with the Spanish decision, since Ariel University's agenda is clearly oriented toward academic excellence for peace," Rollet wrote. "Please receive all my support in this difficult situation."