By ABE SELIG, JPOST STAFF
The Spanish Housing Ministry has disqualified Ariel University Center from the international Solar Decathlon contest, on the grounds that the university is "located in occupied territories."
In a letter sent to the University Center, Javier Ramos Guallart explained that his ministry was forced to make the decision to ban the Israeli academics from the biannual competition to design a self-sufficient solar house, citing "European Union political guidelines" and the institution's location in Samaria.
The delegation from Ariel, which together with 20 other universities had reached the competition's final round, worked for two years designing and building a self-sufficient house that uses solar power as its only source of energy, and only half of the amount of energy needed to operate a regular house.
Despite their efforts, the institution received a letter from the Spanish government last Friday effectively disqualifying their team from the competition.
"We would like you to know that an Israeli university would always be welcome to participate in this competition," wrote Guallart in his letter to the college.
"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," continued the letter.
"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.
The team had been given a grant of 100,000 Euros to subsidize the project, which they called the "Stretch House." Team members said the concept was inspired by the "tent of Abraham", as the biblical dwelling was able to expand to meet its owner's wishes.
The competition, which includes the participation of engineers, architects, solar experts and other students from universities around the world, is organized by the US Department of Energy and has been held, until now, in Washington, DC. Due to the terms of a 2007 agreement between the US and Spain, however, the upcoming decathlon is scheduled to take place next month in Madrid.
A UK-based group called Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, who campaigned for the Israeli team's disqualification, said they had done so as part of the academic boycott against Israel led by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) - an umbrella campaign aimed at "building and strengthening a global BDS movement."
In a statement regarding the matter, BDS said that it would continue to intensify its boycott of Israel and its institutions, including all its universities, "until the occupation ends and Israel enables the fulfillment of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their original homes."
For its part, Ariel University Center issued a sharp response denouncing the 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 Hashanah 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 - Professor Pascal Rollet from the Ecole Nationale Superieure d'Architecture, in Grenoble, France - who sent a letter to Ariel's staff in which she expressed her support for the institution.
"I want you to know that I personally disagree with the Spanish decision since Ariel University agenda is clearly oriented toward academic excellence for peace," Rollet wrote. "Please receive all my support in this difficult situation."
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