This summer, while a college in one of Israel’s largest US-funded colonies illegally built on Palestinian lands was upgraded to the status of public university, Arizona celebrated the 150th anniversary of its own territorial land-grant university, which was first established as a settler college in the heart of the Mexican-indigenous Southwest. Both items of news should strike rousing chords in people around the world who oppose settlement and military occupation of indigenous communities.
On July 17, the Council for Higher Education in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories voted to certify the Ariel University Center (AUC) as Israel’s eighth public accredited university. The decision made AUC the first Israeli university beyond the “Green Line”—the international boundary within which Israel continues to occupy Palestinian territories (Gaza, West Bank, East Jerusalem) seized during the 1967 regional war, in violation of international law.
Just more than three weeks earlier, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer issued a state memorandum to “recognize and celebrate” the 150th anniversary of the federal act which allotted a land-grant eventually establishing the University of Arizona. In the latter half of the 19th century, the area was known as the “Arizona Territory,” a series of remote settler outposts isolated from the rest of the US due to the presence of “hostile Apache” Native Americans, the detachment from country-wide railroads, and the absence of an independent economy. The advent of a public university system was part of the territory’s turning point into an established part of the "civilized" United States.
A "victory for the settler movement”
The news of university status in Ariel was reported internationally as “a significant victory for the settler movement.” The movement’s leaders, with US funding, have been seeking to further entrench the settlements as a permanent, immovable force dominating what they religiously refer to as “Judea and Sumaria” (also the name designated by Israel’s military occupation forces), and the university lends much needed credibility to the effort.
The University of Arizona was founded on even greater spoils following the American settler movement’s own landmark victory in acquiring the modern-day US Southwest. Between 1836-1853, the US government and its settler movement, through both force and coercion, seized numerous territories from Mexico including what now makes up Arizona, California (the foremost coveted prize of US expansion), Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. In his book, Arizona: A History, leading Arizona historian Thomas E. Sheridan thoroughly traces this golden age of settlements riding on the coat-tails of war and conquest and calls it "the most monumental land grab in North American history.”
A “celebration day” for settlers
The 19th century Arizona settlers (like their kindred spirit Jan Brewer) had much to celebrate and look forward to with federal grants to stolen land. Likewise, today, in the wake of Ariel’s upgrade, the settlement’s founder and mayor, Ron Nachman, told the BBC, "Today should be a celebration day" because “Ariel is a university city," subject to state funding and academic legitimacy. Israeli government finance and education ministers earmarked hundreds of millions of essentially land-grant funds for the university.