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Spain Throws Out Israeli University From Int'l Contest

The Spanish Government has disqualified the Israeli team from the bi-annual Solar Decathlon because the team is based in Samaria.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 9/22/2009, 11:30 AM / Last Update: 9/22/2009, 12:33 PM

The Spanish Government has disqualified the Israeli team from the bi-annual Solar Decathlon because the team is located in “occupied territory” - Samaria.  Engineers, architects, solar experts and other visitors to the Solar Decathlon will thus be denied the opportunity to study and benefit from the solar-powered energy-economical “Stretch House” designed and built by students of the Ariel University Center of Samaria.

The Solar Decathlon, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy, has taken place until now in Washington, D.C., but is to take place next month in Spain under the terms of a 2007 agreement between the U.S. and Spain.

The competition features 20 teams from universities around the world that have worked for two years to design and build self-sufficient houses using solar power as their only source of energy. The Israeli team even received a large monetary grant to subsidize the project. With the political elimination of Ariel University from the competition, the entire Middle East is left without representation in the Decathlon.

The Director-General of the Decathlon, Sergio Vega, announced, “The Ariel University is located in occupied territory in the West Bank, and the Government of Spain is obligated to respect the international agreement regarding this area.”

Ariel Rejects Decision
The Ariel University released a statement accusing Spain of violating international charters regarding academic freedom.

“We reject with contempt," Ariel announced, "the one-sided announcement that was received in our office from the Spanish Housing Ministry on the eve of the Rosh HaShanah [New Year] holiday, regarding the cancellation of our participation in the final stage of the Solar Decathlon 2010. The decision is the initiative of an organization called Architects for Justice for Palestinians [a daughter organization of the BNC; see below - ed.]… The Ariel University Center reached the final stage, together with 20 other leading universities around the world, after two years of working together with the management of the Decathlon and the Spanish Government. As such, we received a grant of 100,000 Euros from the competition organizers to build a 75-square-meter model house in the final stage.”

“This anti-academic decision harms some 10,000 students studying in the University Center, including the 500 Arab students who study here, and particularly the Jewish and Arab students of the School of Architecture. This decision, an expression of an illegitimate political struggle, blatantly violates international law and charters regarding academic freedom.”

Congratulating the decision was the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). It promises to continue and intensify boycotts of “Israel and its institutions, including all its universities, until the occupation/conquest ends and Israel enables the fulfillment of the right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their original homes.” 

Ariel University announced in response that “together with the Foreign Ministry and the Organization of Universities Against Academic Boycotts, we will take all measures to liquidate this phenomenon, which stands in opposition to all standards of scientific and academic freedom.”

French Support for Israel
Ariel received support from a surprising direction: Prof. Pascal Rolette, Dean of the School of Architecture in Grenoble, France, wrote to Ariel, “I do not agree with the Spanish decision, because the activity of Ariel University is designed towards academic excellence on behalf of peace. Accept my utmost support in this difficult situation.”

The houses must compete in ten contests: Architecture, Market Viability, Engineering, Lighting Design, Communications, Comfort Zone, Hot Water, Appliances, Home Entertainment, and Net Metering (producing as much energy as the house needs or, preferably, more).

The Ariel University students designed a building they call the “Stretch House.” Inspired by the "Tent of Abraham," the Stretch House is modular, versatile, welcoming and expandable according to its owner's wishes. In its closed state, when additional space is not required, it uses only half the energy necessary to operate a regular house, and when needed, it opens up - much like a modern tent – to include an extra room and more.

The interdisciplinary team of Ariel University students that worked on the project study in various faculties of the university, including Civil and Electrical Engineering, Mechatronics, Economics and Business Administration, Mass Media and Architecture.