|Construction resumed in the settlement or Ariel after the moratorium on building ended in September [GALLO/GETTY]
At least 165 Israeli professors have declared a boycott against a contentious college in the occupied West Bank, deepening an internal rift over the expansion of Israeli settlements there.
Organisers of the boycott said on Sunday that the academics signed a petition stating they are unwilling to undertake any activities at Ariel University Centre, because, they said, Ariel is an "illegal settlement" intended to prevent Palestinians from establishing an independent state.
"Ariel is not part of the sovereign territory of Israel, and we therefore cannot be required to go there," the petition reads.
Ariel, a settlement of 19,000 people, lies deep inside the West Bank, and the Ariel University Centre of Samaria, with its approximately 8,500 students, is situated inside one of the larger settlements of the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians - who claim all of the West Bank, seized in 1967, as part of a future independent state -refuse to negotiate while Israel builds homes for Israelis on captured territories.
Some 300,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to 200,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem.
Petition signers criticised
Nir Gov, a professor at Weizmann Institute of Science, who organised the boycott, said the goal is not to punish the college's student body - which includes many Arabs - but to hasten the end of the occupation.
"I have two young daughters and I want them to grow up in a democratic, free Israel," Gov said.
"The occupation of millions of Palestinians without any human rights is really destroying it."
Gov added that others have declined to add their names to the petition for fear of retribution by Israel's right wing.
The petition was opposed by an umbrella group of Israeli university presidents and the hawkish political party Yisrael Beitenu.
Gideon Saar, Israel's education minister, condemned the boycott in a statement, calling the petition a "provocation", and Ron Nachman, Ariel's mayor, told Israeli radio that the more academics boycott, the more he will build up the settlement.
Boycotting the boycotters
Israeli academics themselves have been subject to boycott calls from colleagues in Britain and Spain.
Israeli officials have angrily said such efforts are counterproductive and go against the ideals of academic freedom.
In 2010, more than 150 Israeli artists boycotted a new performing arts centre in Ariel, with 60 Jewish artists from the UK and UK signing on the Jewish Voices for Peace petition stating the same.
Also, hundreds of professors signed a petition opposing the college's upgrade to university status.
The continued growth of Jewish settlements is at the heart of the current impasse in Mideast peace efforts.
The latest round of peace talks broke down in late September after an Israeli freeze on most settlement construction expired.