This week marks the beginning of Right 2 Education Week: an international student led campaign of events and action, instigated by Birzeit University in the West Bank, aimed to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinian students, teachers and academic institutions and the many obstacles they face on a daily basis in their quest for education.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘Everyone has the right to education’ yet Palestinians living under military occupation are being systematically denied this basic right. In the West Bank and Gaza, occupied since 1967, there are today 11 universities, 5 university colleges and 25 community colleges. These universities have had a history of becoming sites of resistance so since their establishment have become targets of the Occupation.
Barriers to Education
The construction of a 730km wall since 2002 (declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004) annexing half the West Bank creates a system of gates and permits that imprisons Palestinians; separating them from land, jobs, healthcare and education. With gates only opened at specific times, the delay to the commute of students and teachers significantly paralyses the hopes of an education as we would know it. Students and professors are specifically harassed and humiliated at checkpoints, often immobilised for hours then denied access or arbitrarily arrested. Women in particular are routinely harassed by soldiers in ways that infringe on their religious beliefs
Direct attacks on educational institutes are another crippling tactic. During ‘Operation Protective Edge’ of this year, 118 schools were damaged and 22 destroyed, most notably was the prestigious Islamic University of Gaza which was completely destroyed by Israeli missiles. Birzeit University has been closed by military order fifteen times, the longest closure lasting 4.5 years (1988-1992) during the first Intifada. Many students face arrest and detention for political activism. Since 2003, 480 Birzeit University students have been imprisoned; currently, 80 are held in Israeli prisons, more than half of whom (42 students) have yet to be formally found guilty of any charge.
Despite boasting equality Israeli schools and colleges with a higher proportion of Palestinian Israeli citizens receive markedly less government funding. Students and professors alike are denied the right to freely express any criticism of Israel’s state policy for fear of dismissal, incarceration and intimidation. There has also been shown to be a pro-Israeli bias within the curriculum of schools and colleges where textbooks often redesign history and promote Zionistic ideals which claims divine rights over the land and essentially legitimises the expulsion of the Palestinian people. In 2012 schools in East Jerusalem were required to purchase and teach textbooks prepared by the Jerusalem Education Administration, a body of the Israeli ministry of education.
Face to Face with the Facts
As a preliminary event to r2e week campaign KCLAP hosted a Skype session event on November 13th which allowed students and academics, including Dr Hanada Kharma a teacher of Human Rights and Democracy at Berzeit University, to share with us their story and the day to day trials they face. They spoke of the Qalandia checkpoint, in the West Bank, delays students for up to 5 hours daily who can expect to wait through 5 checkpoints per journey.
Dr Kharma implored us to Boycott Hewlett Packard and their involvement in production of the microchips integrated into the Israeli ID System that restricts movement of Palestinians whilst tracking the location of students in the West Bank.
Jehan Al-Farra, a Palestinian graduate and activist, who now studies in the UK gave us an insight into the distinctive issues of education in an area besieged; the Gaza strip. She spoke of the lack of a Gazan economy and her desire to promote reviving one through internet based entrepreneurship, such as creating websites, programming and graphical design, and so pursued a degree in Computer Science. Like in the West bank, the Gazan’s aspirations to study what they want, where they want are obstructed by the Israeli regime. It is now near impossible for a Gazan student to study in the West Bank. There were 350 Gaza students at Birzeit University, near Ramalla, in 2000 but many were deported, and those who were not remained in the West Bank ‘illegally’, at risk of deportation at any instant. In 2005, the number had diminished to 35 Gaza and today the number stands at zero.
Free Education Demo
We strongly feel the right to education is one that all of humanity shares. Whilst there are massive parallels between the struggles of the Palestinian people and people wishing to pursue higher degree education here in the UK, we are first and foremost activists and any unfair impediment to education is one we are compelled to speak out against. Many of you reading this blog post are likely KCL students and many of you I imagine share the same dilemmas I did following the three fold rise in tuition fees.
On the 19th of November KCLAP joined over 5000 students at the Free Education national demo here in the street of central London, with the main ethos being ‘No Fees, No Cuts, No Debt’.
Right 2 Education Week #R2E
We are currently in the final days of R2E week. With stalls throughout the week at Guy’s and Strand Campuses from 11am to 3pm, our aim is to remind you of a form of oppression that you are unlikely to hear on the news. We hope you can join us tomorrow on our last day of the week and leave a message of solidarity. I leave you with a quote:
“Palestinian education and propaganda are more dangerous to Israel than Palestinian weapons.”
Ariel Sharon (Israeli Prime Minister 2001-2006)
By Kamil Mahmood (KCLAP Committee)
Photography by Mariya Hussain