Education Under Occupation
By David Kattenburg
Universities are engines of higher learning – generators not only of individual human growth, but of national development and prosperity. No one knows this better than little Israel – home to some of the most prestigious universities, and the highest percentage of university-educated people in the world.
Universities do more than just teach. On lands where they sit, students and faculty come to exercise a sort of sovereign claim. Israel knows this full well – an awareness made plain in its dealings with Al-Quds – a Palestinian university in East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities would love to see not-so-little Al-Quds move out or just disappear.
Listen to Al-Quds’ story here:
Why would a nation so highly reputed for its wisdom and love of education bid an established university anything other than the utmost success? The answer is simple: Jerusalem belongs to the Jews. In the minds of the Zionist leaders who run Israel these days, non-Jews must be blocked from establishing a foothold or expanding their presence in Jerusalem, and those that are there would best be convinced to leave. The Holy City, home to almost 300,000 Muslims and Christians (over a third of Jerusalem’s population), must be — in Zionist lingo — Judaized.
In pursuit of this worthy goal, since its 1967 seizure and annexation of Arab-dominated East Jerusalem, Israel has demolished thousands of Palestinian homes. Palestinians stripped of their property rights have had their belongings tossed onto the street and their homes handed over to Jewish settlers. Building permits and municipal services have been denied. Arab neighborhoods have been bisected by new roads connecting Jewish settlements within greater Jerusalem and across the Green Line dividing “Israel proper” (1948 Israel) from the occupied West Bank.
As far as Al-Quds (“Jerusalem”) University is concerned, Israel refuses to formally accredit it or acknowledge its degrees. When Israel’s Separation Wall snaked its way through this area in 2003, it split Al-Quds in two: consigning the campus’ core in the Abu Dis neighborhood of East Jerusalem to one side, its inner Jerusalem colleges and Jerusalemite students to the other. Under pressure from US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Israeli authorities agreed to move the wall a bit to the west. The rude concrete barrier continues to pose problems for ambitious little Al-Quds and its fifteen thousand students.
In spite of the ugly concrete barrier, Al-Quds manages to thrive. It’s nothing short of a miracle, faculty and students say, but Al-Quds’ successes haven’t been entirely otherworldly. Capable administrators and academics have managed to forge collaborative ties with sympathetic Israeli colleagues, within some of Israel’s most prestigious universities. Al-Quds’ foreign partners include America’s Brandeis University and Bard College, and Canada’s University of Western Ontario.
Having heard about Al-Quds’ woes, I decided to go visit. Fortunately, just before heading out in a taxi from the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s old city, I realized I had forgotten my passport. Al-Quds may sit on the margin of Israel’s “Eternal Capital,” but Abu Dis is located in the so-called “West Bank,” within Oslo Accords “Area B” (Palestinian civilian control; Israel security control), separated from Jerusalem by Israel’s Separation Wall and a couple of military checkpoints. Without my passport, I’d be in deep shit. I rushed back to my hotel room, grabbed the vital document, and returned to my taxi for a tortuous, forty-minute journey all around Jerusalem – a trip that would only have taken ten minutes if the city were as “united” as Israel says it is.