Palestine has had to contend with Israel’s systematic obstruction of education: from enforced closures, campus raids, and the oppression of individual students and teachers, including arbitrary arrests and detention without trial
The fundamental right to education is enshrined in international law. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsstates: “Everyone has the right to education,” while also decreeing that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”. The challenges currently being faced by Palestinian universities mean that this universal right is being severely compromised in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT).
As an occupying power, the state of Israel, is obligated to ensure that civilians under occupation are not denied their basic human rights. The fourth Geneva Convention makes it clear that occupying powers are subject to substantial obligations, including the general welfare of the population – which includes access to education – and that forcible deportation is forbidden. While it is widely accepted by the international community and its governments that Israel continues to violate the fourth Geneva Convention, Israel itself – although a party to the convention – denies that it applies to the OPT, maintaining its dominance of every aspect of Palestinian society.
What does this all mean for Palestinian universities today? A substantial issue is freedom of movement: the vast network of checkpoints, the separation wall, settler-only roads and the settlements themselves, which impel Palestinians to take ever-more circuitous journeys to their destinations. When I spoke to research analysts at Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organisation based in Ramallah in the West Bank, they highlighted the daily impact that this has on regular access to education. Severe delays can mean missed classes; a 20-minute journey can easily take more than two hours. But the cumulative effect, as many academics and students point out, is more insidious: the thousands of otherwise productive hours lost in checkpoint queues, and the levels of anxiety and stress this causes.
Meanwhile, for decades, the education sector – schools as well as universities – has had to contend with Israel’s systematic obstruction of education, from enforced closures, campus raids, and the oppression of individual students and teachers, including arbitrary arrests and detention without trial. According to Sam Bahour, a former board member of Birzeit University and co-founder of the Right to Enter campaign, a grassroots organisation that defends the rights of access, movement and residency in the OPT, it’s important to see this assault on education as part of a broader picture of Israeli oppression of Palestinian lives and a determination to stifle the natural growth of a society, not to mention the emergence of a Palestinian state on the ground.