Before I begin my post on my first few days at An Najah National University, I must just comment a bit on this photograph here, which is very hard to see and even harder to read the writing on the building, but it deserves a comment. I had to go back to Ramallah the other day and I waited for 2 1/2 hours to get out of Huwarra checkpoint. I noticed this building pictured above. In Hebrew, Arabic, and English the sign reads: “Humanitarian Post.” But this building is a building that the Israeli Aggressive Forces (IAF) use for something, god only knows what, while they are on duty at Huwwara. I’m wondering if the IAF understands the meaning of the word “humanitarian,” if it is a typo, or if they are just that stupid, or if they think those of us subjected to their colonial rule are that stupid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more offensive oxymoron in my life.
This in addition to a frequent numbers of IAF planes flying over Nablus. And last night, all over Palestine, but also in Nablus:
In Nablus, a number of Israeli military vehicles invaded the city. Troops searched several houses and took two civilians to an unknown detention center before they withdrew from the city.
This is daily life here.
Approximately 9,000 students, faculty, and staff endure Huwara checkpoint each day as they attempt to move from home to work/school and vice versa. Here are sme of the hard facts about what it means to be a professor or a student in Palestine, specifically at my new university:
Detentions and harassment:
* 3 Faculty members were jailed by the Israeli army between December 2007 and March 2008.
* Currently incarcerated:
– 7 academic members of staff including one Dean of Faculty
– 1 member of administrative staff
– About 80 students
* An estimated 9000 students (about 57% of the student population) regularly cross one or more checkpoint to reach the University and to return home. Some travel daily, but those further afield travel weekly or monthly.
*A study conducted by the Right to Education Campaign at An-Najah of the experiences of 28 students who regularly cross checkpoints revealed that men spend twice as long as women at checkpoints, with their waiting times ranging between 4 minutes and 90 minutes. The length of time spent waiting at checkpoints depended on the time of day. For both men and women, checkpoints are most crowded between 2pm and 4pm. This is because students are trying to get home after lessons, and want to catch public transport before it stops for the day.
* Students who live further afield have to pass through more than one checkpoint. For example, students who live in Bethlehem or Hebron, who travel weekly or monthly, have to pass through five checkpoints in each direction.
* In another study of An-Najah students, 95 of the 166 interviewed in depth regularly cross checkpoints. Their responses in the study revealed that 91% said they have missed classes because of delays at checkpoints; 84% said they have put off travelling or avoided travelling altogether because of checkpoints.
*Additionally, 64% reported they had been physically abused at a checkpoint; and virtually all reported feelings of anger and nervousness at checkpoints. These emotional factors give an indication of the state of mind of students who are forced to pass through checkpoints to access their higher education, which in turn has an impact on their ability to concentrate and study once they reach home.
* The study also revealed a trend of students avoiding checkpoints to speed up their journey home. This makes them vulnerable to detection by Israeli army patrols. Students have reported to us several cases of beatings and harassment when they have been detected by Israeli army patrols on their way around a checkpoint.
This is just the story of one university, but the link above can give you an idea about how these same problems affect all Palestinian universities. And yet those against the academic boycott seem to be offended that one’s privilege of academic freedom–that is for Israeli professors only, of course–be protected.
Another problem affecting students here, as indicated above, is the problem of being kidnapped and held as political prisoners. This is a problem for all Palestinians, to be sure, but youth are particularly targeted:
More than 4000 Palestinian children have been arrested since the start of the current Intifada on 28 September 2000. Today, there are 405 students still in detention camps and have been suffering all kinds of torture, bad treatments and living under difficult medical and psychological circumstances by Israeli army and intelligence.
According to recent statistics made by the ministry of education and higher education concerning the imprisoned children from both Gaza and the West Bank and were distributed as follow: 3 from Gaza and 384 from the West Bank, 19 from Jerusalem, 66 from Nablus, 41 from Ramallah , 38 from Hebron, 9 from South Hebron ,13 from Jenin,136 from Bethlehem, and 4 girls.
There are 11 Palestinian universities, Birzeit being the first, as I’ve written about in earlier posts. An Najah University has also had a long history prior to its emergence as a university:
An-Najah National University was established as An-Najah Nabulsi School in 1918.
In 1941 it became An-Najah College , and by 1963 it was functioning as a two-year community college. In 1977 it became An-Najah National University with Faculties of Arts and Science….
The university grew and advanced from this point forward constructing auditoriums, a library and a student center until it was declared a “closed military area” by the Israeli authorities in 1988. It was reopened in 1991 and has been fully functioning since.
Now there are two campuses–the old and the new. I teach on the old campus, but recently moved to the hill overlooking the new campus. The photos here are of the new campus as I haven’t had a chance to photograph the old campus yet.
Technically classes began on Sunday, but this week is drop/add week and so classes have not technically begun yet. At first I was confused by this as I didn’t know why students wouldn’t come to class, check out the professor, the syllabus and then make a decision about what classes they wanted to register for. But today I learned that this drop/add period has nothing to do with what classes one takes; rather it has everything to do with what classes one can afford to take. Students I see on campus are scrambling to find funds–donations, loans, work–so they can continue their higher education. It makes the university’s name–An Najah means “success” in Arabic–a challenge for students, not because of the institution, but rather because of all the barriers one needs to challenge in order to pursue one’s studies. Not only is money hard to come by for students, what one does after their education is equally worrisome. Already I’ve met a number of students who show me papers they want to fill out to try to get a Green Card so they can go work in the U.S. or visas for students who wish to study there. But herein lies another predicament for the Palestinian student: consider the fate of those hardworking Palestinian students who apply for and receive a Fulbright scholarship to continue their studies in the U.S. I reported earlier this summer about this situation for Gaza Fulbrighters. Some of those whose decision was reversed and who were allowed out of Gaza to travel to the U.S. to study, found that once they arrived in the U.S. their visas were revoked and they were deported:
Their prestigious Fulbright awards were first withdrawn, then reinstated, after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intervened personally with Israel.
US officials now say their visas have been revoked after “new information” was received about the scholars.
A fourth student was also refused entry to the US. No explanations were given.
“There were four Palestinians who were issued visas about whom we then received additional information,” State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said.
“We decided that we needed to take a closer and harder look at them in light of the additional information we received,” he said without disclosing where the information came from.
Mr Gallegos said the visas were cancelled “prudentially”, under a rule that allows visas to be rescinded based on information received after being issued.
The students – Fulbright scholars Zuhair Abu Shaban, Fida Abed and Osama Daoud, and an unnamed fourth person on a separate scholarship – could apply again in the future, he added.
One of the students, Mr Abed, had flown to the US and was sent straight back to Jordan after being told his visa was no longer valid.
What went wrong? Likely whatever IAF people here who could not stand up to the U.S. Consulate in Al Quds intervened and went above their head once the students touched down in the U.S. Here is one of the narratives of one of the students, Fidaa Abed, about his particular ordeal:
Last week, I landed in Washington, DC, brimming with optimism. Upon arrival, I was whisked into a separate room. An American official informed me that he had just received information about me that he could not reveal. However, it required him to put me on the next plane home. I was shocked. And I was taken aback at the cruelty of snatching away my educational dreams at the last possible moment.
My mistreatment was particularly unexpected because in late May, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice learned that I and six other Fulbright students were being stripped of our Fulbright scholarships, she leapt to our assistance. One by one, Israel let other Palestinian Fulbright scholars out of Gaza, and they made their way to American universities. Then I was mysteriously singled out for last-minute denial based on “secret evidence.” Two others had their visas canceled on account of secret evidence before they could even leave Gaza.
William J. Fulbright was the only US senator to vote against funding for Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities Committee. It is ironic, then, that my remarkable educational opportunity is being stripped from me on the basis of the sort of secret — and fabricated — evidence that Fulbright opposed in the hands of McCarthy. Unopposed, McCarthy destroyed lives. I do hope the US will side with the openness of Fulbright and not the fear-mongering of McCarthy.
Israel routinely locks up Palestinians based on secret charges. All sorts of outrageous claims can be leveled based on information that Israeli officials garner coercively. Could the secret evidence against me have been extracted through the torture of some young Palestinian? Was I even the one denounced, or someone with a similar name? Was my “crime” sharing a classroom or a lunchtime conversation with someone Israel believes poses a danger? I have no way of knowing, and thus no way of defending myself.
There is an organization that seems to be working on helping students from Gaza access their education called Trapped in Gaza. There are petitions to sign and things you can do to help.