BEIRUT—The protracted Israeli occupation, blockades and continuing conflict have severely compromised access to education to Palestinians, whether they have Israeli citizenship or are refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
That was the message of speakers at a recent webinar organized by the Centre for Education and International Development at the UCL Institute of Education, University College of London.
The webinar, titled “Palestine Under Attack: The Assault on Palestinian Education,” held on May 26, highlighted the impact on education of the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, which killed at least 219 people, including 63 children and 36 women, damaged 50 schools across the besieged strip and forced the displacement of more than 40,000 people who sought shelter in schools. (See a related article, “Palestine’s Education Institutions Are Victims of Conflict Again.”)
Speakers said the right to education for Palestinians is constantly undermined by Israel’s “apartheid colonial” education policies, attacks on educational establishments, confiscation and censorship of educational materials, segregation, and control over curricula for Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied territories.
Haidar Eid, an associate professor of postcolonial and postmodern literature at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University, said Israel has systematically targeted civilian areas in Gaza and reduced whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble.
“No electricity and no clean water for days,” Eid said. “Can one imagine the impact on my students? We are approaching the end of our semester, but I don’t know how they are supposed to study.”
“No electricity and no clean water for days: Can one imagine the impact on my students? We are approaching the end of our semester, but I don’t know how they are supposed to study.”Haidar Eid
An associate professor of literature at Al-Aqsa University
“Since 2007 we have been living under a hermetic medieval siege which makes life impossible for students,” he said, referring to the land and sea blockade that Israel, along with Egypt, has enforced on Gaza since Hamas took control. “I reached the conclusion that Israel is intent on destroying Gaza as world official bodies and leaders choose to say and do absolutely nothing.” (See a related article, “For Gaza’s Besieged Universities, Reform Is Low on the Agenda.”)
Eid compared the situation in Gaza to the former apartheid regime in South Africa, which was globally boycotted for its policies against the native population.
“I teach traumatized students,” he said. “Because the education system is part of society, our students are paying a very heavy price. As a result, students’ well-being, performance and completion rates are severely affected, which has negative implications for their future prospects.”
Even before the latest offensive, the state of education in Gaza has been in a dire state, largely due to Israel’s ongoing blockade. The blockade chokes the education system by restricting the movement of people and goods. Construction materials for schools, books, textbooks, and pencils are repeatedly denied entry into Gaza, and a lack of fuel means frequent power cuts. Consequently, almost half of Palestinian students do not meet the basic learning outcomes set as goals in international benchmarks.
Suppressing the Palestinian Narrative
Another speaker, Jamila Hussein-Shannan,highlighted Israel’s control of Palestinian formal education and knowledge production and dissemination as a tool for eliminating the Palestinian narrative.
“The elimination of Palestinians comes physically through killing and forced displacement, and symbolically, through education,” said Hussein-Shannan, a scholar, activist and public speaker dedicated to socio-economic and political justice. “The Israeli authorities even imposed censorship over the curriculum that the U.N. uses for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.”
The elimination of Palestinians comes physically through killing and forced displacement, and symbolically, through education.”Jamila Hussein-Shannan
A scholar, activist and public speaker
In the West, Palestinian students and academics have seen their freedom of research, speech and funding curtailed, and any language that would actually reinforce their existence and identity censored.
“One student in the U.S. had his dissertation stalled for two years because he refused to refer to the Israeli military as Israeli defense forces,” Hussein-Shannan said. She added that “destruction is also happening at the hands of the cultural agents of the Zionist state through discourse, language and research that help Israel position itself sometimes as a victim, sometimes as a hero and sometimes as a survivor.”
All reading materials, books and periodicals destined to Palestinians’ education system have to be approved by the military censor. Any reference to the Palestinian question, roots, or cultural heritage is systematically censored, and teachers are not allowed to use any supplementary material to enhance the curriculum.
‘Segmentation and Segregation’
Ayman Agbaria, a researcher, a poet and activist in Haifa, focused on “the sophisticated regime of control and discipline” through which the lives of Israel’s Arabs are administrated.
“Segmentation and segregation of Palestinians in Israel is one tool of secular colonialism,” he said. “The Palestinian community is isolated from significant contact with the Jewish community and divided into sects.
“Segmentation and segregation of Palestinians in Israel is one tool of secular colonialism, The Palestinian community is isolated from significant contact with the Jewish community and divided into sects.Ayman Agbaria
A researcher, a poet and activist in Haifa
“They are referred to as Druze, Christians, Moslems, Bedouins of the north or Bedouins of the south in an attempt to impose the mentality and consciousness of being divided. The idea of being Palestinian is being shattered through textbooks and educational practices.”
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Arab students follow different curricula than their Jewish counterparts, creating a huge gap between them in terms of quality of education and available resources, Agbaria added.
“They are marginalized, disempowered and colonized,” he said. “We, as Palestinian educators, end up struggling with the meaning of being a Palestinian in a state that defines itself as a Jewish state.”