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How Can Arab Academics Support the Palestinian Cause? Professors Offer Ideas

“How can Arab academics support the Palestinian cause?” Several Arab professors recently discussed this topic in a panel discussion organised by Al-Fanar Media as part of its series to address issues and challenges confronting Arab higher education.

The panel was held on December 11, more than two months into the war that Israel launched on Gaza on October 7, in response to surprise attacks the Palestinian group Hamas had carried out against Israeli targets.

Participants’ suggestions included calling for networking with other academics around the world who support the Palestinian cause, and working to educate younger generations on taking up the issue on knowledge-based grounds, developing their skills in critical thinking and logical argumentation, and directing them away from aggression or insulting “the other.”

Mohammad El-Hawary, editor-in-chief of Al-Fanar Media, moderated the discussion.

Hanan Youssef: Academics at the Forefront

Hanan Youssef, a professor of media and dean of the College of Language and Communication at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), said: “For a long time, the common mental image of academics was that of people isolated in their ivory towers, and of people reluctant to contribute practically in various arenas, feeling satisfied with what they provide in research production or communication with their students. In fact, Arab academics are now at the forefront of fighters in this fierce battle that affects not only Palestine, but the entire Arab existence.” 

حوارات «الفنار للإعلام»| كيف يمكن لأساتذة الجامعات دعم القضية الفلسطينية؟
Hanan Youssef, a professor of media and dean of the College of Language and Communication at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT).

She added: “I think it is time for all academic groups to come together, each according to their specialisation, to prepare objective case files that document [violations of] Palestinian rights, and submit them to the International Court of Justice, with the aim of having the crimes committed against the Palestinian people deemed to be acts of racial genocide. Only an academic expert with reason and logic can handle such files.”

“I think it is time for all academic groups to come together, each according to their specialisation, to prepare objective case files that document [violations of] Palestinian rights, and submit them to the International Court of Justice, with the aim of having the crimes committed against the Palestinian people deemed to be acts of racial genocide.”

Hanan Youssef, a professor of media and dean of the College of Language and Communication at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AASTMT)

Talking about the role of the media in raising awareness of the Palestinian cause, she said that Arab academics urgently needed to invest in digital media to direct their speech to the West, and to address others in different languages. “This does not only mean to address the West in western languages, say English or French, but also, and most importantly, is to convince others with argument and logic. This requires a reading into the formation of the Western personality itself, and understanding its religious, moral, legal, value-based, and doctrinal principles.”

Maha Bali: Explaining Palestine to Children and Youth

Maha Bali, a professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, talked about how to make an organised and systematic effort to educate children and youth about the Palestinian cause.

“When I was a child, I used to hear about Palestine on television all the time, in an intensity that today’s children do not find, neither on television nor in educational programs, both Arab or international,” said Bali. “Children are also vulnerable to hearing a very biased part of the story through Western media.”

“We need to teach students to engage in meaningful, non-aggressive dialogue with others, to respond to others with respect, valid argument, and information, and to understand well the point of view from which they are coming.”

Maha Bali, Professor of Practice at the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo

Bali thinks it is important to talk to young people of all ages, even children at an early age. “We can tell them the story in the form of a person entering another person’s house and kicking him out,” she said, “so that the children feel, from an early stage, the meaning of the story, in a way they can understand.”

As for talking to young students, Bali stressed the importance of teaching students how to engage in meaningful, non-aggressive dialogue with others, how to respond to others with respect, valid arguments, and information, and to understand well the point of view from which they are coming.

حوارات «الفنار للإعلام»| كيف يمكن لأساتذة الجامعات دعم القضية الفلسطينية؟
Maha Bali, Professor of Practice at the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo.

She said it was also important to pay attention to Edward Said’s writings and stressed the need to understand the other’s point of view and history in order to debate with them. She also drew attention to the efforts of Steven Salaita, in comparing what is happening in Palestine and what happened with the Native American population. “This approach is more understood by the West,” she explained. 

Lina Meari: The Academic as an Organic Intellectual

Speaking from Palestine, Lina Meari, an assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Birzeit University, in the West Bank, said: “When talking about Arab academics, I assume we are talking about them as organic intellectuals who are engaged and interact with the challenges facing their society and people, who are specifically preoccupied with the issues of the oppressed and marginalised in society, and siding with just causes. Here came the Palestinian cause as a country and a people.”

“Talking about Arab academics, I assume we are talking about them as organic intellectuals who are engaged and interact with the challenges facing their society and people, who are specifically preoccupied with the issues of the oppressed and marginalised in society, and siding with just causes. Here came the Palestinian cause as a country and a people.”

Lina Meari, Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Birzeit University

Meari emphasised the importance of going beyond indoctrination when addressing the Palestinian cause in Arab universities, and with Arab students. She thinks that the cause should be presented in a dialogic manner that links the Palestinian cause to the lived reality within other Arab countries. She explained: “Education must build critical awareness among the Arab students to confront the counter-media machine.”

Meari also referred to the writings of Paulo Freire, particularly his “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. She said educational institutions had a role in working on emancipatory education, that is to provide education that simulates the challenges and needs of an emancipatory society.

How Can Arab Academics Support the Palestinian Cause? Professors Offer Ideas
Lina Meari, Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Birzeit University

“There must be a liberation knowledge production that is engaged with reality, not neglecting the role of resistance that has the ability to open the imagination of the existing possibility of liberation,” she said. “There must be a history of anti-colonial resistance, not only in Palestine, but in the rest of the Arab countries, and all locations, and to link between them.”

Malak Zaalouk: Building Alliances, Addressing Fallacies

In turn, Malak Zaalouk, director of the Middle East Institute for Higher Education at the American University in Cairo’s Faculty of Graduate Studies in Education, said that Arab academics can advocate for the Palestinian cause on two fronts: building alliances with pro-Palestinian voices in the West, and critically addressing fallacies in the prevailing discourse on the Palestinian cause.

“It is not a war of Muslims against Jews, nor a religious war, but a war of a colonial entity against an oppressed people. … We cannot compare the Palestinian resistance to ISIS, we can rather compare it to the French resistance.”

Malak Zaalouk, Director of the Middle East Institute for Higher Education at the American University in Cairo’s Faculty of Graduate Studies in Education

Zaalouk, the first Egyptian to head the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, stressed the importance of building alliances with pro-Palestine voices in the West. “There is a group of individuals within the Zionist entity, and in the West, who are supportive of Palestine,” she said. “We must strengthen the bonds of alliance with them. There must be research and joint dialogue with global organic intellectuals, because their voice is heard. We must bet on the outside, and bet on the presence of these organic intellectuals in the West and ally with them.”

She explained: “I have been emotionally sympathetic to the cause since early childhood, but my first influential reading about it was by Felicia Langer and Ilan Pappé, who are pro-Palestine Israelis.”

Zaalouk thinks that academics also have a role in scrutinizing and addressing fallacies. She stressed that this was not a war of Muslims against Jews, nor a religious war, but “a war of a colonial entity against an oppressed people.”

How Can Arab Academics Support the Palestinian Cause? Professors Offer Ideas
Malak Zaalouk, Director of the Middle East Institute for Higher Education at the American University in Cairo’s Faculty of Graduate Studies in Education.

She added: “The concept of resistance must also be scrutinised against the concept of terrorism. If the West is prepared to call the French resistance during Nazi colonialism terrorism, then it can talk about terrorism in the Arab world. … We cannot compare the Palestinian resistance to ISIS, but we can compare it to the French resistance.”

Zaalek also called for scrutinizing the concept of conflict. “It is not a conflict between two existing states that have a history and a neighbouring existence and are fighting over a piece of land, for example,” she said. “These fallacies hide the reality, and the West is accustomed to repeating them.”

You can watch a recording of the full panel discussion on Facebook and YouTube. You can also sign up for our newsletter to be able to attend our future panel discussions.

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