(Not) Suppressing Academic Freedom in the Palestinian Authority


Fighting the lies of academic BDS is serious business, but I found out you can sometimes have fun with it. Pro-BDSers repeatedly write about how the security problems in “Palestine” caused by Israeli “oppression” impinge upon academic freedom at their institutes. I decided to explore how these same institutes would respond to a Canadian inquiring about the possibility of studying there. I used safety as one variable in measuring academic freedom since media presentations of life in the Palestinian Authority emphasize lack of safety for normal people living there.

Excited and surprised by the candid responses I got from the contact person at An-Najah National University regarding their Arabic for Non-Natives Programme (click here to read the article), I decided to see what kinds of responses I would get from other universities. Of course, I am limited in the programmes to which I can apply since I know no Arabic.

I wrote to three other universities that had programmes for English speakers. All three responded.

Is It Safe at Birzeit University?

academic freedom in the Palestinian Authority
Birzeit University campus. By Kawi Transfered from Arabic Wikipedia by:Nasib Bitar 14:00, 22 February 2008 (UTC) (ar:wikipedia) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
Birzeit University, located in Ramallah, has a summer camp programme. They refused to tell me anything about the safety of attending, even though I sent a follow-up mail telling them I could not apply before I could tell “my parents” something comforting about the security situation, especially in view of the fact that the oppressive IDF had invaded campus and carried out a search and took some students into custody.

The only thing I got out of them was this:

We cant predict whats the situation will be at that time. We hope it will be safe at the preparation and camp time.

Is it Safe at Bethlehem University?

academic freedom in the Palestinian Authority
Bethlehem University. Facebook screenshot of their cover photo from Feb 2016.

Bethlehem University offers an Arabic summer course for foreigners. I wrote the course director to inquire about the security issues and safety of spending a summer in Bethlehem. Here is his response:

We can do nothing against fear of parents. This job of explanation to the parents was and still the most difficult job for me.
I give you some information and then you decide what to do.
Since the establishment of the institutions hundred of students came from different countries and nothing happened to anyone of them.
No one can guarantee that Paris, America or any other country is saver than here in these day.
At the end it is personal issue. If one is careful he could survive everywhere.

He does have something there – nobody can guarantee you will be safe from terror attacks in Paris or America these days. Now just who is it we have to thank for that, I wonder?!

Is it Safe at the Arab American University in Jenin?

academic freedom in Palestine
Screenshot from Home Page of The AAUJ Website

Finally, I find the response to my detailed email to the Arab American University in Jenin (AAUJ) particularly interesting. And not only regarding the issue of safety. I inquired about the possibility of studying for a masters degree in conflict management at that institute:

I am completing my BA degree in Political Science in Canada and your MA programme in conflict resolution looks fascinating. I have a few questions before I consider sending in an application to study at your university:

– The website provides descriptions of the courses but does not give the names of course lecturers and the list of instructors on one of your pages includes only three names. Are there additional faculty members? The website also mentions that foreign lecturers present classes – is it possible to know who these lecturers are and if they are coming for only a few lectures or if they are teaching an entire semester course?

– Is your university recognized internationally, meaning – after I complete a Master programme at your institute how hard will it be for me to gain acceptance to a doctoral programme back in Canada or the USA?

– I suppose I am not alone in being concerned about the security situation. We hear so much in the media about how Palestine is unsafe – with horrid experiences at checkpoints and with the Israeli army invading university campuses. My parent are,of course, very concerned about this. What can I tell them to ease their worries?

Thank-you very much,

And here is the response I received from a high-level administrator in the Faculty of Graduate Studies:

We are very pleasure to hear from you and this is to let you know that we are kindly thank you for asking about these important questions.

Firstly, Master of Conflict Resolutions and Development is a unique program in Palestine and based on helping the Palestinian graduate students to acquire theoretical knowledge, basic skills, enough qualifications and critical capabilities in this vital emerging field. This program is aiming at deepening the serious academic and research work in theory as well as in reviewing different global experiences that link conflict with development.

Secondly, we have a highly qualified academic and experts that entire regularly in this program that come from different disciplines such as: political science, sociology and law. Further, the specialty of the program is its partnership nature that brought AAUJ with Coventry University in Britain.

Thirdly, yes this program recognized as internationally and you dont need to worry about that. so, you can surely complete your PhD after you are finishing master degree. So, tell your parents that you will be in safe hand here.

Thank you again for interesting to join this program and do not hesitate to contact me for any further information.

Based on this response alone, I think the rug is pulled right out from under academic-BDSer’s feet. Not only am I being reassured that it is safe in “Palestine”, but AAUJ even claims that they have highly qualified academics and experts teaching in their programme and international recognition of its graduate degree.

Academic Freedom in the Palestinian Authority Versus BDS Claims

If we put this together with David Collier’s article  on “Palestinian” NGO duplicity regarding the so-called realities of living under so-called Israeli occupation” as presented to world media, on the one hand, and to potential volunteers, on the other hand, then we must conclude that it is safe in the PA, at least as safe as in Paris or America. In my earlier article, my contact at An-Najah University in Nablus said that the media exaggerates and that life in the PA is normal. That suggests that academic freedom in the Palestinian Authority can be taken for granted as long as the university and/or its students desist from engaging in activities that are considered to threaten the security of Israel.

Unless, of course, these universities are lying to foreign students who take an interest in attending (and paying tuition fees, of course) and telling them it is safe when it is not. You cannot have it both ways – claiming academic freedom is suppressed in order to demonize Israel and then claim that it is not when you want to attract foreign students.

This post first appeared on Israel Diaries.

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