OUTKA: Checking education for Palestinians

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in his poem “Ulysses,” extols the reader “To follow knowledge like a sinking star/Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.” To be a Palestinian university student, however, is to be limited in that quest, for how can one follow knowledge when there is a checkpoint in the way?

Simply put, being a student in the West Bank or Gaza is a fundamentally different experience from being a student in the United States. There were over 600 checkpoints in the West Bank as of 2009. Yet this statistic, high as it is, does not convey the sheer scale of the physical barriers that students may encounter, since it does not include partial checkpoints, roadblocks or military posts.

Nor does it indicate the adverse effects of the Wall, the separation barrier constructed by the Israeli government, which bifurcates the West Bank and currently blocks 15,740 students’ routes to school. The Qalandya checkpoint near Birzeit University detains students for an average of one to two hours daily. All Birzeit students who do not have Israeli state IDs run the risk of deportation or imprisonment whenever they pass through a checkpoint.

Fifty-seven percent of students at An-Najah National University in Nablus have to pass through at least one checkpoint when commuting to school. In a survey conducted by Birzeit, 91 percent of an-Najah students reported having arrived late to class because of delays at checkpoints, while 84 percent admitted that they had skipped class altogether because they did not want to undergo the frustrations and delays of travel.

In Gaza the situation is more dire still; the Israeli government prohibits Gaza’s Palestinian residents from studying in the West Bank — which contains more and better universities. Those residents are also denied access to universities in Israel or in Egypt.

Such restrictions on movement constrain the actions of faculty as well as students. From May 2006 to September 2007, there was a 50 percent decrease in the number of Birzeit faculty who held foreign passports, since any Palestinian with a foreign passport can be denied entrance into the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Thousands of such Palestinians have been turned away at the border since September 2006.

Also, the psychological effects of such obstructions do not show up in these statistics. Rita Giacaman, a professor at Birzeit University, has argued that the daily humiliation students experience at checkpoints has lasting adverse effects on their mental health. In his comparative study of Bosnian and Palestinian youth, University of Tennessee professor Brian K. Barber found that Palestinian youths’ families were more frequently humiliated and verbally and physically abused at home, at school and in transit.

For example, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers have ordered young men at checkpoints to remove their clothing and women to take off their headscarves. Preserving Israeli security by conducting these types of searches at Israel’s own border crossings would make sense. But checkpoints within the Occupied West Bank serve no such security role — they don’t control access to Israel proper. They do, however, protect the property and well-being of the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers living there — Israelis whose settlements, it must be noted, are illegal under international law.

But what of the security of Palestinians? Israeli settlers committed 222 acts of violence against Palestinians in the first half of 2008 alone. According to a UN report, such violence has risen, with more casualties in 2011 than in either 2009 or 2010. The same report states that 90 percent of these crimes went unpunished. Not only can settlers avoid prosecution; they are also not subject to the same intense searches at checkpoints as Palestinians.

The checkpoint system is part and parcel of a security apparatus that safeguards Israelis while ignoring Palestinian security almost entirely. It violates the dignity and circumscribes the freedoms of millions of Palestinians for the sake of half a million illegal Israeli settlers — something which is fundamentally discriminatory. The question is not one of security, but of whose security and at whose expense.

Jacqueline Outka is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and the events coordinator for Students for Justice in Palestine. Contact her at jacqueline.outka@yale.edu.

Comments

  • Arafat

    I understood the checkpoints and security fence were built by the good will created by the ever-so-noble Palestinians as seen here:

    http://www.adl.org/Israel/israel_attacks.asp

    I understand the following man is a guest lecturer at the Univeristy of Ramallah:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl12Zqa18Yk

  • Arafat

    “…University of Tennessee professor Brian K. Barber found that Palestinian youths’ families were more frequently humiliated and verbally and physically abused at home, at school and in transit.”

    Wow. What won’t they study on our college campuses.

    Wonder how the Palestinian youth’s experience compares to that of the youths in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iran, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Lebanon, Mauritania, and other Muslim countries where education (outside of memorizing the Qur’an) is held in such high regard.

  • Arafat

    “The checkpoint system is part and parcel of a security apparatus that safeguards Israelis while ignoring Palestinian security almost entirely. It violates the dignity and circumscribes the freedoms of millions of Palestinians for the sake of half a million illegal Israeli settlers — something which is fundamentally discriminatory. The question is not one of security, but of whose security and at whose expense. “

    This is not completely true as the checkpoints also protect Israelis in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere.

    For without the checkpoints who is so naïve as to believe that the West Bank won’t become just another southern Lebanon or Gaza – a land littered with rockets all aimed at Jews. Certainly not I, for I am no cynic, and I know that given the opportunity between a rocket, a good Jewish provided education and peace which choice the Palestinians will make. After all they’ve proven it time and time again. Kabooom!!!

    More to the point, last I’d heard Israel gave up their settlements in Gaza in exchange for peace not in exchange for rockets. But so it is and so it goes.

  • Yale12

    I continue to be astounded by the fact that the Jewish people, who are perhaps the most oppressed in history, can continue to turn a blind eye to the oppression and suffering they inflict on Palestinians. I know many Jews who love to claim (for example, with the Gilad Shalit incident) that the Jews are uniquely compassionate because of their history. Does this compassion not extend beyond people that share their genetic makeup?

    • River_Tam

      I continue to be unsurprised by the fact that liberals consider self-defense and self-preservation in response to multiple unprovoked wars waged against a nation to be anything other than morally righteous.

  • Arafat

    Yale12,

    The Jews can only aspire to be as compassionate as the Muslims.

    As seen here: Sarc/off.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX6vyT8RzMo

    And here:

    http://frontpagemag.com/2009/12/08/the-persistence-of-islamic-anti-semitism-by-robert-spencer/

  • gzuckier

    It is sad that college kids have to undergo this at a time in their lives when they should have other things on their minds; however, in the interests of completeness, it should also be noted that the West Bank and Gaza had no universities after 20 years of rule by Jordan, but currently, after 40 years of Israeli occupation, have about 10.

  • ignatz

    The Palestinians could have had a state of their own many times over. But they prefer to hate and kill Jews instead. Their own leaders and their own terrorist actions have brought about the current situation. Anyone who has compassion for them has misplaced priorities. And anyone who blames Israel for their situation should re-check his moral compass.