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Higher Education, Knowledge and Power in the OPT

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Islamic Studies
ISLA 210
Laila Parsons

FEBRUARY 29, 2012: Higher Education, Knowledge and Power in the OPT Guest Lecturer: Vincent Romani  Structure: 1. The surprise of a Palestinian higher education 2. Occupation versus confrontation management 3. Oslo's paradoxes applied to higher education 4. Globalization, autochthony, and autonomy  The accumulation of layers of knowledge about the Arab world is set in a colonial frame, which doesn’t contradict the validity of its knowledge, but tells us how biased the research and information could be. It is orientalist knowledge.  Example: An orientalist priest visiting Nablus, town in the West Bank to study the habits and social dynamics of the Palestinian society in 1925. He noted the “laziness of the Arab women,” displaying the bias.  What is the meaning of studying the Middle East from the Western world? It has implications. Social science is very sensitive to the way the question is framed. It is a fragile discipline.  The occupied Palestinian territories has a huge amount of higher education, although it is most described as an entrapped or conflict area with the struggle and stresses of the citizens.  The population was destroyed by the 1948 conflict and the 1967 conflict, but their higher education is very surprising.  There were 8 Universities (100,000 students, 2,000 full professors) in Palestine when Romani began his research on Palestinian higher education. They were founded after the Israel occupation and invasion. They are autonomous, fully Palestinian, and they do not identify at all with the Israelis.  The other surprise was the existence and working or social science department within these universities. Political science, economics, and sociology existed in all of the universities, including writing and research, in a violent context. One of the first questions in Palestinian identity.  How do these universities exist when they are in occupied territories?  In the Palestinian universities, gross enrolment rates are one of the highest in the Arab world, and a high percentage of the population (45%) between the age of 18 and 25 attend higher education. (As a reference point—Canada’s is 50%).  Today there are 11 large universities, and 33 colleges as well constituting higher education in Palestine.  The idea of matching interests between the rulers in the West Bank and Gaza explains the why an autonomous Palestinian wanted higher education during the Israeli education.  The West Bank and Gaza populations were connected to other Arab countries (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt), but since 1967 they have had a sense of isolation. They do not have the access to the external world, and it is difficult for the Palestinians to travel because once they leave the Israeli borders it hard for them to get back in (they want to minimize the non-Jewish population). This was a new condition of occupation, but they had no higher education.  There was a relatively unequal integration on the economical level, meaning at the Israelis were the only ones with collective and political rights. After 1967, refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza started going back to their old places and villages from before they were kicked out, when Israelis are now living. In this setting, the Palestinians were subjected to the needs of the Israeli economy, and they were stuck with low wages and few rights because they had no education. They were considered low-class workers. The elites of the West Bank and Gaza started plans to educate themselves, and they decided to create higher education in Palestine.  The PLO funded the first universities in Palestine. It was an armed nationalist and political organization that started when they were expelled from Jordan and then Lebanon. They were progressively being distanced from the heart of their struggle (Palestine).  Under Yasser Arafat, they decided to invest in the West Bank and Gaza and convince the populations to fight and get politicized for the PLO. At this point, they started to fund heavily (about 75% of the fund) the development of the universities.  Why did the Israelis allow these universities to be founded in their occupied territories? Economics: There are regulations upon the occupier for occupied characters. The occupied must provide public services including education (as outlined in the Geneva Conventions). The Israelis were happy to see that it existed under their rule, so that they were fulfilling requirements and wouldn’t be accused of forbidding it, but they didn’t need to fund it themselves. Control: There also was a sense of calculation by the Israelis that it was better to fix Palestine inside West Bank and Gaza because if they went outside Israel, they would be out of Israeli control and would go into PLO military camps, which would lead to more troops fighting Israel from the outside.  During the 1970s, 6 Universities were created (Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, among others), which means that in these cities
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