FEBRUARY 29, 2012: Higher Education, Knowledge and Power in the OPT
Guest Lecturer: Vincent Romani
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
Social science is very sensitive to the way the question is framed. It is a fragile
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 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
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
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
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