“Would the world ever have been made if its maker had been afraid of making trouble? Making life means making trouble” Pygmalion
Sorry for the delay in writing another post! Classes at university start on Monday so it’s been a busy couple of days at orientation, taking the Arabic language placement exam and, oh, right, making friends. I’m posting some pictures of the university and of the view – Birzeit is set on 200 acres of a hill/mountain. It’s just 7 km north of Ramallah, so it’s a quick 10 minute service ride there. Birzeit was the first institution of higher education established in Palestine. It’s really a beautiful campus and these pictures unfortunately don’t do it justice.
Birzeit also houses the Right to Education Campaign, based on the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a multilateral treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966. This underlines the fact that “Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights.” This R2E campaign documents cases of systematic obstruction of education in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. During the first intifada (1987-1992), Palestinian education was made effectively illegal and all Palestinian universities, schools, and kindergartens were shut down by military order for almost 5 years. Students are often arrested or detained on their way to university, and holding any sort of student leadership positions almost guarantees a prison term (I guess 3 of the past 4 presidents of the student council at Birzeit have been arrested and charged for at least year-long prison sentences, for offenses as vague as “inciting political life on campus” or something – often the charges and the files against Palestinian students are closed/secret and unavailable to the defense lawyers, as the cases are made in Israeli military courts).
Hopefully no such closures will happen during my time here! But it’s always a possibility. If I’ve learned anything in my two weeks here so far, from both my experiences and from people I’ve talked to, you can never expect anything from this area. You just never know what will happen, whether it’s trying to open a bank account, trying to enter Israel at Ben Gurion, trying to register for classes. Between 2001-2003, the road from Ramallah to Birzeit was closed by the Israeli military. Again, there are these “flying checkpoints” when soldiers and jeeps block the road, for “security” but really to prevent access to students and teachers trying to reach their classes. There are hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank (see UN OCHA map here). It strangles normal life here.
Last night, because of Ramadan, there were no direct buses to Jerusalem from Ramallah, so we took a service to the Qalandia checkpoint, and then had to walk through it – so my second checkpoint this week. Both of them have not been “real” experiences, as I’ve gone at off-times and have not experienced the real waiting/frustration during “rush hour” if you will. But it’s still a degrading feeling, like you’re being herded through metal walkways and x-ray scanners.
On a happier note, classes should be hard but good, and it’ll be great to have a real schedule and I have the hope that soon I’ll be on my way to knowing Arabic! The other students in my program (all internationals) are a big mix of European and maybe 6 Americans, so it’s been fun to hear about where they all come from. So many of them are taking Arabic and other social science classes here at Birzeit to fulfill bachelor’s degree requirements from their home university, which makes me one of the older ones here… which is also a bizarre feeling!