Rotary peace group members get first-hand account of life under occupation in campus visit

Eleven representatives of the Rotarian Action Group for Peace, Rotary International members who maintain a network of cooperation and offer resources to further efforts towards peace and conflict resolution among Rotary partners around the world, visited Birzeit University on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, to learn about the conditions of everyday life under the Israeli occupation and discuss its impact on education in Palestine. 

The group met with Ghassan Khatib, a professor of philosophy and cultural studies who has previously served as director of the Palestinian Authority’s Government Media Center and as minister of labor and minister of planning. He outlined the history of Palestine under occupation, the state of peace negotiations, and the role of international moderators. 

Khatib condemned the numerous Israeli violations of Palestinian rights, citing visible measures, such as the 500 checkpoints dotted around the West Bank that impede and prevent the freedom of movement for goods and persons, as well as systematic policies that cause the fragmentation of the population. Highlighting the destructive impact of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, Khatib stated that Israel pursues a land grab policy that has significantly eroded any chances of a two-state solution. 

Providing a brief overview of Birzeit University and of the challenges it faces in providing excellence in teaching and learning under the occupation, Khatib stressed the negative impact of Israeli restrictions that affect the ability of the university to recruit international professors and staff. He explained that the policy of not granting visas to professors, which Israel has recently intensified, is a violation of the right to education and affects the quality of education at Birzeit University and other Palestinian universities.

Khatib then answered attendees’ questions regarding the prospects of peace in the occupied Palestinian territories and the effects of Israeli measures on education in Palestine.

Dana Farraj, coordinator of the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University, discussed the history and impact of Israeli measures on the quality of and access to education in Palestine. Along with volunteer students, she presented examples of the measures and policies used by the Israeli occupation authorities to systematically deny Palestinians their right to education. 

She noted that since 1967, the Israeli authorities have closed the university’s campus 15 times − with the longest closure lasting 51 months; since 2004, Israeli forces have raided the campus 11 times; and currently, 70 students are held in Israeli jails and detention centers. 

Farraj concluded her speech with a call for action, asking the attendees to lobby for Palestinians and to raise awareness of the challenges to education in Palestine among their representatives and members of parliament in their home countries.