The R2E team have been very busy pushing ahead on the road to greater international awareness of the issues faced by Palestinian students in access to education. Two former student prisoners have already spoken to us about very uncomfortable experiences of living under Israeli military detention, information which we hope to bring into a form that can be widely shared. A series of visuals and articles is in development, and plans have been laid for a blockbuster video (read: budget masterpiece).
We were informed that many students in the university were only vaguely aware of the Right to Education campaign, or did not even know it existed. So we arranged to take a pleasant break from the day-to-day hum of the office on Wednesday to lead a session for the Birzeit Advancement group's English summer course classes.
Though we were primarily set on winning over new campaign groupies, education in general was talked about. To a class of twenty – all girls, save a casual guy at the back – we gave a short presentation. Despite our best efforts not to end up patronising intelligent and inquiring university students, it seemed that our audience had heard much of the context before. In retrospect, our pitch was probably perfectly designed for non-Palestinians!
But not to worry – the students enjoyed our groups discussions a lot more. We asked them to brainstorm a list of problems they could identify in Palestinian society. We then split them into groups and gave them a university subject, like law or engineering, and asked them to discuss how studying the subject could help them tackle the problems they'd identified. The idea being to show them that it didn't matter what they were studying: as long as they were convinced of their education, they would find a way to apply it constructively. And so as long as Palestinians were exercising their right to education, they would be helping to address the problems which were keeping it back.
Interestingly, only one of the two groups we took stated the Occupation as one of the key ills keeping Palestinian society back. Our project group coordinator suggested that ordinary Palestinians had become introspective and self-blaming, and was keen to stress this observation to her peers – that, in actual fact, it was the Occupation that was making worse, if not the source itself, of many problems.
The students voiced their frustration at how ineffectual politics was, both nationally and further afield. They felt they were misrepresented in the international media – a theme of many of their answers in the discussion was the use of their education to project a stronger, more accurate, and more positive image of Palestinians on the world stage.
Unfortunately, current practices by the Israeli military make it difficult to get the ball rolling even at the beginning of this chain, i.e. the unfettered achievement of a complete education, the same as any student around the world would expect to get. This is where R2E comes in: so, our campaign rolls on. At the end of the session, one bashful girl stayed on to chat to us. A prospective volunteer. Yay!