Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The moment we’ve all been dreading has arrived and it is with great sadness we say goodbye to Palestine. It has been a while since Right to Education’s last entry, this post will include a summary of our recent activities before giving concluding thoughts on the placement and being in Palestine.

Campaign members have been involved in various activities during these past several weeks. Students and volunteers have visited universities, schools and youth organisations across the West Bank to research and document the ongoing violations to educational rights. R2E has also been in regular correspondence with Addameer Prisoners’ Support Association. Their extensive knowledge and tireless work in the service of prisoner’s rights has been invaluable to Right to Education’s efforts to educate ourselves on the plight of student prisoners. One of the in country volunteers attended Lina Khattab’s last court hearing on February 16, detailing this experience through a heartfelt letter to Lina, published on the campaign’s website http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/a-letter-to-lina/. Another volunteer has also written a comprehensive account of the various violations to the right to education faced by young detainees, from those in primary education to university students,  http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/the-dismal-lives-of-students-locked-in-israeli-prison/ which we are proud to annouce was also published by Mondoweiss.

Some of us also coordinated work shops (on the theme of education of course!) with the Advancement group at Birzeit. We discussed case studies from around the world, which detailed various violations to the right to education and we held debates where we divided the class into two to argue as to whether education is a right or privilege. Whilst we took care not to force a discussion on Palestine, some students began drawing the connections between some of the issues that were raised in other countries to their own situation. The students initiated some very thought provoking discussions and we came away a little jealous of the Advancement placement for being able to work daily with such an engaged group of people.

On 9th March, the Right to Education Campaign (R2E) at Birzeit University hosted a ‘Right to Education Week’, an annual event designed to highlight and oppose the harsh realities of education in occupied Palestine. This event usually occurs in the third week of November, the decision to put on another Right to Education week just four months later was made to keep the momentum of the campaign going.

We began Right to Education week with ‘grab a coffee’, where we set up a stall for students to help themselves to coffee and encouraged them to ask us questions about the campaign itself. On the same day, we also built a four-metre long wall out of recycled wood resembling the ‘separation barrier’. The construction of this illegal wall began in October 2003 and has since exacerbated the many problems relating to movement for Palestinians, adversely affecting the quality of and access to education. We wanted to find a way to highlight the various violations that stem from the wall, but rather than going through the ­­­­­­usual channels such as distributing pamphlets, we decided that building an actual wall would be a more effective way to grab students’ attention.

The wall was positioned relatively near the entrance of Birzeit University so that students could not miss it as they arrived into campus. We also left marker pens so that people could write their own messages, making this form of visual protest an open and multi-way engagement. Statements such as ‘the wall must fall’ and ‘I want to go to Jerusalem’ were interspersed with tributes and messages of solidarity from international students. The wall remained on campus for the rest of the week, accumulating more and more writing as the days went on.

Students and faculty members who are members of political parties are susceptible to arrest, even those responsible for the provision of welfare and academic support. As mentioned above, many detainees’ right to an education suffers enormously once imprisoned; therefore, given the centrality of student prisoners to the campaign, this week would have been incomplete without doing something in their honour. On the last day, we arranged for a flash mob where students held up signs reading ‘what have you done for...’ in both Arabic and English, next to rotating pictures of different student prisoners. Some of the participants were blindfolded, alluding to blindfolding of those upon arrest, as well as sending a message about the dangers of closing one’s eyes to injustice.

And finally, we produced this short video for our presentation to the Department for International Development (DFID). With the footage almost entirely shot on our phones, this video perhaps most aptly captures our experiences working on the campaign:

Overall, we are incredibly proud of what has come out of these intense few months. We would be lying if we said things hadn’t been trying at times; however, this made our successes seem all the more remarkable. This requires a blog post in itself, but what we will say is that our experiences here in Palestine are those that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. We have made lasting connections with lots of people and through our projects and time here, we have learnt more about Palestine than we ever imagined we could.

We wish the next cohort the best of luck; you will have an excellent time! We would definitely give anything to have this experience all over again.


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