Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
-Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26 (1)
The Occupying Power shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children.
-Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 50
As you walk to your classes this week, you will encounter an installation in the Science Center quad meant to represent the barriers to education that Palestinians face on a daily basis. Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP) have constructed an interactive display of statistics and real-life testimonials from Palestinian students and educators describing the obstacles to education they face. We encourage you to participate in this installation; take an ID card, walk through the exhibit and learn about a Palestinian student or educator’s life. Our objective is to raise awareness about these salient issues often unreported in media coverage of politics and the peace talks in Israel and Palestine.
The threat to Palestinian education has many faces. Sometimes the threat is physical such as the destruction of schools by Israeli military attacks and by government-issued demolition orders or the harassment of students and teachers by IDF soldiers and settlers. Sometimes the threat is more subtle. Distances between students’ homes and their schools are prohibitive and contain multiple checkpoints along the way. American scholarships promised to Gazan students have been annulled, compounding the financial burden many families face in sending a child to school. The Israeli blockade restricts building supplies from entering Gaza — tools necessary to construct schools for the growing school age population or rebuild them after an attack. In 2012, Palestinians in the West Bank were not allowed to take the October SAT test, giving them an extreme disadvantage when applying to any university abroad. In that same year, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a petition challenging the Israeli policy of refusing Gazan students access to West Bank universities. In all these ways and more, Palestinians in the West Bank, and especially Gaza, are being denied equal opportunities for education.
Access to education is a universal human right. Schools are not just centers of academic learning; they are also centers of formative social interaction, personal growth and opportunity for employment. Denying or hindering access to education not only affects the well-being of children today but also impacts their future as adults in terms of being productive and informed citizens. For the parents who see their children harassed and denied the opportunity to go to school, a feeling of helplessness is reinforced. Not only do the physical restraints such as the Wall or the Israeli blockade of Gaza constrict the development of the present community, but these restraints deny Palestinian society a generation of children benefiting from a good education and produce a bleak future for the community.
SPJP feels that bringing this issue to campus is crucial because the humanitarian aspect of the Israel-Palestine conflict often gets lost and overshadowed when discussing the politics of the matter. This topic is especially relevant to us because as college students, we all benefit from our education. At Swarthmore, it is taken for granted that there will be class on Monday. We don’t have to worry that our classes might be canceled because the buildings they are held in have been demolished. We don’t have to worry that Public Safety will stop us on our way to class, search our bags, and detain us. Our intention is to create a dialogue so we can all appreciate the great privilege we’ve had thus far in our educational careers. More importantly, SPJP hopes that this installation raises the awareness that other students — our age and younger — cannot attend school or college because their education has been consumed by the politics of their situation, and that this knowledge can contribute to a more informed dialogue about Israel-Palestine in the future.
Letter submitted by Joelle Hageboutros ’16, Maddy Booth ’15, and Aneesa Andrabi ’16 on behalf of Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine.