Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A Time for Celebration

7 August, 2007

Even during a time of occupation and a quisling government, the resilience of the ordinary Palestinian people continues to shine through. Today was one of those occasions.

Today, the Palestinian education ministry released the results for the Tawjihi exam in the West Bank (the results for Gaza had been released 5 days earlier by the deposed Hamas education minister). The Tawjihi exams are the secondary school certificate exams taken by senior high schools students which determine whether or not Palestinian students are able to get into university or not.

Anyone who spends anytime in the Occupied Palestinian Territories will no doubt be struck by the overwhelming importance placed on education by the Palestinian people. Education in Palestine is not an individual affair, it is a family and societal affair that everyone participates in.

Everywhere I have gone in the past four to six weeks, friends and contacts have at different times asked me to excuse them for not being able to attend this meeting or that or only being able to meet at a certain time. The reason was that their children, whether in primary school or secondary school were undergoing their exams and they had to be with them to assist them in their study and preparation.

When my friend, who works for one of the local radio and television stations in Ramallah, told me yesterday that today he and another colleague would spend the entire day on radio announcing the outcome of the exams for the Ramallah and surrounding districts (each individual student names would be read and their score given) it brought home even more the importance placed on the exams.

And then today, my Palestinian friends and colleagues, one after another, came around with chocolates, kanafi and other sweets to celebrate the fact that their brothers or daughters or nieces had passed the exams with flying colours. According to a friend, tonight we should expect to hear fireworks being set off all over Ramallah as families celebrate the outcome of the exams.

The Tawjihi exam celebrations reflect that fact that education has traditionally been a high priority for the Palestinian people. A fact that can be seen in the high literacy levels in Palestinian society. According to the Palestinian Right to Education campaign there is a 98.2% literacy rate between 15-24 year olds and a 91.1% total adult literacy. Palestine also has the highest enrollment rates in the Middle East and North Africa, a fact that is reflected in the number of schools and educational institutions to be found in Palestine. In 2005, there were 11 Palestinian universities, 5 university colleges and 25 community colleges. The education of girls is also seen as a priority in Palestinian society. According to Bir Zeit University in 2005, female students made up more than 52% of their student body.

The majority of Palestinians believe that education can improve their living conditions not only by opening doors to employment but also act as an inoculation against the attempts to destroy the Palestinian identity and the Palestinian culture.

Gaining an education in Palestine, however, is not a simple thing. Every single day, students and their families have to deal with the ongoing brutal Israeli occupation. As with all aspects of Palestinian life, the occupation with its checkpoints, curfews and the apartheid wall is the main barrier to any normalcy and peace for the Palestinian people. The occupation impacts on every single aspect of Palestinian life, including the right to education.

In 2001, according to Dima Al-Samma from the Palestinian Ministry of Education, "Violence and blockages the Israeli government imposed on Palestinian areas for the past 255 days hindered the educational process on all levels. Teachers have been forced to take difficult and rough side routes and bypass roads, which are extremely dangerous in light of the Israeli settler aggression. Teachers have also been subjected to physical and verbal abuse. 21 teachers were arrested. Furthermore, teachers were over burdened with transportation fees that doubled due to the prolonged routes."

During the same period, three schools in Hebron were confiscated and turned into Israeli military posts and 66 schools in the West Bank had to suspend their schooling at different times. In Bethlehem, four schools were closed for 62 days. In Nablus, two schools were closed for around 23 days. At one stage 50 schools were forced to evacuate because there was fear of random bombings by the Israeli Occupation Forces.

In 2001, the Ministry of Education noted that 90 students had been killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces, while another 2151 were shot and wounded of whom many are handicapped and bedridden. Furthermore, 76 students were arrested. In addition, the Israeli government prevented 67 out of 854 students from taking the Tawjihi examination

Bir Zeit University, in 2005, as part of their Right to Education campaign noted that between September 2000 and 2005, more than 676 children, 199 university students and 39 teachers had been killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces. In addition 2500 children had been arrested, 269 schools damaged as a result of shelling by the Israeli military, in the Gaza 73 educational institutions had been destroyed. In 2004, 14 children under the age of 14 years had been injured or killed in their classrooms in the Gaza. Iman Sameer Al-Hams, 13 years of age, was just one of several children killed on their way to school by the Israeli military. Iman was shot and killed by 20 live bullets: she was wearing her school uniform and carrying her school bag.

The Right to Education campaign also noted that in 2004, 1289 schools had been closed during sieges and curfews and 48 turned into military bases. In addition, Israel's apartheid wall has resulted in students in 22 localities being cut off from the educational institutions, resulting in more than 14, 740 students not being able to reach their classrooms.

In Palestine, there is often so much to be sad and angry about as the Israeli occupation brings with it everyday sorrows, sorrows which at time can seem overwhelming. But there is also much in Palestine to celebrate: the people, their resilience and the collective resistance. And because of this, today is a day of celebration.

A celebration not only that one's child, or niece or brother past the exam but a celebration that despite everything and despite the brutal Israeli occupation the Palestinian people will not be suppressed or made subservient. It is a day of hope and a day for congratulations and haflas (parties) and to celebrate once more Palestinian people's resilience and their struggle for freedom against overwhelming odds.

Palestinian Right to Education Campaign: http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/

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