- The Right to Education: From La Frontera to Gaza: A Brief Communication
On the face of it, one might presume the realities of a Palestinian education, or the education of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and historic Palestine to be the singular histories of a unique people. However, a mere scratch of the surface reveals a history shared by many—one that foregrounds and connects imperial powers, occupiers, and histories of violence. On March 30, 2009, I took part in the “From La Frontera to Gaza: Chicano-Palestinian Connections” teach-in at the University of Southern California. I was asked to present on the complexities of education in Palestine, while linking the right to education of Palestinians to the plight of our local communities. In hindsight, this latter part of my presentation could not have been more timely, given the outright attacks on Middle East studies, gender studies, and explicitly now with Arizona’s recently passed HB 2281, ethnic studies.
To situate a discussion of “rights,” it is important to define what is regarded as a “right” to anything. According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26, the “right” to education is defined as follows:
1. 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.
2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
While we should not overvalue the United Nations and its definitions, the dialectic of “rights” becomes central in understanding the inequities of education in various communities. Specifically in relation to Palestine and Palestinians, [End Page 855] any discussion of rights is complicated by colonial underpinnings. The racialization of Palestinians becomes central to the exercise of rights of and for Palestinians. The right to education is no different. As I will discuss later, rights are asserted for only certain communities, while others are denied such “rights.” The same holds for immigrant communities in the United States. The right to an education is ostensibly safeguarded by the United Nations. What occurs in actuality, however, is the complete disintegration of that right at the hands of colonizers and imperial powers.
In the case of Palestine, the right to education is undermined by geographies of violence that include (im)mobility, borders, and spaces; institutional and systemic violence; and racial and ethnic elision. The cartography of space in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is such that the physical terrain increasingly resembles a network of prisons enclosing fragmented populations, encircled by the Israeli occupying forces.1 Essentially, the geography of the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has produced small, scattered, and highly militarized enclaves within which Palestinian populations have to carry out their everyday lives, including accessing education. With the fragmentation of land due to borders, checkpoints, barricades, and the apartheid wall, the ability to access one’s place of education—the school, university, training facility—is hampered by such material obstructions. The school is inaccessible. A child cannot merely walk to her/his school without taking into account the possibility of physical deterrents. According to the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University, the Qalandiya checkpoint may delay students up to two hours daily on their way to the Birzeit campus. In addition, the apartheid wall cuts the path of 36 percent of students of Al-Quds University and prevents about 15,740 students from reaching their schools. It has also resulted in a shortage of teachers for Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, as many live on the West Bank and are not permitted to cross into East Jerusalem. Another study of An-Najah students revealed that 91 percent of the students said they have missed classes because of delays at checkpoints; 84 percent said they have put off...