Scottish Delegation Tours the University and the City of Nablus

 

 

Zajel Youth Exchange Program organized a study tour for a Scottish delegation that is visiting the occupied Palestinian territories on a fact-finding mission about the Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.

 

The delegation first heard a presentation by Mira Nablusi, volunteer at Zajel Youth Exchange Program of the Public Relations Department on the Right to Education. In her pithy presentation, Ms. Nablusi discussed the Israeli violations of An-Najah National University students and faculty rights and their detrimental affect on academic process. Some of these violations include: checkpoints, physical attacks on the city and university facilities during invasions, curfews, killing of teachers and students, and other forms of distortions.

 

Ala Yousef, the Coordinator of the Zajel Youth Exchange Program then gave a presentation about Zajelís work, which seeks to narrow the gap between different cultures in order to help remove stereotypes and negative images of Palestinians in westerns minds.

 

After the presentations, the Delegation met with the Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty and discussed with him and his teaching staff the possibility of organizing an exchange in the field of music.

 

Dr. Raed Nirat, Head of the Political Science Department, organized a workshop on the political situation in the Middle East. To conclude the first day of activities organized by Zajel, the Scottish group met with a priest and discussed with him the impact of the Israeli occupation on the Christian minority. 

 

On their second day, the Scottish delegation began their day with a meeting with Maher Natsheh, the Vice President for Academic Affairs at An-Najah National University. Keith Hammond, one of the group's members and a professor at the University of Glasgow, discussed their group's boycott of Israeli academics and universities. The boycott was adopted by the Scottish branch of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign around the same time as the Palestinian elections and aims to put pressure on Israeli academics and institutions to explicitly delineate their positions on the occupation and Israeli violations of the Palestinians' right to education. The group then plans to boycott those academics and institutions that fail to take a stand against these well-documented violations of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Hammond stated that the Scottish Campaign believes that education is one of the most basic human rights and that the evidence indicates the Israelis are specifically targeting Palestinian institutions of higher education.

 

Dr. Natsheh expressed appreciation on behalf of the University administration for the Scottish group's expression of solidarity and work on behalf of the Palestinian people. After thanking the group, he told the group a little about the Universityís history, its current situation, and the difficulties that its students have faced as a result of the political situation. An-Najah National University, which once boasted students not only Gaza and the West Bank but also many other countries, has seen a complete change in the composition of its student body. As a result of the checkpoints, students from abroad are no longer able to attend the university. Additionally, Dr. Natsheh mentioned that the university now has very few students from Gaza because Palestinians who want to travel to the West Bank must travel first to Egypt, then to Jordan, from where they can try to enter the West Bank, very often being denied entrance at the border. This means that if a student does decide to come from Gaza, they will not be able to return home during the breaks and, to be safe, during the whole course of their study. The same restrictions prohibit the university from hiring employees from Gaza as well, he stated, saying that it was often easier for the university to hire people from abroad than from Gaza. He also described how even those from within the West Bank but outside of Nablus city who wish to study at the university face the uncertainty of the checkpoints, which often close and force students to sneak through the mountains in order to attend classes. Because several students had been killed or arrested simply for trying to make to class, the university decided to offer university apartments to their students who live outside of Nablus, although this has placed yet another financial burden on the already strained university.

 

After the meeting with Dr. Natsheh, the delegation proceeded to visit the University radio station and the new campus. At the radio station, the group learned about not only the operations of the radio station, but also about how being forced to self-censor affects broadcasts. At the new campus, the delegation saw that despite the innumerable challenges for the university that have arisen as a result of the occupation, it is still expanding, thanks to the generosity of its alumni and wealthy donors in Palestinian society. 

 

Perhaps the most moving presentation, however, was given by two students who had formerly spent time in Israeli jails and prisons. Each one described how they and their families were forced out of their homes by gunfire in the middle of the night and told to strip down to their underwear, after which they were arrested without even knowing the reason. They described how they were beaten and tortured, the effects of which have left permanent physical and psychological scars on the two men. Both men received barely a farce of a trial and only after several months of administrative detention, where they were tortured, given bad food and water, usually denied their right to see or communicate with their families, and deprived of the right to legal assistance. Both men were not active in militant activities nor did they have ties to political groups, yet they lost years of their young lives in prisons. On hearing these young menís stories, members of the Scottish group commented that they were horrified at what happened to the men and apologized for any part their country may have in supporting these activities.

 

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