Palestinian students campaign for the right to education


Shatha Hammad and Deema Alsaafin study English language and literature, not because of an undying love for Shakespeare, but because getting textbooks and materials for other majors proved unmanageable.

Hammad says she would have chosen geography. But for a Palestinian student studying in the West Bank, this subject didn’t have consistent or accessible course materials. Alsaafin would have also preferred another major and says, “English language was my second choice.”

On Nov. 12, Hammad and Alsaafin spoke at Stanford University about their experiences having their education interrupted by the Israeli state as part of that national tour. The two students have been traveling to campuses and communities across the U.S., as part of the Right to Education tour that aims to highlight the injustices Palestinians face as university students.

Kristian Davis Bailey, a member of National Students for Justice in Palestine and a 2014 graduate of Stanford, helped plan the U.S. tour.

“I went to Palestine last summer and met with the coordinator of the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit,” Bailey explained. “A couple weeks later, I got an email saying, ‘Hey, would Stanford want to host some students for a speaking visit?’ And that turned into, ‘Oh, why don’t we get students to come across California?’ And that turned into, ‘Oh, why don’t we have a national tour?’”

During their talk, Hammad and Alsaafin explained how checkpoints — the many passageways guarded by armed Israeli soldiers — mean that students have to leave for class at a nearby university three hours early. They also may not have a teacher in class, as many of their professors have been jailed by the Israeli state.

“Sometimes you’re not able to get to school because of checkpoints,” Hammad said. “Sometimes they don’t let you in, sometimes they hold you for hours … [It] doesn’t matter if you’re an old woman, a kid, a man or a young boy.”

Alsaafin added: “We also don’t really have intellectual exchange among students because everyone is so localized … due to the Israeli restriction of movement.”

The Right to Education tour is part of the larger Right to Education Campaign that was started in the late-1980s “as a reaction to the Israeli military orders to shut down all the educational institutions,” according to Hammad. The campaign is based out of Birzeit University in the West Bank and has the goal of protecting the human right of education for Palestinians.

“Education is a form of justice,” Hammad said.

CORRECTION – Editor’s Note (12/21/2014): In this story originally published Dec. 19, 2014, Peninsula Press misstated the origins of the Right to Education Campaign. A corrected story appears above.