Students from Birzeit University in the West Bank spoke about violations of the right to education under Israeli occupation in an event sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine on Tuesday.
The students visited Georgetown as a stop on their U.S. Right to Education Tour, a two week trip to U.S. college campuses during which they have discussed their experiences as students in the West Bank.
The students emphasized that the conflict between Israel and Palestine affected them due to Israeli occupation.
“It’s not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it’s the occupation. They are occupying us, our lands,” Hala Khalil, one of the students on the tour, said.
Ahmad Shwieki, another Birzeit student, said that one major violation of the right to education comes as a result of roadblocks that make it difficult for students to travel to school.
“Israel’s consistent policy is building road blocks, checkpoints, which are almost 600 by the U.N. stats,” Shwieki said. “So this consistent cutting of Palestine areas also affect Palestine students’ ability to get mobility and to reach their schools and universities.”
According to Shwieki, roadblocks restrict the schools that students can attend, and often make it difficult for particularly promising students to attend the best schools. He also claimed that the long travel times that result from the roadblocks impact students’ ability to spend a full day at school.
“Parents should be allowed to decide what school their kids go to, until the age of 15, by the international law,” Shwieki said. “We see that Palestinians don’t get to choose their school. They only find it possible to go to the nearby school because they cannot go to further schools.”
The speakers also discussed how the Israeli army’s break-ins at the university impact their quality of life.
“Occupation violates Birzeit University by breaking into the university,” Khalil said. “By breaking in, they made the campus empty by 2. Students go home at 2. The campus closes at 4. So we can’t stay on campus after 4. The library closes at 4 o’clock too so we can’t have a social life, we can’t see our friends after 4.”
Shwieki added that Israeli censorship of books permitted in Palestinian schools harms his education.
“We see that Israel controls the kind of books that get in Palestine,” Shwieki said. “Israel does not allow any book from Lebanon, does not allow any book from Syria, almost does not allow any philosophy books in Palestine.As a person who’s interested in philosophy, I rarely find books in Palestine that talk about philosophy.”
After giving their first hand accounts of experience, the students asked the audience to assist in boycotting Israel.
“Just know that supporting the oppressors is kind of being an oppressor with them,” Shwieki said.
Students for Justice in Palestine Treasurer Matt Martin (COL ’16) noted the large discrepancy between life as a Georgetown student and one at Birzeit.
“Beyond their front gates of their school are checkpoints and armored trucks. Beyond our front gates here is Washington, D.C. and everything it stands for,” Martin said.
Attendee Kathleen Bouzis (GRD ’15) felt that the right to education should be seen as a universal necessity.
“I think just the right to education is universal, no matter what your citizenship is and that no matter what the political situation is, people should have the right to be educated,” Bouzis said.