There is a story and a long road that every student in Palestine goes through to reach university.
This challenge is not only academic. Of course, students have to work hard in high school in order to be accepted and then double their efforts in the university as all students in the world must do, but this is only one part of the challenge.
In Palestine, the situation is different because of the Israeli occupation.
First, merely getting to school every morning can be a major challenge for Palestinian students, especially if they come from areas far from university.
Movement between cities and villages in Palestine is not a free and guaranteed right. Any traveler may be stopped by Israeli mobile checkpoints for ID and vehicle inspections. This alone can wreak havoc for students who have fixed class and exam schedules. Not knowing what time they will make it to their classes is a daily concern that they are forced to deal with. During the second Intifada, students had to stop at checkpoints for long periods of time and had to deal with delays daily. Although the situation has calmed down now, there is always a chance that a checkpoint could be reestablished at any time. Keeping this in mind, students still leave for university very early to avoid surprises. My university is 25 minutes away my home, but I still leave at least an hour before my first class to make sure I get there on time.
Even worse, making it to the university is not guaranteed as those checkpoints might block off the roads for hours or even days. When there is a completely closure, the only option for students is to go back home. However, sometimes returning home is not even an option as Israeli soldiers at checkpoints regularly take students’ IDs, keep them waiting for an indefinite time, and then in most cases release them hours later without any explanation for the detention.
As a result, missed classes and exams and repetition of semesters because of involuntary absences are a part of Palestinian university students’ lives.
“How hard was it for you to get to school today?” is often the first question that is asked as we meet for a morning coffee. On the days that Israel imposes particularly extreme levels of security, stories of our journey to school take up the lion’s share of conversation all day long.
The rest of our conversations move away from transportation but not from Israel’s effect on our lives. As all university students, we talk about job opportunities, and dream about the successful careers we wish to lead. However, we are always aware that our in many ways our future is not in our own hands.
Although the rest of the world is also suffering from unemployment, in the occupied Palestinian territories the problem is a direct result of the occupation. Many farmers have lost their sources of income due to ongoing Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land, while many others who worked in Israel have lost their jobs or are threatened with losing them because they are Palestinian ID holders. Even initiatives to boost the Palestinian economy through new industrial enterprises are tightly constrained as Israel effectively controls all Palestinian internal transportation routes, zoning permits, land and sea borders, and access to natural resources.
Graduates find that they cannot live up to their maximum potential, develop their skills or fulfill their ambitions working inside the Palestinian Territories because of the lack of employment opportunities. Often their only option is to leave their homes and families and work abroad for better opportunities. Yet even this unfortunate choice is only available to those lucky enough to get a work visa and pass strict Israeli and foreign security measures. As a result, the would-be community leaders, top graduates and advanced degree holders, on whom people are pinning their hopes to develop Palestine, are instead found serving abroad where they can do little for their homeland.
Similarly, the development of Palestinian universities is constrained by the “brain drain” of top Palestinian academics as well as financial deficits. Graduate degree programs are limited, with very small number of faculties to choose from, and even these departments often do not live up to students’ professional and academic needs.
With this daily stressful journey back and forth between home and university and dim prospects for professional opportunities after graduation, the motivation to go to university is decreasing as students know that the certificates that they aspire to hold may mean nothing at the end. And yet, we remain determined.
English philosopher Herbert Spencer once said, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” As Palestinian students, we put this principle into practice by the mere act of stepping out of our house every day.