Professors from Palestinian universities across the Gaza Strip and West Bank went on a one day strike, Monday, to protest the withdrawal of Palestinian Authority (PA) ministry of education and higher education from financial and administrative agreements reached in 2008, reports Quds Press.
The Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE) called for the strike on Monday, as well as organising protests in front of the head office of the PA ministerial council in Ramallah.
Speaking to Quds Press, the head of the PFUUPE, Amjad Barham, said: “We agreed on almost all issues with the government a few days ago, but the Council of High Education did not approve the agreement. Therefore, the union decided to take action on Monday and Wednesday of this week and Monday and Tuesday next week.”
Barham noted that the universities could begin a “comprehensive strike if the government continued turning its back to the demands of the university professors and employees.”
He blamed the Council of the Higher Education and the administrations of the universities for the crisis and called for them to support the rights and refrain from their “destructive” decisions.
The PFUUPE stressed that all the universities are “obligated” to observe all the rights of professors and employees that are stipulated in the agreements signed with the employees’ unions, which includes all established staff before September 2017.
In addition, the PFUUPE said that the measures taken keep up with the Palestinian Labour Law, stating that dealing with the delays in the education process would be based on the laws and regulations in force.
British universities have been accused of threatening free speech on issues such as Palestine by insisting on tough yet ill-defined rules that events must be chaired by approved "independent" moderators, academics and students have said.
Standard rules of non-interference on campus have been contradicted by training given to universities under the government's Prevent counter-extremism strategy, as revealed in Middle East Eye. The guidance advises universities to ensure "independent and effective chairing" of events and to measure guests' views against issues - including Palestine and even opposition to Prevent - which may indicate signs of "extremism".
The insistence on "independent chairs" has in the past month threatened the cancellation of events on human rights abuses in Palestine at the University of Cambridge and a discussion on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israeli occupation at the London School of Economics.
In some cases, university objections were raised hours before the events were due to take place.
But the guidelines, available on the Safe Campus Communities website, are not, in fact, part of any statutory obligation under the Prevent strategy. Rather, they are drawn up by the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Universities UK, which represents higher education institutions, to protect the "reputation" of institutions.
Earlier this month, the LSE told academics hosting an event on the BDS movement to replace the advertised chairwoman, Ayca Cubukcu, a Turkish academic who specialises in the Middle East, with an "independent" university appointee.
Cubukcu's removal from the event a day before it was due to take place, came after claims by a pro-Israeli activist that the institution was breaking its own rules on neutrality.
Cubukcu was replaced by Eric Neumayer, a professor from the LSE's geography department. Dr Anne Alexander, a University of Cambridge researcher present at the event, told Middle East Eye Neumayer had told her it was "prudent" to have a "neutral chairperson".
Alexander said Cubucku's removal had very "worrying implications for academic freedom".
"I am concerned that the way in which the requirement is applied may be discriminatory - whose test of 'neutrality' does the chair have to fulfil?" asked Alexander.
"I can easily imagine situations where certain categories of people may be routinely subjected to a greater degree of scrutiny about their opinions and actions than other categories of people.
"But when we apply this to specific issues, academics who are Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims are more likely to support Palestinian rights, oppose Israeli settlements and thus have their views labelled as 'controversial,' meaning that there is a racist logic at work."
An LSE spokesperson said it had intervened after it was revealed that Cubukcu had signed petitions "relating to the topic of discussion".
"It was deemed prudent to have in place a chair that would be less likely to be subject to accusations of bias from members of the audience," the spokesperson said.
'Crackdown on free speech'
At the University of Cambridge, Dr Ruba Salih, a Palestinian academic from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, was scheduled to moderate an event on Palestinian rights by the local student-led Palestine society.
Hours before the event was due to take place, university officials threatened to close it down if it did not allow its director of communications, Paul Mylrea, to host the event.
The university told the Palestine society that Mylrea was "experienced ... and neutral" and gave no justification on why Salih could not host the event.
This prompted more than 500 academics, including Noam Chomsky, to sign an open letter condemning the move and claim the university was waging a "crackdown on free speech".
A university spokesperson told MEE that it was "fully committed to freedom of speech and expression ... and that events will be well-chaired in order to ensure open, robust and lawful debate."
It added: "Following calls from the organisers for extra safety measures, a neutral chair was provided to ensure that all sides were represented in what is an important and often emotionally charged debate."
Organisers told MEE that they had asked for extra security to ensure the safety of its panellists as the Palestine society's events have been disrupted in the past.
The insistence on "independent chairs" has not been limited to LSE and the University of Cambridge. King's College London threatened to cancel an event on Islamophobia and the impact of the government's Prevent strategy if the student-led Islamic society, KCL iSOC, did not have a university-appointed host.
Scheduled speakers included Mohammed Rabbani, the international director for the rights group CAGE, and Sahar al-Afaifi, the chairman of the Cardiff Muslim Engagement and Networking group, who is opposed to Prevent. A risk assessment sent to the Islamic society said a "strong independent chair was imperative" for the event to go ahead.
Yousef El-T, a student officer and representative at King's College London Students' Union, told MEE that the move to impose an independent chair was oppressive to Muslim students.
"It's extremely disappointing to see the university imposing mitigations on student-led events," said Tawil. "This is dangerous territory - the university becomes in control of discourse.
"The event was not a political debate. It was a sharing of oppressive experiences and the institution still felt the need [to impose] a chair which, in all of our eyes, is oppressive in itself.
"We must work with the university to ensure this doesn’t occur again."
The risk assessment also stated that "appropriate government/education authorities" would be briefed that the event was taking place.
A spokesperson from KCL refused to tell MEE which authorities. In a statement, the university said: "In advance of the event held on our campus, the university and students' union have undertaken a series of checks and put additional conditions in place, including an independent chair to facilitate the discussion."
Postponed for two weeks
At City University in London, a talk on the history of Palestine was postponed for more than two weeks after the university demanded an appointed chair host the event earlier this month.
During that period, the student-led Palestine society had given suggestions for local academics to host. Several suggestions were rejected by the institution before it eventually imposed its own chair.
However, since the societies inception last year, the society has faced numerous restrictions and rules on how it runs its events. Earlier this year, the university told students that it had to have a pre-approved guest list for attendees who wished to come to an event on Palestine activism.
Shaima Dallali, the current president of the society, told MEE it was not the first example of the university demanding approved guest lists for all those attending. She added that the university had previously limited attendance of its events to students and staff only.
"The restrictions have put off a lot of people coming to our events and created wider concerns about their personal safety," said Dallali, who is a law student at the university.
"It just makes it difficult to have normal events, and after the guest list incident people became scared they'd be put on a watchlist and followed."
City University did not respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli lawmakers voted Wednesday to make Arabic classes compulsory for students from the age of six, in a move backers hoped would help improve ties between Israeli Jews and Arabs.
The vote came amid increasing tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, with a wave of deadly attacks on Israelis and clashes at protests in the occupied territories.
Israel's parliament, the Knesset, voted unanimously in favor of the bill in first reading Wednesday, with about half of all deputies in attendance.
It will now be studied in committee before returning to parliament for a second vote.
Both Arabic and Hebrew are official languages of Israel, but while the vast majority of Israeli Arabs speak Hebrew, Arabic is not widely spoken among the Jewish population.
The bill was introduced by lawmaker Oren Hazan, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, who said it was meant to reach out to Arab Israelis.
"Language is a door to culture," he told AFP. "I am looking reality in the eyes and I understand there is no possibility to walk to peace without understanding each other."
Hand in Hand, a center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, welcomed the vote, with its chief executive Shuli Dichter calling it "a good and important decision".
Arab Israelis, the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948 and who are citizens of the Jewish state, make up about 18 percent of its population.
The surge in violence in recent weeks has seen nine Israelis killed in attacks.
Many of the attackers have been shot dead, including one in Hebron Wednesday. Along with those killed in anti-Israeli protests, 60 Palestinians have died in the unrest, as well as one Arab Israeli.
A meeting to evaluate a European-Union funded collaborative project, held in mid-March, has brought Palestinian universities a step closer to raising the visibility of locally produced research.
The project — ‛Research Output Management through Open Access Institutional Repositories in Palestinian Higher Education (ROMOR)’ — aims to collect, document and provide access to scientific research produced at universities in Palestine.
It kicked off earlier this year (19-21 January) during meetings held over three days in the Austrian capital and hosted by the Vienna University of Technology, one of the participating European universities. The others are the British Universities of Glasgow and Brighton, and the University of Parma in Italy.
The four Palestinian universities are Birzeit University, Al Quds Open University, Palestine Technical University-Kadoorie, and the Islamic University of Gaza. The latter is the institution coordinating the project, and home of its director, assistant professor Rawia Awadallah.
Speaking about the idea behind the project, Rawia told SciDev.Net that it "stemmed from the Palestinian universities’ need to show their research outputs to the world."
As a first step to address the problem of low visibility, a preparatory meeting was held at the end of January at the Faculty of Information Technology at the Islamic University in Gaza. That meeting launched the project’s website, which includes information on training activities and material related to the establishment of open access repositories — a widely accepted way of preserving, disseminating and raising awareness about local research.
"The website represents an open window to transfer the experience to those interested in the establishment of similar research repositories," says Rawia.
The project also seeks to find a solution to the failure of Palestinian universities to advance in global rankings. This is because researchers, who make do with poor resources, tend to publish their work in journals with low impact factors, which may not be included in well-established search engines for research. Language is another barrier, including when it comes to the abstracts of research that may not exist in a language other than Arabic.
The project will extend to three years, ending in October 2019. The focus, in the first year, will be on building the capacity of participating Palestinian universities to build and manage repositories through training. The results of this effort will act as a cornerstone for other universities in Palestine to build their own repositories.
The second year will see the application of this training, with each of the four Palestinian universities designing and building its own repository.
In the last year, nine training workshops will be held at the participating universities, after which the process of depositing published research will kick off. Keeping an eye on maintaining the continuity and sustainability of the project will "require the adoption of special policies at the level of universities, such as acknowledging repositories as a basis of career advancement for researchers and university professors," says Rawia.
The role of the European partners during the three years, Rawia explains, is to provide supervision and expertise, ensure that the four repositories are designed according to international standards, and point out any errors at the implementation phase.
She says the European Commission is providing the necessary funding, estimated at EUR1.25 million. The project lies within the Erasmus+ programme’s Capacity Building in the Field of Higher Education section.
Khaled Shaaban, academic and researcher at the Palestinian Planning Center, believes "the project will help researchers and students in Palestine to overcome a major obstacle".
The Muna family is using literature to educate a new generation of Palestinians and foreigners about the history of a culture that refuses to bow to occupation.
A bookshop in Salahuddin Street in occupied Jerusalem has not only become an icon, in that even “The Lonely Planet” places it at the top of its list of must-visit places in the holy city, it has assumed a truly special identity, as it exercises its relative autonomy by also organising regular cultural events and acts as a meeting place that serves the wider community living in and around occupied Jerusalem.
Read more: A bookshop that is a pillar of resistance