This past week, Students for Justice in Palestine hosted a Right 2 Education series during which it protested the infringement on Palestinian children's right to education by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. This included events like a mock security checkpoint on Low Plaza. We can all agree on the importance of equal, affordable, and rigorous education for every child, but SJP is mistaken in its claim that the root of all failures in the Palestinian education system is the existence of security checkpoints.
All major Palestinian cities, including Nablus, Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and 80 percent of Hebron, are located in Area A of the West Bank, an area completely controlled by the Palestinian Authority. This means the education of these children is the sole responsibility of the PA. As evidenced by the 99 percent youth literacy rate in the West Bank (one of the highest in the world) and the operation of over 30 colleges and universities, there is not a lack of education in Area A. Because it is illegal for Israelis to step foot in this territory, Israel cannot directly hinder the education of Palestinians living and attending school in these cities.
SJP's Right 2 Education Week addresses the concerns of a minority of Palestinian students living in Area B who for some reason need to travel into areas A or C to attend school. The need for students to travel through checkpoints every morning is not an ideal situation, but contrary to what SJP claimed with its mock checkpoint demonstration on Thursday, checkpoints were not established by the Israeli government to torment Palestinians, but to ensure the safety of Israel's civilians.
On Tuesday, Nov. 18, four Israelis sat down to pray in their synagogue in Jerusalem. These men were not settlers or soldiers, but just regular Jewish Israelis performing a morning ritual. Two Palestinians shot them, stabbed them, and butchered them with a cleaver. These four deaths are among 11 murders of Israeli citizens by Palestinians over the past month—murders that serve as a constant reminder of the complexity of Israel's security situation. To address these tangible threats, Israel has set up checkpoints to monitor who is entering and exiting the country.
SJP's Facebook page for the event cites Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the impetus to fight for education. The first sentence of Article 26 states, "Everyone has the right to education." No one—especially not Israel—denies that. However, according to Article 3 of the same declaration, "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." Israel must balance the rights of its citizens against the inconvenience of checkpoints. It can be maddening to wait at a checkpoint on the way to school, but when human life is weighed against time spent at a checkpoint, human life always takes priority.
If we, as Columbia students, are offering an honest criticism of education in the West Bank, we must examine the type of education Palestinian students receive from their own institutions. The history curricula used in Palestinian schools regularly omit monumental historical facts such as signing of the Oslo Accords, the existence of Israel on a map, or any Jewish claim to the land of Israel. To borrow a direct quote from an official ninth-grade textbook, "Treachery and disloyalty are character traits of the Jews and therefore one should beware of them."
This was not limited to secondary education. Palestinian universities, including Birzeit University, where the Right 2 Education movement was started, have censored and punished professors who haven't followed a strict anti-normalization policy with Israel. Let's also not forget that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which manages more than 99 educational institutions in the West Bank, is the same organization that housed Hamas rockets in its schools in Gaza this summer. There are indeed grave problems with education in the West Bank, but none of these problems is the result of long lines at security checkpoints.
So yes, SJP, we are also in favor of a drastic reassessment of the Palestinian education system, so that the hatred and incitement of violence—the direct causes of these checkpoints you abhor so much—can be eradicated from an educational system supported and endorsed by the Palestinian government. This would produce far more educational improvement for Palestinian children than the closure of checkpoints, which help to protect over 8 million people in Israel.
In our opinion, the real reason SJP dedicated an entire week to the wrongs of Israel is to mask its extreme views with support for universal education, which all Columbia students can wholeheartedly back. We urge the Columbia community to look beyond the spectacle that was on Low Plaza last week, and straight at the real causes of failure in the Palestinian educational system: UNRWA and the Palestinian leadership.
Rebecca Glanzer is a Columbia College junior majoring in economics. Leeza Hirt is a Columbia College first-year.
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