West Bank balance

January 2, 2014

On 18 November, Brandeis University, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts that describes itself as the only non-sectarian Jewish-sponsored institution in the US, suspended its partnership with Al-Quds University, a Palestinian institution with campuses in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank.

Brandeis said in a statement: “The Nov. 5 demonstration on the Al-Quds campus involved demonstrators wearing black military gear, armed with fake automatic weapons, and who marched while waving flags and raising the traditional Nazi salute. The demonstration took place in the main square of the Al-Quds campus, which was surrounded by banners depicting images of ‘martyred’ suicide bombers.”

Photographs of the rally were circulated online and prompted widespread criticism. In response, Brandeis’ president, Frederick Lawrence, called on his Al-Quds counterpart, Sari Nusseibeh, to unequivocally condemn the demonstration. Nusseibeh issued a letter to students, saying that the coverage had misrepresented the university “as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies”, but Brandeis described his response as “unacceptable and inflammatory”.

I spent a semester teaching English literature at Al-Quds earlier in 2013. The scale and significance of the rally has been exaggerated. Around 40 students participated out of a student body of 13,000. One undergraduate wrote to me afterwards: “I’m sure 80 per cent of our students have no idea it happened, while tens of pro-peace conventions and exchange projects go unnoticed outside campus.”

This is not to discount that the rally raises questions for Al‑Quds about how to manage dissent and extremism (an issue faced by universities worldwide). Yet a report by Brandeis’ International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, released on 9 December, concludes that Al‑Quds’ staff responded “promptly and appropriately” in investigating the event and calls on Brandeis to resume and “redouble” the partnership.

The challenges faced by Al-Quds are exceptional. Its two main campuses are 7km apart. The sites, one in East Jerusalem, are separated by the West Bank barrier and it can take over an hour to travel between them. The university can, as a consequence, register neither as an Israeli institution nor as a “foreign” one – the status given to other Palestinian universities by Israel’s Council for Higher Education. This has implications for its funding, but also for students. For example, if an Al-Quds graduate in medicine lives in Jerusalem, his or her degree is not recognised there.

The main campus is in Area B of the West Bank, which is under joint Israeli-Palestinian control. While I was there, classes were disrupted several times by tear gas fired by Israeli Defence Force soldiers on to campus. On 17 November, my colleagues at Al-Quds reported that 40 people, including a large number of students, had been shot with rubber-coated bullets during an IDF raid on campus.

Students at Al-Quds face practical obstacles on a daily basis, on campus and in travelling to it. Yet the vast majority of them respond with courage, dignity and humour. I hope the Brandeis partnership is restored. There is much that undergraduates in the US and the UK might learn from their counterparts at Al-Quds.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands