UNIVERSITIES IN THE TERRITORIES – BACKGROUND
There are presently six universities in Judea/Samaria and Gaza, and over 20 community colleges. All of them were established during the period of Israeli administration (after 1967) and with Israel’s permission. Until 1967 the Jordanian authorities restricted higher education and, in fact, the establishment of universities was forbidden. The Jordanians allowed the establishment of a number of teachers’ colleges (which had a small number of students) but tried to limit any independence on their part.
The following is a list of the six universities now operating in Judea/Samaria and Gaza:
1. The Islamic University in Hebron was established in 1971. In addition to religious studies, some 1,800 students study sciences and the humanities.
2. The University in Bethlehem (FRERES) was set up by the Vatican in 1973. It has some 1,400 students and 140 academic staff.
3. Bir Zeit University (near Ramallah) was set up as a high-school in 1924 by the Christian Society. In 1972, it became a university. Today it has some 2,500 students who study social sciences, the arts, economics, commerce and engineering.
4. An-Najah University is located in Shechem (Nablus). Until 1977 it was a teachers’ training college. In that year it became a university for the teaching of administration, social sciences, arts and economics in addition to being a teachers’ training college. The university has some 3,000 students and an academic staff of 210.
5. The Gaza district’s Al-Azhar University has some 4,000 students. This institution was set up in 1978 and is affiliated with the large university of the same name in Cairo. There are 140 staff members.
6. The Al-Kuds University is made up of four separate faculties, in Abu-Dis, Beit Hanina, and Jerusalem which recently merged into a single university. Together there are around 3250 students.
BEFORE THE ‘INTIFADA’ – POWER STRUGGLES
For some years, the universities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza have been centers of political unrest and violent demonstrations. Struggles between the university administrations and students over control of university policy and on-campus violence between politically opposed student groups often precipitated university closures.
In years prior to the ‘Intifada’, universities were closed down for more days by their own administrations than by Israeli authorities.
Acting president of An-Najah University Dr. Shareef K’naana, in an interview with the Arabic Jerusalem daily Al-Fajar in August 1984, complained that universities had become "centers for power politics instead of centers for education." He argued: "It is good and healthy for people in educational institutions to have a political point of view. But it is destructive to allow such an institution to be turned into a command center for a certain leader or faction."
Eventually, the boards of governors of the universities lost effective control over campus activity, having been displaced by the student councils which were controlled by the various factions of the PLO or by Islamic groups. Consequently, over time, these places of higher learning underwent a change from pure academic institutions to centers of subversive activity, and on several campuses armed power struggles took place among the various groups. In some cases the students managed by violence and terror to undermine and subvert the academic policies of the universities, including the curriculum.
VIOLENCE DURING THE ‘INTIFADA’
Since the outbreak of the uprising in December 1987 the universities have been in the forefront of the ‘Intifada’, serving as centers of incitement and violence.
The intifada-related activities of the students have included:
a) The blocking of main roads, the throwing of firebombs and rocks at security forces and illegal civil disturbances and rioting outside their campuses.
b) Intensive campaigns of incitement carried out on campus on behalf of the terror organizations, in which students and some of the faculty and administrative staff have taken part. Proof of this activity can be seen in leaflets produced and disseminated in the universities.
c) Involvement in various armed terrorist operations (The murderers of the former mayor of Nablus, Zafer Al-Massri, killed in March 1986, were students from Al-Najah University).
In 1988, in view of the deteriorating situation on the campuses, then-Minister of Defence Rabin decided that it was necessary to temporarily close the universities in the territories. However, the closing of the campuses did not mean the complete cessation of academic studies. The universities rented substitute buildings in the vicinity of the campuses where studies are held. The Israeli Army did not interfere as long as the studies were held in small groups for purely academic purposes and were not exploited for incitement and disorder.
THE SITUATION TODAY – FACTIONALISM AND FINANCIAL STRAITS
The decrease in the number of public disturbances, and the general trend towards normalization in the area enabled the gradual reopening of the universities starting in mid-1990. Today all six of the universities are opened.
However, the permission of the Israeli authorities to reopen is, in itself, not enough to insure the smooth functioning of these acedemic institutions. Studies in all the universities and colleges have been continually disrupted by strikes, internal factional conflicts, and by labor and tuition disputes.
From as early as December 1991, it was clear that the Council for Higher Education in the West Bank was receiving about 40 percent less aid than had been the case in the past, mainly as a result of a dramatic reduction in contributions from the Arab states to Palestinian causes following the Gulf War. This lack of funds has a direct impact on the functioning of the universities.
For example, Bir Zeit University studies have been interrupted by 57 strike days during the current academic year alone, due to demands by the university workers for higher wages. The Islamic University in Hebron reopened more than a month later than planned, because of controversies concerning tuition fees. At Bethlehem University, tension between students and the administration was evident from the beginning of the academic year last October. Academic studies at the Abu-Dis campus were interrupted by a two-week strike in October, followed by a 50-day strike which ended in March.
It should be added that the aformentioned list of lost study days refers only to strikes taking place on a specific campus. To these, one must add many more days that were lost due to general strikes in the area, commemorative days of the different Palestinian factions and other Intifada-related strikes.
On April 23rd, 1992, a symposium was held at Bir Zeit University to discuss the economic problems faced by the universities. A proposal to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia in order to collect donations was widely supported. This decision was never implemented, however, due to opposition from PLO elements outside the territories. It is known that while PLO leaders have given their support for the collection of funds from Palestinians abroad, from international organizations and European institutions, they have strongly opposed the acceptance of help for West Bank universities from Arab states. The PLO views these universities as an influential power base, and would rather deny them much-needed funds than risk losing its hegemony over them.
It is known that while PLO leaders have given their support for the collection of funds from Palestinians abroad, from international organizations and European institutions, they have strongly opposed the acceptance of help for West Bank universities from Arab states. The PLO views these universities as an influential power base, and would rather deny them much-needed funds than risk losing its hegemony over them.