Civil Society, Development & Aid, Education, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, World Social Forum

World Forum Boosts Education for Palestinians

Mel Frykberg

RAMALLAH, Nov 1 2010 (IPS) - Education in Palestinian areas and the longing for a homeland were given a major boost over the weekend through the World Education Forum (WEF). The four-day education conference Oct. 28-31 was held in cities across the West Bank and in Gaza, as well as Lebanon.

About 5,000 Palestinians and 300 international participants attended. They included local, regional and international educators, practitioners, teachers, students, academics, journalists, members of teachers’ unions, and educational and social activists.

Participants in Gaza City, Ramallah, Hebron, Tulkarem, Jenin, Nablus, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Haifa, Yaffa, Nazareth, and Beirut connected via video link.

Through the conferencing, the otherwise bitter divide between Gaza and the West Bank was temporarily bridged with the participation of staff from Palestinian universities from both territories.

“The focus of the forum was to help make a new world possible by challenging the dominant educational mindset and its institutions and systems, informed as they are by neo-liberal economics, competition, marketplace globalisation, consumerism and domination of people and nature,” Intesar Hamdan the Protection of Right To Education programme manager at the Teachers’ Creativity Centre, and one of the conference’s Palestinian organisers told IPS.

The forum was constructed around the themes of education, arts, culture, and identity. The conference in Ramallah took up challenges facing Arab education and reform and explored a new role for civil society. The conference also discussed the psychological needs of children under occupation, and educational challenges and cooperation between Arab countries.

The decision by the WEF, as part of the World Social Forum, to hold the conference in Palestine stemmed from the need to impart Palestinian educational experience to the world and vice versa, and as a gesture of solidarity with Palestine.

“One of the messages from the conference to the international community was that we don’t want the Israeli occupation to continue,” said Hamdan.

“The other message was the importance of education, and this forum served as a platform for exchange of ideas with our international colleagues. Palestine has a history of education under occupation, and we were able to exchange our experiences with the international participants,” added Hamdan.

Most organisers gave their time voluntarily, or were supported by funds from the budgets of local organisations.

The difficulties debated included mobilisation of people, and bringing together the Palestinian diaspora, dispersed as it is across the world as a result of the occupation.

Mobilisation through marches, demonstrations and campaigns in solidarity against the Israeli occupation has dropped off in recent years, and the conference debated ways to revitalise this.

“Further capacity building and the strengthening of our educational system are two of the major goals we have in mind,” Hamdan told IPS.

WEF’s future objectives include generating new and expanded high quality educational knowledge. The organisation also wants to explore how individuals and organisations can work for change as well as build new and strong alliances for mobilisation and effective action between national, regional and international social movements and educational organisations.

WEF also plans to launch worldwide campaigns against commercialisation and privatisation of education.

At the end of the conference, the WEF stressed the “solidarity and support of all struggling nations in their struggle against submission and exploitation, and expulsion of oppressors from their land,” by emphasising their absolute solidarity with the struggle of the Arab-Palestinian People to attain their independent state and break the siege on Gaza.

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