Standing on the campus of Birzeit University in Ramallah (Palestine) one gets a full flavour of the beauty of Palestine as well as of its electric tension. Dryness in the hills is broken by patches of flowers. Watching me look over at the flowers, a young student approaches me and asks what I am looking at. I point to a verge of flowers – red mainly, but also purple and blue. The student says, those are shaqa’iq an-naa’manor anemones. They are dazzling. The student tells me about the tensions at the university. There are always tensions at the university. A few days before, the Israeli police had tried to enter the campus to arrest some student leaders. It is a normal situation. A warm day, beautiful flowers and the threat of violence from the Israeli authorities.
Birzeit opened in 1924, when Palestine was Palestine, as a school of girls, adding in boys two years later. Hanna Nasir, whose father and aunt founded the school, took it further after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and made it a university in 1972. The Israeli state told Hanna Nasir that this act was ‘illegal’. There is not one piece of evidence to show that the Israelis – from 1948 to now – have been keen on the education of the Palestinian people. Birzeit University, the most prestigious of the Palestinian schools and of its institutions, has been under military threat from then till now.
But, as the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said wrote in…