My American Politics class had its last session a few days ago. We’re paying close attention to the tweets of President-Elect Trump – interesting in and of themselves, but also useful as a gateway to larger issues in American politics and society. Last week we spent some time on his proclamation that Americans who burn the U.S. flag should potentially be stripped of their citizenship or thrown into jail for a year. This gave us a chance to talk about the complexities of the First Amendment, and to look at the relevant Supreme Court cases that have, by and large, categorized flag-burning as protected speech. It also made for an interesting comparative discussion. My students told me that Palestinian law has some significant restrictions on speech denigrating religious ideas and symbols, but few formal restrictions on political speech as such. Something to learn more about.
This weekend, my students are finishing up a paper for their Research Methods class, and they’ll start in earnest their preparations for next week’s American Politics final. I conducted review sessions this week in Bethlehem and Ramallah. They are all feeling a bit overwhelmed, between work, family, and student responsibilities. The multiplicity of commitments – and the particular challenges of studying in a second language – are wearing some of them down. But they are keeping their heads up and looking forward, I’m sure, to a breather in a couple of weeks.
I attended a few sessions earlier this week of a conference hosted by the University on “The Production of Inequality” in the city of Jerusalem. A great deal of attention was given to the displacement of the Palestinian population within the Old City and other Jerusalem neighborhoods, with connections made to the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank. The shrinking space which Palestinians can call their own is very much on people’s minds here. In the wake of the U.S. elections, a number of Israeli ministers – notably Education Minister Naftali Bennett — have amplified calls for outright annexation of the West Bank. Events on the ground and rhetoric on the airwaves have reinforced the conviction among some Palestinian scholars that Israeli society’s ultimate goal is the removal of the Palestinian people – one way or another – from its midst. This bleak interpretation leads quite naturally to dispiriting conclusions about the future of the region.
On a more positive note, I am enjoying hosting my colleague Dr. Sue Lanser at the University this week. Sue is advising AQU during this academic year on improvements the University’s English language requirement. We have had productive conversations together with faculty members, administrators, and outside organizations. It is clear that motivation is high on campus to give students a stronger foundation in this area – which is vital to their continuing studies and to their longer-term career prospects.
And also . . . The end of semester and the holiday season bring some sparks of joy to the Al-Quds University campus. A highlight this week was the inter-faith Christmas celebration in the University’s central courtyard, organized by some active Christian students, and attended by the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, as well as a prominent Muslim sheikh. The event included a rousing performance of holiday music by a bagpipe band, a speech on the blessings of peace and mutual understanding by university president Dr. Imad Abu Kishek, and a very slim Santa Claus dispensing candy to all. Student celebrations this week also included a ritual bath in the fountain in the center of campus – apparently celebrating the completion of an academic achievement. Under challenging circumstances, the spirit and values of Al-Quds University make themselves felt.