This week, I am embroiled in a new teaching experience – “Research Methods and Analysis,” which complements the “American Politics” course that has been absorbing me so far. My Brandeis University colleague Dan Kryder has come to town (taking two weeks off from HIS Fulbright at the British Library) for an intensive two-week stint. We are offering the course to the first-year M.A. students in American Studies and European Studies. Dan is the instructor of record, but I told him that I would make myself available to help in whatever way I could to enrich the content of the course, so I am assisting.
For the students, the class meets three hours per day, five days/week, for two weeks. This is a challenge for many of them, because they are juggling work and family responsibilities, in addition to the M.A. program. Traveling from location to location within the West Bank can be a long and tedious process, so daily travel for class is a hardship.
So Dan and I decided to accommodate them. Rather than giving the course three hours per day at a single location, we are offering the same sessions twice per day in two locations: the University’s main campus in the village of Abu Dis, and the University’s satellite campus (the Institute for Modern Media) in Ramallah. We’ve got around 16 students in each location. It means six hours per day of teaching, plus a race between Abu Dis and Ramallah to get there in time for the late session. Dan and I have done some dividing of responsibilities – which helps! – but it’s still a fairly grueling schedule. Still, it’s harder on the students: one student in American Studies has a fairly senior job in a Palestinian Authority ministry, travels to Europe for work, and his wife just gave birth to the couple’s fourth child! But somehow he is attending class and turning in his papers. Quite an endeavor.
For the class, we’ve asked them each to construct a research question focused on political opposition to immigration – either in Europe or in the United States. Obviously it’s a issue that is very much alive on both sides of the Atlantic, and the focus on Muslims on both continents gives Palestinian students some additional incentive to dig deeply. It’s proving a challenge to balance the mechanical aspects of this (introducing them to the technicalities of the APA style for citations, for example, or warning them about the perils of plagiarism) with the more engaging and substantive aspects of research methods (such as defining a clear research question and conducting a literature review).
To their credit, the students are showing up and forging ahead, understanding that these are tools that they need to acquire. Still, I think that the American Studies students will be happy when we can return to the arcana of politics in the United States . . and the new future after November 8!
After crowing in my last couple of posts about how quiet the Al-Quds University campus and that no class days have been lost, recent weeks have had their share of disruptions. I showed up at 9:00 a.m.one Sunday morning to an empty parking lot and empty halls. Apparently the union for teachers and staff had called a one-day strike – announced on their Facebook page shortly before midnight on the previous evening. Over the intervening eight hours, the word apparently got around efficiently to faculty, staff and students – to all, apparently, except the clueless visiting scholar. It wasn’t bad, really. I got to have coffee with one faculty member with whom I’d been meaning to connect, and I caught up on my students’ papers. . . and as it happened my own classes didn’t meet that day, so I didn’t lose any class time. But it was a reminder that things can change quickly. I never did get fully to the bottom of the issues behind the strike – it appeared that it was, at least in part, a response to the administration’s plan for increasing the University’s efficiency. But the details were obscure to me.
Then there was the first day of the Research Methods class, when about 20 minutes before the end of class the young women nearest the window started covering their mouths and noses with their handkerchiefs. Dan Kryder blazed right ahead, showing himself a faculty leader determined to proceed with the class no matter the obstacles. But maybe it was just that his eyes and throat weren’t quite as sensitive to tear gas. The incident – which apparently involved some back-and-forth with a jeep of Israeli soldiers – took place up the hill, at some distance from our Faculty of Arts classroom. And it was raining, which helped minimize the effects. So the impact wasn’t as great on us down the hill as it might have been.
On the plus side, the AQU campus is host to a constant series of overseas visitors, academic and cultural events, and extra-curricular innovations. Unfortunately, I missed the opening of the University’s vegan cafeteria – a first for Palestine – which they opened in response to student demand. Two American friends — Peter Hilton and Jodi Hilton — came to campus with me today, and their visit reminded me to emphasize just how normal Al-Quds University looks most days of the week. Students proceed with their classes, hang out drinking coffee, and celebrate the completion of mid-term exams. With the weather still comfortable, a lot of campus life is still outside – in the pleasant gardens and cafes that the University has carefully cultivated and expanded over the two decades that I have been involved here. Yes, the high and forbidding Israeli concrete wall that separates Abu Dis from Jerusalem rings the western edge of the campus – a constant reminder of the political climate. But inside, students go about the business of . . .being students.
Last week I found a day to head up to the northern West Bank city of Nablus to visit two friends there. Mohammed Sawalha is a longtime friend – a professor of English language at an-Najah University who also runs an innovative NGO called the Palestinian House of Friendship. Mahmoud Suleiman is a newer friend – the other Fulbright Scholar in the West Bank in 2016-17. Mahmoud teaches education in Bakersfield, California. As it happens, he grew up outside of Nablus in A-Sira, the same village as Mohammed . .. and they are even related. But my visit provided the first occasion for the two of them to get together since Mahmoud arrived in Nablus in August.
It was interesting to spend the day on a different Palestinian campus. An-Najah is the largest of the Palestinian universities, with 23,000 students or so, scattered across an old campus and a new campus with dramatic views of the city’s valley setting. While there, I had a chance to listen in as a few students (many of them from the engineering faculty) practiced for an English-language debate competition.
The question was: Should Palestinians who are educated outside of the country have an obligation to return to Palestine, or is it OK if they stay and live abroad? (Well, that’s not the exact wording, but you get the idea.) The students were either terrific actors – or else they really brought deeply-felt and well-reasoned arguments to both sides of this difficult question. They also had the benefit of working with Alia Gilbrecht, a dedicated staff member from the United States.
Later in the day, I had the pleasure of visiting the amazing skateboard park that Mohammed and his colleagues at the Palestinian House of Friendship completed in the last year. Set on a beautiful hilltop in the village of A-Sira, it attracts young people from Nablus and the surrounding communities to hone their skills under the tutelage of international volunteers. Mohammed even hopes to see the park be the training ground for a Palestinian skateboard team at the 2020 Olympics. On to Tokyo!
The day in Nablus concluded with a short stint in Mahmoud’s family’s olive groves. It was the heart of olive picking season, so I got my turn to knock some of the small green fruits from the tree, and to drink tea from water boiled over olive wood. A visit to the A-Sira town press gave me a chance to sample the oil straight from the final stage of filtration!
Today, of course, everyone here is focused on what will happen tomorrow in the U.S. presidential election. I was commandeered into service at the last moment this morning to speak in Dr. Mohammad Abu Koash’s political theory class about the Electoral College. I hope that I didn’t confuse them too much! As I think that I’ve said before, many of my students find Trump distasteful . . .but their enthusiasm for Clinton is tempered by their low expectations of her advocacy for the Palestinian cause. But at the very least, they are primed to understand the state-by-state process as the returns come in here early Wednesday morning!