Sunday, 18 November 2007

An olive tree for solidarity

Manchester students reaffirm commitment to Palestinian right to education

On 14 November 2007 the University of Manchester Student Union (UMSU) held a General Meeting with attendance of over 1000 students and strengthened their commitment to the Palestinians' right to education and their twinning with Al-Najah University with almost a two-thirds majority.

A motion called "Peace through Education" had been proposed which aimed at undermining the twinning of UMSU with Al-Najah. It gave the Palestinian university the ultimatum of signing a statement condemning terrorism within two months or the twinning would be abandoned.

It was a racist motion that caused vast indignation amongst the student population by stereotyping Palestinians as terrorists and accusing Al-Najah University of actively supporting terrorism. The writers of the motion cited an unreliable website as a resource which included many inaccuracies and racist quotes.

The movement against the motion involved a very wide layer of groups and societies from different backgrounds and interests, who were unified by the will to defeat the racist motion and support UMSU's stance on solidarity with Palestinian students under occupation. One student who attended the meeting said: "The motion shows that the racism against the Palestinians is one of the last forms of acceptable racism. If we had been twinned with a black university during apartheid in South Africa and they had been given them the ultimatum asking them to condemn gun crime there would have been international outrage, and rightly so."

With over 16500 students enrolled in its 19 faculties and two colleges, Al-Najah is one of the largest universities in Palestine. It is located in the city of Nablus, part of the territories that, according to the United Nations, the state of Israel has been illegally occupying since 1967. On 11 November, members of the Right to Education Campaign at Al-Najah University published a response to the motion in question - through it, they stated: "Neither the university nor its Student Council is a terrorist organization, and the implication that they are is insulting" and, further, "The motion 'Peace Through Education' is defamatory because it repeatedly implies that ANU and it's Student Council promotes, facilitates or has links with terrorism".

It is a fact that the Israeli occupation and the apartheid policing tactics that they uphold cause great suffering to the Palestinian people. Moreover, the Palestinian youth's basic human right to education has been systematically denied by the state of Israel: Universities have been shelled, broken into and forced to close for large periods of time - not to mention the very practical difficulties students must face when trying to pursue their degrees against the backdrop of a military occupation.

The motivation for our Union's twinning with Al-Najah University was based around the ideal of showing solidarity with fellow students enduring acute hardship in Palestine and helping to break the isolation imposed on the Palestinian people. Also it highlights the importance of a right to education globally, and how it should be fought for. These beliefs are something that is part UMSU's long history of internationalism and it's excellent commitment to supporting just causes all across the world.

The motion resolved to accept the invitation made by Al-Najah University for an olive tree from the university to be planted on campus at Manchester as a gesture of peace and as a symbol of life, and allow for a fortnightly article from Al-Najah University students to be printed in Student Direct, the students' official news paper.

The reaction from Al-Najah after the new amended motion was passed was very positive. A statement from them included, "we are very pleased that the amended motion was passed. The solidarity from Manchester Students Union is something we are glad to have. We hope that this will help us to get more attention to our right to an education".

The strengthening of the twinning in Manchester is part of a nationwide movement for solidarity with Palestinians students. Many universities in the UK are now twinned with Palestinian Universities and many others are in the process of finding a twin. A student from Leeds University who was involved with the campaign to get Leeds University twinned with Berzeit University said, "This is an exceptionally significant victory, and can only help other forms of solidarity with Palestinian."

Action Palestine

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