An Najah University in Nablous
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 05.03.2007:
Education in Nablus
By Dr. Nabil Alawi
Nablus is one of the Palestinian cities that has made education a top priority since the early part of the twentieth century. In 1918, An-Najah School, the mother institution of the present An-Najah National University, was established and in 1941, the school was promoted to a college with a programme that led to a secondary-school diploma. Soon it became one of the most prosperous colleges in the entire region; students from various parts of the Arab World, including North Africa (Tunisia and Algeria), attended An-Najah College. Upon their graduation, these students went back to their home countries with a high school diploma and outstanding qualifications, the likes of which were hardly available to their compatriots. In addition to this early exchange programme, An-Najah College produced teachers and an early generation of intellectuals who continued to serve the city’s educational programme and encouraged it to make steady qualitative and quantitative progress.
An-Najah College continued to serve the educational sector and to undermine the political turmoil that frequented Palestine, in general, and the city of Nablus, in particular, since World War II. In 1965, as the College aimed to train teachers for the increasing number of schools in Palestinian cities, it began to confer an intermediate college certificate in various academic fields. In 1978, An-Najah College was promoted to a university. A new board of trustees, headed by the late Hekmat al Masri and aided by some Nablus dignitaries, was able to recruit qualified staff members from among Palestinians who live both inside and outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In September of 1978, An-Najah National University, with its four colleges of arts, education, science, and business, became a member of the Union of Arab Universities. Since then, An-Najah has expanded its horizons and presently offers graduate and undergraduate educational opportunities to more than 16,000 students in a broad range of knowledge fields.
The University hosts 16 colleges that are located in two campuses, a community college, the Hijawi College of Technology, and 15 centres that offer outreach services to the local community. An-Najah offers 64 specializations that lead to the BA degree, 33 MA programmes, and one Ph.D. programme in chemistry, in addition to 21 diploma programmes offered by the community college and the Hijawi College of Technology. A five-storey library, with holdings of more than 185,000 volumes and 12,000 periodicals, and the most up-to-date learning facilities serve the student population of the two campuses. Cultural and extracurricular activities are hosted in the University auditoria on both campuses, which are also equipped with the most up-to-date facilities.
But education in Palestine, in general, and in Nablus, in particular, has always been targeted by the Israeli Occupation. Students are frequently subjected to various forms of harassment and aggression by Israeli soldiers. Hundreds of students have been arrested, detained, and imprisoned, and dozens have been assassinated. In 1992, the University was under siege for three consecutive days while Israeli soldiers attempted to coerce hundreds of students and faculty members into surrendering a group of ‘wanted’ students. The siege was lifted after the interference of international third parties and the ‘wanted’ students were deported to Amman. The incident continues to impinge on the memory of those who witnessed it, and has thus given the University a new title: ‘The University of Siege and Victory’. And the antagonistic attitude of the Israeli Occupation continues-depriving students of their right to education, holding teachers in administrative detention, and refusing to issue residence permits to those who do not have a West Bank ID card.
After the eruption of Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, the educational situation in Nablus faced unprecedented difficulties. The city was completely sealed off, and there were two strictly monitored checkpoints at the southern and northern entrances to the city. Students stood in line for hours every day at the checkpoints before being allowed to enter. They were subjected to all forms of humiliation by Israeli soldiers.
Despite these crippling difficulties, the University was able to overcome the challenges and to achieve outstanding progress in various domains-even winning a number of international prizes, which attest to the quality of its educational programmes, and participating in national and international learning and teaching activities.
In addition to An-Najah University, Nablus is home to other institutions of higher education such as Al Quds Open University and Al Rawda Community College. Al Quds Open University offers opportunities for distance (open) education to a large number of housewives, employees, and working mothers who cannot attend regular classes because of their various occupations. The role that Al Quds Open University plays in bringing enlightenment and manifold possibilities of learning to Palestinian homes and local institutions cannot be underestimated. Thousands of mothers and employees would have been deprived of the chance to learn were it not for the Open University.
At the level of elementary and secondary education, there are several public and private schools as well as centres for vocational education and training in Nablus and its vicinity. These schools and educational institutions are also routinely targeted by the Israeli Occupation. Since the last Palestinian Legislative Council elections and the rise of Hamas to political leadership, more difficulties were added to the educational sector when Israel and the USA imposed political and financial sanctions on the newly elected government. The sanctions led to an open strike of all public-sector employees, including teachers. The strike continued for nine months, and its consequences on the educational sector can never be calculated.
The bitter days and years that people in Nablus have been witnessing as they try to secure learning opportunities for the young people of all generations did not deter them from promoting a culture of tolerance and mutual understanding among the ethnic minorities within the city. Nablus is known as the ‘showcase’ of Palestine, accommodating Samaritan Jews, Christians, and Moslems, whose children attend the same schools and whose parents, though they attend different places of worship, know that they serve the same God.
And in the meanwhile, would the Israelis leave the deferred dream come true?
Dr. Nabil Alawi is Director of the Public Relations Department at An-Najah University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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