Alternative Palestinian Agenda

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Higher Education, Civil Society, and the State in Palestine

By Christa Bruhn

Palestinian Strategy Workshop

Madison, Wisconsin

November 18-22, 2002

In this paper I analyze the relationship between civil institutions and the state for non-state or marginalized peoples by considering the case of 'stateless' Palestine. Specifically I explore the impact of Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza as civil institutions on the Palestinian nation in its many localities, be they on either side of the 'Green Line' or in the diaspora, and demonstrate the extent to which they both represent and serve the Palestinian nation in the shadow of the state of Israel. My analysis focuses on the period from their inception in 1972 through the Oslo period ending in September 2000 and is based in part on interviews I conducted in August 2000 only one month prior to the outbreak of the second intifada. Understanding the present

The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 and its subsequent expansion has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and lands and effectively erased the name Palestine from the world map, which now reads 'Israel' where Palestine once stood. This renaming of the space of Palestine has forced Palestinians to plead their case to the international community in order to even be considered a legitimate people. International law and declarations of human rights have been in their favor, and yet Palestinians remain stateless and subject to the state of Israel. The failure of the international community to push for resolution of the conflict led the Palestinians to speak for themselves as they rose up in anger with the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987. What began as a spontaneous outburst of anger and frustration quickly developed into a widespread, grassroots demonstration of civil disobedience. The Madrid Conference in 1992 seemed like the world was finally serious about Palestinian statehood which brought the intifada to an end. The ensuing Oslo Accords raised Palestinian expectations that their promise of a state was near realization. They put their faith in the Palestinian Authority to oversee their affairs and praised the new roads and autonomous zones that followed.

But the promise was empty and statehood remained an illusion. It only took seven years for the Palestinians to say they had had enough empty promises. The outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 and the escalation of violence that followed is the most chaotic expression of that frustration throughout the history of the conflict. Trust in the process has vanished and the spirit of compromise is seemingly nonexistent. We have arguably reached the most difficult impasse of the conflict. But rather than throw our arms up in despair, it is prime time to learn something so obvious that we cannot even see it, namely that Palestine and Israel are spatially one and the same even though the playing field on which they coexist is not level. But how did the nation of Palestine survive its statelessness? This paper explores in what ways Palestinian universities helped keep the Palestinian nation alive, even without the state.

The state in stateless Palestine

Let us first consider the current space of Palestine and Israel. By now it is clear even to most Palestinians and Israelis that there are two nations within that space. The era of denial on either side is over. Palestinians are not going to cross over the Jordan River and be absorbed by their Arab brothers and Israelis are not going to jump into the sea or go back to wherever they came from. The Palestinians who are in exile still long for their return as do their children who have never even set foot on its soil, and most Israelis today were actually born there and can no longer imagine any other place as home. But if Palestine is home for the Palestinians and Israel is home for the Israelis, where is the state?

The term 'state' refers to the modern notion of the 'nation-state' and constitutes the bureaucratic entity that governs under the symbol of its flag and in the name of its national narrative. It has the recognition of the international community of nation-states and as Appadurai eloquently describes:

The nation-state relies for its legitimacy on the intensity of its meaningful presence in a continuous body of bounded territory. It works by policing its borders, producing its people, constructing its citizens, defining its capitals, monuments, cities, waters, and soils, and by constructing its locales of memory and commemoration, such as graveyards and cenotaphs, mausoleums and museums. The nation-state conducts throughout its territories the bizarrely contradictory project of creating a flat, contiguous, and homogeneous space of nationness and simultaneously a set of places and spaces (prisons, barracks, airports, radio stations, secretariats, parks, marching grounds, processional routes) calculated to create the internal distinctions and divisions necessary for state ceremony, surveillance, discipline, and mobilization. These latter are also the spaces and places that create and perpetuate the distinctions between rulers and ruled, criminals and officials, crowds and leaders, actors and observers.

The state also engages in the silent game of inclusion and exclusion through the normalization of some and othering of 'others' through the educational system. Its educational system further has the task of perpetuating its language, its history, and its vision of the future so that its citizens remain predictable, law-abiding, and loyal subjects of the state, that ideally would even die for the state if they were called to do so.

If we consider the geographical space of Palestine and Israel, where in that space is the state? Certainly the state of Israel is 'the state' given its international recognition and its power to collect taxes, police and defend borders, control natural resources, administer education, perpetuate language, history, and a vision of the future, define who is normal and who is 'other,' and so on. But there is something more to the state of Israel than the state. There are the Palestinians within 'its' borders, the majority of whom are not its citizens. Regardless of their legal status as 'citizens,' residents,' or 'refugees,' they represent the non-state indigenous population of the space of Palestine and Israel.

Palestinian demands for statehood stem from a longstanding desire for self-determination perceived as the only route to international legitimacy. The discourse set in motion with the Oslo Accords called for the eventual establishment of a state of Palestine 'alongside Israel,' the assumption being that state would be geographically confined within the boundaries of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even though statehood is nowhere explicitly stated within the Accords. In fact, Article I of the Accords entitled 'Aim of the Negotiations' explains:

The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations within the current Middle East peace process is, among other things, to establish an Interim Self-Government Authority, the elected Council (the "Council"), for the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for a transitional period not exceeding five years, leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. It is understood that the interim arrangements are an integral part of the whole peace process and that the negotiations on the permanent status will lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 also provide no mention of Palestinian statehood. In fact, they do not mention the Palestinians at all and refer to the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 rather than to the conflict with the Palestinians. For example, Security Council Resolution 242 calls for "the withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict" and the "termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area" as well as "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem." "Withdrawal from territories" does not call for Palestinian statehood. The state of Israel actually claims it took care of this aspect of the resolution when it withdrew from the Sinai peninsula and now refers to the West Bank and Gaza as 'disputed territories.' Reference to "territories occupied in the recent conflict" excludes any illegal confiscation of lands in 1948. Notice the mention of the "territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area," not nations. Non-state Palestine clearly is not part of this resolution. And "achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem" also fails to call for Palestinian statehood, not to mention the right of return of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 or 1967 for that matter. Security Council Resolution 338 of 1973 simply calls for a cease-fire, "the implementation of Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) in all of its parts," and negotiations "aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East." Again no mention of a state for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian Authority was created in conjunction with the Oslo Accords as the "Interim Self-Government Authority" to establish the bureaucratic power structure to oversee Palestinians in specified areas of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Authority even engaged in the functions of a state in a limited capacity by collecting taxes, policing borders (if we can call the checkpoints entering A areas borders), and administering the elementary and secondary education system. Time, however, demonstrated that its 'state' powers were never intended to extend beyond these limited functions as the cantonization of the West Bank and Gaza became clear. The Palestinians were not to be treated as a nation, but rather as a non-state people that had to somehow be contained and incorporated into the state apparatus of Israel.

Education in stateless Palestine

While key negotiators quibbled over the components of the mirage of Palestinian statehood, Palestinians on the ground were engaged in another pursuit: the pursuit of sustaining the nation without the state. Palestinian universities were at the forefront of this effort because they were initially the only institution under Israeli occupation that was not under direct Israeli control. Their dual role as centers of resistance and education contributed to the survival of Palestinian aspirations for nationhood. They provided a space under occupation where students and faculty could engage in making sense of the past and develop a vision of the future. That vision called for securing the right to be Palestinian. It upheld that right in that it refused to let the nation of Palestine be swallowed or obliterated by the state of Israel. It is a miraculous achievement given that Israel controlled nearly every other aspect of their lives.

Palestinian universities stand in contrast to elementary and secondary education in the West Bank and Gaza which Jordan and Egypt administered respectively until the 1967 war, after which it fell under Israeli control. The Oslo Accords of 1993 turned the responsibility of elementary and secondary education over to the newly created Palestinian Authority and its Ministry of Education in August 1994. Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza, on the other hand, have always been in the hands of the Palestinians since their inception in 1972. Efforts to link these institutions more closely to the Palestinian Authority through the establishment of the Ministry of Higher Education in 1996 proved only partially successful as the universities chose to remain defiantly independent in the spirit of their founding and continue to exist as public, non-governmental institutions to this day.

The status of Palestinian universities in the West Bank and Gaza as public, non-profit, non-governmental institutions is unique in the region and the world where state institutions are the norm. Their status is a direct reflection of the circumstances under which they came into being. Israeli restrictions on Palestinian national institutions encouraged the establishment of universities throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and so one by one they emerged as private initiatives of a non-state people. Israeli restrictions on movement encouraged the establishment of a total of 10 universities throughout the West Bank and Gaza so that Palestinians could have local access to higher education. They became the lifeline of Palestinians committed to being Palestinian.

The unique status of Palestinian universities as non-state institutions and their accessibility to students and faculty made them a natural facilitator of national consciousness. These institutions took on a life of their own as people came together and shared ideas in the traditional spirit of higher education as a community of learners in search of truth. In this respect, Palestinian universities provided a safe haven where Palestinians could reflect on who they were and what they wanted. The traditional symbols they adopted, like the olive tree at Birzeit University, and the national narrative they constructed spoke to every Palestinian, urban or rural, rich or poor, at home or in exile. A shared understanding of what it means to be Palestinian emerged, but not as something new, but the articulation of what Palestinians held deep in their hearts and minds. The narrative resonated within Palestinians everywhere because it told their story and expressed their aspirations to live free with dignity.

The ensuing love affair with nationalism demanded statehood, and the universities carried that torch up through the 1980s. Israel recognized their role as centers of political struggle and national resistance and responded by limiting expansion of buildings and facilities, limiting students' access to library materials, taxing books and laboratory materials, blocking external financial resources and restricting academic freedom through serious censorship and the banning of more than 2000 books. Moreover, enrolled students as well as students who had already graduated were the target of arrests and incarcerations for being politically active. Ultimately the state of Israel simply shut down the universities with the outbreak of the first intifada in December 1987. Their rebirth came after the Oslo Accords in 1993 when international support enabled them to take on the task of nation building now that a state appeared imminent. This transformation from facilitators of national consciousness to promoters of nation building was evident in the marked surge in student enrollment and program development. The universities became committed to preparing Palestinian youth for their productive role in the future state of Palestine.

The universities' contribution to nation building extended beyond the academic preparation of its youth. Universities expanded their service component to their surrounding communities by providing leadership in local development. Outreach efforts linked the universities with various segments of the private sector. These relationships contributed to the social and economic health of Palestinians in spite of the challenges imposed on them by their non-state status. Thus, the combination of national consciousness and nation building has enabled Palestinian universities to both keep the Palestinian nation alive and contribute to its perpetuation as a dynamic force in spite of its statelessness, for they came to represent the very pulse of the Palestinian nation.

The escalation of the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 has led to the logistical closure of Palestinian universities since faculty and students have simply been unable to pass through Israeli checkpoints to reach the institutions or even leave their homes due to curfews. Ongoing resistance to this obstruction to Palestinian education has resulted in the official closure of some institutions such as Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. Either way all universities remain effectively closed. These challenges are further complicated by the financial crisis at Palestinian universities due in part to the cessation of the European Community's five year commitment of aid to cover the operating expenses of all Palestinian universities with the 1999-00 academic year. The European Community assumed that the Palestinian Authority would take over the responsibility of supporting these 'public goods.' The emphasis of the Palestinian Authority, however, was on maintaining power, not serving the public good, so universities were left with empty promises of financial support. The impact of these developments has been severe on the capacity of Palestinian universities as civil institutions to contribute to nationalist expression and nation building.

Perhaps the state of Israel has begun to realize the magnitude of the impact of these civil institutions on Palestinians on both sides of the 'Green Line.' The one safe haven where Palestinians could be themselves as a nation is for the time being out of their reach as they sit confined to their homes under curfew as individual captives of the state of Israel. But even as they sit, the power of the university remains, the national narrative remains, the idea of the university as a space to be Palestinian remains (and they will long for it), and the services lost due to closure badly missed. The power of these institutions to reach beyond the walls of their lecture halls and open spaces and provide hope even in the most desperate of times served as a stabilizing factor in the midst of uncertainty and chaos.

Building the nation without the state

Interviews I conducted just before the outbreak of the second intifada in August 2000 with the leadership of the higher education sector in stateless Palestine, namely presidents, vice-presidents, and faculty of universities, officials in the Ministry of Higher Education, and other prominent figures in education, revealed four primary components to nation building in Palestine: (a) planning for the future, (b) developing society, (c) fostering institutional development, and (d) becoming independent. A detailed discussion of these areas follows.

Planning for the future

A central theme in planning for the future was to develop a long-term national vision for Palestinian development that would involve all sectors of society. The focus of development was to identify the needs of Palestinian society and establish priorities in preparation for peacetime and statehood. Such priorities would serve as measures for success in preparation for a future state. The underlying assumption that Palestinians were working toward a state that would be realized sometime in the not too distant future was prevalent among leaders in higher education. It was a destination, but one for which Palestinians were determined to be ready when they arrived. In this respect, the centrality of planning was not surprising.

Educational leaders expressed a deep sense of frustration among the leadership of the education sector over the limitations in implementing plans due to the severity of the constraints experienced by Palestinian society living under Israeli rule. Nevertheless, the commitment to prepare for a 'normal' future was strong. These leaders illustrated their commitment through their willingness to pursue development in spite of repeated periods of financial crisis and political uncertainty. For example, one president proudly iterated that when the university could only afford to pay each employee a nominal amount of $40, he accepted the same low pay as his entire staff. This commitment was met with the conviction that a future of stability and normality was inevitable, if only a matter of time.

The excitement and commitment I witnessed among the leadership of the education sector point to an overall willingness to plan, even if implementation was restricted for the time being. The leadership expressed the importance of coordinating planning within and among the various sectors of society such as education and industry. Such coordination was in part limited by the restrictions on movement the state of Israel imposed on Palestinians under Israeli occupation, but leaders felt they could and certainly should do more in spite of such restrictions. Leaders expressed the need to approach planning as a mutually beneficial effort rather than one in which particular institutions or sectors would feel marginalized by the process. Leaders considered the development of greater trust within and among the various sectors of Palestinian society crucial to such coordination in planning.

Developing society

Central to the development of Palestinian society as it looked to the future was to provide opportunities to Palestinians to acquire skills and knowledge that would advance their vision of a state. This need, however, was intended to go beyond the obvious investment in human resources. The restrictive conditions under which development would take place necessitated that such development occur simultaneously in all sectors of society and that leadership be prevalent throughout these sectors to guide such efforts. Such informal leadership existed at multiple levels and was therefore locally relevant to the sector(s) of society it was subject to guide. These multiple efforts in maintaining and developing Palestinian society were survival mechanisms that would both patch the holes of a sometimes sinking ship and manage to allow it to navigate in uncharted waters. The figurehead of a captain was therefore irrelevant because the ship would continue to sail by the many efforts of the crew determined to reach land. The desire for a master plan was widespread, propelled from within by the collective energy of the Palestinian nation and the pockets of leadership that were guiding it.

Leadership in the higher education sector was aware of the pockets of leadership throughout Palestinian society. Ideally such pockets would become integrated to better serve the multiple needs of the Palestinian nation more effectively. Integration was understood as avoiding duplication, sharing resources, understanding common goals, and articulating a clear message, particularly to the international community on which the Palestinians depend. Working together for a better future was as much about the individual as about the society at large. Development in this context meant working toward a state that would recognize the right to self-expression of its people and honor the protection of its national and human rights. Cooperation among Palestinian leaders in education could only further that goal.

Fostering institutional development

Institutional development represents the crystallization of the ongoing development of the nation. Civil institutions are voices and structures that articulate a national message. The organic quality of this process is pronounced in stateless Palestine because there is no state to provide a sense of finality and stability to the structures. Palestinian civil institutions have been extremely flexible and subsequently haven proven resilient. They are culminations of the pockets of leadership found throughout Palestinian society. Their continuity has provided Palestinians with stability. They have served as the rudder that prevents the ship from capsizing when faced with rough waters. At the same time, they are the building blocks of a future state. Through them, the state exists even before it is born.

Civil institutions both represent and serve the nation. They are the non-governmental bodies that provide infrastructure for programs and services that cater to the needs of society. They also serve a regulatory function and provide an atmosphere of accountability. They allow for a common understanding of how people exist in society with respect to one another and illustrate the paths a nation has chosen to follow and where they may lead. They are an expression of choices, individual and collective, and they speak louder than words because they exist both before and after their establishment.

Becoming independent

Emphasis on civil institutions and the pockets of leadership found within them in the Palestinian context are evidence of a locally defined development that strived for independence. Political and historical circumstances have given rise to a "culture of dependence" among Palestinians, and yet they continue to strive fiercely for independence. They realize that they need the support of the international community to achieve this end and therefore remain at the mercy of interests beyond the local context that drives their activities. Nevertheless, Palestinians have remained centered in their pursuit of independence from the state of Israel in order develop their own political and economic base. Paradoxically, Palestinians will remain heavily dependent in order to free themselves from dependence. The Palestinian nation views this state of dependence as a direct outcome of its subjugation to the state of Israel. As it engaged in the tireless preparation for independence on all fronts, it continued to welcome outside support that would further such efforts.

Educational leaders made a distinction between independence from the establishment of law and authority in stateless Palestine. Thus far attempts to develop law and authority in Palestine have been orchestrated from outside and directed at controlling rather than liberating the Palestinian nation. Authority that does not represent the people of Palestine and law that does not protect its people are scams and should be recognized as such. Independence is an offshoot of the established institutional leadership as expressed through Palestinian universities and other civil institutions that are already in place across time and space and therefore need not be imposed on a nation. Thus, independence constitutes the deep-rooted institutional leadership that takes on nationalist expression and is recognized as such both locally and internationally.

The power of civil institutions

Noteworthy from my interviews with the educational sector in Palestine is the emphasis on building the nation rather than building the state. Educational leaders see their contribution to the nation through its civil institutions rather than the post-Oslo bureaucratic structure of the Palestinian Authority. Perceptions of stability and normality are associated with and thought to be guaranteed by civil institutions rather than a political structure. In fact, the development of Palestinian civil society must necessarily be non-political in the bureaucratic sense since it remains in opposition to the state, namely the state of Israel. Aspirations for independence or the leveling of the playing field refer more to the freedom to develop Palestinian society rather than a Palestinian state per se. Even Ministerial officials recognized the limitations of their capacity as quasi-government officials. Civil institutions are not looking to the Palestinian Authority for leadership; they are looking to each other because they are building the nation without the state. The Palestinian nation was born through its civil institutions and its leadership will emerge from within their walls. The Palestinian Authority is the product of a failing peace process and in that respect has been imposed on the Palestinian nation. The widespread frustration over the Palestinian Authority to lead the nation or build the state for that matter is directly linked to its failure to emerge from civil society in the first place. Leadership rooted within the civil institutions carries its own legitimacy, and with legitimacy comes power. In fact, the Palestinian Authority's preoccupation with maintaining power rather than serving the nation is a direct manifestation of its fundamental illegitimacy among Palestinian society. Such a power structure will imprison the nation to get the state. Civil society can only resist incarceration from the state that is Israel and the Authority - even if it carries its name - if the Palestinian nation is to survive.

The future of the space of Palestine and Israel cannot ignore the power of civil institutions to sustain and lead the nation. And it is the nation of Palestine that must contend with the nation of Israel, since the state of Israel has other plans. Just as a legitimate, deep-rooted leadership will emerge from Palestinian civil institutions, so too will an Israeli leadership emerge that is committed to serving the nation, not just the state. Unfortunately the institutional base in Palestinian society that speaks for the Palestinian nation has yet to be heard. It is silenced by the state of Israel through assassination, and by the Palestinian Authority through incarceration for 'threatening' its power. Perhaps Israeli civil society is also silenced by its state's agenda. Silent as it may be, it most certainly exists. The so-called 'Israeli-Arabs' are not the only people in the state of Israel that are not of the state. Even though the state of Israel is committed to an existence that negates the Palestinian nation, we can only assume that there are other voices within Israel that offer a different face than the state, one that looks out for the interests of the Jewish Israelis it represents, one that is concerned about them as people, not subjects of power. A thorough exploration of this dimension of the Israeli nation is certainly worthy of exploration but beyond the scope of this paper.

NGOs and non-state Palestine

I will briefly point out a relevant distinction between civil institutions such as the university and Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Both are non-state institutions that provide invaluable services to their Palestinian constituents as they face the challenges associated with Israeli occupation day in and day out. However, the bureaucratic structure of NGOs limits their actual impact on the ground beyond the humanitarian services they provide because they are caught in the endless cycle of obtaining the next grant. Their fundamental dependence on funding agencies not only drives their programs rather than the needs of Palestinian society, but also necessarily restricts the scope of their work to specific issues such as 'human rights' or 'women.'

I do not wish to discredit the efforts of these organizations, but offer a word of caution as to the impact of their work on the communities they serve. This narrow scope, which may be considered a direct byproduct of their dependence on funding agencies, loses sight of the connection of their work to serving the Palestinian nation. If each organization addressed the needs of its constituents within this context, the painstaking work of these organizations would no doubt have a greater impact on the communities they serve. Their work would move beyond easing the pain associated with occupation by covering up its damage with bandaids that fail to take the problem head on, namely their subjugation as a non-state people to the state of Israel.

Whereas the university has become the very lifeblood of the Palestinian nation, NGOs must overcome the dilemma of their association with non-local funding agencies that impact their work by staying connected to the needs and aspirations of their constituents and certainly some NGOs manage to do so. As long as NGOs are well connected with their constituents and actually involve them actively in program planning and implementation, chances are their projects will be more strategic and have a positive impact on the communities they serve. Otherwise the agenda of the NGOs becomes a byproduct of the agenda of funding agencies that neither have the understanding nor the commitment to contribute effectively to the needs of the Palestinian nation.

'Israeli Arabs' and the state

The Palestinian nation is defined through its understanding of self as Palestinian. The Palestinian nation is therefore not restricted by territory and includes those living within the 'Green Line,' the so-called 'Israeli-Arabs' as an integral component of the Palestinian nation. These are the Palestinians who were incorporated into the state of Israel through Israeli citizenship in 1966 after 18 years of living under Israeli military administration. They were dragged along as citizens of the state of Israel, though they, like their fellow Palestinians across the 'Green Line,' remained a non-state people. Their fate as subjects of the state of Israel meant they were to pledge allegiance to a flag that was not theirs, pay taxes to a state that did not provide them with the same services as their fellow Jewish citizens, live within borders that kept them away from their own people, speak a language that was not theirs, learn a history that was not theirs, all the while wondering where they fit in a national narrative they could never call their own. They were, in short, left without the institutional base to provide them with the space to be Palestinian.

The 'Israeli Arabs' fell to the bottom of the hierarchy of Israeli citizens, suffering from discrimination across the board, from housing and land rights to education and employment. Some of these Palestinians who were displaced from their homes in 1948, the so-called 'internally displaced,' do not even have their own land, nor do they have the right to buy land. Meanwhile the state continues to confiscate more Palestinian lands allegedly due to environmental or security concerns, a practice that continues on both sides of the 'Green Line' to this day. Still others according to the state of Israel do not even exist, like the Association of Forty, which represents 40 unrecognized villages in the south of Israel for which the state provides no services. And then there is the ongoing predicament of the Bedouins in the Negev desert who continue to battle the ramifications of forced sedentarization.

Just as the institutional base in the West Bank and Gaza sustained the Palestinian nation there, it has inspired the establishment of Palestinian civil institutions in the state of Israel that have revived the Palestinian nation within that state. The 'Israeli Arabs' have increasingly come to recognize their non-state status within the state of Israel. A state that fails to represent them has effectively called on them to represent themselves. For example Azmi Bishara, an 'Israeli Arab,' formed a political party to better represent the rights of the 'Israeli Arabs' after teaching at Birzeit University in the West Bank for ten years. He was the first 'Israeli Arab' to run and win on a national platform that addressed the needs of the Palestinians rather than on local issues of specific municipalities within the state of Israel, and win a seat in the Israeli Knesset. Other efforts to do so have been met with limited success in spite of the fact that Palestinians represent roughly 20% of the Israeli population. A surge in the number of Arabic newspapers within the state of Israel is also a reflection of the articulation of the Palestinian nation along the lines of Benedict Anderson. At an institutional level, The Center for Bedouin Studies and Development at Ben Gurion University of the Negev has significantly increased Bedouin access to higher education in Israel by helping Bedouin students gain the 'educational capital' needed to succeed at Israeli universities, particularly in the sciences and engineering.

These and other civil institutions within the state of Israel cater to the needs of its Palestinian population in a state that chooses to contain its non-Jewish population rather than embrace it. They have opened up the space to be Palestinian, which has not only led to greater opportunities for Palestinians inside the 'Green Line,' but also significantly raised the morale of these Palestinians. A renewed sense of pride and commitment to the Palestinian nation is evident in their solidarity activities with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. For example, 'Israeli Arabs' demonstrated in solidarity with their fellow Palestinian nationals with the outbreak of the second intifada, which was met with brutal force by the state of Israel, resulting in the killing of 13 'Israeli Arabs' in October 2000. Palestinian political and grassroots organizations from the Galilee demonstrated solidarity and support on the Day of Land in March 2002 for the Palestinian Bedouin community in the Negev in their efforts to hold onto their properties being confiscated by the state of Israel.

Two nations, one state?

The interests of the Palestinian nation and the Israeli nation are clearly first and foremost to uphold that which is unique and distinctive about each: their language, history, culture. But beyond that which distinguishes one from the other is the shared aspiration of peace and security. It is not only doubtful, but also absurd to assume that either one of these nations could consider its future independent of the other. It is also absurd to think of them as separate and distinct, when their populations are intermingled to a greater extent than the 'Green Line' would have us believe. The nation of Israel has permeated what was Palestine and the nation of Palestine remains throughout the territorial space of Israel.

So when we reflect on the future of the space of Palestine and Israel, we are looking too far if we look to the state of Israel and in the process overlook the people that make up its nation. Perhaps if we focused on the people that make up both nations we would arrive at a state that actually could serve them rather than bring them both to their doom. The more the state of Israel asserts itself as the sole power structure in the space of Palestine and Israel, the more enraged will become the Palestinian nation who remains robbed of its dignity on either side of the 'Green Line.' If democracy is an integral part of both nations as is demonstrated through their rhetoric and civil institutions, there is no room for silencing. The state must reflect that commitment for both Palestine and Israel if it shall be the state of its peoples.

So what would a state look like in the space of Palestine and Israel? Would it come to terms with the nations contained within it and include them within its power structure on equitable terms? Would it move beyond the current imbalance where one nation-state exists at the exclusion of another? Since the civil institutions are the closest reflection of the nations within that space and are a reflection of the very heart and soul of a nation, will they pave the way for a future state yet to be born?


The above illustration of the extent to which Palestinian universities as civil institutions in the case of stateless Palestine represent and serve the Palestinian nation begs for a reexamination of the concept of the nation-state in general and the expression of the state in the space of Palestine and Israel in particular. The power of civil institutions and their ability to represent and serve the nation may enrich future exploration of how we imagine a transformation of the state that both represents and serves the peoples within its boundaries and their respective nations. Whether such work would provide us with new understandings of the state and the nation beyond the nation-state or something we have yet to imagine remains an open question.



  1. War in the tribal zone, Expanding states and indigenous warfare, (eds) R. Brian Ferguson and Neil L. Whitehead, (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2001).

  2. Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at large. Cultural dimensions of globalization, (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), p. 189.

  3. Thomas Popkewitz, "Rethinking decentalization and state/civil society distinctions. The state as a problematic of governing," in Educational knowledge. Changing relationships between the state, civil society, and the educational community, (ed) Thomas Popkewitz, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000), pp. 173-200.

  4. Source:

  5. Source:

  6. H. Frisch, Countdown to statehood. Palestinian state formation in the West Bank and Gaza. (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998).

  7. Sara Graham-Brown, Education, Repression & Liberation: Palestinians, (London: World University Service, 1984).

  8. The Arab American University - Jenin, which opened for classes in fall 2000, is the only private, for profit university in Palestine. Al-Quds Open University was established by the PLO as a governmental institution, but operates as a public, non-profit institution. All other Palestinian universities are non-governmental, non-profit institutions.

  9. Ibrahim Abu-Loghod, "Palestinian Higher Education: National Identity, Liberation, and Globalization," Boundary 2:1, (Spring 2000).

  10. Said Assaf, Educational Disruption and Recovery in Palestine, Final Report and Case Studies of the Workshop on Educational Destruction and Reconstruction in Disrupted Societies, Geneva, Switzerland, (1997, May 15-16), pp. 51-61.

  11. Abu-Loghod, 2000; Assaf, 1997.

  12. Abu-Loghod, 2000.


  14. Ismael Abu-Saad, "Education as a tool for control vs. development among indigenous peoples: The case of Bedouin Arabs in Israel," in International Social Science Review, Vol. 2(2), 2001, pp. 241-259.

  15. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, (London and New York: Verso, 1983).

  16. Ibid.

  17. The Day of Land marks the commemoration of four Palestinians who were killed by Israeli forces when they refused to leave their land in 1976.

  18. For more on the transformation of post-colonial societies, see Bill Ashcroft, Post-colonial transformation, (London and New York: Routledge, 2001).

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