Rima Merriman

De-developing Palestine, one "visit permit" at a time

I am an American citizen of Palestinian descent and have been employed by the Arab American University-Jenin (AAUJ) in the occupied West Bank as an assistant professor of American literature for the past two and a half years. This month, while attempting to re-enter the West Bank through the land border with Jordan to start the academic year, I was denied re-entry by the Israeli authorities and questioned at length about my Palestinian heritage. The stated reason for the denial was that I had broken the law. 

"Where are you from?"

For Palestinian expatriate nationals like me who have managed to find their way back to Palestine in order to contribute in some fashion, what’s on the horizon is far from clear. Our foothold is tenuous; we are here on sufferance by the Israelis who control the borders and the areas between towns and villages and let us in carefully or not at all. Rima Merriman writes from Jenin. 

Palestine's universities: partners or prisoners?

At a workshop conducted at Birzeit University (BZU) on December 13 by AMIDEAST (American-MidEast Educational and Training Services) for Palestinian universities through its Faculty Development Program, the talk turned from the announced topic of the workshop (Palestinian-American University Partnerships) to the question of Palestinian-Palestinian university partnerships or the lack thereof. The occasion had brought together important representatives (at the level of Deans and VPs) from every Palestinian West Bank University. Gaza was unrepresented, however. Rima Merriman reports. 

Towards first-rate university instruction

The Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research produced a report in August 2002 with financial and technical assistance provided by the World Bank. The paper has two objectives. The first is to provide an analytic rationale for donors wishing to finance higher education in Palestine, and the other, thornier one, is to “build stakeholders consensus on the rationale and mechanism for financing reform.” Given the nature of the document, it is taken for granted that the answer to the challenges higher education faces in Palestine is “a compelling financial strategy” and that’s what the document provides. Rima Merriman comments. 

Israeli Arabs: 'Who are we and what do we want?'

While Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza are scrambling to come up with a new national Palestinian vision, Israeli Arabs are looking for ways to wrest equal citizenship rights for themselves as non-Jews in a state whose reason for existence is to nurture Jewish identity and culture. According to a recent New York Times news item, “A group of prominent Israeli Arabs [in a report issued in December 2006] has called on Israel to stop defining itself as a Jewish State and become a ‘consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews,’ prompting consternation and debate across the country.” 

Abbas: Far from 'the right and moral point'

At the Davos World Economic Forum recently, the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas accurately summarized the terrible state of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, the economic siege and resulting deprivation inflicted upon them, the segmentation, the Israeli theft of Palestinian land and resources, and the daily humiliations they must endure. Nevertheless, he avowed that he was optimistic, based, apparently, on the strength of his last meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister: “I have recently had a good conference with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, during which we talked very frankly about several issues, and it was agreed that Israel will carry on certain procedures that will alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.” 

Palestinian refugees and exiles must have a say-so

Today, Palestinian refugees outside the occupied territories and Palestinian exiles feel completely excluded from the body politic and national debate currently taking place in the occupied territories. They listen to the feuding emanating from the territories in helpless dismay. They watch those on the inside who are caught up in a carefully engineered web of power struggles and passionate rifts that seem incomprehensible in their intensity and misdirection. This fragmentation in the Palestinian political process has long been in the making. 

Support a Palestinian Civil Rights Movement

Sometime in 2003, Condoleezza Rice declared to Reuters: “One of the really bad actors in the Middle East has just been deposed, and the president is not going to miss this opportunity” - meaning the opportunity to broker peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. But, as it turned out, not only did this promise remain unfulfilled, the “opportunity” of which Rice spoke did not even exist. The really bad actor has now been hanged and hastily buried in what appears like Wild West justice to many in the Arab world. All that was missing from the spectacle was the picnicking rabble come to watch the hanging for entertainment. 

Palestinians standing tall

Palestinians of all factions have so far, to their credit, withstood Israeli oppression. They have not given in, nor have they accepted to negotiate Palestinian rights away (“sumood” in Arabic), including the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Their violent outbursts, even those against one another other, have managed to make clear to both the US and Israel that basic Palestinian rights and basic territorial needs will not be cavalierly waived away. The uprising is meant to stand up to the power of Israel to dictate to the Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinian men, women and children are dead or in prison for this cause. 

Fundamental attribution error

In analyzing Palestinian behavior, analysts often slip into what sociologists call “a person-centered” analysis, which attributes most behavior change to personal pathologies or virtues. But to understand why Palestinians behave as they do, what is necessary is a situation-centered approach, one that focuses on external factors. This is because the Palestinian situation is as close to a controlled social experiment as anyone is likely to find in the wild. When US social scientists conducted the by-now classic prison experiment to test the power of the social situation to determine behavior, values and attitudes, they were surprised by the results.